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Additional Thoughts On A Modern Streetcar In St. Louis

A couple of weeks ago I laid out a suggested route for a modern streetcar route from downtown to the Loop (Feasibility Of A Streetcar From Downtown To The Loop). I suggested using Olive, Vandeventer and Delmar. I’ve got more on the subject.

Extension of Loop Trolley, Not A New Start:

Alex Ihnen posted on NextSTL that Olive/Lindell was the “only feasible route” (see: Olive/Lindell Streetcar or Bust: Why a New St. Louis Line Must Build On Success) and that an all Olive route wasn’t a good option.  I’m not sure who suggested a route on Olive West of Vandeventer,but I agree with Ihnen that staying on Olive isn’t wise but I disagree that Lindell is the only possibility.

ABOVE: Passengers unboarding a modern streetcar in Portland OR

Ihnen admits with his Lindell route the “problem remaining is the potential to connect to the Loop Trolley.” That’s a deal breaker of a problem!  This streetcar line needs to be sold to the Feds as an extension of the Loop Trolley, not a new stand-alone system. Maintenance and storage buildings are costly so getting the maximum use of the Loop facility, rather than building a second, makes financial sense and increases the odds of getting the Feds to improve funding.

The Loop Trolley will initially use restored vintage cars, which are cheap to buy, but very costly to operate. Fortunately, the Loop Trolley is being designed to handle modern streetcars as well. Replacing the vintage cars with modern cars would come as part of an expansion. This is inevitable because the operating costs of the Loop Trolley won’t be sustainable.

So while we might talk about a downtown streetcar heading out west, the reality is the Loop Trolley would be extended east to downtown, something I’ve advocated since the Loop Trolley has been discussed.  The most feasible  way to get a streetcar line in midtown and downtown is building upon the Loop Trolley, not starting over from scratch.

Given that reality let me describe the route from the Loop to downtown. Extend the line east on Delmar from DeBaliviere to Vandeventer, south to Olive, east on Olive to the Central Business District.

The one alteration I’ve been thinking about is due to the fact the Olive/Lindell intersection was recently redone is to use McPherson for a block. When south on Vandeventer instead of turning east on olive the line could continue south two blocks then head east on McPherson in front of the Moolah Theater. These are diagramed later in this post.

Line Placement:

Conventional wisdom says run the streetcars through existing areas where people are now. Well, yes and no.  One lesson we can learn from the 10+ years of the Portland streetcar is you want to do both. The line needs to serve busy points but by taking an under-developed path between those points you’ll see it fill up over time provided you’ve also put the right zoning in place.

ABOVE: When connecting points with modern streetcars you need to run through active points (A, B) but you want to do so along a vacant corridor (red) rather than one that’s already developed (blue) if you hope to create new construction along the route. Land-use regulations must require density

If you’re at Euclid & Laclede you’ve got MetroLink a short walk to the south. Having a streetcar a short walk to the north at Euclid & Lindell would be great for the lucky few in between but the rest of the city should also benefit from such an investment in new infrastructure. Having the line run along Delmar on the north end of the Central West End it would serve residents on both sides of Delmar. It’d be a short walk from Left Bank Books at Euclid & McPherson to catch the streetcar at Delmar. Of course you can catch the #97 (Delmar) bus there now — every 30 minutes.

ABOVE: Blue was my original route idea, red is my variation, green is Lindell, purple is a north-south line on Vandeventer

North-South Line:

On many sites people have said a north-south route is needed. I fully agree, an eastbound line from the Loop to downtown will give points to make connections to a future north-south route(s). Again, using the one maintenance facility saves considerable money and makes future lines more sellable to the Feds.

It’s my opinion that Vandeventer would serve as an excellent north-south route with excellent development potential. A streetcar line on Vandeventer would take pressure off the #70 Grand bus route. A north-south route further east such as Jefferson would also be good and would personally benefit me more, but I think Vandeventer is a better first north-south line. No the north it could stop at Natural Bridge, a good future east-west streetcar route as well as the preferred route for a light rail line to north county. Heading south on Vandeventer the line could turn south on Kingshighway.

