Home » Public Transit »STL Region » Currently Reading:

Metro Moving Transit Forward Without Streetcars

October 22, 2009 Public Transit, STL Region 33 Comments

Through its “Moving Transit Forward” initiative, Metro is holding public workshops across St. Louis City and County to get folks thinking about transit needs and system expansion.  Rather than just let attendees dream up their own rapid transit lines on maps, a breakout exercise does a good job of sharing the stark financial realities of MetroLink expansion. Participants are given just a hypothetical $700 every decade for capital projects, when the average MetroLink corridor project costs roughly $450. As a result, it becomes quickly apparent that another Prop-M only buys roughly one MetroLink corridor a decade, if that. For example, the combined Northside-Southside corridors, just within the City, cost $800. The exercise also suggests that participants consider other, cheaper alternatives, such as Bus Rapid Transit ($35) or Commuter Rail ($300).

What really concerns me with this exercise is two-fold: 1) Northside-Southside is presented as the only big idea for City system expansion, and 2) Modern Streetcars are missing from the suggested tool box of cheaper alternatives. When thinking of streetcars, I’m not talking more vintage trolleys akin to the Delmar Loop project (that’s criticism for a future post). No, I’m talking low-floor, high-capacity vehicles that travel on cheaper-to-build, embedded, street-running tracks. But back to the first point, this former planner of the Northside-Southside concept actually thinks such a “big idea” is terribly flawed, and should even be scrapped.

To understand how Northside-Southside even came to be is to tackle the very complex history of system planning and evolution of MetroLink in St. Louis. Such history would be its own series of posts. But suffice it to say, the St. Louis region is still working off a 1989 system analysis produced by East-West Gateway as the basis for all its corridors. I admire Metro using their new Moving Transit Forward initiative to scrap the prioritization of that document that hasn’t been officially updated since 1991 in a failed attempt to lure St. Charles County. But showing a map of big ideas spawned from those very corridors dreamed up now twenty years ago is perpetuating flawed thinking. I know this in part, because the Northside-Southside Study, I worked on two years ago, also perpetuated inherent flaws.

In my opinion, the key flaw of the Northside-Southside Study was the dual purpose of serving both City riders and County commuters. As a result, speed of lines to the County became essential, but of course, at an expense. Faster trains meant taking lanes and closing intersections on arterials and complex designs inside Interstate rights-of-way, all for a fast-ride to Downtown. And given such premise, modern streetcars were deemed too slow, despite their lower cost. But in the end, many County stakeholders would view the project as a lower expansion priority, especially given a roughly billion-dollar price-tag, which ironically resulted from attempts to attract their ridership.

A political reality of Metro is that the County holds the purse and the populace (albeit in voters, if not riders). One can imagine then that if you can only expand MetroLink by one corridor a decade, the City will be waiting in line for some time. Plus, as Northside-Southside showed, the City doesn’t have as attractive exclusive rights-of-way to build MetroLink-looking lines easily.

Rather than compete in a game stacked heavily against the City, I advocate changing the transit ideas discussed inside the urban core. Modern streetcar corridors, such as Grand Avenue, would offer the City projects paired well fiscally with a County MetroLink extension each decade.

And there is still time for City transit advocates to be heard. One opportunity is attending the workshop scheduled for South St. Louis City 5-7pm this Monday (10/26/09):

  • St. Louis Public Library, Carpenter Branch
    3309 South Grand Boulevard (map)
    St. Louis, MO 63118

– Brian Horton


Currently there are "33 comments" on this Article:

  1. zink says:

    Ok I got it….
    County and City Merge. In exchange, the first major project is to add a Metrolink line from Clayton straight to the Airport. Of course the stop points will be at major points of interest like Olive, Page, etc.

    Once that is complete, “Old” city can have the next project.

  2. Jimmy Z says:

    Metro is trying to do a LOT with the current exercise, including exploring options and educating voters. Remember, however, that their primary focus is convincing suburban voters to increase THEIR taxes to fund a system that many of them see as worthless, broken and/or that “they will never use”. They need to be given reasons, and light rail lines are one of the few things they understand and are something some of them will use even if they will never set foot on a bus – political pragmatism.

    There’s also a big reason why the city “isn’t getting much” – we already have a lot. We have the existing Metrolink and the bulk of the local bus routes. We suffered much less in the last round of service reductions. And I have to disagree with you on both the need for the Northside-Southside rail line and for the wisdom of switching to “modern streetcars”. Bus Rapid Transit would offer most of the benefits with few of the negatives. BRT, at its best, uses fixed stations similar to those used by streetcars or light rail vehicles (addressing the reason-to-invest-here argument) without having to tear up the streets or to visually pollute the streetscape with the overhead catenary wires and poles. Plus, since BRT can be done at lower cost than any rail option, it means both more bang for the buck and a quicker roll out.

    Finally, the St. Louis region is NOT constrained to doing one light rail line every 10 or 15 years. Given our present funding options, yes. But as other cities have figured out, if you dream big, you CAN convince voters to fund multiple lines with big-enough tax increases. Dallas, Portland and Denver all have systems that are newer than Metrolink AND all are continuing to grow them rapidly. It just takes both money and the political will to make it happen. Here, we seem to be hamstrung by a perception that public transit will bring the “wrong element” into our suburban enclaves, and it’s just easier to say no. So, until we find a suburban champion who actually “gets it”, that public transit is actually a good thing and worth working for, hard, politically, growing Metro will remain a real challenge. So, bottom line, you’ll likely get your wish – if the next attempt at a tax increase in St. Louis County fails, the ONLY “transit ideas discussed” will be those “inside the urban core”. Unfortunately, the funding will also only be coming from “inside the urban core” . . .

