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Transit Visibility: Metro vs DART

The headline isn’t referring to the visibility of transit vehicles, but the transit agency itself. More specifically the transit store and board of directors.

ABOVE: Any clue what goes on here? Let’s get closer so you can see.
ABOVE: It’s obvious now, right?

Above is the entrance to Metro’s MetroRide Store where you can get transit schedules and buy transit passes. Everyone walking by on Washington Ave would know that, wouldn’t they? The Convention Center MetroLink station is a block to the east, the #40 (Broadway) MetroBus also stops there.  Some photo ID services are here, seniors and disabled have to visit the strip center on DeBaliviere. Metro’s headquarters is in a building a block away from the Laclede’s Landing MetroLink station, not serviced by a single bus line.

In Dallas last month I noticed how DART (Dallas Area Rapid Transit) was totally different, you know, making sure people knew how to find it.

ABOVE: Dart’s offices are located at one of the busiest light rail stations, the Akard Station. The yellow windows on the right market the store just inside their HQ.
ABOVE: Well that’s pretty clear! No confusion about what I’ll find inside.

Retailers know to get customers they need to draw people into their stores for a sale to happen.

I also like how DART calls their light rail simply “rail”, very equal to “bus.” All transit riders ride DART regardless of whether they ride bus, rail, paratransit.

Visibility extends to the board managing the agency.

ABOVE: DART’s boardroom is just inside the building entrance unlike Metro where you have to sign in with security and be escorted upstairs just before the meeting starts.

Our MetroRide Store description tells another part of the problem: Location

Trying to decide which Metro Pass or Ticket is the best value for you? For assistance with your Metro fare purchases, you can call or visit the MetroRide Store, 701 Convention Plaza, St. Louis, MO 63101, 314-982-1495, (located inside America’s Center at 7th & Washington, Downtown St. Louis), open 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. weekdays. The MetroRide Store accepts MasterCard, Visa, Discover and American Express, personal checks, debit cards and government transportation vouchers.

701 Convention Plaza? Some know Convention Plaza used to be called Delmar but part downtown was renamed in the 1970s when the Cervantes Convention Center was built. In the early 1990s the convention center was expanded two blocks south to Washington Ave, at that time Convention Plaza was bisected by the expanded building.

ABOVE: Looking at a map someone would logically go to 7th & Convention Plaza to find 701 Convention Plaza, right? But they’d be too far north if they did.

The address should be 703 (or 705) Washington Ave!

You have to really want to buy a transit pass or attend a Metro board meeting to seek either out. Neither should be as difficult as they are. Tomorrow I’ll share a few ideas I think we should consider copying from DART to improve bus and rail service in St. Louis.

— Steve Patterson


New Grand Viaduct Huge Improvement, Development Opportunities Remain

Several years ago I suggested an urban bridge over the train tracks at Grand, storefronts lining each side of the bridge. These would be built on the ground below and designed to have a floor level even with the bridge. With the old bridge out of the way we can see this was entirely possible — only 3-4 train tracks have to be crossed and combined with Scott Ave the bridge span would’ve been 250 feet for so.

ABOVE: Aerial of Grand after the old viaduct was removed and before the new bridge was built. Click image to view in Google Maps.

But the new bridge wasn’t designed with that in mind. However, the spans aren’t as long as the prior structure because previously open areas were built filled-in.

ABOVE: Solid fill under much of the roadway, a short span is seen over Bernard St.

As you can see from the above image it’s just ground next to the viaduct, it’s not spanning the Mississippi River! Hold that thought though while we take a look at what was replaced and what was built.

ABOVE: The old bridge had narrow & patched sidewalks on each side with a rusty railing.

Crossing the old bridge/viaduct as a pedestrian was a miserable experience. It was narrow and at the center it got crowded with transit riders for the #70 (Grand) MetroBus and MetroLink.

ABOVE: Looking north from the old transit stop in June 2010

Now it’s a much better pedestrian experience!

ABOVE: More generous width will allow wheelchairs & strollers to meet and pass. Planters take away some width but they’ll add some softening materials.
ABOVE: Towers are meant to recall an earlier viaduct that was replaced in the 1960s.
ABOVE: Workers are still putting the MetroBus stop together but this will be great for those who ride the city’s busiest bus line.
The area between roughly Gratiot St and Scott Ave is open span, not fill.

Ok, I like the new viaduct but it’s still a long distance from end to end — I’d still like to see structures built up next to the bridge over time. Next to the open section shown above might be problematic, but the earlier area near Scott Ave shouldn’t be difficult.  However, a building foundation next to the foundation for the fill wall might be challenging, I’m not an engineer.