Modern Streetcar vs Bus:

Some of you fail to see the difference between a modern streetcar and a bus, other than the obvious track and wire.  The modern streetcar used in cities like Portland & Seattle is not like a railcar where you add on cars as need (Wikipedia). These have three sections, a middle and matching ends — no adding on. They are 66 feet in length, 6 foot longer than an articulated  bus and 26 feet longer  than a typical bus. Seating capacity is only 30 but standing capacity is an additional 127, most passengers stand since they’re going a short distance. Our 40 foot buses have a seating capacity of about 40 and standing isn’t feasible because you’re either in the way or you’ll fall over due to the bumpy ride.  An articulated bus has a capacity of roughly 60+.  For comparison our MetroLink light rail vehicles are 90 feet long and  “a capacity of 72 seated and 106 standing passengers.” (Wikipedia)

ABOVE: Interior of a modern streetcar in Portland OR

Boarding a bus each passenger gets on one at a time, after others have gotten off the bus. It’s a slow process. With the modern streetcar riders pay their fare at the fireboxes on-board the streetcar.

The inflexible rail and wire are very important. These permanent items give developers the confidence to invest in high density development. The high density development supplies riders for the streetcar. Bus lines are incredibly efficient means from getting from point A to point B but a bus line, no matter how frequent, can’t generate the same level of development along a route. To help justify the capital expense of a streetcar the goodwill of developers along the length of the route cannot be left to chance. Government, in exchange for the investment in the infrastructure, should demand the density of development necessary to make it worthwhile. This last part is what wasn’t done 20 years ago around our MetroLink light rail stations.

Property owners with several blocks of a streetcar will benefit financially from the new transit infrastructure as their property value increases. Measures also need to be taken to ensure low-income persons aren’t priced out of high transit areas. This could be a freeze on property taxes for existing low-income homeowners to rent control for some rental units.  The goal would be to add more middle and higher income residents without displacing those on the lower end.

ABOVE: Streetcar stops are simple affairs either at the side of the road or in the middle of a wider roadway like Olive


The bus is a fine mode for inner city public transit, it’s how I most often leave downtown.  While it does it’s transit function well it doesn’t spur new development. The streetcar also does a great job at local transit but it’s strength is in development and creating new transit users. In making infrastructure decisions we cannot continue to put all our eggs into the CWE basket, we must spread it around.

– Steve Patterson



Feasibility Of A Streetcar From Downtown To The Loop

The Partnership for Downtown St. Louis wants to connect to the city’s central corridor to the west. On Friday it issued a Request for Qualifications (link) to hire a consulting firm to study the feasibility to connect to midtown, the central west end and the planned Loop Trolley. From the RFQ:

The proposed streetcar will strengthen the region’s transit system by feeding into current and proposed MetroLink and MetroBus lines; solidifying existing and spurring additional economic investments. With the streetcar line’s frequent stops along the central east-west corridor, the line will complement and serve intersecting MetroLink and MetroBus routes. With the efforts for the Loop Trolley, the ability to connect the two lines would benefit both efforts and enable riders to go from Downtown to University City by streetcar. A preliminary analysis of connecting the two lines should be included. The feasibility study will build the foundation for additional environmental and engineering work, the tools necessary for the basic environmental work to position this project for additional funding opportunities in the future. 

Post-Dispatch writer Tim Bryant made his route suggestion on the Building Blocks blog:

Begin with a single-track loop around the Old Post Office downtown. Close Eighth Street between Olive and Locust to traffic and convert that block to a streetcar terminal connected directly to an expanded 8th & Pine MetroLink station below.

ABOVE: Modern streetcar in Portland OR

From the Old Post Office, a double-track line could head west on Locust past the Central Library, through the growing Downtown West area and Midtown Alley to near SLU, where the line could jog over to Olive Street and continue west through Grand Center to the CWE.At Walton Avenue, the line could head south then west again at McPherson Avenue next to the apartment building where a young Tennessee Williams lived with his family. (The family’s apartment is believed by some to have provided Williams the inspiration to write “The Glass Menagerie.”)

After passing through a CWE business area, the streetcar line could turn south on Kingshighway then west on Waterman to Union, to Pershing and, finally, to DeBaliviere Avenue, where the streetcar could end with another connection to MetroLink and the planned Loop Trolley. (STLtoday.com w/map)

I’ll admit the idea of a streetcar line running on Locust directly in front of my building is mighty appealing, but that’s main problem with Bryant’s route — it goes where development’s already happened. Thus little would be gained from the significant upfront capital costs.  To spur “additional economic investments” the route needs to go where that’s actually possible.

