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Nearly a Quarter of St. Louis Households Underserved by Transit

March 19, 2018 Featured, Public Transit Comments Off on Nearly a Quarter of St. Louis Households Underserved by Transit

Last month Streetsblog USA had a post that caught my attention:

Where should your city aim to add transit service? The places where more buses and trains will be most useful are areas where lots of people live or work, but there’s not enough service to meet the demand.

new data tool from the Center for Neighborhood Technology helps pinpoint these locations in cities around the U.S. The “Gap Finder” — an extension of CNT’s All Transit database — overlays demographic data and transit schedule information on maps that highlight where more people would ride transit if service levels were higher.

The transit gaps mapped by CNT are not to be confused with “transit deserts” — areas with no transit at all. Areas with some transit service may still not have nearly enough to adequately serve the people who live or work there, while areas without any service may be so spread out that fixed-route transit won’t do much good. (Streetsblog USA)

They used three cities as examples: Miami, Los Angeles, and New York City — all had lots of underserved households — their maps were covered in red.

I wanted to see how St. Louis fared on AllTransit’s Gap Finder:

The following quote explains.

TRANSIT GAPS
On the map above, any orange and red areas show transit markets where households are underserved by transit and would benefit from improvements. Blue areas indicate where the transit market strength is already met by a minimum benchmark of adequate transit service and white areas show where the market strength for transit service is low enough that adding transit would not represent an improvement. The pie chart shows the percentage of those households underserved by transit grouped by market strength.

Note: The market is not the same as demand. The gap results from a comparison of current service to the standard or average transit service in similar neighborhoods – not the best and not the worst service, but average.

Why Are There Transit Gaps?

Transit gaps exist wherever there is a mismatch between the strength of a transit market and the quality of transit service available to the households of that community. 

Calculating the Strength of Transit Markets

AllTransitTM defines the strength of a transit market by comparing a wide range of neighborhood characteristics to current transit service available in transit served areas with similar neighborhood characteristics.

I show the pie chart below, but first I want to get in closer.

Now we can see underserved areas.

Soi now what? How do we improve?

Reducing the average wait time for transit by 17 minutes for the underserved neighborhoods in St. Louis, MO would provide enough service improvement to meet minimum standards expected of the transit market in those areas.

Here’s more:

Every location and transit agency is unique, but generally one solution would be to increase the frequency of transit service along the existing (on average) 6 routes or adding new routes. Adding 7 rides per hourwould, on average, close the gap for the underserved areas in St. Louis, MO.

The measure of transit service is driven by the frequency of service, the distance to all transit stops, and the access to jobs on transit. For underserved areas in St. Louis, MO, increasing the average frequency of service from 8 to 15 total trips/hour would change the average transit service in underserved areas from 39 to 44 (out of 100).

The following summarizes headway & frequency goals:

I did not try to find flaws in their methodology. The purpose of this post us to inform others about this new tool and hopefully it’ll lead to improved service in St. Louis.

— Steve Patterson

 

Metro’s New Store, Still Waiting For Smart Card Fare System

March 5, 2018 Featured, Public Transit Comments Off on Metro’s New Store, Still Waiting For Smart Card Fare System

For many years our transit agency, Metro, operated a retail store as part of the convention center, known as America’s Center. It was connected to the visitor’s center at 7th & Washington Ave, This location was a block West of the Convention Center MetroLink station.

Entry to Metro’s old store was anonymous

In a June 2013 post entitled Metro Fails At Retailing I wrote:

I’d like to see Metro make it obvious to anyone walking, or driving, past the MetroRide store to know it is a place to buy transit passes and pick up  schedules.  As a fan of gift shops, I’d also like to see St. Louis transit-related merchandise: t-shirts, postcards, magnets, calendars, etc. I still have a puzzle of the Philly transit map I bought on vacation in 2001, but I have almost nothing for St. Louis. I’d love a toy MetroBus.

Step up your retail game Metro!

