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Observations On Public Transit

September 14, 2013 Featured, Public Transit 27 Comments

In the past few weeks I’ve gotten a couple of 20-somethings to ride the bus system here. Both had ridden MetroLink light rail, but not MetroBus.

The #11 (Chippewa) MetroBus on 14th next to Peabody
The #11 (Chippewa) MetroBus on 14th St next to Peabody Opera House, 8:24pm

Here are some observations, in no particular order, about transit:

  1. People who say they’d ride their local transit system if it didn’t suck have probably never ridden it enough (ever?) to understand how to use it. Dissing your local transit service is an accepted narrative.
  2. Americans visit Europe and marvel at their efficient public transit and walkable cities, yet resume driving everywhere upon return.
  3. A first time transit rider is more intimidated by bus  than light rail/streetcar.
  4. Related, people willingly try rail (light rail or streetcar), but not bus.
  5. People compare bus vs car travel time, often concluding the bus takes too long. I say I can’t do enough email, social media, or casual reading while driving.
  6. Transit naysayers are the same people who drive to the gym, circling the parking lot for a spot near the door.

These are my personal observations, they’re neither right or wrong.

— Steve Patterson

 

Readers Want MetroLink in St. Louis County, Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Presentations This Week

In the poll last week readers made it clear they want to see St. Louis County use Prop A funds to expand MetroLink. I’ll show the results later in this post but I want to share information on BRT informational meetings this week, starting today:

The Shrewsbury MetroLink station opened with the blue line extension on August 26, 2006.
The Shrewsbury MetroLink station opened with the blue line extension on August 26, 2006.

Public meetings will be held in September 2013 to gather public input on two final, recommended projects to be advanced into competition for Federal funding. The same meeting will be repeated at three locations along the proposed routes.

September 10, 2013
11a-1pm, open house with presentation at noon
City of St. Louis City Hall, 2nd floor
1200 Market Street, St. Louis, MO 63103

September 11, 2013
5:30-7:30 p.m., open house with presentation at 6:30 p.m.
The Heights (City of Richmond Heights Community Center)
8001 Dale Avenue, Richmond Heights, MO 63117

September 12, 2013
5:30-7:30 p.m., open house with presentation at 6:30 p.m.
St. Louis Community College – Florissant Valley Campus, Student Services Center, Multipurpose Room
3400 Pershall Road, Ferguson, MO 63135

Here’s a summary:

The study is now in the alternatives analysis phase. Four alternatives have been identified:

  • Halls-Ferry Riverview BRT
  • West Florissant-Natural Bridge BRT
  • Page Avenue BRT
  • I-64 Highway BRT

These four potential BRT routes are options for improving transit connections between St. Louis County and the City of St. Louis. One of the study’s main goals is to address the need for quick, direct travel from neighborhoods north and south of Downtown St. Louis to employers located in north and west St. Louis County. The “Central Corridor” stretching from Downtown St. Louis to the Central West End and Clayton still holds the region’s largest concentration of jobs, but the largest job growth is occurring in places like Chesterfield, Earth City, and St. Charles – areas easily accessible by highway, but currently not by public transit. The type of BRT service currently being studied is intended to expand access and improve travel time to those job opportunities – of particular importance to reverse commuters traveling to major job centers in suburban areas – while also providing a premium transit alternative for car commuters. The Rapid Transit Connector Study will identify candidates for Metro’s first two BRT routes; Metro will continue to work with the region to identify future BRT routes. Other transit options identified in Moving Transit Forward, such as expansions of the MetroLink System, are intended to meet other long-term goals such as strengthening neighborhoods and encouraging transit-oriented development.

More information on the four routes at MovingTransitForward.org.

Four alternative BRT routes, click image to view larger version
Four alternative BRT routes, click image to view larger version

The top three answers in the poll were for more light rail (MetroLink), not Bus Rapid Transit:

Q: How should St. Louis County invest Prop A funds to expand public transit? (Pick 3)

  1. MetroLink (light rail) extension into South County from Shrewsbury station 41 [21.93%]
  2. MetroLink (light rail) extension from Clayton to Westport Plaza 37 [19.79%]
  3. MetroLink (light rail) extension into North County from North Hanley or airport 33 [17.65%]
  4. Apply to operations to increase frequency of current routes 24 [12.83%]
  5. Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) to West County 13 [6.95%]
  6. Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) to South County 11 [5.88%]
  7. Other: 11 [5.88%]
  8. Add new regular bus routes 10 [5.35%]
  9. Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) to North County 6 [3.21%]
  10. Unsure/No Answer 1 [0.53%]

I was delighted to see more funding to operations place 4th, rather than lower. Here are the 11 other answers:

  1. Better accomodation for cyclists
  2. MetroLink South City
  3. Expand metrolink into South city. Add double-buses on busiest lines.
  4. BRT to North and South City
  5. focus on service, not equpt – demand-responsive service & grid route structure
  6. North South Metrolink Roue
  7. Metrolink expansion to Chesterfield
  8. metrolink from shrews to webster and kirkwood
  9. Both North and South County Extensions
  10. How is north/south Mettolink not an option. This poll is meaningless.
  11. LRt to N County and S County through downtown.

For some reason 7 of these think County voters will let their tax money be spent within the city limits of St. Louis. The north & south light rail planning that took place a number of years ago had the extensions ending in park & ride lots on Goodfellow & Broadway, respectively. They’d never cross out of the city limits. Like Shrewsbury, they’d be built to expand further in the future.

