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Sunday Poll: Will The Loop Trolley Be A Successes or Failure?

March 19, 2017 Featured, Public Transit, Sunday Poll Comments Off on Sunday Poll: Will The Loop Trolley Be A Successes or Failure?
Please vote below

Testing of car 001 will begin soon on the Loop Trolley project — a 2.2 mile vintage streetcar line. Initially the car will be pulled by a truck to test tolerances , followed by powering up the overhead wires so it can run on its own.

Few projects have been so controversial:

Supporters say the trolley will bring in visitors and be a boon for businesses. They also say the trolley is being built for significantly less than streetcar lines in other cities, even though it surpassed its initial $43 million estimate, in part because of street paving and landscaping costs.

“The fixed-track nature does attract investment,” Edwards said, citing as an example a new 14-story, $66 million apartment building in the Loop at 6105 Delmar Boulevard, where the trolley will run.

Critics say that the trolley duplicates current mass transit — a MetroLink line runs between the Forest Park and Delmar stations — and that the project’s cost is too high. Businesses were hurt by construction, spurring a forgivable loans program.

Trolley opponents filed in 2015 a lawsuit in St. Louis County Circuit Court seeking to block the trolley. The suit contends the trolley will go beyond its authorized boundaries. No ruling has been issued. (Post-Dispatch)

Since the project is nearing the ribbon cutting I thought it would be good to see where readers side:

The poll will close at 8pm, I’ll share my thoughts on Wednesday. This poll will be monitored for the 12-hour duration — if it appears a campaign is underway to sway the results either way it’ll be shut down early.

— Steve Patterson

 

Senior Apartments To Be Built Adjacent To Swansea MetroLink Station Parking Lot

January 9, 2017 Featured, Metro East, Planning & Design, Public Transit, Transportation Comments Off on Senior Apartments To Be Built Adjacent To Swansea MetroLink Station Parking Lot

Back in September 2016, on the 20th,  I received a press release from our transit agency Metro — aka Bi-State Development:

SWANSEA, IL, SEPT. 20, 2016…  Southwestern Illinois Development Authority (SWIDA), in partnership with Bywater Development Group and Bi-State Development (BSD), is pleased to announce a new, $10.5 million development that will bring senior apartment living adjacent to the Swansea MetroLink Station in Swansea, Ill. The transit-oriented development (TOD) project, which will be developed by SWIDA and Bywater, was approved by the Illinois Housing Development Authority (IHDA) in Chicago on September 16. 

This new development, called Metro Landing of Swansea, will feature a handsome three-story building with 62 affordable one- and two-bedroom apartments for older adults seeking an independent lifestyle. Located adjacent to the Swansea MetroLink Station, residents will have car-free transportation options via MetroLink and MetroBus to conveniently access restaurants, retail, entertainment venues, recreational locations, employment centers, and medical facilities around the bi-state region. The Swansea Station is located on the Metro East Park and Recreation District BikeLink trail system, so seniors will be able to utilize the trail for exercise and recreation.

This development would not have occurred without the collaboration of a number of groups including IHDA, the St. Clair County Transit District and the Village of Swansea.  The Village has been a vital asset in the predevelopment planning process.  “It is truly an example of how public and private partnerships can lead to an important community investment,” James Nations, SWIDA’s Chairman said. “This is an excellent opportunity for SWIDA and Bywater Development Group to contribute to active senior housing as this segment of the population continues to grow.” The SWIDA Board of Directors is seeking other markets in the region in need of comparable developments.

Mike Lundy, Executive Director of SWIDA said, “It has been great working with Bi-State Development. We are very pleased with the new senior housing development and worked extremely hard to move this development forward.”

“This new development to be positioned next to the Swansea MetroLink Station reflects other successful transit-oriented projects in our area, and is a testament to the positive benefits the Metro transit system brings to the region,” said John Nations, President and CEO of Bi- State Development (BSD). BSD operates the metro public transportation system for the St. Louis region. 

“Metro Landing of Swansea is reflective of a very strong and effective public/private partnership and stands to serve as a model for transit oriented senior housing. It will create both a positive impact on the community and an ideal living environment for its residents.  Our organization is highly honored to be a part of this collective effort,” said Aaron Burnett, President of Bywater Development Group.

Metro Landing of Swansea is scheduled for construction commencement in the summer of 2017 with full completion by late summer of 2018. 