  3. Dave says:

    I think putting in some BRT in relatively affluent areas would help build the “bus” brand, in addition to the inherent benefits of BRT, even if that’s not where it is most sorely needed. Fancy buses and bus stops in the right areas might help to de-stigmatize buses.

    They may not share much tech with streetcars, but at least we could use the stations and most of the right-of-way, if we decided to use streetcars in the future. But frankly, I think you should just throw a cowcatcher on the front of the buses and nobody will know the difference from a train.

  4. Norah says:

    I’m confused by your post. I was a community representative for the public comment component of the Northside/Southside study approximately two years ago, and Metro was talking about street-running light rail at the time. Like Portland. Street-running light rail is what’s in the documentation that was issued by the Northside/Southside study. How is that different from modern street cars? Also, it should be noted that there are potential safety issues to be addressed when people on foot, baby walkers, bikers, etc., are sharing the streets with large, hopefully fast-moving vehicles such as light rail. (The current Metro cars are grade-separated but of course that is many times more expensive to build.) As I understand it, Portland has ended up fencing in its light rail tracks.

    [slp — We will see if Brian responds but I want to point out that the differences between light rail in the street and modern streetcars are vast. Modern streetcars are mean to serve a small local area whereas light rail is about moving people from a to b as fast as possible.]

  5. Dennis says:

    I went to the first one of those workshops last week in Clayton. I went in thinking more lightrail is the only way to go, but after reading about it, the BRT systems seem like they could work here. Combined into the highway systems. It would be inexpensive and a way to get people in this area to finally realize they CAN get around without their own car. Then maybe down the road more light rail could take over.

    [slp — There are many transit technologies in existence to meet a variety of transportation problems. Light rail is a great solution — sometimes. The standard bus is a great solution – sometimes. BRT is great – sometimes. Modern Streetcars are great – sometimes. No single technology is great all the time.]

  6. John Regenbogen says:

    Give wireless access and a nice seat on a reliable route that won’t change…. to a not small extent, these are the key things to success rather than what type of rapid transit.

  7. Dave says:

    In my opinion (and from experience living in Chicago), there should be two focuses on public transit in our region. The first should focus on connecting inner neighborhoods via some combination of light rail, BRT, or streetcars. These lines should provide for frequent stops and good connectivity between the different neighborhoods within the core of the metro area. Somehow the funding needs to come from only these communities (perhaps just the city if that is where all the transit would be).

    The second half should focus on commuter transit, be that rail or bus. This focuses simply on the ability to connect suburbs to the urban core quickly. Most people living outside of say a 10-mile window from the core will have little to no interest in using light rail, BRT, or streetcars. Instead, they might look for a way to work downtown without having to spend a bunch of time sitting in traffic. Stops would be infrequent, say every 3-5 miles and there could be express routes. This would allow someone living far from the urban core a quick commute into the city and it would also re-align downtown as the center core of our region. Suburbs that have stops would have to contribute to the funding of this. Providing this would encourage less car use and eventually might reduce the amount of parking downtown.

    Steve – thanks for the notice. I’ll see if I can get to the workshop Monday.

    [slp — agreed. The issues, potential riders and solutions are different for the core than those further out. For many their job is not downtown but somewhere along I-270 or beyond. Connecting areas in the core would allow many to reduce/eliminate car trips.]

  8. Jeff says:

    Call me a snob, but screw BRT. This is St. Louis, and we have to do it big and do it right. That means RAIL transit. Not only does rail transit attract the non-bus riding populace (a bus is a bus, and here there is a stigma), but it also gives us street cred. Let’s face it– real cities invest in rail.

    I also think the North Side/South Side corridor should be the top priority for obvious reasons: 1) the neighborhoods are already primed for transit- they are dense and walkable but starved of transit lines around which they were built; 2) city neighborhoods have a higher percentage of residents who depend on transit; 3) A well-connected central city will benefit the entire metropolitan area.

    I think Gravois has already been ruled out as the South Side alignment, but from my perspective, it seems like the most logical route. It’s a broad street, connects directly to downtown via Tucker, and it hits all the major thoroughfares: Chouteau, Jefferson, Grand, Kingshighway, Chippewa, etc. How could such a line NOT be successful?

    {slp — rail doesn’t come in only one flavor just as rubber tire buses don’t. We need to focus on the right tool for the right job. In most regions that means a combination of bus, BRT, light rail, heavy rail and streetcar.]

  9. Jennifer says:

    Well, let me just point out that North-South is just one option of the corridors that have already been studied by the East-West Gateway. That map we’re providing at workshops shows all of the previously-studied corridors; and then we are taking the added step of asking people to draw NEW plans on the map (hence, the bundle of colored pencils). The primary purpose of these workshops is to LISTEN to the people – we want to know what you want. We’re trying to provide enough information for you to make intelligent choices; if we didn’t provide the boards, a lot of people would come in and draw a light rail line from their work to about two blocks from their house, and call it good. We want people to be thinking about the possibilities. The mapping exercise is where we dream big. The financing exercise is where we bring it back down to reality.

    I think showing the comparative costs of each type of service helps people understand the vast differences in price tags. Yes, rail is sexy, but the amount of rail this region can and will pay for has some limit – we don’t know what the limit is, but certainly there’s not enough money to put rail everywhere. So what are the alternatives? How can we improve the system now, ten years from now, and twenty years from now? That’s why we’re asking these questions. We can talk about building light rail everywhere, and thirty years from now, we’ll still be talking. Or, we can present the alternatives, listen to what people have to say, and come up with a plan that is not only doable, but inspires people to support and use transit in a big way and incorporate transit planning – and things like Great Streets, pedestrian scale, and bike accommodations – into their planning and developments for the entire region.