They recently moved their store to the NW corner of 8th & Pine — in the Arcade building. The space was briefly occupied by Webster University’s cafe called Gorlok Grind (March 2016June 2017)

View from the SW corner of 8th & Pine, with Westbound MetroLink stairs right out front
People walking by on the sidewalk can see in and understand
Looking North inside
Looking South inside

I have no knowledge of the old or new lease terms. Perhaps this new space will better serve Metro customers and attack some new riders. Though at a MetroLink station, it isn’t near any MetroBus routes. They might have done it, but they need a vending machine on Washington Ave to purchase passes/tickets — especially downtown trolley tickets.

What Metro really needs is the smart card system, from a July 2014 post on Metro’s blog:

The smart card is part of Metro’s new fare collection system, a more convenient, secure way to pay Metro transit fares. Instead of paper tickets or passes, the Gateway Card will contain a computer chip that stores Metro passes or cash value. The fare is automatically deducted when customers tap their card on fare equipment each time they ride.

“Much of our current fare collection equipment can be replaced with new technology to improve both our efficiencies as well as the customer experience.” said John Nations, Bi-State Development Agency/Metro President & CEO. “The Gateway Card and this new system will transform the way we do business and will bring our operations up to 21st century standards.”

The smart card system is currently being tested in preparation for next year’s rollout. Hundreds of Metro customers have volunteered to test the new system before it is rolled out to the general public. Metro will gradually phase in Gateway Cards to its customer groups until all customers have moved to smart cards.

Nearly four years later and we’re still waiting for the rollout. I get their caution, the rollout of these new systems in other cities have gone poorly.

Chicago’s 2013 rollout, for example:

CTA fare options that expired this week are back in place until the company that is being paid almost a half-billion dollars to manage the implementation of the new Ventra system fixes problems that have left thousands of customers frustrated, the president of the CTA said Wednesday.

The transit agency made the abrupt, if temporary, reversal in response to angry riders who this week overwhelmed a Ventra hotline in an effort to activate their new cards and in some cases have demanded their old, time-tested fare-payment choices back.

So until further notice, sales of magnetic stripe transit cards will continue at rail stations, and Chicago Card customers will be allowed to add value to their cards. But CTA President Forrest Claypool said Wednesday he is determined to stick to a Dec. 15 deadline to stop accepting the old fare cards on trains and buses. (Chicago Tribune)

We began regular trips to Chicago a year later, the Ventra card system has worked great for us.

  • No need to worry about having a stack of dollar bills or coins.
  • No need to worry about holding onto transfers.
  • Easily add more money to cards online or via our phones.
  • In 2015 I got a reduced-fare card for Chicago.

In Chicago it’s rare to see a person using cash to pay bus fare and boarding goes so much quicker as a result.

Last September I spoke with Metro’s Executive Director Ray Friem about these cards at a ribbon-cutting event at their North Hanley Transit Center. Friem said they’ve been working on many pages of problems getting fare systems from two different vendors to play nice with each other. Metro uses one vender for MetroBus, another at MetroLink light rail fare gates.  When we spoke on September 28, 2017 he said the problems were down to just 3 pages and he expected a rollout late in the year — 2017.

My followup email from a month ago is still unanswered. You can see the draft Gateway Card website here.

— Steve Patterson

 

 

Transportation Investment Key To Redeveloping The North Riverfront Area

January 22, 2018 Featured, North City, Public Transit, Transportation Comments Off on Transportation Investment Key To Redeveloping The North Riverfront Area

St. Louis tried redeveloping the North Riverfront, the largely vacant area just North of Laclede’s Landing, by razing it and building an NFL stadium. That failed…thankfully. Next up, the area was included in our bid to win Amazon’s HQ2. Last week Amazon announced their list of 20 cities being considered — St. Louis’ bid didn’t make the cut.

Warehouses along Ashley between 2nd and Lewis.

So now what to do with the North Riverfront? I say stop dreaming about a magic pill that’ll do it in one shot. The street grid still exists, sidewalks need to be built. There’s lots of room foe new buildings and existing buildings awaiting new uses. St. Louis could invest in the area and enact a form-based code to guide future development. The investment would take the form of infrastructure — utilities, sidewalks, and transportation.

St. Louis is working on a North-South light rail plan to the West. This new line will use low-floor vehicles, not the high-floor vehicles used on our current MetroLink light rail lines. Modern streetcar & light rail lines use the same vehicles, the light rail usually just being longer and on a track where higher speeds are available. What does this have to do with the North Riverfront area?

We can use the same vehicles, maintenance facility, etc to operate lower-speed circulation streetcar route that’s connected to the proposed North-South line,

The blue line rep[resents the proposed North-South LR, the orange is a circulator route going from the Eads Bridge MetroLink station up to Mullanphy St. The purple is a connecting route along Cass — which could extend to the new NGA HQ and perhaps beyond in future expansions. After uploading the graphic I realized it would be good to have a connection in the center of the orange circulator route — at Biddle.
The orange line is just under 2 miles long. Yes, I know, a bus is a far cheaper way to move people. I also know a bus route doesn’t spur private development. This have the potential to connect The Arch, Laclede’s Landing, the upcoming North-South line, and the NGA HQ.

— Steve Patterson

 

Bus Stop Design In The St. Louis Region De-Prioritizes Transit

September 25, 2017 Featured, Planning & Design, Public Transit Comments Off on Bus Stop Design In The St. Louis Region De-Prioritizes Transit

Last month I posted about how St. Louis Does the Opposite of the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO), this is the first example: bus stops.

Transit is returning to its central place in the life of cities. With more people using buses, streetcars, and light rail than ever before, our street design paradigm is shifting to give transit the space it deserves. People are choosing to live, work, and play in walkable neighborhoods, and cities are prioritizing highly productive modes like transit as the key to efficient, sustainable mobility for growing urban populations. Transit agencies and street departments are working together to create streets that not only keep buses and streetcars moving, but are great places to be. Cities are extending light rail systems, investing in streetcar lines, and creating new rapid bus lines at a stunning pace, with ridership growing even faster in city centers. Transit agencies are rethinking their networks to serve neighborhoods at a high level all day, not just at commute times, while bike share and active transportation networks make it even easier to not only reduce driving, but to avoid the expense of owning a car.  (NACTO: Transit Street Design Introduction) 

Some of NACTO’s principles:

On streets of every size and context, design can directly improve transit travel time, reliability, and capacity. Major projects like dedicated transitways can substantially increase transit speeds and the total person capacity of a street. On smaller streets, fine-grained improvements like bus bulbs and signal timing combine to transform the way the street works.  (NACTO: Transit Street Principles)

Transit streets are built around safe, low-stress, and complete pedestrian and bicycling infrastructure. Transit riders are active users of the street, relying on comfortable sidewalks and bikeways—and orderly motor vehicle traffic moving at safe speeds. Intuitive travel paths and frequent opportunities to cross the street make it easy and safe for people to get to transit stops, and are essential to building ridership.

Factors like presence of bicycle and pedestrian facilities, mixed land uses, and transit stop amenities have all shown significant positive correlations with transit ridership. However, the most significant indicator to ridership is transit level of service—transit frequency, transit alternatives, and route density—at a given stop location. (NACTO: Transit Street Principles)

On stops…

Use boarding islands and bulbs to allow transit vehicles to stop in their moving lane. Buses have long been expected to pull out of traffic to the curb, but this practice de-prioritizes transit, sometimes significantly on mixed-traffic streets. In-lane stops eliminate that delay, and provide an opportunity for near-level or level boarding. They also create shorter, safer pedestrian crossings, provide more walking space on the sidewalk, and make the street more predictable by sorting out bike-bus conflicts at stops. (NACTO: Transit Station & Stop Principles)

Sr. Louis, naturally, makes buses pull out of traffic rather than stay in the travel lane, as recommended. A problem I see often is people parking in the pull-out bus stop, from the archives:

MetroBus stop on the north side of Market Street filled with parked cars.
Cars on the north side of this 14th Street bus stop made it impossible for buses to pull up to the curb
Car parked in a bus stop on Forest Park
A St. Louis police car parked in front of a fire hydrant in a bus stop at 16th & Market.

More on the benefits of in-line stops:

By allowing buses to move in a straight line, in-lane stops eliminate both pull-out time and traffic re-entry time, a source of delay and unreliable service. In-lane stops are especially valuable on streets operating at or near vehicle capacity, or on streets with long signal cycles, in which transit vehicles may experience long re-entry delays while waiting for traffic to clear. (NACTO: Stop Placement & Intersection Configuration)

And the negatives of requiring buses to pull-out of the travel lane:

Where buses are required to pull from traffic to make stops, longer bus zones are needed to accommodate transitions to and from traffic.

Short transition distances add delay to transit service and require sharper transitions to the curb, wearing transit vehicles and infrastructure more quickly.

Enforcement is required to keep pull-out stops clear; vehicles standing or parking in the stop zone constrain the operator’s ability to pull completely to the platform.

Longer stops ease transitions into and out of stops, but require more curb length, reducing curbside parking spots.
At high-volume boarding locations, longer stops can be used to distribute queuing riders along the sidewalk and to ease pedestrian congestion.

The design of the humble bus stop can prioritize or de-prioritize transit. For decades the entree St. Louis region has de-prioritized transit use through the design of streets in the the public right-of-way.

— Steve Patterson

 

The Civic Center MetroBus Transit Center Reopens Today…Smoke-Free!

August 14, 2017 Downtown, Featured, Public Transit, Transportation Comments Off on The Civic Center MetroBus Transit Center Reopens Today…Smoke-Free!

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A look back at the original Civic Center MetroBus Center. The block North of Spruce had many trees.

In October 2011 many brown areas could be spotted on the evergreen trees
To prep for a new Civic Center bus transfer facility, all the trees were cut down. The Feds will require Metro to plant new trees
The official route from 14th to the MetroLink platform involves steps or two switchback ramps

The new design is substantially different, it has 3 times as many bus bays. First we have to get to it. For both the ribbon cutting (8/10) and open house (8/11) I arrived from the North on the West side of 14th Street (next to Peabody Opera/Scottrade Center). Both times I had to take a detour, hopefully this morning this is open.

AS I arrived for the open house I saw Fredbird walking on 14th because the sidewalk at the corner was closed.
Moments later Fredbird made it around the corner
Later I made it around to the other side, it appears done so hopefully the fencing is pulled back today. The North plaza area, left, is still being finished.
To accèss Civic Center I usd ri go West along Clark, almost to 16th. I couldn’t get to 14th & Spruce because the sidewalks don’t connect on the East side of 14th, which surprised some Metro officials.
On Thursday holes were being dug for a new fence along Clark.
Since opening in 1993 this sidewalk has been too narrow. now the added fence is close leaving no room for people to step side on the South
Heading up the West ramp to the building
Looking back to where I’d been.
Once the corner st 14th & Clark is open pedestrians will use a 14th Street sidewalk not filled with bus stops. Trees will be planted, providing separation from the traffic lane.
Those pedestrians who approach from the South will likely take a shortcut, those of us in mobility devices don’t have that option because bio ramp is provided on the South end
There are several very long crosswalks, the able-bodied will take less risky short-cuts
Some will enter any 14th & Spruce, facing the new building. The MetroLink platform ids beyond, with Amshack 3 beyond that.
Inside the building are restrooms, concessions, security, etc
Each bank of seating has an outlet, carry your phone charger
Like North County TC, the bathrooms don’t have doors . Great for those of us who use a mobility device
From the building you can look down at the MetroLink platform
View of the building from the platform
View north from the steps next to the building
Trees, plants, and art will be installed at the North this full .

At the ribbon cutting on Thursday Metro Transit Exec Dir Ray Friem was adamant Civic Center would open allowing smoking, like their other bus centers. I argued this was the perfect time to make Civic Center smoke-free. Metro staff told me their inconsistent policy of no-smoking on train platforms but smoking at bus shelters on their private property had been the subject of many internal debates over the years. Friem said Metro would go smoke0-free, he just didn’t know how or when.  I rallied others to talk to Friem. It worked.

Metro has announced Civic Center is opening smoke-free, other bus transit centers will go smoke0-free  next month. Finally I can change buses at a transit center without having my eyes water or throat close because of smokers around me.

Four bus routes are being split up:

  • The #30 is being split into the #19 St. Louis Ave and #30 Arsenal
  • The #32 M.L. King-Chouteau is being split into the #31 Chouteau and #32 M.L. King.
  • The #40 Broadway route becomes the #20 S. Broadway and #40 N. Broadway  — yes, both are being routes through Civic Center.
  • The #99 Downtown Trolley is having a West portion split off into the #96 Market Street Shuttle.

You can read all the changes here.

— Steve Patterson

 

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