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Polls: How Would You Expand Modern Streetcar Lines From Proposed Route Into North & South City?

I’m excited about the proposed St. Louis Streetcar, I’m a streetcar fan and the idea of living just a block away from the line has be overjoyed. Like out 20 year old light rail line, the streetcar primarily serves the city’s central corridor — downtown and parts west. North & south St. Louis wouldn’t benefit with the original route. I’ve lived 16 of my 23 years in St. Louis in north (3) and south (13) city, I know what it’s like to see millions spent on transit infrastructure with little personal benefit.

Even living downtown now I use MetroBus way more often than MetroLink, the bus is closer to me and my frequent destinations than light rail.

For the purposes of this post/poll I’ve made the following assumptions:

  • The initial streetcar line will open in 2017, aligned as proposed. 
  • The #70 MetroBus line on Grand will get longer articulated buses.
  • In-street light rail to quickly get north & south county suburbanites to ballgames won’t move forward
  • Modern streetcars are as much about economic development as transportation.

The poll this week is broken into two questions: 1) how would you expand the proposed streetcar line further into north St. Louis from the spur at N. Florissant @ St. Louis Ave. and 2) how would you expand the proposed streetcar into south St. Louis from 14th @ Clark.

Some possible  future expansions for the proposed streetcar line ending at N. Florissant @ St. Louis Ave
Some possible future expansions for the proposed streetcar line ending at N. Florissant @ St. Louis Ave. Grand is shown in yellow.

The north options I’ve listed in the poll are:

  • Cass to MLK to the St. Charles Rock Rd MetroLink station. This goes though areas in need of development, investment, & jobs, but doesn’t go very far north
  • West on St. Louis Ave to Goodfellow. This goes through areas also needing the above but runs through primarily residential areas while crossing major commercial streets.
  • N. Florissant to Natural Bridge, eventually out to UMSL south MetroLink. Natural Bridge is a wide right-of-way, plenty of room for a streetcar in the center.
  • N. Florissant past the cemeteries to Goodfellow. This goes farther north than the other options, possible connections to north county bus/streetcar
Some possible future expansions for the proposed streetcar line south from 14th @ Clark
Some possible future expansions for the proposed streetcar line south from 14th @ Clark. Grand is shown in yellow.

The south options listed all start by going south on 14th from Clark:

  • Chouteau to Broadway to River Des Peres
  • Chouteau to Jefferson to Chippewa to Lansdowne to Shrewsbury MetroLink
  • Lafayette to Tucker to Gravois to Hampton
  • Chouteau to Vandeventer to Southwest to Hampton

Poll questions for both north & south are in the right sidebar. As you can see these vary and cover different parts of the city. Variations in the street network between north & south city plays a role as well.

Please share your ideas for local modern streetcar routes in north & south S. Louis in the comments below.

— Steve Patterson

  • JZ71

    A streetcar is a bus with steel wheels. If it becomes ubiquitous (again?), it will no longer serve as an incentive to (re)development, it will just make the cost of providing transit more expensive and, thus, less comprehensive!

    • http://urbanreviewstl.com/ Steve Patterson

      So you think modern streetcars are a successful tool only because of their rarity?

      • JZ71

        Absolutely! They’ve been successful in Portland and remain successful with some legacy systems (Toronto, San Francisco, Boston). They also do little or nothing with other legacy systems (Philadelphia) or in recreated systems (Tampa, Kenosha). But at their heart, they’re a public transit vehicle – people need to want to / choose to ride public transit. Yes, if they’re rare and unique, you can attract some new riders, looking for a new experience. But when it comes to attracting daily riders / commuters (the core of any public transit system, because of their predictability and repeat business), predictability (frequency, on-time performance, cleanliness, safety) and speediness (compared to other alternatives) are much bigger factors in convincing people to choose public transit.

        • JZ71

          And when it comes to (re)development, any analysis needs to look beyond the blocks on either side of the corridor – if there is free and convenient parking available nearby (as typifies much of both the city and the region), there will be less of an incentive to both use any form of public transit or to build more densely. The same goes for highways and congestion – if driving isn’t a royal pain, why choose to give up the convenience of your car? I think I’m pretty typical of many St. Louis residents. I own several vehicles, yet I still use public transit, on certain occasions, usually to do something downtown, using Metrolink. I could take the bus from my house, either to go (somewhat) directly downtown or to get to the Shrewsbury Metrolink station, but it’s way easier just to drive to the end-of-line station and eliminate any worry about missed transfers. I do it because, it’s cheaper than parking downtown and I don’t need to deal with traffic. If I want to go to Target on Hampton, however, I just drive – using transit would be way too much of a hassle (and making it a streetcar, modern or retro would NOT make it any less of a hassle)!

