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St. Louis Shouldn’t Build Light Rail, Modern Streetcar, or Bus Rapid Transit; Rapid Streetcar May Be The Answer

This streetcar in Portland OR is a circulator, not a rapid streetcar
This streetcar in Portland OR is a circulator, not a rapid streetcar

There are several camps in the transit world:

  • Light rail advocates
  • Bus rapid transit advocates
  • Streetcar advocates

These don’t mix — build their classic model or nothing. However, in the last decade a new group has emerged advocating a hybrid of these: The Rapid Streetcar. For example, Portland is looking at Rapid Streetcar for future expansion of its streetcar line.

The rapid streetcar concept aims to combine the best features of streetcars and light rail transit (LRT) to achieve faster commute/travel times than streetcars and lower system costs than light rail. Streetcars are typically designed to go shorter distances in central cities, densely populated mixed-use centers and neighborhoods. Streetcars are also typically designed to operate in mixed traffic, preserving street traffic patterns.

LRT typically functions as regional high-capacity transit (HCT), generally traveling in a separated right-of-way with relatively fast-moving, larger-capacity vehicles designed to rapidly transport large numbers of people between suburban and urban centers.

The rapid streetcar concept would apply some of the LRT features to streetcars to improve travel times while keeping capital costs lower. It would combine features of a semi-exclusive transitway and transit priority features within the street right- of-way to achieve faster travel times and maintain lower system capital costs. This could introduce two new levels of service to Portland’s system.

Several corridors under consideration for the Streetcar System Concept Plan are prime candidates to introduce Enhanced Local Service. These corridors are major arterials with 4 to 5 lanes and on-street parking such as NE Sandy Boulevard and SE Foster Road.

In Portland there are potential corridors for introducing priority service. Currently, the region is undertaking a study to extend the existing streetcar system along a former railroad right-of-way from the South Waterfront District, through Johns Landing and south to Lake Oswego. SE Foster Road and 122nd Avenue are also candidates where there may be sufficient right-of-way width to introduce streetcar priority lanes.

Drawing from the experiences from other cities around the world, enhancements to the streetcar operations can significantly increase average speeds:

Service/average Speeds

  • Urban Circulator Service:10 to 15 mph
  • Enhanced Local Service:  15 to 25 mph
  • Rapid Streetcar: 20 to 35 mph

(City of Portland, p14)

According to Wikipedia, our light rail has an average speed of 24.7 mph — within the same range as a rapid streetcar.

Streetcars are cheaper [than light rail] because of their lower infrastructure requirements. Often there is no need to relocat[e] utilities, right of way does not need to be purchased and the stops are smaller and the vehicles more pedestrian oriented. Streetcar stops are also closely spaced if the goal is to be a circulator or short line transport mode. However if a longer distance transit mode that mimics light rail is what you’re looking for, but your city is on a budget, the rapid streetcar might be your choice.

Many cities have taken up the mantle of the rapid bus to be their cost effective alternative to light rail, but only do this based on cost, not because its what the citizenry wants. Recent Rapid Bus movements in Oakland, San Francisco, and Charlotte have shown that people really want light rail on a budget but haven’t been able to engineer their systems to reduce costs and are therefore left with an inferior transit mode for their stated goals.

But by using streetcars in center lanes with single tracking and passing sidings at stations you can get the same performance as light rail on 10 minute headways. Streetcars aren’t single vehicles either. Skoda streetcars have couplers on them as well that would make them multiple car consists. The lighter vehicles are about 66 feet long as opposed to 90 foot LRVs yet you can still get increased passenger capacity and lower infrastructure needs. (The Overhead Wire)

Typically streetcars & light rail have double track — one per direction. But like BRT, if passing is done at stops, money can be saved by using single track in between.

From the person who presented this idea in 2004, Lyndon Henry:

North American planners only thought of streetcars as a slow, circulatory mode competing with pedestrians. Meanwhile, de facto high-performance streetcars were taking Europe by storm, and it was clear that streetcar technology could approach the service capabilities of “full” light rail transit (LRT) — in fact, streetcars could be deployed as a kind of “junior LRT”.

