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Ride The Forest Park Trolley Instead of Adding To Congestion

After the success of the Downtown Trolley came the bright Forest Park Trolley. Yes, I know, It’s just a standard bus that’s been wrapped in a cartoon-like trolley design.  To paraphrase Al Franken on SNL, gosh darn it, people like it.

ABOVE: People board the Forest Park Trolley to visit the park

Wrap a standard bus and suddenly people that otherwise wouldn’t ride a bus are boarding. It’s a good thing too because so many people going to the attractions in Forest Park want to drive their car and park. Metro reroutes the #90 (Hampton) bus on the weekends because of the traffic congestion inside the park. Let me repeat that, Metro has to reroute a bus line that normally goes through the park because it’s too congested inside the park.

Enjoy the beautiful weekend.

— Steve Patterson


St. Clair County Buses Finally Equipped With Bike Racks

August 16, 2012 Bicycling, Featured, Public Transit Comments Off on St. Clair County Buses Finally Equipped With Bike Racks

In 2010 I did several posts about St. Clair County Transit District not having bike racks on their bus fleet:

I didn’t think this policy was good for a transit district.

ABOVE: Metro bus without a bike rack at 5th & Missouri in East St. Louis, IL. 2010

The St. Louis Beacon followed up on the topic and quoted St. Clair County Chairwoman Delores Lysakowski as she blamed cleaning issues for the lack of bike racks:

Lysakowski said it would be impractical for workers to remove the racks each day for cleaning. “Every time that bus goes through a wash rack, which is every night, you’re not going to stop and take a rack off and then put it back on again when it gets off of the rack,” she said.

The five-member transit district board never has allowed bike racks on buses in St. Clair County and isn’t considering changing its policy, she said. “It’s been a policy that we don’t have them so we don’t discuss it,” she said adding that the district receives few complaints about the policy. “Maybe one every five years,” she said. (St. Louis Beacon: Want to bike and ride on Metro buses in St. Clair County? Forget it)

This is why I was shocked to see bike racks on bus after bus on a recent visit to East St. Louis.

ABOVE: St. Clair County MetroBus in East St. Louis with a bike rack, August 2012
ABOVE: Another St. Clair County MetroBus with a bike rack heading east on Old Missouri Ave in East St. Louis, IL, August 2012

I began searching for confirmation, just to make sure I wasn’t  seeing a few exceptions. I searched minutes of the district for 2012 — no mention. I emailed them last week asking for an effective date and/or a copy of the press release, they’ve yet to respond. Unlike Metro, they don’t have a press release archive online.  Maybe they don’t issue press releases…

ABOVE: Notice on the scctd.org website, retrieved on 8/13/2012

One sentence on their homepage is the only confirmation of the change I was able to find.  I don’t know when this change happened, although it’s listed after the July 1, 2012 fare increase notice. I’m not sure who made the policy change, or when, but I’m very glad to see the change.

— Steve Patterson


No Matter The Implementation, Light Rail Doesn’t Spur Development

A number of  years ago the East-West Gateway Council of Governments, the MPO (Metropolitan Planning Organization) for the St. Louis region looked at options to get light rail transit to north county and south county, see MetroLink Northside-Southside Study. The final report on October 10, 2008 recommended future routes to North County and South County that included using part of existing roadway. I wasn’t convinced.

Last week I posted about things I liked about DART (Dallas Area Rapid Transit) but today I’m going to use DART to talk why I’m cautious about expanding out own light rail system, MetroLink.  Light rail as a mode of transit moves people well, but it doesn’t automatically spur development the way a streetcar can and costs far for than a bus line.

Just before I left for my trip to Texas and Oklahoma I received the following publication at a transit-oriented development event here in St. Louis.

ABOVE: Cover of REALTORS & Smart Growth’s On Common Ground publication from Summer 2009 featured DART’s light rail on the cover.

Looked exciting, I couldn’t wait to see and experience it.  Let’s take a look at the reality of light rail in Dallas.

ABOVE: Light rail in downtown Dallas uses Pacific Street, cars are banned except in a few places where they’re kept separate.

In downtown Dallas numerous light rail lines converge on Pacific Street, now closed to traffic, with exceptions in a few limited spots. It’s a pretty lifeless street other than people going to/from the light rail stations. Pedestrian traffic is less than other nearby streets. No sidewalk cafes, not much of anything other than a couple of stations. This is what you get when you give a roadway such a single, and limited, purpose.

On the plus side their light rail is highly visible, whereas our MetroLink is nearly invisible in downtown St. Louis since it runs under Washington Ave and under 8th Street. The planned northside-southside lines in St. Louis would go through downtown at grade and be visible.

DART’s blue Line South


ABOVE: South of downtown Dallas the light rail follows old railroad right-of-way initially
ABOVE: Continuing south the line goes through a neighborhood where the street arrangement has been modified to give the line a private route. The Blue line has been in place since June 1996 yet vacant land and boarded up houses remain.
ABOVE: South of Illinois Ave. DART’s Blue line goes into the median of Lancaster Rd. Kiest, VA Medical & Ledbetter (end) station opened less than a year later on May 31, 1997
ABOVE: One of several auto-centric strip shopping centers along the Blue line
ABOVE: For miles I observed no indication the light rail line made any impact on development in the last 15-16 years
ABOVE: The stations for the Blue line are very removed from existing commercial and residential development.