    And that’s the final point – this is a plan for the entire region. For it to work, it will take the support of the whole region and it will build the best possible regional system. I think people will find it easier to support the plan when they know what they’ll be getting and when.

  10. Brian says:

    I like that attendees can draw their own lines on maps and that they have past studied corridors for reference. What I dislike is that the exercise calls for a stark choice between either expensive LRT ($200-800) or cheap BRT ($35). Modern streetcar would fall in the middle.

    Gravois was ruled out for Southside mostly because the study was trying to essentially fit MetroLink on a city streets. Gravois combined with Tucker and Natural Bridge may make a good crosstown streetcar corridor.

    You’re exactly right. Where MetroLink needs to function like an urban system, it gets too expensive (Forest Park Parkway) or there are no more existing tunnels (Downtown) to reuse. Outside these core destinations, it’s functioning more like commuter rail. The City doesn’t need more express service at the expense of turning its major streets (Natural Bridge, Jefferson, etc.) into semi-exclusive corridors. Let the County build more exclusive-running branches off the existing system. But the City should focus on enhancing local routes. Articulated buses and quality stops would go a long way, but streetcar remains a viable option for the highest ridership routes.

    BRT is too widely used to call many improvements that are really just “Quality” or “Enhanced Bus.” True BRT with exclusive lanes (or shared with carpools) on highways is a better upgrade for Express bus routes, and the lower-cost alternative to Commuter Rail. Likewise, Quality/Enhanced Bus (higher-capacity vehicles, quality stops) is more of an upgrade to Local bus routes, and the lower-cost alternative to streetcar.

    The Northside-Southside workshops did have a Portland example that does blur the differences between LRT and streetcar. Those pictures were of Tri-Met’s MAX Yellow line in North Portland. A modern streetcar would be more like the Portland Streetcar, not the MAX.

    I don’t doubt any tax levy put before County voters has to likely promise more MetroLink within just the County. But the City should aim for a system more expansive than just bus, yet less expensive than Northside-Southside. And that’s ultimately a system still mostly of bus, but replacing the highest ridership routes with at least Quality Bus (BRT-lite), if not Modern Streetcar on select corridors.

  11. Jazzy Jeff says:

    Previously I was “anti-BRT” However after seeing videos on it online, saw the Demo BRT Metro had last year, and lastly hearing that more Federal Transit dollars will go to BRT projects I think it is the way to go! The light rail is great but since St. Louis dismantled the original street car network years ago the environment has been changed towards auto-centricity. We need something that is between the street car and the light rail system. I think BRT is the formula to go into the future and perhaps if it is warranted light rail to connect into higher density areas to make the current network more robust. But overall the light rail should be 2nd behind BRT.

    Glad to see so many people commenting on this and hopes that something viable will come out of these meetings! For both City and County we need Metro to help unite us and not divide us!

    Best Regards,

    North County Resident and a citizen of the St. Louis Region (lest we forget we are a whole)!

  12. GMichaud says:

    In 1950 Streetcars still ran down Grand, Jefferson, North and South on both sides of Forest Park, down Arsenal to Kingshighway, past Soulard Market on Lafayette and on and on. At this point the streetcar system had been already decimated by bus routes. The population of the city was over 800,000, supported by transit.
    Streetcars work on a smaller scale than trains. They offer the opportunity to create smaller public spaces and more intimate use than with trains. They are neighborhood scale.

    There is a place for streetcars in a rebuilt St. Louis. as an above comment points out Gravois may not be suitable for trains, but could be ideal for streetcars, with alternating East West, then North South streets as connections. Gravois is a natural, it is the only street in the city that alternates major connections in this way.

    Money is always a concern, but on the other hand buses have had the center stage for 5 decades now and there has been nothing but decline. I certainly believe buses have an important role, but I don’t think they have earned exclusivity.

    A balanced, comprehensive, overlapping transit system would be attractive to a broad segment of people. That word attractive is important. The current transit system is unattractive on many levels and it discourages use. An attractive transit system, well integrated with urban planning, would encourage ridership and new lifestyles.

    There are plenty of cities around the world with transit that is efficient and a more pleasing and aesthetic experience than constant automobile use.

    I do agree that the current planning mechanisms leave something to be desired. To their credit, East West Gateway seems to be trying, but the political baggage from decades of neglect have tainted the process and will be hard to overcome, not impossible though.

  13. DaveW says:

    How about this for promoting buses: a program where every Saturday afternoon, a different bus route is made free-to-ride for at least some segment, and a tour guide talks about the various attractions and the histories of the neighborhoods along the route. Probably limited to routes that leave from a hub like the multi-modal station (which also has MetroLink access). Basically, a cross between Amtrak’s Trails & Rails program and the downtown Architectural Walking Tours.

    Make bus riding an event, promote the hell out of it, and convince people they can ride the bus without being ambushed by gangstas while boosting civic pride along the way. Rail is great but we’ll never be able to build enough in St Louis to serve all our transit needs; we’re always going to need a viable and attractive bus system, and sooner or later we need to admit that.

  14. Jimmy Z says:

    The real challenge with any rail system is balancing speed with the desire for convenient stations (and “convenient” is very personal – I want one outside my front door and one at my destination, and not much in between) – every stop adds dwell time to the schedule, making the trips take longer for passengers going longer distances. Yeah, it’s easy to say screw the suburbanties, they need to suffer since they haven’t seen the wisdom of urban living, but the reality is that transit needs to work for both “them” and for “us”.

