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Readers Split On Proposed Streetcar Route

Readers in the poll last week didn’t select any one option by a majority. The three routes presented as options, two being considered and another I’ve been advocating for years, each received a similar number of votes.

Q: My preferred route for a streetcar line is…

  1. Option 2: Olive/Lindell>Euclid>Forest Park Blvd>Taylor>Lindell 35 [29.66%]
  2. Option 1: Olive/Lindell>Taylor>Children’s Place/CWE MetroLink 31 [26.27%]
  3. New option: Olive/Lindell to Vandeventer to Delmar to Loop Trolley 29 [24.58%]
  4. None, don’t built a streetcar line 12 [10.17%]
  5. Other: 10 [8.47%
  6. Unsure/No Opinion 1 [0.85%]

The ten other answers were:

  1. Use the old Hodiamont Streetcar right of way
  2. grand blvd
  3. Olive/Lindell>Euclid>Forest Park Blvd>Vanderventerr>Lindell/Olive
  4. Street cars are a joke. They are a waste. Busses offer far more flexibility.
  5. Use the old Hodiamont street car right of way.
  6. Continue on Lindell to Debaliviere/Loop Trolley connection.
  7. Middle-upper income routes to replace cars.
  8. Link “downtown” only by s.cars: riverfrt. to Jeff Ave,, Delmar to Soulard.
  9. free, downtown loop, between Tucker & Broadway
  10. Option 1 but utilize Market and Forest park instead of Olive/Lindell

When streetcars were first installed it was a private effort by real estate developers to make it easier for buyers to reach new development:

The Gravois-Jefferson Streetcar Suburb Historic District is located within the boundaries of the City of St. Louis, Missouri. The -715-acre District is a triangular area generally bounded by the intersection of Gravois and South Jefferson Avenues at the north, South Jefferson Avenue and South Broadway Street (south of Chippewa Street) on the east, Meramec Street on the south, South Grand Boulevard on the west, and Gravois Avenue on the northwest.’ Gravois Avenue is a major arterial street and historically served as a wagon, streetcar, and vehicular transit corridor. South Jefferson Avenue also was and is a major transportation corridor. Meramec Street is a major collector street. Mixed commercial, institutional, and residential use along these major city thoroughfares visually and historically defines the survey area. (National Register nomination PDF)

Today funding streetcars in developed urban areas takes more than available right-of-way, it takes enough demand to justify the investment in infrastructure. Often this means connecting some big dots, the in between will fill in over time with proper land use controls. The problem in St. Louis is our big dots are generally east-west between downtown and Clayton.  What big dots exist north & south to guarantee ridership on a daily basis?

Grand has a few dots:

  • VA Hospital
  • Grand Center/SLU
  • Grand MetroLink
  • SLU Hospital

Okay, suppose you connect these via streetcar — that’s a mile and a half length. Not bad, but you’d still have to run the #70 (Grand) MetroBus to reach areas north and south — an additional 7.5 miles. Even my longtime preferred route of Olive/Lindell to Vandeventer to Delmar doesn’t have enough dots to get funding.

But between the Option 1 & 2 being considered I have a strong preference for #1 —  the double track on Taylor Ave option rather than the Euclid/Forest Park/Taylor loop.Establishing a double track on Taylor Ave sets up a perfect scenario for north-south expansion. Below is one concept:

Teal = Loop Trolley Blue = Proposed Streetcar Red = Possible Future Lines
Purple = Loop Trolley, Teal = #70 Grand BRT, Blue = Proposed Streetcar, Red = Possible Future Lines.  Click image to view map in Google Maps

The dots aren’t there for an initial north-south line but extending a couple of miles here and there every few years would eventually build a system. The current proposal calls for a north-south piece at 14th Street, going up to St. Louis Avenue. The double track on Taylor of Option 1 provides an ideal spot for a second north-south line further west. Expansion could happen to reach new development projects.

Yes, what I’ve shown above would take decades to construct. That’s how long-term planning works. For further reading on streetcars please see a 65-page literature review of Relationships Between Streetcars and the Built Environment.

— Steve Patterson

 

Poll: What is Your Preferred Route For Streetcar Line West Out of Downtown St. Louis?