          At this point, we need to focus on making the two current streetcar lines a success before we even start to think about extensions and new lines. We need to see riders embrace them as more than just amusement attractions and we need to see new development happen. What happened elsewhere is no guarantee that we will see similar successes here, and if we fail on our first couple of tries, after spending big bucks, there won’t be much incentive to doing any others (much like the “people movers” of the ’70’s in Detroit and Miami)!

          • http://urbanreviewstl.com/ Steve Patterson

            The current #10 bus runs every 30 minutes days Monday-Saturdsy and every 40 minutes evenings & Sunday. The streetcar will run every 10 minutes, and 15 minutes, respectively. Why not just run the bus more frequently? This would attract some riders but few developers. Without the new streetscape, a guarantee the bus line will remain with high service levels, the new density along the line wouldn’t get built. The cost of running the bus line would be high too, many new buses would need to be purchased and new drivers hired. It would be hard to stay on schedule due to competing with traffic and the longer time to board/unboard the bus with each passenger paying the fare as they board. Why not build a BRT? If the BRT got the full treatment with streetscape, unique vehicles, branding, stations/stops, right of way to avoid conflict with cars, etc you’d have a very nice bus line. You’d have saved the cost of track & wire, and the new buses would be cheaper than the modern streetcar vehicles. You’d get new riders & new development, but not as much as with the streetcar. The service life of the buses is shorter than streetcars so the total operating costs would be higher with BRT than with modern streetcar.

          • JZ71

            Developers don’t “flock to streetcars”, riders do! And if enhanced bus service would only attract “some riders”, why would a significantly larger number ride a streetcar, especially one that will be operating in general traffic and be subject to the same delays as bus would be?! Developers are chasing profits, not transit. If transit brings a lot more customers, they’ll love transit. If free parking brings a lot more customers, they’ll love free parking. A streetcar is not a magic unicorn that will reshape the streetscape and insure the success of any commercial project, it’s just a(nother) way for people to get around, period. The glossy proposal for the streetcar may be promising service that runs “every 10 minutes, and 15 minutes, respectively”, but there are NO guarantees that that level will be maintained for very long if the ridership fails to develop. Look at what happened to Metrolink when the budget was inadequate a few years back – service was cut! That said, let’s get one or two lines built and see what really happens – you know that you’re right, and I’m pretty sure that I am, too – only time will tell . . . .

        • http://urbanreviewstl.com/ Steve Patterson

          Part of the increase in development comes from the new streetscape (sidewalks) required by the streetcar. Frequent service is also part as is new form-based codes that require dense/urban buildings. All this, plus the fixed rail, gives the developer some assurances that other property owners will do the same, a new suburban fast food joint won’t get built next to their 6-story mixed use product.

        • http://yastlblog.blogspot.com/ Kevin Barbeau

          “But at their heart, they’re a public transit vehicle – people need to want to / choose to ride public transit.” “But when it comes to attracting daily riders / commuters…predictability and speediness are much bigger factors in convincing people to choose public transit.”

          Pretty much my sentiments. You’re skipping right to the potential development opportunities of a streetcar rather than questioning the main purpose — namely, if it’s a viable transit option here. I contend that it is not. Sure, maybe as a closed-loop downtown circulator, but for an extended stretch on surface streets, no (again, my opinion).

          The people who need public transit – i.e. those without cars or licenses, or in positions where it’s economically/personally inefficient to drive daily — already have found and use their bus routes. An on-street rail-trolley system going over basically the same routes doesn’t really build upon that much.

          No, for expansion of any kind to be successful, you need buy-in from those residents who absolutely don’t need to use public transportation. A street-level system with similar headways as the existing bus system (and significantly longer versus private auto) is a hard – and very possibly impossible – sell for those people.

          Personally, I’d rather see an off/under-road Metrolink hitting the Southside (see my obsession over the De Soto right-of-way) with a handful of station stops taking southsiders to the central/downtown corridor. It’s a different, quicker (and potentially less expensive) system that provides a new option to the Southside while supplementing (rather than duplicating) existing service.

          • http://urbanreviewstl.com/ Steve Patterson

            I’ve focused on the development opportunities because I realize that I’ll never get new streetscape with a bus, nor will the headway of the #10 Olive/Lindell bus be improved beyond the current 30-40 minute frequency. Why? No way to fund it. Will property owners agree to a transportation district with new property taxes to finance the same bus on 10 minute headways? No, it wouldn’t happen.

        • gmichaud

          Rarity only applies to the US, (and only in recent decades). You are correct about frequency etc, but more important is the conception of the total system in conjunction with frequency. In cities that did not destroy streetcars, mostly outside the US, the streetcar remains an important feature in movement systems and transit.

          If rarity was important then none of these systems would exist in the world, but they are common outside the US.
          It is far a far different proposition to claim buses are more important because they are flexible than attempting to design a transit system than works best for people movement. Who cares about flexibility if the overall system doesn’t work?