    A few older rail systems were built with by-pass tracks that allow express service to coexist with local service, but I’m not aware of any new systems that have been. The challenge for the current Northside-Southside configuration is that it’s really not much faster than the existing bus, since many of its proposed stops are within a ½ mile, or less, of each other. That’s why I find BRT to be such an intriguing option, besides the relatively-low start-up costs, it allows frequent express service to be added to supplement and enhance both parallel and intersecting existing bus routes. LA’s been a real leader in the area, and they’re an autocentric area like St. Louis. Heck, even Kansas City has “seen the light” (http://www.kcata.org/light_rail_max/max_and_bus_rapid_transit/).

    The only trick here will be getting past the mindset that transfers need to cost extra. A good transit system views all their assets as an interlocking web and encourages their riders to find the most efficient ways to use the web to get from Point A to Point B. Here, we seem to be stuck in a time warp where if you can find a way to use only one bus or just Metrolink, you deserve a discount.

    Good stuff: http://www.streetfilms.org/archives/lessons-from-la-looking-at-brt/

  15. Cheryl says:

    Regarding helping people get used to buses by providing scenic tours on Saturday afternoons using the bus. That actually has been done. Citizens for Modern Transit sponsored walk/ride tours which were led by professional tour guide Melanie Harvey. You did have to pay for your own bus fare, but the tours were free.

    The program was discontinued because it was hard to get people to sign up for the tours.

  16. DaveW says:

    That sounds good except I doubt they “advertised the hell out of it”, since I never heard of it. Now I’m sad I missed out. 🙁

    Maybe at some point it can be brought back once a month or something.

  17. scotto says:

    If you want the region to come to depend on public transit, you need streetcars / rail. BRT will never accomplish what rail can for a very simple reason – you can see rail tracks in the ground and you learn where it goes. You can see the stations, and they stay in the same place over time. There is a pretty good chance that over time the area around the stop will become more dense because of the amenity of the stop. Even in the Chicago suburbs the areas around the new commuter rail lines have 15 story apartments – 25 miles from downtown! Buses are inherently less permanent. If you want BRT, use it to take people from St. Charles to the nearest metro stop, but it is definately no substitute for rail. I hate to rag on Metro – but the bus routes / schedules aren’t even listed at the stops! How the hell am I supposed to know if a BUS is EVEN RUNNING that DAY! Yes, I know I can go online, but come on. TRAINS!

  18. GMichaud says:

    I have to agree with scotto that a main, if not major feature of rail, and especially streetcars is that the routes are permanent, there is a sense of stability you don’t get from buses or brt. And again I agree buses have an important role, but the bottom line is that the urban city was a success when streetcars were predominant and to date a failure when buses have taken over.

    Buses have many advantages, but streetcars demonstrate a physical commitment to urban living that buses can never match. The attractiveness and design of the system is in the end what will make the system successful.

    Nor should we discount the ongoing corporate forces that prefer the automobile, concrete, oil and real estate development industries along with their friends in the mainstream press who have called the shots until the advent of the blogs.

    Ultimately they would be more successful if a balanced, beautiful city was created, instead their lust for money and the claim they are the best and the brightest, when in fact they are the stupidest and greediest is the governing mandate.

    Unfortunately the reason St. Louis does not have a healthy mass transit system is the reason stated above. How long is this allowed to go on?

    So promote bus rides as an event, and beyond that form urban spaces where buses come together to encourage public interest in transit by creating an urban stage for activity.

    The design and shape of transit has to be an issue that is at the center of any policy debate, it does not matter if it is buses, streetcars or carriages. If a transit system is disconnected artistically, it will exist without meaning and have a weak ridership.

  19. Tplesko says:

    Brian’s suggestion to consider streetcars is not a bad idea for the City of St. Louis. However, one thing that many people may not know is that most streetcars are very slow. Streetcar is really designed to do what a bus does, but with rails and wires in pretty dense, walkable neighborhoods. Portland’s Streetcar is slower than most of TriMet’s bus routes. The UC Loop is a good application. Grand Avenue is pretty long if the desire was to replace the Grand Bus line.

    The City of Dallas hopes to build streetcar network where the first alignment would serve a 3.5 mile section of downtown to supplement what the light rail lines do not cover. This short downtown alignment would still cost $75-$85 million or more and the source of capital funds is uncertain. The City of Dallas believes that it will have to fund the streetcar capital cost (not DART), but DART may build and operate the system. The city is looking at TIF funds (TIF’s property taxes — not sales taxes which can not be increased above the 8.25 %) for the capital cost. They are also considering adding a fee to downtown parking rates to fund the operation. DART may fund up to 50 % of the operational cost , but at present, I don’t see how DART will come up with that money since we are also suffering due to the recession.

    In St. Louis, many rail advocates feel that a choice of BRT in appropriate corridors means that there will never be more rail. I have learned over 35 years in this business, that an effective system uses the appropriate mode in the appropriate situation. Effective transit systems have bus, LRT, perhaps commuter rail, paratransit, and in some cases streetcar to make a system…not just a couple of disconnected rail lines. The truly effective public transit systems are very expensive and American’s haven’t progressed enough to support European or even Canadian style transit.