Plans were presented to the public last week to built a 7-mile modern streetcar line in St. Louis that would:

  • Circulate in the downtown central business district.
  • Head west on Olive/Lindell past Midtown to the Central West End.
  • A north-south segment would connect at 14th Street & Olive, initially going north Florissant Rd to St. Louis Ave. and south to the Civic Center MetroBus Center/MetroLink light rail.
  • Open in 2016/17.
ABOVE: Artist rendering of streetcar in downtown St. Louis
Artist rendering of streetcar in downtown St. Louis

Metro is part of the planning process and this would become part of our transit system. But I know some of you still question the effectiveness of the streetcar over the bus. To be fair, here is a skeptical view that I happen to agree with.

Streetcars that replace bus lines are not a mobility improvement. If you replace a bus with a streetcar on the same route, and make no other improvements, nobody will be able to get anywhere any faster than they could before. This makes streetcars quite different from most of the other transit investments being discussed today.

Where a streetcar is faster or more reliable than the bus route it replaced, this is because other improvements were made at the same time — improvements that could just as well have been made for the bus route. These improvements may have been politically packaged as part of the streetcar project, but they were logically independent, so their benefits are not really benefits of the streetcar as compared to the bus. (source – highly recommended)

He’s right that streetscape improvements are just as important as the mode of transit, but funding realities mean a complete makeover of 7 miles for a bus isn’t very likely. Even if it was, a streetcar is a better choice for other reasons:

Streetcar vs. Bus

Buses are excellent local and regional public transportation options, but they will do little to spur redevelopment and economic investment in Downtown LA. This is due to the inherent flexibility of bus service, as routes change regularly to accommodate varying needs; in addition, buses contribute to nerve-racking pedestrian experiences due to heavy street-level emissions and noise pollution that discourages active use of sidewalks. Streetcars do the exact opposite. They provide developers and business owners certainty that the routes will not change, and are considered preferable to buses by residents, visitors, and employees as they offer more amenities, highly reliable routes and timetables, and enhanced urban experiences.

Buses and streetcars do, however, work together to connect access points within regional transportation networks. For example, sidewalks can be designed to specifically accommodate both vehicle configurations; in return, a transit stop effectively doubles its value within a regional transportation network. (LA Streetcar)

And…

While it’s true that streetcars require a much larger initial capital investment than buses, that capital cost is offset by significant operational savings year to year. In the long term, streetcars are more affordable as long as they are used on high ridership routes.

Streetcars have higher passenger capacity than buses (even bendy ones), which means that if there are lots of riders on your route, you can move them with fewer vehicles. Fewer vehicles means more efficient use of fuel and fewer (unionized, pensioned) drivers to pay.

Streetcar vehicles themselves are much more sturdy than buses, and last many decades longer. While buses must generally be retired and replacements purchased about every 10 years, streetcars typically last 40 years or more. For example, Philadelphia’s SEPTA transit system is still using streetcar vehicles built in 1947. (Washington Post — recommended)

Even in Portland the value of streetcars have been debated, critics questioning claims of Mayor Hales:

So that brings us to the ruling. Hales said “streetcars carry more people than buses … you attract more riders who don’t ride transit now, and actually the operating costs are not any greater than the bus.” Whether these arguments make a persuasive case for the necessity and usefulness of a streetcar system is, of course, up for debate. The statement itself remains factual. While, there’s some missing context, it’s nothing significant. We rate this claim True. (PolitiFact Oregon)

For a detailed look at operating costs of streetcars vs bus click here. Labor tends to be a big factor why streetcars are cheaper to operate.

For the poll this week I want you to vote on your preferred route. I’ve included “don’t build” as an option as well as my idea of Olive to Vandeventer to Delmar: described here.

ABOVE: Blue was my original route idea, red is my variation, green is continuing on Lindell, purple is a north-south line on Vandeventer
ABOVE: Blue was my original route idea, red is my variation, green is continuing on Lindell, purple is a north-south line on Vandeventer. Click image to view post. Note: This image added to this post at 10:30am on 3/10/2013.

The poll also has the two options from the study (p17):

Option 1 includes double track on Taylor south to the CWE MetroLink
Option 1 includes double track on Taylor south to Children’s Place/CWE MetroLink
Option 2 continues to Euclid, to Forest Park Blvd to Taylor back to Lindell
Option 2 continues to Euclid, to Forest Park Blvd to Taylor back to Lindell

My views on a St. Louis streetcar are evolving, more on Wednesday March 20. The poll is in the right sidebar (mobile users need to switch to the desktop layout)

— Steve Patterson

 

Two Events Today: St. Louis Streetcar Open House & Free Screening of ‘ENVISIONING HOME’

1) A public open house to look at the initial plans for a modern St. Louis streetcar line will be held today from 4pm-7pm at the Moto Museum 3441 Olive. This is an open house so you can come anytime to see the materials. More information here and the draft study is here.