Currently two bus lines connect downtown to parts west: the #10 on Olive/Lindell and the #97 on Washington and Delmar west of Compton. Simply replacing one or the other with a streetcar line isn’t feasible. Well you could replace the #10 on Olive/Lindell but  you’d not want to keep going west of Kingshighway with Forest Park on one side and mansions on the other.

I’ve suggested a route before, from November 2008:

An example, that I’ve articulated before, would be Olive heading West from downtown, jumping North to Delmar at Vandeventer or Sarah and then continuing West on Delmar to the loop. (post)

My thinking is unchanged, the opportunities to build new density along the route and within a few blocks in each direction are excellent.

East of Tucker a single loop would be made through the central business district, passing no further than one block from the 8th & Pine MetroLink station.  West of Tucker a track on either side of a center median. Passengers would board from points along the median. This is important to keep costs down since St. Louis streetcars originally ran in the center so manhole covers and other access points are on the outer edges and the center is relatively free of obstructions.

Like Bryant’s route I want the line to be on Olive west of Grand. The Olive-Lindell split has been reworked (post) since I last suggested a streetcar follow this old route but the intersection could be redone again. Staying on Olive is important at this point because of potential development sites between Grand and Vandeventer. At Vandeventer I’d make right and go north one block to Delmar. From there follow Delmar and join the Loop Trolley.

How do you justify such a massive capital expenditure when the area is currently served by bus routes. If our zoning remains unchanged along the route the expense can’t possibly be justified at all. I love streetcars and to have a line within a block of my loft would be wonderful. But as we’ve seen with MetroLink light rail, without government setting development goals through the use of it’s police power a streetcar line won’t spur new investment and density along the line. Sure, some would happen, but as much as if required. The highest density should be on the blocks facing the route with a drop on each of the next two blocks.

I’m glad to see the Partnership taking this first step. Next would be dropping the idea of north & south light rail lines, building streetcar lines instead to connect north & south city into downtown.

– Steve Patterson


Reading: Human Transit by Jarrett Walker & Straphanger by Taras Grescoe

Two books arrived recently, both on transit, specifically now how transit can improve our lives: Human Transit: How Clearer Thinking about Public Transit Can Enrich Our Communities and Our Lives by Jarrett Walker and Straphanger: Saving Our Cities and Ourselves from the Automobile by Taras Grescoe. Given that I’d sold my car over a month ago both books piqued peaked my interest.

Human Transit: How Clearer Thinking about Public Transit Can Enrich Our Communities and Our Lives:

Walker takes complicated and often technical subjects and presents them to the reader in layman’s terms.

The table of contents shows the topics covered:

  1. What Transit is, and Does
  2. What Makes Transit Useful? Seven Demands and How Transit Serves Them
  3. Five Paths to Confusion
  4. Lines, Loops, and Longing
  5. Touching the City: Stops and Stations
  6. Peak or All Day?
  7. Frequency is Freedom
  8. The Obstacle Course: Speed, Delay, and Reliability
  9. Density Distractions
  10. Ridership or Coverage: The Challenge of Service Allocation
  11. Can Fares be Fair?
  12. Connections or Complexity?
  13. From Connections to Networks, to Places
  14. Be on the Way! Transit Implications of Location Choice
  15. On the Boulevard
  16. Take the Long View

Walker doesn’t offer the solutions, he asks the questions to get us to determine what  we need from our transit system:

This book aims to give you a grasp of how transit works as an urban mobility tool and how it fits into the larger challenge of urban transportation. This is not a course designed to make you a qualified transit planner, though some professionals will benefit from it. My goal is simply to give you the confidence to form and advocate clear opinions about what kind of transit you want and how that can help create the kind of city you want.

I can tell this book will be a valuable resource for me. Read the blog here and purchase here ($35 softcover)

Straphanger: Saving Our Cities and Ourselves from the Automobile

Grescoe takes a different, but valuable, approach to transit. Examples from numerous cities in North America and the entire world are examined.