Another factor was the “gold-plating” disease—over-design—with each new LRT startup trying to “one-up” the last new start in another city. LRT railcars were getting bigger and beefier, and station designs were escalating from originally simple shelters into “palaces.”

This led me to recall the original inspiration of LRT—Europe’s invention of a rather bare-bones upgrade of ordinary mixed-traffic streetcars into a faster mode with lots of dedicated lanes, reservations, and exclusive alignments, only occasionally running in street traffic. This notion was expounded in the 1960s and early 1970s by transit visionaries like H. Dean Quinby and Stewart F. Taylor; interestingly, Taylor branded his version of the concept a “Rapid Tramway.” (Railway Age)

We shouldn’t cling to a mode from the past, we need to build a north-south transit line by establishing goals then designing a line to meet those goals. At the same time I’d look at doing what Houston did — redesign all transit routes & schedules from scratch.

— Steve Patterson

 

The Future of Grant’s Farm is Uncertain

The future of Grant’s Farm is coming between siblings — children of the late August Anheuser “Gussie” Busch, Jr. (1899-1989). I find it unsettling to see wealthy siblings, in their 50s & 60s, disagreeing m public.

Before I go any further, I have a confession: I’ve never been inside the gates of Grant’s Farm or the Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site located across…Grant Rd. I’ve certainly driven past on Gravois many times, even exploring the perimeter like Pardee Rd. On Sunday we drove around the site completely. Though the site contains many buildings, it’s still very much unspoiled nature.

The Gravois Rd entry gates to Grant's Farm
The Gravois Rd entry gates to Grant’s Farm

One comment on the Sunday Poll post was:

FYI your 3rd choice isn’t an option. Do a little research on what municipality Grant’s Farm lies in and what it’s zoning laws and ordinances are. Also look up what part lies in a flood plain. Not going to have to worry about any commercial or residential development here!

While poll answers are presented in random order, this was a reference to the poll answer: “Sell to a developer for houses &/or retail”  Not only is it possible, this is the concern of the four Busch siblings that would like to sell the animal preserve to the St. Louis Zoo.

Four Anheuser-Busch heirs worry that their brother, Billy Busch, will turn Grant’s Farm into a subdivision.

No one man can finance and maintain the sprawling South St. Louis County animal park, said Trudy Busch Valentine and Andy Busch. It’s just too expensive.

They have seen housing plat maps already drafted for the Grant’s Farm land, they both said, and know it’s an option for any owner if times get tough.

Billy Busch responded, saying he wouldn’t sell off land. St. Louis County classifies the land as single family, Grantwood Village has it zoned “Animal Preserve.” The Lindbergh School District would likely object to a loss of tax revenue if it went to the Zoo.

County records show the site as 214 acres, though news reports say 198 acres
County records show the site as 214 acres, though news reports say 198 acres
Parking & farm land on the East side of Grant Rd is a different ownership from the trust.
Parking & farm land on the East side of Grant Rd is a different ownership from the trust.
Pedestrian entrance from Grant Rd parking lot
Pedestrian entrance from Grant Rd parking lot
The National site is less than 9 acres
The National site is less than 9 acres

Here are the results of the Sunday Poll:

Q: Six Busch siblings can’t agree on Grant’s Farm, what would you like to see happen?

  1. William “Billy” Busch buys it, builds Kräftig Brewery on part, allows Zoo to use part. 31 [58.49%]
  2. St. Louis Zoo buys it, the region fund a new sales tax to cover annual operating expenses. 12 [22.64%]
  3. Stay as is, owned by the family trust & operated at an annual loss by AB InBev 9 [16.98%]
  4. Other — county buys, becomes affordable housing: 1 [1.89%]
  5. Sell to a developer for houses &/or retail 0 [0%]

A century ago such a family would’ve donated the land to the Zoo, along with an endowment to help cover upkeep. Are taxpayers willing to pay to keep this land as an animal preserve? Doubtful. The future seems uncertain.

— Steve Patterson

 

The St. Louis Region Should’ve Planned For Commuter Rail A Century Ago

In thinking about transit in other regions compared to ours, it is clear to me that natural geography and historic development patterns play a role in transportation planning in the 21st century. Decisions made a century ago, good & bad, still affect us today.