2) A free screening of ENVISIONING HOME: The Jean King and Richard Baron Story is tonight:

Two wildly different individuals come together in St. Louis in the tumultuous 1960s and bravely transform the world of public housing–and in the process take on poverty and racism throughout the country.

ENVISIONING HOME is a feature length documentary film exploring the dramatic world of two imaginative leaders, Jean King and Richard Baron, two agents of change in public housing. A remarkable, homegrown leader, Jean King meets Richard Baron, a legal aide-turned-visionary planner and developer during the St. Louis tenant strike in 1968-69. From that moment to the present day, they have together changed the face of inner city life in St. Louis and beyond. By inspiring resident and family empowerment while creating more humane places to live, their work invigorates the lives of residents and builds vibrant neighborhoods and communities from distressed central cities.

Drawing on Richard and Jean’s personal memories along with spontaneous conversations between the two—both in studio and along the streets and inside the homes of these new communities–we see how a dangerous, volatile moment in St. Louis public housing drew these two together into a shared passion for improving the lives of people in distressed and neglected inner city neighborhoods. Along the way, Jean and Richard forcefully remind us that despite stubborn matters of race and poverty, individuals with conviction and vision can make a difference.

Combining Richard’s unique “mixed income” approach that ends the ‘warehousing” of the poor isolated from the rest of the city, with Jean’s powerful vision of “building people for housing”—fostering job creation and better schools, child care and elder care programs in new public housing developments—their vision focuses on building new affordable housing communities grounded in safe, sustainable neighborhoods. What were once volatile, dangerous, crime-ridden areas of distressed central cities, now become an environment for turning peoples’ lives around. ENVISIONING HOME takes us into this new world of safe and productive urban communities in cities across the country (from St. Louis to Pittsburgh, New Orleans, Los Angeles, and San Francisco), where we meet some of the residents and their families who have transformed their lives thanks to more humane and livable neighborhoods and an affirming sense of resident empowerment. 

ENVISIONING HOME is a powerful and revealing exploration into what happens when two people—and all those who have joined forces with them—relentlessly follow their hearts in trying to make a difference.

You can watch the trailer on YouTube and Vimeo. I’ve not seen anything except the trailer so I don’t know if it is worth seeing.

ABOVE: Image from the film with tenement in front and a housing project behind
ABOVE: Image from the film with tenement in front and a housing project behind

The screening is at 7pm in the Lee Auditorium of the Missouri History Museum. “After the film, King and Baron are joined by filmmaker Daniel Smith, Will Jordan (Executive Director, Metropolitan St. Louis Equal Housing Opportunity Council) and moderator Casey Nolen, KSDK and host of Nine Network’s Stay Tuned” for a panel discussion. Additional information here.

— Steve Patterson

 

Grand Center’s Northern Boundary?

If you were to ask most people what is the northern boundary of Grand Center is they’d likely tell you Delmar Blvd. That’s where the urban buildings end and the parking lots begin, the change is stark.

ABOVE: For a few blocks from Olive to Delmar, Grand has an urban feel to it.
ABOVE: For a few blocks from Olive to Delmar, Grand has an urban feel to it.
ABOVE: Upon going north to Delmar you can quickly tell you're suddenly in a different place.
ABOVE: Upon going north to Delmar you can quickly tell you’re suddenly in a different place.

The Grand Center website confirms Delmar Blvd as the northern boundary:

Where is Grand Center?

The Grand Center district is conveniently located in Midtown St. Louis. The boundaries of the district run along Grand from Lindell to Delmar and from Vandeventer to the west and Josephine Baker to the east. The heart of the district is located at Grand and Washington, next to the Fabulous Fox Theatre. (Grand Center district FAQ)

That’s settled then isn’t it? Hold on, not so fast. Let’s go for a walk north to see if we can find any evidence that suggests a different boundary.