    St. Louis including the County is a community where the financial sources of public funding to support mass transit is currently very limited. Even a new sales tax may grow too slowly to support the cost escalation of the original system before the March 2009 cutback. Metro needs a source of revenue that grows 4.5 % (if not 5 %) or more annually to support the operation and modest capital expansion. Metro is ham strung by bond indebtedness for Cross County for over 30 years which will absorb almost 100% of the Prop M 1/4 cent tax. That was a decision which will haunt Metro for at least three more decades. Quite frankly, before I left St.Louis, I can to the opinion that Metro would not be able to expand its system with the Prop M 2 1/2 cent tax. Metro needed at least half of that just to keep operations going. It would need a full additional 1 % to build significantly expanded system. That isn’t possible. The next option would be for the State of Missouri to implement an Illinois style transit funding program. I believe that was also unlikely.

    The purpose of the current Metro planning process, lead by a few totally committed and talented remaining Metro employees, is to involve the community in a new more open and transparent process which will help fashion a path forward with some consensus in the County. Metro wants ask the community to revisit all of the E/W planning which is 100 % Metrolink oriented. Frankly, Metro must submit a new plan to the County voter — a plan that has some level of municipal and neighborhood support, and then ask for the voter to fund that plan. While there isn’t time I supposed, the best solution would be to have the community to put the vote on the ballot through petitions rather than vote of the County Council. Denver used that approach after several failed attempts to pass a new capital tax. They also proposed a “build” rail (or BRT) everywhere all at once approach. Now Denver is facing the reality that it can’t do that with the downturn in tax revenue.

    The County Government itself is really not committed to transit. If you look at their 1970 and 1980’s style highway vision, you can see that there is no hope for that group.

    The County voter certainly has the right to say no, so the planning process must remind the community what the system will be without new funding. If you based your opinion on the potential for a tax referendum on the common comments on the Post Dispatch, I would say Metro has no chance. Unfortunately the absolutely abysmal economy in St.Louis City and County may make the County voter unwilling to vote “yes” even if they felt it was a good idea for some other time.

    Another approach might be to take a vote back to the City of St. Louis for the additional 1/2 cent targeted on some modest enhancement of some bus routes and perhaps one small streetcar. I really feel the city will need some other type of funding mechanism for anything larger. There is absolutely no possible way a City tax could fund the North South Light rail with a City only 1/2 cent.

    I personally believe that BRT and even greatly enhanced county express bus service is a logical and cost effective option for modest expansion in St.Louis. The City should absolutely consider streetcar in short, targeted areas which supplement the core system that already exists. St. Louis City needs to invest in better bus frequency first, before any major new capital expenditure. Portland, which has light rail, commuter rail, and a Streetcar, has also invested in improving the number of bus routes that operate every 15 minutes.

    Light Rail’s future, in my opinion, will be very limited in St. Louis without some dramatically new and robust source of funds. Its for that reason that I believe Metro should raise the option of contracted commuter rail in some corridors in St. Louis where perhaps the affected Cities agree to fund the capital cost or repay bonds.

    Dallas’s future over the next 30 years outside the DART member cities will likely be commuter rail. This service will NOT be light rail. Peak hour headways on Commuter rail will likely be every 20 or 30 minutes. Midday service will likely be hourly. Weekend service will be very limited and may even include no Sunday service with the exception of special event trains. At DART, these commuter rail lines may feed into light rail unless an existing rail corridor is available to the core. (Very limited options in Dallas with the exception of the current TRE service.)

    Commuter rail, ideally uses existing rail lines. Cost effective new lines will usually be single track with the exception of special station areas and short double track areas to allow trains to pass each other. In Dallas the Commuter rail is operated under a contract with a private firm. Costs per passenger are HIGH and unless ridership is very high, bus service is much more cost effective. However, in the correct corridor Commuter rail can be very popular and effective. It is rarely low cost per passenger.

    Denton County (Texas) is constructing 25 miles of commuter rail. Construction is refurbishing the existing track purchased by DART in the 1980’s, building very modest stations and park ride lots. Denton will have a two way flow which is unique. Trains will transfer to the DART green line in Carrollton. Commuters will go to Dallas from Denton County. Dallas County students will use the Denton County Commuter rail to go to the University of North Texas and Texas Women’s University in Denton. Longer term DCTA will purchase modern commuter rail cars which look like light rail. Short term, DCTA will use Budd cars leased from DART.

    Commuter rail takes a lot of coordination with the rail roads which is very painful and slow. It is a way however for Metro to perhaps entice St.Charles to relook at transit. Perhaps that service could tie into Metro’s light rail.

    For for a Commuter rail feeder to work In St. Louis, Metro may need to look at core capacity investments like making investments to lengthen platforms to run three car trains or even 2 and a half car trains like DART did. You can’t feed 200 people into the end of light rail without capacity to handle it.

    Finally, Jimmy Z. The transfer cost issue that you raise is valid. I believe Metro will deal with that when it implements a new fare system. The two hour pass was my idea to encourage short trips at lower costs and redress the extremely high cost of the single use transfer in implemented in 2001. It also allowed Metro to obtain some revenue for a transfer (2 hour pass) that was being heavily abused without purchasing a new fare system at the time.

    DART has no transfers at all, but sells a day pass on the bus for $4.00. (One way fare in $1.75). It is a mag stripe ticket distributed from TVM’s and from fare boxes. They seem to work well and are popular. DART may look at a more traditional transfer approach if DART converts to smart cards and sell the day pass for much more than $4.00.

    • dempster holland says:

      Please give your opinion on my comment regarding use of rail rights of way in South St.Louis

  20. Warren says:

    There is nothing currently wrong with bus service that couldn’t be solved by…..better bus service.

    You don’t know where the buses are going? Right. So, let’s spend some money posting bus schedules at every stop and adding route maps, so that it’s clear. These are standard in many cities.