          As shown all over the world fixed rail in various forms are an important part of viable transit systems. It is not a rarity as you suggest.

          • JZ71

            I’m not saying that rarity is important to the success or failure of a streetcar as a mode of transit, I’m saying that rarity or uniqueness is important if transit (of any sort) is to be a significant component used to stimulate development. Buses are also not “more important”, they’re just more cost-effective in many (most) situations where a streetcar would be appropriate.

  • Peter

    I like the Jefferson/Chippewa route, however, I would suggest instead having the route turn down cherokee at Jefferson and then going down Gravois/Grand back to Chippewa and then out to Shrewsbury Metrolink and shift the #73 to serve Chippewa between Grand and Jefferson. I think that Cherokee would be better because Chippewa between Jefferson and Grand is mostly residential and Cherokee more commercial. I assumed that as part of your idea the #11 would be replaced/eliminated.

  • Mark

    Jump on the trolley and enter the world of Steve Patterson’s Make Believe!!! It worked well for Mr. Rodgers. But I don’t think your world of make believe, Steve, would be realized once people are able to jump aboard in St. Louis. IF IT IS EVER ACTUALLY BUILT, The new St Louis trolley will become just another visitor attraction, like the Arch, the Zoo, Science Center….something to do when family visits from Horton, Kansas (or other places where there are no trolleys). As a public transit vehicle, it will fail. And I’m one of many who won’t believe the trolley will be built until the first backhoe scoops up a huge bucket of soil, rock, electrical cables, unidentified water supply pipes, and other leftovers from years of construction and various types of forgotten/unknown development in the pathway.

    • http://urbanreviewstl.com/ Steve Patterson

      I’m guessing 15-20 years ago you said the exact same thing to those who envisioned lofts in the many vacant buildings downtown.

      • Mark

        Since you asked: 15 years ago I was in grade school. But I have friends who currently live in lofts downtown, and I view them as over-priced and under-developed–based on those that I’ve been in. Developer gold mines, owner (potential) nightmares. Not a place where I’d invest my money, largely because the value of my investment is contingent on some irresponsible frat boy who lives next door with his two (barking) dogs and sometimes-girl/boy-friend, who looks the other way when his pets have accidents in common areas and when no-one else is looking, whose friends noisily leave his unit at 1 or 2 AM without consideration for neighbors, and who probably couldn’t come up with the money to cover the cost of a special assessment if his life depended on it. Plus, the spaces are cramped, closet-deprived and cheaply appointed. I invested in a single-family residence in Clayton, where I know my investment is safe and growing.

        • http://urbanreviewstl.com/ Steve Patterson

          Ah, your answer expIains so much. Well, there were naysayers who said nobody would live downtown and that narrowing Washington Ave from 4 lanes to 2 would 1) never happen and 2) wouldn’t matter if it did. Fast forward to today and thousands now call downtown home. Some own, some rent. Some will move away eventually, some of us view it as our final residence. The naysayers were wrong and in time you’ll be wrong about the streetcar.

  • Eric

    What this needs, in order for us to have an informed opinion, is a map of population and retail density. However, for the most part these routes go through reasonably well populated areas. Also, you can guess that South City is more likely to increase in population and attract investment than North City.

    These routes are mostly straight lines, which is good (quicker trips->more ridership).

    The Natural Bridge, MLK, and Chippewa lines have the advantage of important destinations at both ends (as does the Lindell line). For example, the Chippewa line makes it easy to get to jobs in Richmond Heights or Clayton (by transferring in Shrewsbury) as well as downtown.

    However, the Chippewa line, with its bend to Jefferson, is very indirect and also long and prone to delays. If it is in mixed traffic, its on time performance will be horrible.

    For the south side, I had in mind a line from Downtown-Gravois-Chippewa-Shrewsbury.

    However, the bottom line may be that you can build BRT on all these routes for the same cost as a streetcar on one of them. In which case, BRT is preferable.

    “Longer articulated buses” will make little difference on Grand, they will not speed up anyone’s trip (though they will make it more comfortable). Regular buses running more frequently would speed up trips. Off-bus fare collection would do much more to speed them up. Grand currently has more riders than any of the other routes listed, so it should be the first to get investment – even if your priority is development.

    • Scott Jones

      “Also, you can guess that South City is more likely to increase in population and attract investment than North City.” – sad but true (with a few exceptions). For example: observe how no real Transit Oriented Development has occurred in North County along the Metrolink line despite the cheap land (& even large empty lots near the Wellston station).

  • goldelina

    This project is so delayed that planning or hoping for expansion is futile

    • http://urbanreviewstl.com/ Steve Patterson

      Huh? Planning just started this year. I think you’re thinking of the Loop Trolley.

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