Blue Line North


ABOVE: Unlike the Blue line southbound, other lines are often elevated along former rail lines. The result is disconnection from the suburban sprawl below.
ABOVE: Many stations along the Blue line northbound are park-n-ride lots
ABOVE: The current north end of the Blue line, downtown Garland TX, is starting to build more urban. Click image to view in Google Maps.

I’ve got hundreds more images from DART’s Blue & Red lines but you get the idea. Relatives and friends in Dallas said they don’t use the light rail because it’s too inconvenient to use, having to drive to the station and park. They’d just as soon drive to their destination.

Light rail, by design, is separated from its surroundings. It’s below grade, elevated above grade, squeezed in the middle of a busy roadway, etc.. But it’s not connected to the street grid in the way a streetcar or even a bus is. Thus, many have to drive to reach a station.

Both the streetcar and bus are right outside the door and both make frequent stops so you don’t have massive areas without service, like you do with light rail. That said, I can’t imagine taking a bus to the airport. Conversely, when I go to the Delmar Loop I take the #97 (Delmar) MetroBus because it’s far more convenient.

Back to the northside and southside MetroLink expansion. I’d support rail transit but only in streetcar or BRT form. Light rail costs more to build and as we’ve seen in St. Louis it hasn’t produced measurable development.

St. Louis was developed largely with help from streetcars, horse drawn initially. I expect, no I demand, development to be a result of investment in transit infrastructure.

— Steve Patterson


Most Mobility Scooters Too Long For Public Transit

We’ve all seen television commercials advertising how a mobility scooter can make life easier for adults with mobility issues:


But ever notice they don’t show users on public transit? There’s a reason why, the length of these scooters means they aren’t ADA-compliant and thus have a hard time flitting in transit vehicles (both buses and trains).

Pride is a manufacturer of scooters and power chairs, many of their 3-wheel scooters are 40+ inches long and 4-wheel scooters are 47+ inches long. By contrast, my Jazzy 600 Powerchair, also by Pride, is just 36.5″ long. Why does this matter?

Several times this year I’ve seen others with long scooters trying to travel on the bus. These scooters barely fit on the lift and maneuvering them inside the bus is nearly impossible. Twice now I’ve had to move to give them the extra space to turn around. One wanted seats up on both sides to give him enough room to make a circle, he was visibly upset when the bus driver told him that wasn’t possible since one chair was already on board, my chair.

ABOVE: Mobility scooters exceed the maximum length allowed within ADA-compliant spaces, such as transit buses

Similarly, on light rail they can’t get into the fold-up seat area without blocking the aisle. Turning around is also impossible when trains are crowded.

People are buying these devices not designed for use on public transit or in ADA-compliant bathroom stalls and getting upset when it proves difficult. If you, a friend, or a relative need a device to help with mobility consider the overall length if it’ll be used on public transit.

— Steve Patterson


Transit Ideas Worth Copying From DART

Yesterday I posted about the visibility of the DART (Dallas Area Rapid Transit) headquarters and store, today I want to share some other items I liked about their transit service on my short visit last month.

Posted Schedules for bus & train

Knowing when a bus or train will arrive is important information to know. Having this information available at the point where you’d catch the bus or train would be incredible. For many riders of DART they have such information, those of us that use Metro in St. Louis can only fantasize having.

ABOVE: Many DART bus stops have the schedule posted for the route(s) the stop serves — very helpful information!
ABOVE: At points where many buses converge the schedules for many routes are posted
ABOVE: Bus & rail schedules are in a quick and easy to read format that tells the user at what time after the hour the next bus or train will arrive.

Additional Cars Added to Light Rail

DART increased capacity of their light rail vehicles in a very creative way:

DART is updating its fleet of 115 light rail vehicles (LRV) by inserting a new, low-floor insert between the existing sections of the vehicle adding seating capacity and improving access through level boarding. The newly modified vehicles began service on June 23, 2008 with car #151.

Known as Super Light Rail Vehicles (SLRV) because of the greater length and added passenger capacity, the SLRV will seat approximately 100 passengers compared with 75 on the current vehicles. Standing passengers on the vehicle can nearly double the capacity. (DART)

They’ve had to modify stations, something we [may] not be able to do.

ABOVE: Light rail vehicles are from Japan’s Kinki Sharyo Co., Ltd., but accessibility was an issue. Click image for more info on manufacturer.
ABOVE: Since the system opened in 1996 they had special raised waiting platforms for the disabled, operators would have to put a bridge in place to enter/exit because of the steps. Seriously?
ABOVE: DART just added two non-powered sections into each light rail train. These feature a low floor with areas designed for two wheelchairs and two bikes.
ABOVE: Interior of these new sections feel spacious. Note the floor color changes to designate the wheelchair/disabled area on the right. Photo taken from the other such spot.

Bike Rack on Light Rail

Besides the easy boarding for wheelchairs I like the space to hang bikes in the newer low-floor cars. The seating in these is arranged facing inward rather than to the front or back, this gives more floor area and more standing room.

ABOVE: A rider just hung his bike from one of two overhead hooks in the newly added train section.
ABOVE: Rider about to sit down behind his bike on the crowded train

Final Thoughts:

It’s good to look to see what’s being done in other cities to see what might be good to use at home. I rode several light rail lines and two bus routes in my 30 hours in Dallas, I’d like to return with more time.

The bus vehicles were different than ours but no major surprises. The wheelchair lifts didn’t seem as robust as our lifts but I didn’t get dropped.

— Steve Patterson