Taras Grescoe rides the rails all over the world and makes an elegant and impassioned case for the imminent end of car culture and the coming transportation revolution

“I am proud to call myself a straphanger,” writes Taras Grescoe. The perception of public transportation in America is often unflattering—a squalid last resort for those with one too many drunk-driving charges, too poor to afford insurance, or too decrepit to get behind the wheel of a car. Indeed, a century of auto-centric culture and city planning has left most of the country with public transportation that is underfunded, ill maintained, and ill conceived. But as the demand for petroleum is fast outpacing the world’s supply, a revolution in transportation is under way.

Grescoe explores the ascendance of the straphangers—the growing number of people who rely on public transportation to go about the business of their daily lives. On a journey that takes him around the world—from New York to Moscow, Paris, Copenhagen, Tokyo, Bogotá, Phoenix, Portland, Vancouver, and Philadelphia—Grescoe profiles public transportation here and abroad, highlighting the people and ideas that may help undo the damage that car-centric planning has done to our cities and create convenient, affordable, and sustainable urban transportation—and better city living—for all. (MacMillan)

Not sure yet how lessons learned in other cities will apply to St. Louis but such knowledge is important to quality solutions.

Final thoughts

Both books reference a quote commonly attributed to Margaret Thatcher: “A man who, beyond the age of 26, finds himself on a bus can count himself as a failure.” 

It appears that the quote was misattributed to Thatcher:

Attributed to her in Commons debates, 2003-07-02, column 407 and Commons debates, 2004-06-15 column 697. According to a letter to the Daily Telegraph by Alistair Cooke on 2 November 2006, this sentiment originated with Loelia Ponsonby, one of the wives of 2nd Duke of Westminster who said “Anybody seen in a bus over the age of 30 has been a failure in life”. In a letter published the next day, also in the Daily Telegraph, Hugo Vickers claims Loelia Ponsonby admitted to him that she had borrowed it from Brian Howard. There is no solid evidence that Margaret Thatcher ever quoted this statement with approval, or indeed shared the sentiment. (Wikiquote)

Who spoke the words isn’t as important as the general agreement of much of the world with this view.

I’m glad to have these two books in my library.

– Steve Patterson


Redeveloping Natural Bridge & The UMSL South MetroLink Station

Considerable attention is being given to redeveloping Natural Bridge and the UMSL South MetroLink Station.

On Friday, [UMSL Chancellor] George announced that Normandy collaborators hit their $14 million goal last week to transform a portion of Natural Bridge Road between Lucas and Hunt Road and the inner belt of I-170 into a more pedestrian-friendly street.

The plan is part of the St. Louis Great Streets Initiative, a program through the East-West Gateway Council of Governments, designed to encourage community leaders to use their streets to enhance economic development and social activities in their communities. (St. Louis American)

The initial phase would be between Florissant and Hanley.  In the middle is the UMSL campus and the UMSL South MetroLink station just to the south of Natural Bridge.

CMT in partnership with Metro charged a group of local experts from the ULI St. Louis Chapter called a Technical Assistance Panel (TAP) to look at the possibilities for development at the UMSL South Station. This is the second TAP that CMT and Metro have commissioned – the first at the Belleville MetroLink Station. Thanks to the AGC St. Louis for underwriting this event.

One idea presented was the possibility of rebranding the area around the station as a retail/commercial/event space as Plank Street Station. There would be a new access road that would run from Natural Bridge to the Station. The City of Normandy is willing to move their City Hall location to another area within this possible development or a different area all together. The panel suggested that Metro’s role could include building a pedestrian bridge as well as additional parking structure on the west side of the station to feed both the system and the development. (CMT-STL)

With all this interest I needed to see the area again to be able evaluate the proposals. The easiest way would’ve been to drive down Natural Bridge, but I no longer have a car. Besides, evaluating an area for a walkable district by driving is like evaluating a restaurant’s food based on internet pictures.

So on May 10th I caught the #4 (Natural Bridge) MetroBus on 18th at Clark and got off at Lucas and Hunt (aerial). I then “walked” in my power chair west along the north side of Natural Bridge to Hanley, crossed to the south side and returned. It was a 3.4 mile “walk” per Google Maps. I added a bit more distance by dropping down to the south UMSL MetroLink Station along the way.

During my four hour trip  (end to end, with lunch) I took 382 photos, I’ll share just some here.

