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Two Locally Preferred Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Routes Selected

In September readers picked the I-64 BRT route between downtown and Chesterfield as their favorite of four bus rapid transit (BRT) routes being studied by the Transportation Corridor Improvement Group (TCIG), which “consists of staff from Metro, EWGCOG, the City of St. Louis, St. Louis County, and MoDOT”.

“None” was 2nd in the poll, but the next actual route favored was the West Florissant – Natural Bridge BRT option. On Tuesday the TCIG recommended two locally preferred alternative routes to Metro’s Operations Committee

After careful consideration and analysis of the transportation corridors, the TCIG recommended as the locally-preferred alternative two BRT projects: I-64 between Chesterfield and Downtown St. Louis, and a north-south route connecting North St. Louis County to Downtown St. Louis primarily via West Florissant Avenue and Natural Bridge Avenue.

See their report/presentation here.

The four alternative BRT routes that were being studied.
The four alternative BRT routes that were being studied, click image to view larger version.

Let’s take a closer look at the two selected routes, from Tuesday’s report:

I-64 BRT (route)

The 1-64 BRT corridor spans 23 miles between the City of Chesterfield and Downtown St. Louis. It would serve a limited number of park-and-ride stations along I-64 between Chesterfield Mall and the Central West End. From the Central West End it would travel along Forest Park Avenue into Downtown St. Louis, making a loop through Downtown before ending at the Civic Center Station. As currently proposed, its service frequencies would match MetroLink, and transit prioritization strategies would be implemented along the corridor to speed transit travel.

The I-64 BRT would serve a Central Corridor that hosts 55,000 people and 115,500 jobs within one half-mile, outside of Downtown St. Louis. The addition of this high-performance service to the Metro System would provide the region’s first rail-like transit option in West St. Louis County, offering the first opportunity for all-day, single-seat service between Chesterfield and Downtown St. Louis, and reducing transfers from other areas by half. Along with reducing transfers, it would improve transit travel time within the corridor by 30%, making it a much more attractive alternative to the personal automobile. Ridership projections from EWGCOG’s regional travel demand model show a potential ridership market of 5,100 weekday riders, 2,100 (41%) of whom would be new “choice” riders. That market is projected to grow to 6,800 weekday riders by 2040.

I-64 BRT CONSUMER BENEFIT

  • End-to-end transit travel time reduced from 76 minutes to 53 minutes
  • – Compared to auto travel time of 25 minutes
  • – Offers motorists option of comfortable, affordable, productive commute
  • Corridor ridership projected to increase 357% from 1,115 to 5,100 weekday riders opening year; 6,800 in 2040
  • – 2,100 (41%) new “choice” riders opening year
  • Enhanced service
  • – BRT option provides single-seat service not currently available
  • – Reduce transfers by 50%
  • – End-to-end service available all day, rather than only peak
  • – Create additional hubs to make local bus service more efficient

This route makes a lot of sense to me. It gets a higher level of transit service on this corridor without the enormous infrastructure expense that would be required for light rail. It would run down Forest Park Ave & Boyle, running right past the proposed IKEA and connecting with the proposed new CORTEX MetroLink station. Transit time would be reduced from three times driving to twice driving. For some that’s still a non-starter, but for others it would allow them to avoid  driving/parking headaches while being able to be productive. It doesn’t need to get every driver out of their cars to be a success.

West Florissant – Natural Bridge BRT (route)

The other transit project included in the LPA is an arterial-based BRT route connecting North St. Louis County to Downtown St. Louis. This service would operate out of the new North County Transit Center, running 16 miles to Downtown via West Florissant Avenue, Lucas and Hunt Road, and Natural Bridge Avenue. As currently proposed, its service frequencies would match MetroLink; stations with a high level of customer amenities would be spaced a minimum of one mile apart; and transit prioritization strategies would be implemented to speed travel.

The combined West Florissant-Natural Bridge corridor hosts 70,000 people and 18,000 jobs within a half-mile, not counting Downtown St. Louis. Supplementing the local bus network in this strong and proven transit market will give residents of North St. Louis City and near-North County their first high-performance, rail-like transit option. It will reduce transit travel time and any required transfers by half. It would also greatly improve access and travel time between some of the region’s most disadvantaged areas and major jobs centers in Downtown and the Central Corridor, particularly if paired with the I-64 BRT option. Ridership projections from EWGCOG’s travel demand model show a potential ridership market of 3,200 weekday riders, 600 (19%) of whom would be new “choice” riders.