    Tired of never knowing if the bus is on its way? There should be LED monitors at the stations, tied to a GPS system that tells you exactly how far your bus is. (And, for that matter, it seems crazy that this doesn’t already exist for Metrolink trains as well).

    Tired of the discomfort, the ugliness, the noise, the exhaust: It would cost money get radically improved (electric?) buses, but only a tiny fraction of the cost associated with new rail lines.

    The fact is that bus systems ARE successful in many places, and it’s nonsensical to say that “real cities do rail.” Real cities with successful rail lines almost always depend upon successful bus lines to tie the system together. That’s true even of Manhattan which is geographically small and its true of Berlin which is incredibly large and has an incredibly good rail system. Stop the bus traffic in Berlin and the overall transit system would be seriously hobbled.

    We desperately need better bus service in St. Louis and – given our financial challenges – even seems like the wisest area in which to focus our energies.

  21. GMichaud says:

    Tplesko the fact you cite so many alternatives illustrates perfectly the current problem. The design of the transit system, including streetcars, should already be generally understood. In turn the building of the urban environment that supports such transit can be in process as we speak, directing developers and development to conform to transit goals. For instance if a general idea of transit objectives were already in place it would influence and direct Paul McKees’ NorthSide Plan.
    Funding is irrelevant until urban design conforms to the idea of transit.

    In the meantime, if you have to run buses down Grand Ave until such a time you can afford streetcars, so be it. The city has been severely damaged in its ability to handle mass transit, that capacity must be rebuilt. Without a commitment to direct development towards that end transit cannot be a desirable alternative.

    For that reason I would forget about the county. It would take major physical modifications to make transit efficient and viable in the county. With a few exceptions, it was not designed with transit in mind, unlike the city which was designed for transit.

    If we cannot revive city transit, I don’t hold much hope for the county. Maybe St. Louis City has to form its own transit district, I’m not sure, but trying to satisfy the county at this juncture is absurd. On the other hand if they see a successful City transit system, they will more likely to be interested in making necessary changes.

    I am not trying to make light of funding transit, but it seems to me in every discussion gets hung up on 1/2 cent tax here or a transfer cost there and we end up with the same piecemeal solutions that have gotten us into this mess. Determination of the best overall solution that will work for the citizens with a willingness to make urban design decisions based on that plan should come before concerns about funding. That approach includes the county also, but the emphasis should be on revitalization of the urban core.

    To understand the failure of St. Louis County urban planning in relationship to transit one only has to look at the 1000 car parking lot at the Hanley Road metro stop. In cities with viable urban planning related to transit, there would be little or no parking necessary. People willing to take transit would take it from near their home. In successful cities the parking lot on Hanley would be a public space for use by humans and not for cars.

    It seems to me there are basic problems: the decision making process is flawed, the routes are unimaginative and do little or nothing to support human scale urban space, developers do not have a clue on how to integrate with future improvements with transit, because no one knows what those improvements are. The whole land use, zoning and other current (in my view outmoded) urban planning tools do not conform to any transit connectivity objectives. Streets are closed, cul-de-sacs built, lot sizes are expanded, making transit even more difficult to include into future planning.

    In short, almost nothing the City or County does with urban policy supports transit.

    To me the first step is an agreement on a comprehensive understanding what a completed transit system might look like. Then there needs to be an agreement to immediately modify urban design policies to support this general plan.
    Once that is done, then funding can be looked at.
    It should be noted however reorganization of the current system and the transformation of urban policy can occur without adding taxes. You just have to use the current resources to do a better job. And that’s where to start before other funding is considered. If that is accomplished then the general support of the citizens will likely follow.

    If this total revamping and rethinking of transit and urban policy does not occur, it will be difficult to get citizen support and end up dragging out solutions for decades.

  22. Jimmy Z says:

    Planning a transit system in suburban areas requires different answers than planning one in denser, establsihed, urban areas – one size cannot and should not fit all. At this juncture, we city residents have only two options, we can figure out what our suburban neighbors will support OR we can tax ourselves to the tune of something like a 2% sales tax (to maintain existing fares and service levels). Those “same piecemeal solutions” that fund Metro now are a fact of life we can’t ignore. Yes, Illinois provides a lot more state-level funding than Missouri does. Yes, St. Louis County provides relatively more in taxes and receives relatively less in service than St. Louis City. I’m not holding out any hope that our state legislators will provide any more funding any time soon. Whether it’s “fair” or not is irrelevent – it’s what we have to work with. And no, a 2% sales tax (for a city-only system) isn’t the only answer, it just represents what “going it alone” would cost us. (Yes, we can cut services elsewhere, but for the sake of discussion, the easiest way is to view it as a new/increased tax.)

    That leaves figuring out what works for the county, and yes, that “1000 car parking lot at the Hanley Road” is something that DOES work. In areas with low density and little walkability, that “last mile” is the biggest challenge in making transit work. Providing free parking and letting potential riders “solve” that problem by driving is actually a win – it creates virtual density, where you collect enough riders in one place to justify not just bus or ral service, but FREQUENT bus or rail service! It cuts all these commuters “off at the pass”, and keeps them off the increasingly-congested roads in more-established areas. It may not be a “pure”, totally transit-oriented solution, “In cities with viable urban planning related to transit, there would be little or no parking necessary”, but it’s a very realistic one in pretty much every city in North America. Whether it’s Metro in DC, DART in Dallas, RTD in Denver, MARTA in Atlanta or BART in San Francisco, they all combine park-n-rides in suburban areas with increasingly dense and frequent bus and rail service as the density of the city increases.