ABOVE: Intersection of Natural Bridge and Florissant has potential with mostly-urban buildings
ABOVE: Sidewalks are narrow and many are adjacent to residential neighborhoods.
ABOVE: On the north side of Natural Bridge Rd the only sense light rail exists is if you see the power lines and/or train below
ABOVE: Two Normandy schools sit side by side west of the MetroLink right-of-way but there's no connection to it or the street
ABOVE: Far from a walker's paradise
ABOVE: Numerous lanes for autos reduces the pedestrian experience
ABOVE: Very attractive glass bus shelter just east of Hanley, would make a nice greenhouse
ABOVE: Commerce takes place but this isn't a pedestrian-friendly commercial district
ABOVE: A man crosses Hanley heading east along Natural Bridge
ABOVE: Same man waiting for the bus a block east of Hanley
ABOVE: Pedestrian crossing at the bus stops, lack curb ramps and getting traffic to stop is nearly impossible
ABOVE: One of the worst areas I encountered was in front of the place I'd hoped to have lunch, but it doesn't have an accessible entrance...22 years after Pres. Bush signed the ADA
ABOVE: Pedestrian walks westbound toward Spiro's
ABOVE: Some of the houses facing Natural Bridge are used for UMSL students
ABOVE: The north end of the St. Vincent Greenway, click image for more information
ABOVE: Like most areas, MetroBus is the primary mode of public transit
ABOVE: A huge area of undeveloped land along the south side of Natural Bridge is part of UMSL's campus and is very close to the UMSL South MetroLink station
ABOVE: The sidewalk on the east side of UMSL's South Drive will lead you to the light rail station, eventually. Click image for aerial
ABOVE: Once visible the most direct path is through an unfriendly park-n-ride lot
ABOVE: The pedestrian route takes an unpleasant circuitous path
ABOVE: Back on Natural Bridge we can see the station if we squint
ABOVE: Normandy City Hall is on the east side of the tracks, it has agreed to relocate to allow development
ABOVE: A convent is pretty but unwelcoming
ABOVE: A St. Louis Library branch is set back behind a parking lot, an access route is provided for pedestrians
ABOVE: Almost to Florissant now we see buildings up to the sidewalk

Amazingly I was able to travel more than 3 miles with only a few barriers along the way. A lack of barriers for the disabled is a good start but this is a long way from being “pedestrian-friendly” corridor. One article I read said the goal was to be more like the Delmar Loop. My guess that was more about the writer’s ignorance on the subject than a stated goal. You can make a suburban corridor attractive to pedestrians but that’s not the same as a dense commercial district.

A detailed look at Natural Bridge was done as part of the East-West Gateway’s Great Streets Initiative, see the report here. It prescribes different treatments for different areas of the corridor. The Urban Land Institute, working with Citizens for Modern Transit, took a detailed look at the existing UMSL South MetroLink station and immediate surroundings, see that report here.

I’m not yet sure the proposed ideas are the best solutions but I do know the pedestrian experience can, and should, be improved.

– Steve Patterson


The End Of The Hodiamont Streetcar Right-of-Way

Forty-six years ago today the last streetcar in St. Louis stopped rolling down the streets. The Hodiamont was St. Louis’ last streetcar line. The Hodiamont ran in city streets from downtown to just west of Vandeventer Ave where it went into its own private right-of-way.

ABOVE: Looking east on the last eastern section of the Hodiamont Right-of-Way
ABOVE: Hodiamont ROW ends
ABOVE: Cole School was built in 1936
ABOVE: In 1909 the site was home to United Railways that owned the Hodiamont line. Click imaged to view larger version. Source: UM Digital Library Sanborn Maps Collection
ABOVE: The streetcar tracks come out of the private right-of-way and head east on Enright Ave

ABOVE: The streetcar tracks come out of the private right-of-way and head east on Enright Ave

Eventually new rubber-tire buses with air-conditioning  replaced  the older streetcars:

Only three lines were left in April 1964, when the new Bi-State agency winnowed the system to the Hodiamont line, which ran from downtown to the Wellston Loop. Along the way through north St. Louis, the Hodiamont had its own right-of-way, like a railroad. (STLtoday.com article from 2010 — recommended)

I can’t help but wonder if running a new modern streetcar through this right of way today would make sense. Or even a bus line?

— Steve Patterson