 

About SWIDA

The Southwestern Illinois Development Authority is a special-purpose, municipal corporation and local governmental unit whose purpose is to promote and enhance economic development within the counties of Bond, Clinton, Madison and St. Clair Ill. To learn more, visit www.swida.org. 

About Bi-State Development

Bi-State Development (BSD) operates the St. Louis Regional Freightway, the region’s freight district, and the Bi-State Development Research Institute. BSD is the operator of the Metro public transportation system for the St. Louis region, which includes the 87 vehicle, 46-mile MetroLink light rail system; 391 MetroBus vehicle fleet that serves 77 MetroBus routes; and Metro Call-A-Ride, a paratransit fleet of 120 vans. BSD owns and operates St. Louis Downtown Airport and the Gateway Arch Riverboats, as well as operates the Gateway Arch Revenue Collections Center and Gateway Arch trams. 

Within 90 minutes of receiving the press release I emailed Mike Lundy of SWIDA and Aaron Burnett of Bywater Development volunteering to help with accessibility, pedestrian issues, etc. I wanted to make sure they avoided common problems I’ve found throughout the region.Unfortunately, I’ve yet to hear back from either.

The stories online that day from the Post-Dispatch & other media outlets was a rephrasing of the press release along with the image provided.  Rather than do the same as others, I visited the Swansea MetroLink station and surrounding area a few days later  — on the morning of September 23rd. I was in the area nearly 2 hours — taking 158 photos in that time.

Go back up and read the press release again, you’ll see buzz words/phrases like ‘car-free’, ‘transit-oriented senior housing’, and ‘ideal living environment.’ Yeah…not so much.

The main thing these independent seniors will be buying is groceries. The nearest grocery store is al Aldi about a half a mile walk to the South, a Schnucks just over a half mile to the North. Before we go to the grocery stores let’s take a look at the station.

From the station looking out we see a drive for buses, a drive for cars, and surface parking for cars.
From the station looking out we see a drive for buses, a drive for cars, and surface parking for cars.
Out looking back we see the main parking lot -- another is to the left out of frame. Most likely the new building will be built on the grassy area to the right.
Out looking back we see the main parking lot — another is to the left out of frame. Most likely the new building will be built on the grassy area to the right.
A more direct look at the likely spot where the building whirl be built. Other than the parking lots, this is the largest land owned by Metro at this station.
A more direct look at the likely spot where the building whirl be built. Other than the parking lots, this is the largest land owned by Metro at this station.
Further away firom the station we see the secondary parking lot on the left
Further away firom the station we see the secondary parking lot on the left

Let’s go to the Aldi first since it is slightly closer and we’re almost out to the main road, IL-159/N. Illinois St.

Looking back from near the main road.
Looking back from near the main road.
Looking South at IL-159, but no sidewalk on this side. Metro also owns owns this land and building, so perhaps they plan to build senior housing here?
Looking South at IL-159, but no sidewalk on this side. Metro also owns owns this land and building, so perhaps they plan to build senior housing here?
I went back to the station and used the circuitous trail to head South. The trail goes under Belt (left), a spur comes up (right)
I went back to the station and used the circuitous trail to head South. The trail goes under Belt (left), a spur comes up (right)
Heading toward the side of the Aldi
Heading toward the side of the Aldi
Getting closer
Getting closer
At this point you're dumped into the parking lot where you risk getting hit by cars. The store entry is to the left out of the frame.
At this point you’re dumped into the parking lot where you risk getting hit by cars. The store entry is to the left out of the frame.

Let’s return to the station entrance and go North to try to access the Schnucks. Though the Schnucks is also on the West side of IL-159, there’s no sidewalk so we must cross to the West to head North.

Not exactly friendly
Not exactly friendly
Looking back West we see an office park that includes medical offices -- not reachable as a pedestrian though
Looking back West we see an office park that includes medical offices — not reachable as a pedestrian though
Catching a bus at the station would save some distance, the Schnucks is behind the Mcdonald's
Catching a bus at the station would save some distance, the Schnucks is behind the Mcdonald’s
On the NW corner of 159 & Fullerton Rd we see the bus stop needed if we wanted to catch the bus back to the station. There's no sidewalk here, how do we reach the store?
On the NW corner of 159 & Fullerton Rd we see the bus stop needed if we wanted to catch the bus back to the station. There’s no sidewalk here, how do we reach the store?
The North side of Fullerton Rd has a sidewalk, but theres no connection to the Schnucks or other businesses.
The North side of Fullerton Rd has a sidewalk, but theres no connection to the Schnucks or other businesses.

Seniors living here might not be able to carry a bag or two of groceries, so an inexpensive folding shopping cart is a good option. But traversing parking lots are dangerous and trying to get the cart up & over many curbs is a challenge at any age/ability. My experience confirms the WalkScore of 33 out of 100 for the MetroLink light rail station — car dependent.

Metro and its partners want everyone to believe seniors will be able to live here car-free. I realize pedestrian-friendly development doesn’t happen around transit immediacy — it takes time. This station has only been open since…May 5th…2001 — over 15 years!

— Steve Patterson

 

A Look At Kansas City’s New Modern Streetcar

Last week leaders in the St. Louis region argued publicly over future pubic transit:

St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay has made clear his support for a north-south MetroLink expansion, saying it’s a top priority in his final year in office. But a recent push for money to plan such a route has met with strong resistance from St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger.

Stenger, in a letter to the Federal Transit Administration, said he will not endorse the north-south route until other proposed routes are studied. (Post-Dispatch)

At the other end of the state, in Kansas City, there’s also a disagreement about the expansion of rail-based public transit. The local non-profit behind the new KC Streetcar wants to expand South on Main Street, while another is pushing a light rail plan.

[Clay] Chastain argues his plan gives Kansas City residents a real choice and a much more extensive rail transit system, from the airport to the Cerner Trails campus under construction in south Kansas City and from Union Station to the stadium complex. 

He estimates it would cost $2 billion to build, or about $45 million per mile, although some light-rail systems have cost considerably more than that per mile. He assumes the federal government would provide $1 billion of that amount.

The local match would come from a 3/8-cent sales tax increase for 25 years, plus 3/8 cents that currently go for the bus system, once that tax expires in 2024. (Kansas City Star)

Anyone who has flown in/out of KC’s airport knows it is a long distance from downtown KC. It’s a 20-25 minute drive, but takes over an hour by bus. Frankly, they need to do both — expand the new streetcar and build light rail to far off destinations like their airport and stadiums.

Kansas City was without rail-based public transit from 1957 until May 6, 2016 — the day the 2.2 mile starter streetcar opened.

THE FUNDING:

  • Cost to build: $100 million — $37 million from the federal government, $63 million from bonds.
  • Cost to operate: $4 million annually to be paid by a combination of sales & property taxes within the transportation district.
  • Fare:  $0 — free
  • Local comparison: Our Loop Trolley vintage streetcar project. also 2.2 miles long, is costing $51 million to build. The 8-mile cross-county MetroLink extension that opened in 2006 cost $430 million.

THE VEHICLES:

  • “Each vehicle is 77 feet and 8 inches long; 78,000 pounds; and 12 feet tall.”
  • “Each vehicle capacity is approximately 150 riders and is bi-directional (can run both directions). There is a combination of sitting and standing within the streetcar.”
  • “There are three “cars” in each streetcar vehicle, with 4 sets of doors (one on each end and two in the middle car).”
  • Each of the four vehicles cost $4.39 million each (source).
  • Same as vehicles used in the Cincinnati Streetcar opening later this year.
  • Model: CAF Urbos 3 100% low-floor
  • Manufactured in Elmira NY by CAF USA, a subsidiary of a Spanish company.
  • To meet US crash-standards the body is made of steel
  • Comparison: our 4-car light rail vehicles are 90 feet long; capacity of 72 seated plus 106 standing
Each end is identical
Each end is identical
The lights change depending upon direction of travel. The step on this end of the Union Station platform is annoying.
The lights change depending upon direction of travel. The step on this end of the Union Station platform is annoying.
This view gives you an overview of the three cars in each vehicle -- middle and two ends. Wheelchairs, strollers. bikes, the middle car, the door on each end has a step
This view gives you an overview of the three cars in each vehicle — middle and two ends. Wheelchairs, strollers. bikes, the middle car, the door on each end has a step
The center car is very open, the ends are filled with fixed seating. The floor is level throughout,
The center car is very open, the ends are filled with fixed seating. The floor is level throughout,
The center car has two areas with theater seats. My wheelchair fit here and my husband could sit on one seat.
The center car has two areas with theater seats. My wheelchair fit here and my husband could sit on one seat.
It got packed to capacity a few times we were riding
It got packed to capacity a few times we were riding

THE ROUTE:

Kansas City is lucky to have Main Street as a central arterial. We have Olive/Lindell, but they’re very different. The 2.2 mile route does a loop on the North end around their River Market area. It goes down Main and ends at Union Station.

The route is 2.2 miles long and travels along Main Street in downtown Kansas City from the River Market to Union Station/Crown Center. The route also includes a loop around the City Market and runs on 3rd St on the north, Delaware on the west, 5th St on the south, and Grand on the east. (KC Streetcar FAQ)

An extension to continue South on Main Street is already being planned.

Looking North on Main St toward Downtown Kansas City
Looking North on Main St toward Downtown Kansas City.
Looking South in the CBD
Looking South in the CBD

See a route map here.

THE STOPS:

Stops are every few blocks, over the 3-day weekend I rode the streetcar a few times but also traveled the route on the sidewalk. For the most part. the stops are built out into the parking lane — leaving the sidewalk unblocked.

Another view of the Union Station stop
Another view of the Union Station stop
The River Market North stop is the only stop in the middle of traffic
The River Market North stop is the only stop in the middle of traffic
Another view of the River Market North stop
Another view of the River Market North stop
Next stop is River Market West
Next stop is River Market West
The view from the sidewalk
The view from the sidewalk
Looking North you can see the streetcar coming around the corner in the background
Looking North you can see the streetcar coming around the corner in the background
People gathering for the next streetcar, we tried to get on here a couple of times but it was too full from the two prior stops
People gathering for the next streetcar, we tried to get on here a couple of times but it was too full from the two prior stops
North Loop is the most unusual stop, as it's mostly parking lots
North Loop is the most unusual stop, as it’s mostly parking lots
Looking West from the stop
Looking West from the stop
Sidewalk next to Northbound Metro Center stop
Sidewalk next to Northbound Metro Center stop
Same stop, same direction -- just out near the curb
Same stop, same direction — just out near the curb
Opposite view
Opposite view
Southbound Metro Center stop
Southbound Metro Center stop
Streetcar at SB Power & Light stop
Streetcar at SB Power & Light stop
NB Crossroads stop
NB Crossroads stop

NEW CONSTRUCTION:

New construction is everywhere in Kansas City, especially near the streetcar route.

New construction at 13th & Baltimore, one block West of Main
New construction at 13th & Baltimore, one block West of Main
Rehab on E 19th, just East of Main
Rehab on E 19th, just East of Main
New construction E 5th & Grand
New construction E 5th & Grand
New infill on Main Street between 19th-20th
New infill on Main Street between 19th-20th

VIDEO:

I put together a brief video of various clips I took:

FINAL THOUGHTS:

Their streetcar isn’t meant to be a regional system, at least not initially. CAF makes very similar vehicles for use in higher-speed light rail applications, so if they ever do a light rail line the vehicles could look just like their streetcar.

The main problem we experienced was crowds — but it was a nice holiday weekend in the first month of service.  Would like to ride it on a regular weekday. We did speak to a retired couple that recently moved from the suburbs to new construction downtown — the streetcar was one reason,

Being right there it helped add life to the street. It’ll be interesting to see if they’ll be able to expand.

— Steve Patterson

 

St. Louis’ Last Streetcar Line Ended 50 Years Ago Tomorrow

May 20, 2016 Featured, History/Preservation, Public Transit, Transportation Comments Off on St. Louis’ Last Streetcar Line Ended 50 Years Ago Tomorrow

The last streetcar in St. Louis made its final run fifty years ago tomorrow.

Mr. and Mrs. Leslie Heinz stepped aboard clad in the same tuxedo and beaded dress they had worn to a New Year’s Eve party 36 years before. Railroad enthusiasts took pictures at every stop. A young man brought a case of beer.

Such was the clientele on Car No. 1628 on May 21, 1966, the last day of streetcar service in St. Louis. It ended an unbroken run of 107 years of public transportation on rails, sundered by family sedans and cul-de-sacs.

In the 1920s, about 1,650 streetcars rumbled along 485 miles of tracks in and near the city. Other lines ran to Florissant, Creve Coeur, Alton and Belleville. They ran across the Eads and McKinley bridges and down most every major street. Whole neighborhoods were built to be near them, and large apartment buildings sprouted at junctions and loops (turnarounds).