ABOVE: The street sign at Delmar is a "Grand Center" branded sign. Ok, north edge so that makes sense, right?
ABOVE: The street sign at Delmar is a “Grand Center” branded sign. Ok, north edge so that makes sense, right?
ABOVE: Same at Franklin Ave
ABOVE: Same at Franklin Ave
ABOVE: And at Bell Ave
ABOVE: And at Bell Ave
ABOVE: and at
ABOVE: and at Windsor Place
ABOVE: And Finney Ave
ABOVE: And Finney Ave
ABOVE: One block before Page Ave is the last Grand Center sign, Cook Ave is the street on the north side of the Rock Church
ABOVE: One block before Page Ave is the last Grand Center sign, Cook Ave is the street on the north side of the St. Alphonsus Ligouri “The Rock” Church

Five blocks (map) covering a third of a mile is marked on street signs as being part of Grand Center but you don’t see the signature double head streetlights north of Delmar, just the standard issue cobrahead lights. No banners, no branded trash receptacles. Nothing except a different street sign.

Grand Center folks like to say the district is “steeple to steeple” referring to Saint Francis Xavier (College Church) on the south and  St. Alphonsus Ligouri “The Rock” on the north. That sounds good but the reality is this isn’t the case in practice.

ABOVE: The distinctive Grand Center double-head light are continuous from Lindell to the south side of Delmar.
ABOVE: The distinctive Grand Center double-head light are continuous from Lindell to the south side of Delmar.

Clearly the streetscape sends a very different message than the phrase “steeple to steeple” does. Clearly Grand Center.

This week Grand Center is holding a “public open house”, maybe they’ll present something to improve the streetscape north of Delmar.

ABOVE: Conveniently Grand Center is hosting an open house on February 28th
ABOVE: Conveniently Grand Center is hosting an open house on February 28th

The open house is being held at the Metropolitan Artist Loft building. How do you get to Grand Center? Let’s take a look at how Grand Center Inc tells you to do it via public transportation and then I’ll add in the other ways they fail to mention:

Public Transportation

MetroBus

Take the #70 Grand MetroBus for several stops available in Grand Center. Click here to plan your trip through Metro Transit – St. Louis.

 MetroLink

The Grand MetroLink Station is now open. Travel about two blocks north on Grand Boulevard once out of the MetroLink Station to get to Grand Center at Lindell Boulevard and Grand Boulevard. (Grand Center, Inc)

That “about two blocks” is a half mile walk, that’s just to reach the south edge of Grand Center.  Use your MetroLink ticket as your transfer and catch the #70 northbound. For the Metropolitan you want the stop just on the north side of Lindell.

Not arriving via MetroLink? You can catch the #10 MetroBus from downtown, CWE and even  south city along Gravois. Other good MetroBus options include the #97 (Delmar) and #94 Page, getting you to Grand & Delmar and Page, respectively. Remember the farthest north Grand Center sign is just a block from Page.

You’d think since Grand Center President, former Mayor Vince Schoemehl, is also on Metro’s board the transit information would be more complete.  The five block discrepancy in the northern boundary remains a mystery.

UPDATE: 2/26/2013 @ 9:35am: In the comments below it was pointed out the website says Page, not Delmar. So here’s the proof

From http://www.grandcenter.org/about/district/ on 2/17/2013
From http://www.grandcenter.org/about/district/ on 2/17/2013

— Steve Patterson

 

Unable To Use All MetroBus Stops

I have no problems using most of Metro’s bus stops using my power chair, bus there are exceptions that I can’t.

ABOVE: MetroBus stop on the north side of Market Street between 14th-15th, across from the Peabody Opera House
ABOVE: MetroBus stop on the north side of Market Street between 14th-15th, across from the Peabody Opera House. Taken Thursday January 31, 2013 @ 1:00pm.

I’m a huge fan of on-street parking, the fixed cars provide a nice buffer between pedestrians and moving vehicles. Unfortunately, this buffer becomes a barrier to anyone that can’t just step out into the street when the bus comes.

I’m thinking most days vehicles aren’t parked here and I’d have no problem using this stop. If so, that means an entire lane sits empty except for when a bus has to use it to pickup or drop off a passenger. But when cars are here the stop is useless to disabled riders. The solution?

Allow on-street parking, set up meters and generate revenue. In the space that would have one car build out the sidewalk so disabled riders, seniors and others can reach the bus stopped briefly in the travel lane.

— Steve Patterson

 

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