One hundred years ago St. Louis hired a 26 year-old civil engineer, Harland Bartholomew, to be its first planner. During the previous 151 years it developed organically, without planning, He quickly proposed widening many public rights-of-way (PROW) to make room for more cars.

Franklin Ave looking East from 9th, 1928. Collection of the Landmarks Association of St Louis
Franklin Ave looking East from 9th, 1928. Collection of the Landmarks Association of St Louis

St. Louis city invested heavily in widening streets like Natural Bridge, Jefferson, Gravois.

More than three decades after arriving in St. Louis, Bartholomew got a Comprehensive Plan officially adopted (1947). His plan was all about remaking St. Louis because it would have a million residents by 1960 — or so he thought!

Here’s the intro to the Mass Transportation section:

St. Louis’ early mass transportation facilities consisted of street car lines operated by a considerable number of independent companies having separate franchises. Gradually these were consolidated into a single operating company shortly after the turn of the century. In 1923 an independent system of bus lines was established but later consolidated with the street car company. Despite receivership, re-organization and several changes of ownership the mass transportation facilities have been kept fairly well abreast of the city’s needs. Numerous street openings and widenings provided by the first City Plan have made possible numerous more direct routings and reduced travel time.

Approximately 88 per cent of the total area of the city and 99 per cent of the total population is now served directly by streetcar lines or bus lines, i.e., being not more than one quarter mile walking distance therefrom. Streetcar lines or bus lines operate directly from the central business district to all parts of the city’s area. There are also numerous cross-town streetcar lines or bus lines, operating both in an east-west and north-south direction. 

No mention of a regional need for commuter rail. Some might point out this was the city’s plan, not the region’s. That would be a valid point if it weren’t for the regional nature of the next section: Air Transportation:

It is reasonable to assume that the developments in air transportation during the next few decades will parallel that of automobile transportation, which really started about three decades ago. St. Louis must be prepared to accept and make the most of conditions that will arise. Provision of the several types of airfields required must be on a metropolitan basis. The recently prepared Metropolitan Airport Plan proposes thirty-five airfields. See Plate Number 27. These are classified as follows:

  • Major Airports – for major transport 3
  • Secondary Airports – for feeder transport 1
  • Minor Fields – for non-scheduled traffic, commercial uses and for training 15
  • Local Personal Fields – for private planes 13
  • Congested Area Airports – for service to congested business centers 3
     
    [Total] 35

Of these, two major, eight minor, twelve personal and three congested area airports would be in Missouri. Lack of available land in the City of St. Louis limited the number within the corporate limits to two minor, one personal and two congested area airports. The selection of sites for the latter involves great cost and should await further technological developments in design and operation of various types of aircraft, including the small high powered airplane, the autogyro and the helicopter.

The three airports within the city are:

  • A Minor Field at the southern city limits east of Morganford Road.
  • A Minor Field in the northern section of the city between Broadway and the Mississippi River. (Since the publishing of the above report this field has been placed in operation by the city.)
  • A Local Personal Field in the western section of the city on Hampton Boulevard north of Columbia Avenue.

The latter is of special significance because of the great concentration of potential private plane owners in fairly close proximity. The northern minor field is adjacent to a large industrial area. The southern minor field would also serve a large industrial area as well as a considerable number of potential private plane owners.

So the region should have 35 airports but no commuter rail service? It should have numerous new highways but no commuter rail? Here’s the visual of the region with 35 airports:

Bartholomew's 1947 plan called for 35 airports un the St, Louis region!
Bartholomew’s 1947 plan called for 35 airports un the St, Louis region!

Thirty-five airports but no plan for mass transit beyond bus service?

Bartholomew left St. Louis in 1953 to chair the National Capital Planning Commission, where he created the 1956 plan for 450 miles of highway in the capital region.