ABOVE: At the south end just before Papin St the grade comes up to the sidewalk. I see no reason a building couldn’t be built close to the sidewalk.
ABOVE: A nondescript building remained up to the sidewalk in June 2010 in the space between Papin St and the Captain D’s.
ABOVE: That building was razed, clearing the land for something new

The old sidewalk was narrow and the new sidewalk isn’t much wider, it also lacks street trees.  I’d like to see new buildings north and south of Papin St but I don’t think they should abut the sidewalk. Keep them back 10-15 feet, not 75+ feet the way Saint Louis University tends to do. Since the above is at grade and it won’t have on-street parking to separate pedestrians from traffic it really needs to have street trees and more width.

Remember that SLU wants more students walking from the main campus north of the viaduct to the medical campus to the south. The plants on the viaduct will help but we need street trees between cars and pedestrians where possible and buildings to give a sense of enclosure. This will be easier to accomplish on the west side so let’s cross Grand and have a look.

ABOVE: The bridge/viaduct ends on the south side of Gratiot St. so there is more opportunity to connect from this point to Chouteau.
ABOVE: Huge opportunity to create a more urban context and give the sidewalk some protective enclosure.

Unfortunately with SLU involved and their plan to raze the Pevely building in the background I’m not optimistic about the future of this area. It’ll likely be much like walking next to SLU. Perfect manicured green grass and buildings set back 100 feet or more from the sidewalk, totally anti-urban rather than appropriate transit adjacent development.

Hopefully I’m wrong and good urbanism will get built on either side of Grand.

— Steve Patterson




Metro’s Multi-Use Transfer

For many transit riders the bus transfer is an important piece of paper.  Until this year I didn’t know the why or how to use a transfer but I learned quickly.

ABOVE: A transfer from April 16, 2012

The current MetroBus adult fare is $2 and a “multi-use transfer” costs $1 more. Depending upon your trip it’s worth the extra buck. When you board a bus and pay $3 you get a transfer good for at least two hours. The driver tears off the transfer at the appropriate spot depending upon the current time.

ABOVE: Ride late enough and you’ll get a transfer good until service ends.

Here are some examples where the transfer comes in handy:

  1. Transferring to another bus to reach your destination.
  2. Transferring from bus to light rail to reach your destination.
  3. Return bus trip for a quick visit somewhere.
I’m back to buying a monthly pass now but I did all of the above over the winter months when I  was a cash rider. If you’re taking one bus to a place where you’ll be for three hours before leaving then a transfer doesn’t make sense. But if you’re going to the library to pick up a reserved item and you’ll be in/out within 30 minutes then the transfer will get you back home for $1 rather than $2.
There were times that I had bought a transfer and couldn’t use it, the next bus coming 10 minutes after my transfer expired.With experience I got better at figuring out when to buy a transfer and when no too.
If you start at MetroLink your time-stamped ticket also works like a transfer. When I was a cash rider I’d buy a stack of 2-hour tickets in advance from the MetroRide store at 7th & Washington Ave since I rarely carry cash, especially $1 bills. These don’t expire for months and are good for use on MetroLink and cover your fare & transfer on MetroBus. When I was going somewhere on MetroLink I’d often start my trip on the (#99 Downtown Trolley) because I’d get more time than I would just by stamping the 2-hour pass upon entering my starting station.

— Steve Patterson


MetroLink Moves Masses For Events

After the fireworks were over on the 4th many headed toward public transit, not a private vehicle. MetroLink light rail was packed with people going east & west from both sides of the river.

ABOVE: Crowds fill trains after fireworks on July 4th

Downtown couldn’t have handled all the cars if these people had driven, not enough parking and the streets would have been jammed for a long time. I can’t imagine not having our light rail lines to get people to & from major events.

— Steve Patterson


Downtown Trolley Debuted Two Years Ago Today, Sunday Service Added Last Month

ABOVE: Downtown Trolley at Broadway & Market with the Old Courthouse in background

The #99 MetroBus is also known as the “Downtown Trolley.” It’s not an actual trolley, just a standard short-length bus wrapped to vaguely resemble a trolley. From Metro’s website:

The #99 Downtown Trolley provides regular, all-day service throughout Downtown Saint Louis moving workers to jobs, visitors to cultural and sports venues, and everyone to the restaurants, retail, and service providers. The #99 Downtown Trolley route also recently expanded to serve downtown’s thriving residential developments, retail outlets, and cultural attractions along Washington Avenue. A reliable schedule, frequent trips, and quick connections to MetroLink and numerous MetroBus routes at the Civic Center Station make this route a practical option for traveling around Downtown Saint Louis.

The Downtown Trolley was introduced two years ago today and I’ve used it often in that time. Tourists use it as well to get from their hotel to different spots like City Museum and America’s Center. Conventional buses are intimidating to many but the cartoonish wrap, colorful signs for stops and simple route map put people at ease. The #99 Downtown Circulator bus that did a similar loop before the Downtown Trolley debuted didn’t have the same level of ridership.

Since many bus lines don’t go east of 14th Street many local transit riders have to take the #99 to reach their final destination. But when it began service it didn’t operate on Sundays, which presented challenges to locals and tourists in town on Sunday. Last month Sunday service was added.

— Steve Patterson