    Being carless in suburbia, by choice or circumstance, remains a real challenge, but apparently one that many, many people, probably the vast majority, see as a non-issue. But we also need all these “unelightened” car owners to support transit in denser areas, if only financially, for us, in the minority, to have what we want (better transit). Pissing them off may feel good in the short run, but enduring another round of Metro service cuts makes no sense in the long run . . .

  23. Brian says:

    ^And Metro should build a MetroLink or BRT park-and-ride within an easy drive of many County residents. The Daniel Boone extension would add I-170 and I-270 stations; likewise Metro North (though a shorter, cheaper branch off North Hanley north of I-70). Beyond those two short branches within I-270, I believe the rest of the County should be a short express-bus or BRT ride to Downtown and Clayton.

    You don’t need to run additional MetroLink lines through the City to serve County commuters. Essentially, use the Interstates for express-bus or BRT from North and South County to Downtown. Similarly, use articulated buses and quality stops on key routes linking City patrons and destinations with MetroLink stations. That’s the difference between suburban BRT (limited-stop service, park-and-rides) and urban BRT (quality stops, high-capacity vehicles and/or frequent service).

    And yes, streetcar is slow. That’s why it makes the most sense on busy circulator routes and linear corridors of multiple, busy stops. But it can also build ridership. Portland streetcar had initial connections to MAX, desitinations in the University and CBD, but transformed the formerly empty Pearl District. Likewise, a St. Louis line could tie destinations (employment, institutions), MetroLink stations and opportunity areas (places where dense infill or rehab will be supported). The destinations not currently an attractive walk from MetroLink (Grand Center, Soulard, The Grove, Grand South Grand) is also where City streetcar lines can serve County patrons as their connection from MetroLink.

  24. GMichaud says:

    Yes of course the answers for transit in the suburbs are different than the city. Still it makes no sense to worry about taxes or tax rates until there is a rethinking of the whole system. Refer to to post about the downtown #99 circulator route, perhaps a good idea, but again it is in isolation from the rest of the system. How does the system work as a whole and how does it work with new policies in urban planning? Notice also this attempt at making the system function better did not require a tax increase.
    Constantly predicating thinking upon taxes is a failed design method. That does not mean paying for the system does not come into play at some point, however an optimum solution will never be arrived at if we nickel and dime ourselves to death.
    And yes I guess the Hanley Road stop does require massive parking due to poor urban and transportation planning. However just because other systems across the nation do the same thing does not mean it is right. What are we trying to achieve, mediocrity?
    There is no question that urban policies, like so much of the American scene has been determined by our corporate masters irregardless of the real needs of its citizens. In the case of transportation planning we have allowed big oil, big auto, big real estate and all of the other like minded industries to design America so they can maximize their profit.
    And yes it is a non issue at the moment with two wars, a failed health care system, a poor economy etc. However the idea is not to piss anyone off, but rather use the city to demonstrate how a transit system should work.
    The day will come, both because of necessity and enlightened thinking that much of the county will be reconfigured to better accept transit. Meanwhile trying to become an acrobat with the transit system to woo and satisfy county residents is pure nonsense. If the city ends up going it alone, so be it.
    In the old city transit paid for itself due to density and good urban design. While it may no longer be feasible to pay for itself, a revived city would and could do a better job of supporting a transit system.This will never happen if the city does not focus within its borders to create the most advantageous system possible. (This does not mean a lack of outside connections.)
    The late city planner Edmund Bacon defined cities in terms of movement, movement is the city, and that is where St. Louis falls short, and that failure will continue to define the city.

  25. Jimmy Z says:

    No, “In the old city transit paid for itself” because the only other option for the vast majority was walking or riding a horse or a bicycle. Starting with the Model T, the private automobile has become more and more affordable. Just look at even our poorest parts of town – you won’t find many new Lexuses (Lexi?), but you’ll find a lot of 10-15 year old clunkers that provide a lot more mobility than public transit ever will. It all boils down to basic economics – a monthly pass on Metro WILL cost less than the monthly cost of a car, but if the car can get you to a job and Metro can’t (or takes 2-3 hours, each day), guess what? The car wins!

    I do agree that worrying about what a good/better public transit system would cost is premature when it comes to planning – if you give people what they want, they’ll typically support it. But to dismiss the financial contribution St. Louis County makes towards Metro’s budget (“For that reason I would forget about the county . . . If the city ends up going it alone, so be it”), is also disingenuous – if that funding goes away, abnsent any other “new” sources, service in the city WILL be cut back, severely. There simply are too many other existing demands, constituencies and, yes, inefficiencies to expect the city to make up for much, if any, shortfall. And for transit to succeed, in the city or the county, requires an minimum level of service – running buses every two hours, instead of every 15 or 30 minutes, will drive away all but the most dedicated or transit-dependent riders . . .

  26. john says:

    Metro is on life support by its own designs. As proven by the Extension (financing, station locations, change orders, impact on bus routes, elimination of cycling-pedestrian path, cost overruns, impact on potential, etc.), Metro has proven that it cannot be trusted. Thanks Brian for your insights and ideas but other outdated policies remain in effect which are beyond the control of Metro. As long as FREE parking, FREE highway use, ZERO user fees, and undervalued parking lots for property taxes rule in the region, time spent redesigning Metro is largely a waste of time… it can’t compete as JZ explains.
    – –
    The majority of the public made its wishes known (which was to have the Extension down the New 64) but Metro and CMT were against it. The grand opportunity to bring the Lou region into the 21st century was lost once the desires of the public and development potential were conveniently ignored. Designing the Extension to meet the needs of a politically powerful minority was a serious mistake since a disappointed public means failure at elections.
    – –
    Failure will continue to define this region as long as auto-dependencies are highly subsidized. MoDOT wins in a region divided by designs that subsidize these expensive dependencies and where local advocates are weak and often mislead the public. It wouldn’t surprise me that even the crown jewel of the region (Forest Park) will be eventually managed by a MoDOT mindset. Think small, live small is the local mantra.

