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Olive Street Is Streetcar Ready

December 15, 2012 Featured, Midtown, Public Transit, Transportation 17 Comments

Most days Olive St. is pretty much deserted even though it’s a major east-west arterial.

ABOVE: Looking eastbound on Olive from Cardinal St. at 10:52am on Thursday December 6, 2012

In each direction you have a parking lane, a bike lane, and two travel lanes. I don’t know the posted speed limit but the road design is for much higher speed. Any savvy urban cyclist will use Locust St a block north even though it lacks dedicated bike lanes because Locust is narrower and has much slower traffic.

Former director of planning Rollin Stanley had suggested a green median where you could jog down the middle of Olive St. I could never figure out why someone would want to do that.

If the Partnership for Downtown St. Louis has their way Olive St. will once again have a streetcar line. Their aggressive timeline calls for it to be operational by 2016. Great if it can happen but I’d be happy with 2020. Actually I ride the #10 MetroBus often along Olive and Lindell and I’m pretty happy with it.

Much of the potential new development along the eastern part of the route could happen between Jefferson Compton avenues. If the right land-use controls are put into place first this will be very urban a decade from now. If not, we’ll have an expensive streetcar line passing by vacant/underdeveloped land.

— Steve Patterson


Currently there are "17 comments" on this Article:

  1. Fozzie says:

    Look at all of the bustling businesses a streetcar could take a curious traveler!

    • Mark Brown says:

      Streetcars are usually generators for new businesses. This is why Cincinnati has one under construction and Kansas City voters have just approved a new 2-mile line. Portland and other cities have proven this as well. If a streetcar is put on Olive there will be new development.

      • I like the idea of streetcars and indeed the rebuilding of the interurban. However, I can’t imagine a streetcar possibly reinvigorate this area, especially considering the available architecture building space here. But I am curious; where has a streetcar preceded a successful urban renewal?

        • Portland OR is the best example. They put lots of controls in place to require density along the route.

          • I am also under the impression that urban revitalization preceded the installation of Portland’s streetcar (which I have ridden and found to be about as purposeful as a merry-go-round), and the trolleys in Memphis, and all other examples of which I am aware. Where has a streetcar been the impetus for urban renewal?

        • Todd ex-PDX says:

          Portland is not an example. The revival of the Pearl District (and the city generally) was well underway before the streetcar. Many locals consider it an expensive boondoggle. It runs infrequently, has low ridership, and is incredibly slow. The local alt weekly once did a feature: car v. streetcar v. bike v. walking, and the streetcar was the slowest method of transit (though it may have beat walking if you went the entire route).

          • The new buildings were started in the Pearl District before the first streetcar began rolling, but that’s because the land use regulations were put into place already and developers were gearing up.

          • Is it possible the hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies and tax breaks were more important drivers for development, rather than the plan/promise of a future streetcar? We can only speculate, but this seems more likely to me. I am still hoping for an example where a trolley/streetcar line was the driver itself. Otherwise, I could not support such a project on Olive.

          • You want that elusive magic bullet that comes in and saves an area all by itself. Sorry, cities are very complex. Portland’s Pear District, and Seattle’s south of lake union area, have done well because of a variety of coordinated efforts with a modern streetcar being one of those. I have reservations about St. Louis stepping up and putting everything info place for success, but if we do it’ll be great.

          • Steve you explained it much more eloquently than me. You are right, there is no magic bullet that singly can reinvigorate a neighborhood.

      • JZ71 says:

        Portland, New Orleans, Boston, San Fransisco and Toronto are North American success stories, Tampa, Tucson, Little Rock and Memphis, not so much. Cincinnati and Kansas City have barely started construction, so there is no way to judge their success or failure. Bottom line, only time will tell if the Delmar line succeeds and if its success spawns other lines, along Olive, Grand, Natural Bridge or any other city street. In the same vein, only time will tell if investments in transit will help spur redevelopment in the city, adjacent to any streetcar line. I agree with Steve, cities are very complex, and there is no one “silver bullet”. Personally, the hurdles I see for St. Louis have little to do with transit and much to do with the perceptions / realities of crime, racism, the public school system and the earnings tax. There are many, many (better?) options (just) outside the city, and that may be why the city continues to lose population and businesses . . . .

  2. Michael M. says:

    I have chosen Locust or Washington over Olive for years. I am somewhat opposed to dedicated bicycle lanes, and Olive is a particularly bad example. A median with a streetcar line, like St. Charles in New Orleans, might be good if the width is enough.

  3. flyingember says:

    See New Orleans for a good model that could fit. A green path people jog down + streetcar.

  4. moe says:

    None of the examples provided are capable of breaking even without the dumping of millions of Federal and State tax dollars. Just because someone else is paying the bill doesn’t make it pull it’s own weight.

  5. PR says:

    i guess i like the idea but not use how i’ll ever use it… drive the area ride it once for fun.

  6. GMichaud says:

    It might be better to have a comprehensive understanding of how streetcars, buses and transit in general will operate over the next 20 years. There is a danger that by picking individual routes without an understanding of what we are trying to accomplish is that it creates the danger that the route, whether Olive or the Loop Trolley of Joe Edwards becomes a failure, discrediting overall attempts to improve mass transit.

    I just found out my cousin wrote a book about his experiences in World War 2 (I attended his 91 year old birthday party/family reunion last week, he was in the infantry involved in the Normandy Invasion, Battle of the Bulge, Africa, Sicily, wounded twice and so on, he lives in Tulsa OK)
    Anyway he talks in his book about going to the the recruiting office, “During the forties, the primary mode of transportation in St. Louis, Missouri was the streetcar……….In those days it cost a dime to go downtown.”

    Transit and streetcars were the mode of life at that time in St. Louis. Other cities in the world either accomplish this now or come close, so it is very attainable.. The Olive route is one part of the picture, it is a major fault that the public is not given a broader plan of transit initiatives. If there are any to be had.

    If this is similar to the Grand Ave Station and Bridge where apparently the city could care less about how the surroundings are developed. If the Olive streetcar route is approached in the same way, it will be a waste of money. As you point out Steve in your comments, Portland designates their streetcar routes for dense development, can you imagine St. Louis doing that if they won’t act to protect the considerable investment in the Grand Ave Station and Bridge? You say you have reservations, so do I.

    It is the same exact problem with the Paul McKee North Side regeneration plan, what is the role of transit here? What are the roles of streetcars, buses, public space, density and the many other factors that will make the city more livable and desirable?

  7. Linsey says:

    Because bike lanes increase ridership, I support their existence, even if they are sometimes problematic. I would love to see separated bike lanes on some of these arterial roads where there is room. Travel lane>parking>barrier>bike lane. Gravois and Olive would be great places to start. Oh, this biking mama can dream!


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