During the 1960s, plans were laid for a massive freeway system in Washington. Harland Bartholomew, who chaired the National Capital Planning Commission, thought that a rail transit system would never be self-sufficient because of low density land uses and general transit ridership decline. But the plan met fierce opposition, and was altered to include a Capital Beltway system plus rail line radials. The Beltway received full funding; funding for the ambitious Inner Loop Freeway system was partially reallocated toward construction of the Metro system. (Wikipedia)

A book written by a partner of Bartholomew revises history to suggest he pushed for Washington’s Metro — see Chapter 10.

https://www.stlouis-mo.gov/archive/harland-bartholomew/HBaACh10.pdf

Washington has fewer miles of freeways within its borders than any other major city on the East Coast.” Thirty-eight of the planned 450 miles would have routed through D.C. proper; today, there are just 10. Instead, after a wrenching and protracted political battle, they write, “the Washington area got Metro—all $5 billion and 103 miles of it.” (Slate)

In 1945, as a paid consultant, Bartholomew said “the density of population of the Washington area would never be sufficient to warrant a regional rail system.” (Lovelace P141, chapter 10 p3). Most likely he felt that way about the St. Louis region. Though the city was quite dense during his decades here, the surrounding suburbs were low-density, still are.

But what if he had guided the region to develop boulevards to the North, West, & South of downtown with streetcars in the median? Today that right-of-way could be used for light rail. Cleveland, for example, is fortunate that Shaker Blvd & Van Aken Blvd  were planned as such, providing room for their Green Line & Blue Line, respectively.

Bartholomew was highly influential — the one person in the region that might have been able to lay the ground work for better mass transit in the 21st century. It wasn’t feasible like lots of highways & airports.

My point is when we think about future transportation infrastructure, and we look at other regions, we must keep in mind their planning & development decisions a century ago. Many still think we should’ve put light rail down the center of I-64 during the big rebuild — failing to realize there wasn’t a way to get a line into the center and it wouldn’t work well if we could since the housing along the route wasn’t developed around transit.

We were able to leverage rail tunnels under downtown and a rail corridor to get light rail to the airport. Other former rail corridors exist for new light rail lines, such as North along I-170 out of Clayton into North County. We do have excessively wide boulevards in the city & county, but cutting up the street pattern after the fact by putting light rail down the center and significantly reducing crossing points is similar to building a highway — it separates.

Moving forward with plans for new regional transportation infrastructure we must recognize we simply don’t have the advantages many other regions enjoy.  We can’t go back and undo decisions Bartholomew & others made a century ago.

— Steve Patterson

 

Panel To Discuss ‘Where We Stand 7th Edition: The Strategic Assessment of the St. Louis Region’ Report

Locust Street entry to the Central Library, with the Shell Building in the background
Locust Street entry to the Central Library, with the Shell Building in the background

Today’s post is about a potentially interesting panel discussion, from the email I received:

St. Louis Public Library – Central Library Auditorium
Wednesday, October 14, 2015 6:30–8 p.m. 

In today’s media, rankings are everywhere—from best ballpark food to top 10 vacation spots to most loved Harry Potter character—they can be fun and eye-catching. Rankings also inform citizens, politicians, businesses, and the media. Rankings are used to direct investments, drive competition, affect perceptions, and build a local, regional, and national narrative.

How does the St. Louis region measure up according to the numbers? Does perception match reality? How should we use rankings to tell our story? Join us for the first of three conversations to explore these questions and share your perspective.

On October 14th, St. Louis journalists Andre Hepkins (KMOV), Maria Altman (St. Louis Public Radio), Deb Peterson (St. Louis Post-Dispatch), and Alex Ihnen (NextSTL) will consider how we talk about St. Louis and rankings from East-West Gateway Council of Government’s Where We Stand 7th Edition: The Strategic Assessment of the St. Louis Region.

Check out the report before the event online at www.ewgateway.org/wws.

Brought to you by East-West Gateway Council of Governments, FOCUS-St. Louis, UMSL School for Public Policy and Administration, and the St. Louis Public Library.

I’ll be out of town so I won’t be able to attend.

— Steve Patterson

 

History Repeating Itself: Public Funded Sports Facilities

Now that I’ve lived in St. Louis for more than a quarter century, I’m realizing history is starting to repeat itself. When I moved to St. Louis, we had no NFL team, a couple of years earlier the Football Cardinals moved from St. Louis to Phoenix. I didn’t care. My 5 years of undergraduate studies at the football-obsessed University of Oklahoma didn’t convert me into a fan of the game. Upon moving here I saw locals depressed about the loss of the Football Cardinals — a team that originated in Chicago.

