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Northside-Southside Light Rail Wouldn’t Be Good For St. Louis Neighborhoods

Lately I’ve been hearing people wanting the build the long-planned Northside-Southside MetroLink lines. While I’m a huge advocate of public transit, rail transit in particular, this would ultimately be a costly disaster for St. Louis’ neighborhoods.

For the Northside corridor, the preferred transit alternative was a MetroLink line running from downtown St. Louis north by using rights-of-way along several streets including 14th Street, Natural Bridge Avenue, and West Florissant Avenue into North St. Louis County. Two potential preferred alternatives were selected for the Southside corridor. One was a MetroLink extension from downtown St. Louis running south using rights-of-way within 14th Street, Chouteau Avenue, the Union Pacific Railroad track and along I-55. The other possible design was a Bus Rapid Transit system from downtown south via Market Street, Grand Boulevard, to rights-of-way alongside the Union Pacific Railroad track and Loughborough Avenue, then via I-55 to South St. Louis County. (Northside-Southside Overview)

Here’s what I think these people don’t understand:

  • This would be a completely separate system from our existing light rail — Northside-Southside would use different vehicles & track. An existing line coming from the airport, for example, wouldn’t be able to run into south city. Passengers would need to exit the older high-floor light rail vehicles at the Civic Center MetroLink station and walk to 14th Street to board the new line. Fares could be integrated, but physically separate otherwise.
  • The vehicle type used would be the same as the proposed St. Louis Streetcar.  These are modern vehicles and are an excellent choice. When used as “light rail” they operate in dedicated right-of-way (ROW) with far fewer stops so as to achieve desired speeds end to end. As streetcars they stop much more frequently, putting more people closer to a stop. The tracks can be crossed easily by pedestrians & motorists. Connectivity, not speed, is the priority.
  • The goal for Northside-Southside was to end at large park-n-ride lots and get suburbanites through “scary” city neighborhoods and into downtown as quickly as possible. Stops would be over a mile apart.
  • To achieve necessary speeds the number of conflict points between rail & autos/pedestrians would need to be greatly reduced. This is accomplished by building a median down the center of the road (Natural Bridge, Jefferson) with very few points to cross. That left turn you used to make would become impossible, as would walking across the street at all but a few points.
  • Property along the routes would need to be taken, some buildings razed. This is because creating a dedicated ROW takes lots of room — more than even our generous ROWs have to offer.This light rail ROW would act similar to a highway — dividing the neighborhoods on either side in an effort to rush people through as quickly as possible.

These are not positives for the neighborhoods, unless you live near one of the few stops it won’t be useful to residents.

We don’t have any examples of light rail in the center of a road, so we need to look elsewhere. In 2012 I visited Dallas and rode their Blue Line south in the center of Lancaster Rd.

ABOVE: One of several auto-centric strip shopping centers along the Blue line
One of several auto-centric strip shopping centers along their South Blue line, the physical design of the light rail line discourages new development, walking, etc

All of my photos are from inside the light rail car or at the stations. To understand you you need to view from outside. Short of a personal visit, you can look at Google’s Street View.

This view from Google Street View shows how traffic & pedestrians from a side street are forded to turn right. Click image to view the location on a map
This view from Google Street View shows how traffic & pedestrians from a side street are forded to turn right. Click image to view the location on a map
A 2012 photo I took of the shopping center on this corner
A 2012 photo I took of the shopping center on this corner

Light rail doesn’t appear to have spurred any development in the 18 years it has been open. The rail vehicles, however, do move at a high speed between stations. Success depends on your goals.

What the St. Louis neighborhoods North & South need is an investment in excellent localized rail transit — streetcars. Again, the vehicles are virtually identical — it is the design of the track and number of stops that make the difference. To me, the South/Jefferson County person driving downtown is likely to just stay on I-55 to reach their destination — we shouldn’t design this to persuade them to exit the highway and park in a big parking lot.

We should design & invest in infrastructure that brings the neighborhoods together, that helps local merchants.  Light rail is the wrong choice, streetcars is the best rail choice. If you’re opposed to MoDOT’s plans for Gravois you should be opposed to creating a light rail ROW in the middle of our major aerials.

— Steve Patterson

 

 

New Switchback Ramp Between Civic Center MetroLink & Gateway Transportation Center Should Reduce Accidents

To reduce pedestrians being hit by light rail trains they’ve been making changes to conflict points, this is about the access to the Civic Center MetroLink Station from the Gateway Transportation Center, which opened in late 2008.

When the Gateway Transportation Center (Amtrak & Greyhound) opened in the Fall of 2008 the access to the adjacent Civic Center MetroLink Station was a straight shot. November 2010 photo
When the Gateway Transportation Center (Amtrak & Greyhound) opened in the Fall of 2008 the access to the adjacent Civic Center MetroLink Station was a straight shot. November 2010 photo
In May 2014 work was underway
In May 2014 work was underway
View looking the opposite direction
View looking the opposite direction
By March 2015 the change was complete
By March 2015 the change was complete
Now it isn't a straight shot across the tracks.
Now it isn’t a straight shot across the tracks.
Everyone must go through a wide switchback
Everyone must go through a wide switchback

This change may also be related to the coming smart card technology, a reader is shown above. The question I have is will I have a problem passing through the Civic Center MetroLink to reach the Gateway Transportation Center?