Shrewsbury has been open for 7 years and it doesn’t look like we’ll be expanding south from there anytime soon. Just as well, where would it go?

— Steve Patterson

 

Downtown Trolley Ignored By Metro, CVC, & Downtown Community Improvement District

In July 2010 the #99 downtown circulator became the #99 downtown trolley, a bus wrapped in a cartoonish look.

“We are pleased to introduce this new trolley service, which will not only benefit downtown residents and workers, but also the millions of visitors St. Louis welcomes annually,” said Kitty Ratcliffe, president of the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission (CVC). “Just in time for the Fourth of July holiday weekend, this new service will enable tourists to experience more of the world-class attractions, sports venues, culture, retail and dining that St. Louis offers.” (Partnership)

Steve Patterson exits a Downtown Trolley at the debut in July 2010.  Photo by Jim Merkel, Suburban Journals
Steve Patterson exits a Downtown Trolley at the debut in July 2010. Photo by Jim Merkel, Suburban Journals

Many laughed three years ago, but based on observations during my use, I’d say it has been a resounding success. I regularly see other downtown residents, workers, & tourists on the trolley bus. It does the job Metro, The Downtown Community Improvement District, and the Convention & Visitors Commission intended.

Unfortunately, it is all too often ignored by these three entities. I’ve got two examples:

First, I overheard a Metro employee helping tourists who wanted to go from the Crowne Plaza hotel to Sweetie Pies’ Upper Crust the next day.  The Crowne Plaza is located downtown at 200 N 4th St (@ Pine St) and Sweetie Pies’ Upper Crust at 3643 Delmar in Midtown/Grand Center.

The Metro employee suggested walking to the Convention Center MetroLink station to catch the train to Civic Center MetroLink station to catch the #97 (Delmar) MetroBus to Sweetie Pies. Really?

I’d have suggested catching the #99 trolley across Pine St, taking it to the City Museum stop on 16th between Delmar & Washington Ave, walking half a block to 16th & Washington Ave to catch the #97 to Sweetie Pies. Google Maps agrees, though it would make the transfer at 14th & Washington.

The top three suggestions on Google Maps, click image to view
The top three suggestions on Google Maps when I searched, click image to view

The order of suggested routes does vary based on departure or arrival times. The MetroLink option it suggests is to go to Grand and take the #70 bus north to Delmar. This may have been what the Metro employee told them to do, but I’m pretty sure I heard her suggest the Civic Center. The point is people get needlessly directed to MetroLink, having them walk more or go way out of their way.  I’d never want a tourist to try to find the #97 bus after leaving the train, it is confusing to me and I know the area well.

The other example is one of omission.

The CVC's downtown pedestrian directories don't show the trolley route or stops.
The CVC’s downtown pedestrian directories don’t show the trolley route or stops.

Yes, the pedestrian directories to help tourists navigate downtown doesn’t the trolley route & stops. It’s as if the trolley doesn’t exist at all.

The underground MetroLink light rail line is shown
The underground MetroLink light rail line is shown

Trolley info doesn’t appear on the downtown directories! Such a huge omission, but not surprising given the anti-bus attitude of so many. The trolley route could easily be shown on the directories.

For 3+ years the route & stops haven't changed. Well, except the stop shown at 15th & Washington is actually 14th & Washington
For 3+ years the route & stops haven’t changed. Well, except the stop shown at 15th & Washington is actually 14th & Washington

The directory listings are just printed, easily updated. I’ll be notifying all three entities (Metro, Downtown CID, CVC) about the omission. We’ll see how long it takes to get them updated.

— Steve Patterson

 

Poll: How should St. Louis County invest Prop A funds to expand public transit infrastructure?

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

In April 2010 voters in St. Louis County approved a transit sales tax, Prop A:

The sales tax is expected to generate about $75 million a year in St. Louis County, which will be used to restore lost service and expand MetroLink and bus rapid transit. Metro officials said passage of the measure also would trigger collection of a transit sales tax that voters in the city of St. Louis approved in 1997. (stltoday.com)

I’m not sure how much St. Louis County is putting toward operations versus holding back for future transit infrastructure. Regardless of the exact amount, having a discussion about where & how to expand transit is beneficial.

Light rail? Bus Rapid Transit? More regular bus routes?

The poll is in the right sidebar.

— Steve Patterson

 

Asphalt Roadway Damaged at MetroBus Stops

City buses are great ways to transport many people, but their weight can take a toll on roads.  Bus stops, in particular, take a lot of punishment. This #11 stop on Chippewa at Hampton is a good example:

Repeated weight of buses stopping on Chippewa just east of Hampton has messed up the paving.
Repeated weight of buses stopping on Chippewa just east of Hampton has messed up the paving.

Asphalt tends to move when it is hot and pressure is applied over and over. To avoid such a maintenance headache some cities & transit agencies are paving bus stops in concrete.

Source: Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority Guidelines for the Design and Placement of Transit Stops, click image for PDF
Example of concrete paving at a bus stop. Source: Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority Guidelines for the Design and Placement of Transit Stops, click image for PDF

These concrete bus stops aren’t cheap though, and with hundreds of heavily used bus stops the cost to upgrade all would be astronomical.

I’ve observed damage like this at numerous other bus stops. I’m not sure how much this costs the city to repair, or if remains until the road is resurfaced. Thoughts?

— Steve Patterson

 

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