I watched as we built an expensive new stadium in the hopes of getting an expansion team:

Charlotte was awarded the first franchise – the Carolina Panthers – in October 1993. Surprisingly, the naming of the second expansion city was delayed a month. Most pundits speculated that the delay was made to allow St. Louis to shore up its bid. At the time, St. Louis was considered the favorite for the second franchise, with Baltimore’s three bids also considered strong. However, in a surprising move, the NFL owners voted 26–2 in favor of awarding the 30th franchise to Jacksonville. (Wikipedia)

The collective civic spirit sank.  And what to do with a brand new dome?

The current home of the St. Louis Rams was built in a failed big to get an NFL expansion team,
The current home of the St. Louis Rams was built in a failed big to get an NFL expansion team,

During the 1994 season Georgia Frontiere, the owner of the Los Angeles Rams, was having trouble finding a new stadium for her team as the city of Los Angeles and the surrounding area was not willing to have taxpayer money pay for it. At the time, the Rams were playing in Anaheim Stadium, to which the team had moved in 1980 from the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and which had required a massive reconstruction in order for the Rams to be able to play in what was originally only intended to be a home for the California Angels. Frontiere, who inherited control of the team following the death of her husband Carroll Rosenbloom in 1979, decided that relocation was the only option and initially considered Baltimore, the city where her husband originally owned the Colts before he traded ownership of the team with Robert Irsay, before deciding on St. Louis as the domed stadium that was originally intended for the stillborn Stallions franchise was nearing completion. The NFL initially was unwilling to allow the move out of Los Angeles, and in fact had voted to reject it, but acquiesced after Frontiere threatened to sue the league. The Rams played their first few home games in Busch Stadium until their new home, which became known as the Trans World Dome, opened on November 12 with a game against the expansion Panthers. (Wikipedia)

To save the political embarrassment of having a costly new facility sitting idle our leaders gave Frontiere a sweet deal to get her to move the team — we guaranteed the new dome would remain in the top 25% of all NFL stadiums at 10 & 20 year marks, on a 30 year agreement. The Rams let us pass at 10 years but at the 20 year point new owner Stan Kroenke opted to go year to year, allowed per the original agreement.

No politician wants to lose, on their watch, a major corporation, sports franchise, etc. Nor do they want a facility costing hundreds of millions sitting empty. Just imagine if we hadn’t lured the Rams here two decades ago — the political fallout would’ve been huge.

Now politicians and our civic leaders are scrambling to cover their asses, allowing them to say they did everything they could to keep the Rams here. I know people get attached to sports teams, but any benefits we receive don’t remotely offset the costs. Not even close.

Giving professional sports owners many, many millions in taxpayer money to build new stadiums has never made sense, but it keeps happening.

Most of us understand this is a scam. Studies have argued repeatedly that there’s no real economic impact from a new stadium. There’s no real economic impact on a city, county or state, that is. The economic impact for a pro sports owner is very real. (Yahoo! Sports)

John Oliver explained it well recently, this is almost 20 minutes but worth it:

Owners of professional sport teams have successfully manipulated region after region to get taxpayers to fund new facilities.

Taxpayers have spent nearly $3 billion on the 16 stadiums that will host NFL games during the season’s opening weekend, according to figures in a new analysis from the Taxpayers Protection Alliance, a Washington, D.C-based conservative nonprofit group.

All told, 29 of the NFL’s 31 stadiums have received public funds for construction or renovation. In the last two decades, the analysis found, taxpayers across the country have spent nearly $7 billion on stadiums for a league that surpassed $10 billion in revenue last season. (Huffington Post: Taxpayers Have Spent A ‘Staggering’ Amount Of Money On NFL Stadiums)

I’m in favor of using tax revenue to boost our region & economy — a stadium isn’t the best use of a billion dollars.

“Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.” — Edmund Burke

It’s depressing that St. Louis is falling for this again…but I’ve lived here long enough I shouldn’t be surprised.

— Steve Patterson

 

 

 

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