— Steve Patterson

 

 

 

Readers: Metro Should Ban Smoking at MetroBus Transit Centers Like They Do At MetroLink Light Rail Platforms

Ever since our MetroLink light rail system opened in 1993 it has been treated very differently from the MetroBus system, with the latter being sort of the bastard step-child. Smoking isn’t allowed inside bus or train vehicles but currently smoking isn’t allowed on MetroLink platforms, but is allowed at MetroBus transit centers — those places where many bus lines converge.

Looking east toward Taylor from the CWE MetroLink platform
Looking east toward Taylor from the CWE MetroLink platform. The garage at the left contains a MetroBus center where smoking is allowed but the platform where the photo was taken smoking isn’t allowed.
Many people use the Civic Center MetroBus transit center daily, where smoking is allowed despite the close quarters. 
Many people use the Civic Center MetroBus transit center daily, where smoking is allowed despite the close quarters.

When MetroLink opened in 1993 smoking was allowed on platforms, despite lobbying by light rail advocates to make platforms smoke-free Bi-State (no Metro) President John K. Leary Jr., whose wife smoked, decided to permit smoking. After he left for SEPTA in 1997 the policy was changed.

What justification is there for treating these two differently with respect to smoking? Smokers and non-smokers use both systems, which is why many MetroBus Transit Centers are located adjacent to MetroLink stations.

Here are the results from the Sunday Poll:

Q: Metro allows smoking at MetroBus Transit Centers but not on MetroLink platforms. Metro should:

  1. Ban smoking at both 29 [70.73%]
  2. Unsure/No Opinion 5 [12.2%]
  3. Allow smoking at both 4 [9.76%]
  4. Keep policy as is — smoking allowed at one but not the other 3 [7.32%]

I reluctantly accept the challenge it would be to ban smoking at thousands of bus stops, but enforcing a no-smoking policy at MetroBus Transit Centers is no different than at MetroLink stations. It’s time Metro!!

— Steve Patterson

 

Sunday Poll: Metro allows smoking at MetroBus Transit Centers but not on MetroLink platforms. Metro should:

Please vote in the poll, located in the right sidebar
Please vote in the poll, located in the right sidebar

Today’s poll is about Metro’s smoking policy. Riders can smoke at transit centers while waiting for a MetroBus, but those riders on platforms waiting for a MetroLink light rail train can’t smoke. Transit centers are points where numerous bus routes meet, often adjacent to MetroLink stations — Civic Center & North Hanley are two examples.

The poll question is:  Metro allows smoking at MetroBus Transit Centers but not on MetroLink platforms. Metro should:

The options provided, in random order, are:

  • Allow smoking at both
  • Prohibit smoking at both
  • Keep policy as is — smoking allowed at one but not the other
  • Unsure/No Opinion

The poll, as always, is on the top of the right sidebar.It’ll close at 8pm central.

— Steve Patterson

 

Good News Friday: Metro Mobile App

Last week our transit agency, Metro, released its first mobile app — called Metro On The Go:

You asked for a Metro app — and now you have it! Metro On The Go, the official mobile application of Metro transit, is now available. You can download it for free from the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store.

Metro On The Go lets you plan your trip on Metro transit, check schedules for MetroLink and all 75 MetroBus routes, and tap into real-time vehicle data so you can see when the next bus will arrive — all from the palm of your hand. (NextStopSTL)

The app is available for Android & iOS mobile devices. I’ll share my thoughts on the iOS version later in this post, but first I want to bring up an issue before others do. Some may say things like “not everyone has a smartphone”, “not everyone can afford a smartphone”, “this is elitist”, etc.  These people likely have broadband at home and choose to not have a smartphone — for others the reverse is the case:

10% of Americans own a smartphone but do not have broadband at home, and 15% own a smartphone but say that they have a limited number of options for going online other than their cell phone. Those with relatively low income and educational attainment levels, younger adults, and non-whites are especially likely to be “smartphone-dependent.” (Pew Reseach — U.S. Smartphone Use in 2015)

From the same source:

Lower-income smartphone owners are especially likely to use their phone during a job search. Compared with smartphone owners from households earning $75,000 or more per year, those from households earning less than $30,000 annually are nearly twice as likely to use a smartphone to look for information about a job — and more than four times as likely to use their phone to actually submit a job application.

Similarly, “smartphone-dependent” users are much more likely to use their smartphones to access career opportunities. 63% of these smartphone-dependent users have gotten job information on their phone in the last year, and 39% have used their phone to submit a job application.

Young adults (85% of whom are smartphone owners) are also incorporating their mobile devices into a host of information seeking and transactional behaviors. About three-quarters of 18-29 year old smartphone owners have used their phone in the last year to get information about a health condition; about seven-in-ten have used their phone to do online banking or to look up information about job; 44% have consumed educational content on their phone; and 34% have used their phone to apply for a job.

The app can be useful, but is it? In short — yes! In just days my initial complaint has already been addressed.

main menu
The main menu
jj
For me the “Next Departures” is the most helpful. When I downloaded the app on the first day the stops didn’t list the bus direction — which is important to know — so I’m glad they listened to feedback
mmm
Being able to see if a bus is on time or running late is very helpful

I wasn’t able to test the Android version, my husband went back to iOS in the Fall of 2013.  The ‘Trip Planner’ isn’t as responsive as the Google Maps app. Still, for most of my transit use I need to know the next departure of the #10 at 16th & Olive or the #97 at 16th & Washington. This will come in handy when I’m at places and want to know when the next return bus home arrives.  Thanks Metro!

— Steve Patterson

 

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