W. FLORISSANT–NATURAL BRIDGE BRT CONSUMER BENEFIT

  • End-to-end transit travel time reduced from 85 minutes to 42 minutes
  • – Compared to auto travel time of 25 minutes
  • – Attractive amenity package offers affordable, comfortable commute
  • Corridor ridership projected to increase 23% from 2,610 to 3,200 opening year and 2040 (Natural Bridge)
  • 600 (19%) new “choice” riders
  • Enhanced service
  • BRT option supports fast single-seat ride to Downtown St. Louis
  • If paired with I-64 BRT, travel from North County to CWE and West County would require only 1 transfer between 2 high-speed routes; currently requires multiple transfers and 2-3 local routes

Unlike going to Chesterfield, reaching downtown from North St. Louis County isn’t very direct via car or transit. This will help reduce travel time for existing transit users and is expected to attract new riders. The streetscape improvements along the route will benefit everyone in the area.

Additional information

Travel speeds competitive with MetroLink

  • Avg MO MetroBus speed = 16.02 mph
  • Avg MO MetroLink speed = 25.63 mph
  • I-64 BRT speed = 26.04 mph
  • WFNB BRT speed = 25.71 mph

The report has very detailed cost projections, here’s the summary:

  • I-64 BRT: $37.9M capital; $4M net operating
  • West Florissant – Natural Bridge BRT: $39.1M capital; $2.6M net operating

Additional operational revenue would be necessary for this additional service.

Next Steps

Metro’s board is expected to vote to approve these two locally preferred routes at their March 28th meeting.  If approved it goes to East-West Gateway Council of Governments, the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) for the St. Louis region. Once part of our 2040 transportation plan we can seek capital funding through the Federal Transit Administration’s Small Starts program.

Again, much more detail is with the report/presentation from Tuesday.

— Steve Patterson

  • Thomas R Shrout Jr

    A look at past attempts to improve bus service in the I-64 corridor needs to be evaluated to see if there are lessons to be learned for this particular proposal.

  • eric4653

    This proposal seems more concerned with drawing lines on a map than with providing effective service that will actually help people.

    Digging into the report, we find about the I-64 corridor:
    1) There will only be 3 stops west of I-170. Good luck if your job isn’t next to one of those three stops. They say there might be eventually be a shuttle from BRT stops to other destinations – but currently there’s no funding for it, and anyway that removes the BRT speed advantage.
    2) It will operate in regular car lanes, so it’s barely faster than existing buses (the 23 minute travel time reduction is mostly through skipping stops)
    3) Traffic signals will supposedly have priority for buses, but this has proven ineffective in other cities, and of course won’t exist at all on I-64 which has no signals
    4) Lots of money will be spent on fancy-looking buses and bus stops that are no more pleasant to use. And perhaps less pleasant (the illustration stop look more exposed to the weather than current stops. But it’s “fancy” so it appeals to transit executives and urbanists who don’t actually use transit but want to be associated with it)

    Basically, the entire proposal is worthless except for the off-board fare collection, and that would be better used on other routes such as Grand.

    I have not looked at the Natural Bridge corridor in detail, but don’t expect it to be too much better.

    • JZ71

      Ouch . . . but probably very true . . . .

      • dempster holland

        Agreed–the political analysis is very true

    • http://urbanreviewstl.com/ Steve Patterson

      I think the idea is to get commuters from West County to jobs in the city. They can use park & ride lots. Workers from the city going out to jobs will have faster trip than now.

      • eric4653

        1) The plan doesn’t include building new park & ride lots.
        2) If so, then why would the buses run at high frequency all day? They should only run in rush hours. It makes more sense that the plan is designed for service workers who live in the city and have to get to shift jobs at all sorts of hours.

      • JZ71

        Unless the plan is to add circulator buses at the suburban stops, it won’t work for most suburban workers – that’s why most drive now! Any slight time savings doesn’t address the last mile challenge of suburban sprawl.

      • Moe

        ROFL…..West Countians taking the bus INTO the City for jobs???? where was their outrage when the transportation tax failed? It was only because the Mayor of Chesterfield realized that, hey…we won’t have any menial workers if there is no bus service.

  • JZ71

    One big problem with transit planning here is the focus on downtown, a legacy of how the city worked nearly a century ago. These days, there are way more destinations outside of the core than inside it. Compare our transit map with a city like Los Angeles, where their BRT (Metro Rapid – 700 series routes) covers the city with a grid of higher-speed service. If we really wanted to create a successful first BRT route, here, it would be done on Grand, where we can leverage existing high ridership and connect to multiple logical transfer points with existing local routes and Metrolink. As eric4653 correctly observes, these will look pretty, but appear to have significant inherent operational challenges that will result in less-than-spectacular actual ridership gains.

    • wump

      there are more jobs downtown than anywhere else, so your point is pretty dumb

      • JZ71

        Employment in the region: 1,258,698
        Employment in the county: 575,924
        Employment in the city: 221,384

        http://www.bls.gov/ro7/stlouis

        Assuming that “downtown” has half the jobs in the entire city, that would be, what, 111,000 jobs? Less than 10% of the jobs in the region?

        • eric4653

          Many of the region’s jobs are in schools, or strip malls, or driving around in a truck or police car. Meaning, not in a job center, and not able to be served well by transit in the foreseeable future. If you exclude those jobs and just look at jobs that are concentrated together in job centers, downtown’s percentage becomes much higher.

          • JZ71

            A mall easily has hundreds of workers (plus hundreds more customers) and most places with employees out “driving around” do so out of a central hub – think UPS and First Student. Yes, downtown has density, but so does the CWE/BJC, Clayton, the Monsanto campus, the Express Scripts campus, Lambert, every casino, the Galleria, West County Mall, UMSL the Chesterfield valley, Scott AFB and on and on and on. The one big difference downtown has is its history of being the region’s hub, and along with that, a tradition of great transit service. You’re not going to get a lot of riders, anywhere, if the service is marginal or non-existent (“sucks”) and you’re not going to get density (but you will get a lot of parking lots) if the ONLY way to get somewhere is to drive!

            Continuing to focus every major transit investment on downtown does help downtown maintain its density, but it ignores the needs of many taxpayers who neither work nor live anywhere near downtown. Yes, it’s a chicken-or-egg (riders versus service) issue, but it’s also a funding issue – if suburban voters see public transit as irrelevant or something they’ll never use, their need to continue to fund it also becomes questionable. You’re right, we’ll never be able to provide the same level of service along Manchester Rd., up and down Grand and Jefferson, or out Telegraph, as we do in the CBD, but we can do better than we’re doing now, and BRT offers the best opportunity, but only if it’s implemented well.

            So to get back to your original point, downtown’s percentage – how “much higher”?! Is it 20%? 25%? 30%? However you crunch it, it still leaves 80%, 75% or 70% of the region’s employment OUTSIDE of downtown, as well as the vast majority of the region’s residents. Do we just ignore the 80%+ that aren’t downtown, or assume that they’re willing to make every trip through downtown? Or do we attempt to address their needs as well as those who work and/or live downtown? Just because it’s hard(er) doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try!

          • eric4653

            In theory we should serve every destination. In practice we can’t.

            Monsanto’s campus, to take one example, has thousands of workers. But the area’s land development and demographic characteristics mean that even a high-quality transit route there will never get a significant ridership! So we shouldn’t spend lots of money on such a route.

            Of course, there are many intermediate points on the spectrum between the extremes of Monsanto and downtown. The I-64 corridor is interesting, there are a number of hospitals and colleges and businesses there, arranged roughly in a straight line. Right now the buses on this corridor seem to run every 40 minutes. They should really come at least every 30 minutes so that you can plan their arrival time easily (same time each hour). If we want to invest millions of dollars in this particular corridor, a good idea would be to improve the frequency to every 10-15 minutes. But the routes themselves are pretty good for the existing geography. They can maybe be tweaked (every 158 starts at Clayton MetroLink and goes straight on the freeway until Ballas?). But a BRT plan like this one, or light rail, would likely do more harm than good.

        • wump

          I’m talking about concentration. Downtown has three times as many jobs as downtown Clayton, clayton has thesecond highest concentration in the region. 10% of a regions jobs in a space ten by twenty blocks. That’s a lot. No other part of the region comes close.

  • wump

    a total waste of resources

  • John R.

    Not sure of the precise date, but Metro seems to have jumped the shark soon after the passage of Prop A.

    • http://urbanreviewstl.com/ Steve Patterson

      County voters approved Prop A in 2010 with the expectation of additional transit service. Metro is attempting to deliver.

      • dempster holland

        The clear expectation was additional light rail routes. Metro is apparently completely
        backing away from any more light rail

        • John R

          Right. And they’ve delivered a pretty solid middle finger to the 70 line/riders.

        • http://urbanreviewstl.com/ Steve Patterson

          Wrong, BRT was part of the discussion:
          “Q: What kind of expanded public transit service will there be?
          A: All current modes of transit—MetroBus, MetroLink and Metro Call-A-Ride—will be enhanced.

          Q: Where will new metrolink and metroBus routes go?
          A: MetroBus and MetroLink routes, as well as new options such as Bus Rapid Transit, will be determined in conjunction with regional partners and the federal government. An expansion of light rail from Clayton to the West Port area, as well as a North Side/South Side route have been identified as possibilities.

          Q: What is Bus rapid transit?
          A: Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is higher-capacity bus service. It uses buses that are larger than the current MetroBus fleet, and can carry more passengers per vehicle. These buses also make fewer stops and use dedicated transit plazas that are similar to MetroLink stations. BRT has more flexibility and lower capital investment than light rail.”
          Source: http://www.moremetrolink.com/pdf/QandA.pdf

          • John R

            Steve, you’re addressing a different issue than what dempster and I are pointing out. Clearly, Prop A campaign promised enhanced and expanded Metrolink…. we may be wrong, but we’re getting the message that this in fact will not happen. It is true that brt was part of the possibilities of enhanced bus service but we were also promised more Metrolink as part of the overall improvements. My understanding is that they won’t even look at a Grand BRT as well.

          • dempster holland

            Further evidence of Metro abandoning light rail: 1) giving away a right of way along Inner belt for a bike trail; 2) not proceeding to initial engineering for any route, ignoring
            its own timetable; 3) not choosing an alternate route to extend the Shrewsbury line.
            Metro will say these are decisions of East=West, and East-West will no doubt
            say they are waiting for Metro. I think one reason for not doing light rail is that a
            much bigger portion of the sales tax is dedicated to debt service on the Shrewsbury
            line than was originally acknowledged.

          • JZ71

            The biggest reason is that the feds used to do a 90% federal – 10% local split when it came to funding light rail projects. These days, given increased competition from other cities, the match has shifted more to 60% federal – 40% local, and light rail ain’t cheap!

          • dempster holland

            If that is the reason, then I believe Metro should state it publicly.
            Another reason for believing light rail is dead is the proposed use of Natural
            Bridge for bus rapid. This is the street that the North-South light rail would use
            in north st louis. Can light rail and Bus rapid physically exist on the same street?
            Maybe or maybe not but that issue is not addressed. I suspect that at some point
            Metro/East west will say that light rail cannot go into north st louis because there
            already is bus rapid on Natural Bridge, and that since it cannot go into north
            st Louis it would be unfair to use it in south st louis

          • eric4653

            Can they exist on the same street? Maybe. But it would be beyond retarded to build two separate systems on the same street serving the same customers. If one is built, the other won’t be.

          • JZ71

            Can and should are two different things. A great transit system offers multiple options, sometimes overlapping. Most trips are pretty similar – origin > local bus > regional transit (bus or rail) > local bus > destination. Eliminating one or more intermediate steps is a bonus, eliminating the local connection, at either end, pretty much kills the trip. People who live or work along Natural Bridge need to be able to start or complete their trip, just like Metro needs to be able to move people through the corridor who have no interest in stopping. Look at LA’s Metro Rapid BRT system – many of their routes are on the same arterials as their local service. I don’t expect any future BRT or LRT on Natural Bridge to completely replace the existing local bus service.

          • eric4653

            ” I don’t expect any future BRT or LRT on Natural Bridge to completely replace the existing local bus service.”

            That may be true, local buses have different speed and coverage than BRT/LRT. But BRT and LRT have similar speed and coverage to each other, so they would serve the same trips.

          • JZ71

            True, and why we’ll likely get one or the other, if any, and certainly not both.

            The real challenge I see with the Natural Bridge line, as proposed, is that it does not connect to the UMSL South station, mid-route, and only goes as far north as the North County Transit Center, meaning that it really only provides a direct connection between the TC and downtown, with few opportunities to connect to the larger “system”.

          • dempster holland

            This could be accomplished by having extra trips from the northern terminus
            diverted to end at the umsl south station. This may actually get riders
            from north county to downtown faster than going east on Natural Bridge. This
            discussion shows, however, that the bus rapid routes do not seem to be
            part of a total transit planning process but have developed simply because
            the federal money is there for bus rapid and the local transit planners have
            to do something to meet the promises of the 2010 sales tax increase vote

      • Fozzie

        Maybe they should start with adding more buses to the Kingshighway and Grand routes instead cramming in passengers on existing service like some Third World country.

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

    It’s a consistent fallacy: express service on highways and interstates is NOT Bus Rapid Transit!

    If it were, then we could safely say we already have Interstate BRT. The 40X, for example, exits to Loughborough, picks up passengers, then hops back on I-55. That’s express service and the “BRT” routes are just that with a different name.

    True BRT is a city/intercity system which services neighborhoods and business centers (with feeder routes connecting) at street-level. The proposed Ashland BRT in Chicago comes to mind as a good example — the system prioritizes bus travel over private vehicles, encourages connections and reduces travel times (yes, in some cases close to that of a car).

    • John R

      It doesn’t even look like Metro planners are convinced this qualifies as BRT and eligible for federal small starts funding. I’d be much more supportive of something like the solid Cleveland Health Line (widely regarded as the highest-level BRT in the country although still short of the highest standards possible) as an alternative to the sidelined N-S Metrolink possibility. (I still don’t understand why the southside, which has the largest population densities in the region got shafted in Metro planning.)

      Anyway, from what I see hopefully FTA trash cans this so everyone can move on.

      • JZ71

        The Cleveland Health Line simply replaced a functioning streetcar line with buses in an existing, dedicated right-of-way. Yes, it’s successful, but it’s apples and oranges to what’s being propsed here or what other cities have done with BRT.
        Unfortunately, “BRT” has become a fairly loose definition. The 16th Street Mall Shuttle in Denver is one extreme of “BRT” – very frequent service + dedicated ROW + very frequent stops – while LA’s Metro Rapid is another extreme – frequent service on city streets + signal priority + upgraded boarding infrstructure. What Metro’s proposing on Natural Bridge may be similar, but what they’re proposing out to Chesterfield is simply a glorified express bus route.

        • John R

          Are you thinking of the nearby Rapid light rail that runs nearby? The Cleveland Health Line BRT itself runs down Euclid Avenue. Surely there was a streetcar running down Euclid decades ago but there was no dedicated ROW for transit at the time when the BRT infrastructure was put into place. (I also believe the dedicated BRT lanes end east of Cleveland State and that a bike-line was also added east of the downtown core as part of the project.) Anyway, the route would be very much akin to running fixed-transit down Olive Street/Lindell from downtown to the CWE as envisioned with Saint Louis Streetcar. .

          • JZ71

            You’re right – I’m confusing the Green Line I rode in 1990 with the new BRT line.

          • John R

            Health Line sure has helped with redevelopment… some pretty impressive stuff is going on down that corridor. They had for years looked at an underground subway to get quicker travel times and more central stops, but I think the BRT turned out to be a better move as the subway wouldn’t have resulted in as much redevelopment oppty.

            Which is one of my major beefs with Metro’s plans for glorified commuter bus. The two routes would neither provide fast commutes nor allow for solid redevelopment. Stops on the WF-NB would be no closer than 1 mile, leaving only marginal opportunities for redevelopment at best.

          • JZ71

            Agree – the same goes for LA’s Metro Rapid – right product, right spacing, good schedules and high ridership. These two routes seem to be a) stroking John Nation’s ego and constituents (I-64) and b) missing a huge connection by not connecting to Metrolink midroute (WF-NB) – there are probably more riders in north city and north county trying to go south and west than are trying to go downtown! If we want a viable, regional transit system, we need to take off the blinders and connect our current employment centers, the ones spread out throughout the region, with more of a grid system and less of a radial one, centered on downtown . . . .

  • Michael Alan

    A real BRT system includes dedicated ROW. Without it, the lines are essentially express buses. They are not BRT.

    These proposals are simply glorified express buses that lack the most important element necessary to expand ridership beyond existing users. These proposals are financially negligent lip-service.

    The proposals need…

    1) Dedicated ROW
    2) Off-board fare collection
    3) Brick & mortar stations
    4) Frequent service
    5) Intersection control at every signal

    The top three are the most crucial.

    This proposal is lacking, misleading, and almost insulting.

    • http://urbanreviewstl.com/ Steve Patterson

      It’s BRT according to the National BRT Institute:
      “BRT is an innovative, high capacity, lower cost public transit solution that can significantly improve urban mobility. This permanent, integrated system uses buses or specialized vehicles on roadways or dedicated lanes to quickly and efficiently transport passengers to their destinations, while offering the flexibility to meet transit demand. BRT systems can easily be customized to community needs and incorporate state-of-the-art, low-cost technologies that result in more passengers and less congestion.”
      http://www.nbrti.org

      • JZ71

        You’re both “right”, relying on selective quoting: http://www.nbrti.org/docs/pdf/High%20Res%20CBRT%202009%20Update.pdf

        BRT can and does take many forms – all it takes is bus (not rail), rapid (relative to he rest of the system) and (public) transit!

      • John R

        Its brt-ish but I think it would fall short of Bronze-level status under ITDP…. they had a 2011 report that found only 5 “true” BRT routes in the country and all bronze.

        http://www.itdp.org/documents/20110526ITDP_USBRT_Report-HR.pdf

        Page 76 has a nice scoring system and the report gives helpful guidance on how American communities can gain true BRT. The most important question though is whether the feds would qualify this under small starts, which Metro seems to need for this to get off the ground.

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