  27. GMichaud says:

    If design is not the answer then what is? John you dismiss redesign of the transit system, but I never suggested Metro should handle the redesign, in fact I suggested otherwise in an above post. You are not going to persuade the power structure to abandon auto dependent subsidized policies. However it is possible to come up with new ideas, plans and strategies to entice the public to new ways and ideas without confronting the corporate concrete, oil and real estate lobby head on.
    No question alternate suggestions for I-64 failed. It is important to become proactive and get ahead of any future automobile expansion policies.
    Nor JZ do I understand the reluctance to go it alone for the City of St. Louis, sure it is better to incorporate with the county and Illinois, but for the most part the city has gotten the short end of the stick while we bend over backwards and compromise the strengths of the city.
    Urban transportation policy has been almost a total failure to this point, yet JZ and others continue to defend the status quo for whatever reason, usually tax money it seems. I don’t really get it.
    Nor do I feel like my critics on this blog bother to read and understand my posts. (I almost feel like I am wasting my time and breathe, am I?)
    If new approaches are not wanted then yes, lets cut all other voices off.

    In that scenario there is no doubt MoDot will rule. All I see is apologists for the current policy, complaining that we did not get a transportation alternative for I-64, but meanwhile sitting on their hands getting ready to react to the next concrete, automotive, corporate proposal. In essence supporting the current system as it stands: without any alternatives.

  28. john says:

    GM your view is appreciated but until the leadership of the StL region publicly announces their support for alternatives as the #1 objective, the redesign of Metro is a waste of time. Metro can’t compete and is ruled by an incompetent auto-centric mindset. Keep writing, I actually enjoy your “rants” (ie. common sense in the Lou is a rant). The status quo is indefensible but local news networks (especially FoxNews) now have the opening of the New 64 as the second coming of Christ.

  29. john says:

    “The energy policies adopted during the current decade (1970s) will determine the range and character of social relationships a society will be able to enjoy by the year 2000. A low-energy policy allows for a wide choice of life-styles and cultures. If, on the other hand, a society opts for high energy consumption, its social relations must be dictated by technocracy and will be equally degrading whether labeled capitalist or socialist.”

    “What is generally overlooked is that equity and energy can grow concurrently only to a point. Below a threshold of per capita wattage, motors improve the conditions for social progress. Above this threshold, energy grows at the expense of equity. Further energy affluence then means decreased distribution of control over that energy.”

    “Participatory democracy demands low-energy technology, and free people must travel the road to productive social relations at the speed of a bicycle.”
    Ivan Illich on the emerging energy crisis in his published essays on Energy & Equity
    – –
    Although Metro pushes the crossover point further out than auto-centrism, it is a high energy user. As managed in the StL region, Metro, as explained in details before, is part of the problem and not part of the solution… quite unfortunate.

  30. dempsterholland@gmail.com says:

    I disagree that there are no exclusive rights of way for the light rail northside/southside route. There is an exellent available rail right of way through South St.Louis from Mill Creek valley to the Hill toCarondolet and into South County. For some reason this was dropped in favor of a slower line along Jefferson with fewer passengers/ The southside study is no longer on Easwest's web site. As a former Bi-Stater commissioner in the l970s, I learned that some transit decisions are made for political reasons, but this change I cannot figure out Dempster Holland

    • JZ71 says:

      As Dave noted earlier on in this discussion, there are two transit markets, local service and regional, primarily commuter, service. The needs and demands are very different, so the “answers” need to be different, as well. Local service needs to make frequent stops, and ideally, should run very frequently, as well. In contrast, regional service works best with significantly fewer stops, so using public transit as an alternative to the SOV can become a reality. In my mind/world, streetcars and traditional transit buses are the best solutions for local service, while light rail, BRT and “over the road” (Greyhound-style) transit coaches are the best solutions for regional service. In other areas like St. Louis, many cities have embraced a hub-and-spoke model, with denser downtowns and suburban transit centers connected by regional routes, combined with local service areas centered on these hubs, creating an interconnected system.

      Which gets back to your concept of using existing rail corridors in South St;. Louis – yes and no are both likely answers. Using existing rail corridors COULD work for regional service (as could existing freeway corridors), IF demand for such service could be created and/or justified. I don't think that they work all that well for local service, since they generally don't coincide with areas of greatest demand, along streets like Gravois and Jefferson. (And since you served in the 70's, newer federal standards have made it nearly impossible to share rail corridors that continue to operate commercial freight service.)

      This also gets back to my reservations with moving forward with the preferred technology alternative (LRT) on the preferred corridor in the Northside-Southside study. Metro either needs to switch to BRT or streetcars for these high-density, local-service corridors or they need to define this as a regional route and find a different/better alignment, one where frequent stops are not expected. If that's the final decision, then yes, revisiting existing or abandoned rail corridors starts to make sense.

  31. s st louis light rail says:

    The East-west study favoring Jefferson ave over the UP tracks througth S St.Louis gives “support by Mayors staff an Bistate staff a a reason for picking Jefferson-no further specifics. S County south of Bayless is not taken into accoiunt. An unprofessioinal approach to a importan t decision


Comment on this Article: