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Local Example of Light Rail in Center of Street

For a while now I’ve been trying to convey how disastrous light rail in the center of Natural Bridge & Jefferson would be. I kept trying to think of a local example, but then the 2006 light rail extension in the center of Forest Park Parkway in Clayton came to mind.

Southbound traffic on S. Meramec in Clayton see a wall and right turn only signs at Forest Park Parkway
Southbound traffic on S. Meramec in Clayton see a wall and right turn only signs at Forest Park Parkway. Click to view in Google Street View
To achieve higher speeds,places to cross would be reduced through the use of concrete walls.
To achieve higher speeds,places to cross would be reduced through the use of concrete walls.

Such walls preventing pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorists and crossing the street except at a few points would be horrible for the surrounding neighborhoods. Do as I did — go to the interception of Meramec & Forest Park Parkway and see if you think that would be good for Natural Bridge or Jefferson.

— Steve Patterson




Currently there are "27 comments" on this Article:

  1. RyleyinSTL says:

    Sure, if it’s done like that. There are other options. While not perfect (what is?) Phoenix seems to have achieved some success mixing light rail with traffic.

  2. PeterXCV says:

    This comparison seems unwise, Forest Park Parkway has no sidewalks and few buildings face it, much different from Natural Bridge or Jefferson. Also, I don’t understand exactly what is so different about light rail vs. a quicker streetcar with dedicate lanes, which would actually offer material improvements for those that rely on transit (or BRT) rather than mixed traffic streetcars that while sexy, more amenable to middle class people and relatively good for development don’t actually improve the transit experience for those that need it or would actually use it the most.

    And unless Jefferson were narrowed so much so that there wouldn’t be room for dedicate transit lanes, it would never be that pleasant to cross outside of an intersection, having grown up ~50 feet away from it.

    • I took the photos from the public sidewalk. It’s the closest example we have to how light rail would be built in the center of a street like Natural Bridge & Jefferson.

      • PeterXCV says:

        Closest does not mean good. I mean they made mockups of some the stations for the N-S line that do not look similar to that picture you have above, have you seen those?

  3. Scott Stewart says:

    Pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists couldn’t cross Forest Park here BEFORE the light rail went in, either. Light rail didn’t change that.

    • You’re being too literal. Just imagine this on Jeffetson — cutting off a place where you could cross prior to light rail.

      • JZ71 says:

        Unless they fence off the right-of-way and run light rail at higher speeds than normal city traffic (like they did on FPP), then you just look both ways (or not) and cross wherever you damn well please, just like people do now! You’re assuming that light rail = higher speeds. There are plenty of places where light rail operates successfully on surface streets, at slower (“safer”) speeds, performing much like an oversized streetcar (San Diego, Houston, Denver, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Salt Lake City, to name a few).

  4. JZ71 says:

    And non-local examples: http://raillife.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/07/Light-Rail-Map.jpg?b8a61d . . and http://static01.nyt.com/images/2009/09/20/us/20rail_600.jpg . . . and http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3504/3317188973_96b3d4c287.jpg?v=0 . . . https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/54/METRO_Light_Rail3.jpg . . .
    I get it, you don’t want light rail, you want a streetcar. The vehicle ain’t the problem, it’s the operating envelope. If you physically separate and run higher speeds, you create a barrier. If you run at the same speed as, or slower than, surrounding traffic, then you don’t need separation, and the only barriers are the limits on curb cuts and making it harder to ride a bike. Pedestrians can (and do) cross wherever and whenever they could before you added rail transit to the mix . . .

    • I simply want everyone to understand the differences. I think many who are pushing for this light rail line envision something more like a modern streetcar.

      The time to realize this is now — not opening day.

  5. JZ71 says:

    And from the actual study document:

  6. KevinB says:

    I don’t see why they’d need to terminate a majority of crossings if built at street level. Some, sure, but not many. And they’d certainly need to signalize each crossing to allow for efficient/safe light-rail use.

    Example: With a train arriving every, what, 12 minutes — six, I guess, if northbound/southbound were somehow perfectly timed — and stations spaced every .75 miles or so, you build in station-to-station signal priority. With adjacent stations at Jefferson/Washington and Jefferson/Cass, signals are timed to allow for N-S vehicle traffic (no left turns during Link signals) and the train to travel at-speed (say, 40mph) from one stop to the other. Between the 1-minute priority intervals, signalization is standardized to 30-40 seconds.

    As for existing intersections, I’s suggest you don’t need all accessible to cars, just the primaries, with secondaries cross-able only for pedestrians. Small crossing gates, as seen on East Side sidewalks interacting with Metrolink, would need to be utilized in those instances. For drivers, they can right turn out to approach the closest primary intersection, then ‘U’ into their proper direction (a signalized ‘U’ would be allowed in this scenario).

    Seems like this would work to me. And for the space between intersections? I don’t mind fencing separation. It forces pedestrians to marked intersections, reducing illegal crossings and increasing safety along the system.

  7. gmichaud says:

    I have to agree with the notion that streetcars or trams might be an answer. Light rail certainly hasn’t been proven to enhance conditions around it’s various stops. A study of cities like Helsinki shows the tram works very well as a people mover. The question is whether the notion light rail is even the right solution for in this location.
    And this of course goes back to projected densities, commercial districts and so on. In other words you don’t want parking lots surrounding transit stations, which for St. Louis is pretty well the norm.
    Light rail is a question of scale. To quote from Helsinki in their 2050 Plan “The city plan draft proposes that existing motorway-like traffic routes be turned into urban city boulevards. This would be a major change in the city’s infrastructure, as the areas around the thoroughfares could then be shaped into urban neighbourhoods.”
    This is the type of thinking that needs to be applied here. What in the hell are we trying to do, run a train through neighborhoods as fast as possible along with the cars?
    I have to agree though, a surface light rail track would generally be daunting to pedestrian traffic, no matter how it is configured.

    • JZ71 says:

      It’s not the size of the vehicle, it’s the speed!

      It’s also the distance between stops.

      Streetcars can operate at higher speeds – “back in the day”, they were known as Interurbans. Here, they ran out to Creve Coeur Lake. In Los Angeles, their Red cars predated the freeways: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pacific_Electric

      Light rail can (and does, in other cities) operate on city streets, at slower speeds. And much like streetcars, they’re not “out of sight, out of mind”, like they are in downtoan St. Louis. The only real limitation is the length of the consist (train, number of connected vehicles) – once you get to be longer than a city block, it does screw up traffic, both pedestrian and vehicular.

      St. Louis’ “problem”, like many other cities, is simply a lack of concentrted density. Without density, you don’t have a large number of riders and you end up with less-frequent service.

      When transit operates every 5, 7, 10 or even 15 minutes, it’s a viable option for many people. Once it gets to every 20, 30 or 60 minutes, it becomes much more challenging – you’re held hostage to the schedule, and if you “just miss it”, you’re screwed.

      People drive because it’s easy, direct and predicatble. It takes far less advance planning than using Metro, either on the bus or on light rail. And as long as we focus on spending a lot of money to put a little service in many places, ridership is going to continue to decline. For most people, time IS money, and more-frequent bus service will attract more riders than some fancy new rail line!

      • gmichaud says:

        I’d be interested in knowing specific examples of light rail slowing down, it seems to me a misuse of technology. Streetcars are generally slower,
        Light rail seems out of place if you are trying to accomplish a more urban setting as per the topic of Steve’s post.
        Other than that you more or less repeat what I said about speed and density.
        I was trying to stay on subject, but certainly transit frequency is an interesting topic. I have been looking at various frequency maps (I know of none for St. Louis) and am attempting to discern a structure that might help make transit successful based on frequency.
        As far as bus service vs streetcars, I feel like trams have a definite role in a well designed transit system. Clearly there are many trams and streetcars around the world so it should be clear there is more to it than letting the bean counters run everything while missing chances to create success and a more livable environment.
        I still maintain if some sort of comprehensive plan was presented to St. Louis and it is exciting and workable, citizens would support it
        Unfortunately transit and urban planners at regional and state level don’t seem to care. Everything they do is about auto worship. Hence St. Louis stumbles along.

        • JZ71 says:

          I’m most familiar with Denver, but any city that runs light rail at grade in an urban environment is limited to 30 mph, or less, due to both frequent grade crossings and frequent stops – that’s the whole advantage of subways and elevated systems. Typically, light rail operates in a dedicated right-of-way, either a lane or two, or, more rarely, an entire street converted exclusively to transit. Streetcars, being smaller, can operate in mixed traffic (as they will on Delmar), but will get stuck in the same traffic that slows down buses. Here are a couple of Google street views, one from Denver and one from Salt Lake City, showing a shared street – you can scroll thru them for multiple views of their respective “envelopes”: https://www.google.com/maps/@39.7520545,-104.9816192,3a,75y,90h,90t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sFZuL5yaUYUIduWffepR3uQ!2e0!7i13312!8i6656 . . and: https://www.google.com/maps/@40.7694254,-111.8949801,3a,75y,270h,90t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sw2ni-RmFnLLrglDnsomxuA!2e0!7i13312!8i6656

          • gmichaud says:

            Both links are interesting They break the light rail down to pedestrian scale pretty well. The Denver one is a little different, but they both show pedestrian islands. The Salt Lake island is similar to ones I’ve seen used with streetcars elsewhere. I can’t imagine the Denver rail goes very fast at all, it is really humanized by the close presence of the buildings
            These two examples include the pedestrian as a focus.
            Although if trains were racing through these areas then maybe not so much. But they seem to be well designed.
            I’m not sure I understand though why you would use light rail at all in these instances and not trams. Streetcars move slower and are more easily integrated within the city,
            For most of its route Metrolink could be on another planet the way it relates to its surroundings There is nothing pedestrian scale about Metrolink. St. Louis doesn’t do pedestrian spaces.

          • KevinB says:

            Corrected: “St. Louis doesn’t do pedestrian spaces well.”

            St. Louis creates pedestrian spaces out the wazoo, but it’s never part of a larger, itnelligent effort to collect and direct the pedestrian experience.

          • gmichaud says:

            You’re right about the “well”, I especially laugh when they call puny open spaces plazas. They seem to think if they use the right words everything is cool, no matter the pedestrian experience.

          • JZ71 says:

            The Denver one should have been streetcar (or not done at all). It was done purely for political reasons, to provide rail to the historically African-American part of town, as part of a larger project to put in the city’s first light rail line (which runs. slowly, partially on surface streets in downtown Denver, and quickly, in a dedicated ROW, similar to Metrolink, here, between Union Station and Barnes).

            And yes, it gets back to selecting the right “tool” (technology) for the task at hand. Light rail, streetcars, heavy rail, BRT, regular buses, smaller buses, bigger buses and bikes can all be (and are) the “right” answer, depending on what you’re trying to accomplish, depending on the situation. My hot button issue is the continued focus on specific technology (usually rail, and usually streetcar) instead of a larger discussion on why TRANSIT, in its many forms, is NOT being embraced by the vast majority of the residents in the region?! Is it perception? Is it crime? Is it the route structure? Is it the schedule? Is it the vehicles? Is it who rides? And who doesn’t? And, is it the costs? Both for an individual ride and/or as a taxpayer subsidy?

            Discussing why you won’t be able to cross a street before there is any design work has started, before there is any funding identified and before a specific type of vehicle or type of service is identified is the classic definition of an ivory tower discussion. It may raise some interesting issues, it may generate some interesting “discussions”, but it won’t do a damn thing to actually improve transit, today’s getting from Point A to Point B, in the city or the region!

          • gmichaud says:

            You ask quite a few questions. I actually think the specific technology is secondary to to conception and organization of the transit system. This includes pedestrian and bicycle traffic.
            Density, frequency of routes, public spaces, the configuration of urban environments and much more fall under the organization of transit.
            In other environments, majorities of the population use transit. This means St. Louis is failing in some way, the organization of the system being the prime suspect and not funding.
            As far as the more detailed question of crossing the street, certainly Steve deals with broader issues also. Sometimes it is good to ask smaller questions, look where we ended up.
            But I must agree with you in general, I see little discussion of key issues.

          • JZ71 says:

            In other “environments”, fewer people own their own, private, motor vehicles. Why? Cost? To purchase? To operate? To park? The privately-owned motor vehicle has informed urban design and regional planning in the United States for close to a century, now, and that legacy and that mindset is a tough, nearly-insurmountable barrier to making transit a better “option” for most Americans.

            Look at China, look at India, look at Russia, look at ANY “emerging nation”. 30 years ago, transit WAS how most people got around (if not on foot or by bicycle). Now, because they can afford cars, guess what? They’re buying cars! Most people, given the choice, of a private, quick(er), direct option versus a shared, slow(er), less direct alternative will CHOOSE the former IF, (IF!) they can AFFORD IT!

            Few people want to be martyrs. If they can make their life easier, they will choose the easier way. Until three things happen, transit will remain an insignificant solution. EVERYBODY will have to embrace living and working in dense, urban environments. EVERYBODY will have to pay higher taxes to fund better transit. And “FREE” / subsidized parking, in all its forms, will have to go away, completely. I, for one, don’t see that happening any time soon / in my lifetime!

          • gmichaud says:

            The problem is not so much that the car is a choice for movement, but that policy has given all of the benefits to the auto while ignoring pedestrians, bicycles and transit. This is especially true in St. Louis where much of the region is inaccessible by anything but auto. And even in what should be transit friendly zones the transit is poorly done and does not compliment pedestrians and bicycles well.. This is compared to cities that have made the organization of transit a priority, of which there are many.
            The basic reason transit is an insignificant solution is that it is designed to be that way. I know you understand design and certainly you should know there is a difference between good design and poor design. There are plenty of cities where transit predominates against the auto. The difference is the transit system is linked with a pedestrian, bicycle and human friendly environment.
            Poor design is going to lose to the auto every time, just ask those in the St Louis region that have no or minimal access to transit.
            They are going to raise taxes on autos too, so what’s the difference? Plus they just blew up the Daniel Boone Bridge, one they renovated less than 20 years ago, so money is apparently no object with autos, something like war.
            I believe I am older than you (68) and I think I will see monumental changes, necessary because of global warming and the fact young men and women are not fooled by conventional bullshit, hence the rise of Bernie Sanders, and he’s just the beginning.
            The auto is likely to become an artifact of the past sooner rather than later. An unaffordable luxury in a more balanced and equal world.

          • JZ71 says:

            I’m 63, so we’re not that far apart. And I disagree on some of your analysis of the design community. Designers, at least most of them, CAN do “good” design. The problem, especially around here, is that many (and a growing number) of our clients are choosing cheap, bland and autocentric over denser, “better”, urban, design solutions, just like (too?) many buyers and renters are choosing suburban (and suburban-scale “urban”) living over “well-designed” “quality” construction. Money talks. Developers both create and chase “the market”, but the consumer is the ultimate decider. Much like some people who hate on Walmart, but still shop there because, duh, it’s cheap, there are plenty of people who advocate, online, for better design solutions, but don’t put their money where their mouths are, whether it’s their housing choices, their transportation choices and/or where and how they work and recreate.


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