Then came buses and, fatally, automobiles. St. Louis Public Service Co., forerunner of the Bi-State Transit Authority (now Metro), bought a last fleet of streamlined streetcars shortly after World War II. But ridership continued to plunge while complaints rose from motorists about streetcars. Only three lines were left in April 1964, when the new Bi-State agency winnowed the system to the Hodiamont line, which ran from downtown to the Wellston Loop. Along the way through north St. Louis, the Hodiamont had its own right-of-way, like a railroad. (Post-Dispatch — with great images)

The Hodiamont line ran in exclusive right-of-way between Vandeventer to near the Western city limits, otherwise it ran on rail imbedded in the streets.

Looking East on the last eastern section of the Hodiamont Right-of-Way, 2012
Looking East on the last eastern section of the Hodiamont Right-of-Way, 2012
1966 photo of the Hodiamont streetcar at the Wellston Loop. Source: Ancestry.com -- click image to view
1966 photo of the Hodiamont streetcar at the Wellston Loop. Source: Ancestry.com — click image to view

Other cities ended their streetcar lines prior to St. Louis.  For example, Kansas City replaced their last streetcar lime(s) with buses in 1957 (Source). Two week ago today a new modern streetcar line opened in Kansas City — an absence of 59 years. We’ll be in Kansas City for Memorial weekend to ride their new line.

Many incorrectly think streetcars are just about nostalgia. Not true.

Streetcars bring people right to their destination, in a way out light rail in old freight right-of-way can’t. A half century ago the bus was quieter & smoother to the dated streetcar. Today, however, the modern 100% low-floor streetcar is the quieter & smoother choice. Streets with streetcars, trams across the pond, look & function differently. For me it is about how well the public right-of-way functions for all users.

— Steve Patterson

 

Expanded Civic Center MetroBus Transit Center Will Reopen In Fall 2017

The Civic Center MetroBus Transit Center, at 14th & Clark, is now closed for the next 18 months. It will be redone to handle more buses — and longer buses.

Tuesday 4/19 dignitaries each tossed a shovel of dirt to kick off the new project.
Tuesday 4/19 dignitaries each tossed a shovel of dirt to kick off the new project.

In May 2014 I posted about the future plans for the redo, see Civic Center Transit Center Sans Trees, Awaiting Redo

The trees had just been cut down in May 2014
The trees had just been cut down in May 2014
Sign announcing expansion project
Sign announcing expansion project

Then, in July 2014m I posted that the  Triangle Park Plaza Is Useless Public Space, In Poor Condition. At that time I included the design.

New design, as of July 2014
New design, as of July 2014

b

Construction will expand the Civic Center Transit Center and triple the current number of bus bays, which will allow MetroBus passengers to connect with all of their bus routes inside the transit center and out of vehicular traffic on 14th Street. A new building will also be constructed on  the site that will feature new passenger amenities, including public restrooms, an indoor waiting area, digital boards with MetroBus arrival times, a concession area and a Metro Public Safety substation.

“It is our duty to ensure that residents, workers, tourists and visitors can travel safely and efficiently throughout the bi-state region,” said Ray Friem, Executive Director of Metro Transit, “and that they enjoy the best possible transit system and experience we can provide.”

Metro successfully secured federal funding to rebuild the Civic Center Transit Center, and those funds will support 80 percent of the total project cost of $10.5 million. “The competition for federal transit dollars is intense,” said Mokhtee Ahmad, Regional Administrator for the Federal Transit Administration, Region VII. “Bi-State Development and Metro are to be commended for being so diligent and fiscally conscientious in maximizing federal transit funds to get taxpayers the highest return on their investment.”

b

The design has changed.

Latest plan, click image to view larger PDF on Scribd
Latest plan, click image to view larger PDF on Scribd

The ramp down to the MetroLink platforms is much more direct — but steeper than previously drawn. The other changes are at the North end. There’s now an accessible route from the center bays/canopies to Triangle Park. The “park” is also different — the metal panels (shown in first photo, above) will go away. A 2nd sculpture is shown right in front of the accessible route — a potential problem.

Close-up of Triangle Park
Close-up of Triangle Park

I also don’t get having a new sculpture next to the existing one.We’ll see how it turns out in 18 months.

— Steve Patterson

 

 

 

 

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