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#99 Downtown Circulator now the #99 Downtown Trolley

Last week the #99 Downtown Circulator bus was replaced by the #99 Downtown Trolley.

ABOVE: Maggie Campbell (left) and Kathleen Kitty Ratcliffe
ABOVE: Maggie Campbell (left) Pres & CEO Partnership for Downtown St. Louis; Kathleen "Kitty" Ratcliffe Pres St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission

The trolley is still a bus — one of Metro’s 30ft buses (compared to the standard 40ft).  Some had expected a real trolley instead of a dressed up bus.  To me a real trolley rides on rails, not inflated rubber tires.  I detest those vehicles built to look like an old wood trolley.  No, they equipment used is a standard bus (30ft vs the normal 40ft) with a colorful wrap.

Watch the full press conference (10  min):


At the end of the press conference we all boarded three of the newly wrapped trolley buses to ride the full route.

ABOVE: new trolley at night on Washington Ave
ABOVE: new trolley at night on Washington Ave

What stayed the same:

  • Same 30ft buses used before, requiring steps or use of lift.
  • Washington, Broadway, 4th still served.
  • Serves the Convention Center MetroLink station and the Civic Center bus & MetroLink station on 14th.
  • You must pull the cord to signal you want to exit the bus.

What changed:

  • Different route goes west of Tucker on Washington to City Museum
  • Follows Market St rather than heading down Broadway by Busch Stadium, now serves Citygarden.
  • Better hours and more frequent service.
  • Special signs to mark stops
  • Friendly route maps posted where the trolley stops.
  • The fee structure changed dramatically.  You can still use your Metro monthly pass or a transfer from another line but now $2 will buy an all day pass on the trolley.  Kids, seniors and disabled is $1. Thus a family visiting St. Louis can ride the trolley to and from their hotel to many venues all day long for very little cash.
Hours and rates, Metro passes can also be used.

What is great about the changes:

  • The new vehicles are highly visible.
  • Service from 5:30am-Midnight Monday-Saturday.
  • 20 minute maximum wait.
  • People who don’t normally ride buses are riding this line.
The round trip takes approximately 20 minutes
The round trip takes approximately 20 minutes

What still needs to change:

  • Drivers need to announce the upcoming attractions along the route.
  • Route maps need to be posted inside the buses so visitors can review as they ride.
  • Sunday service?

ABOVE: #99 Downtown Trolley signs
ABOVE: #99 Downtown Trolley signs

I’ve ridden the 99 once since the press conference and the only riders were tourists — a family and a couple.  We finally have the downtown line that the old circulator should have been.

– Steve Patterson


A trip to Belleville Illinois

On Monday I was on our MetroLink light rail system heading eastbound into downtown St. Louis to return home.  I had bought a 2-hour pass to give me the freedom to stop along the way to explore, as a I done the week before when I stopped at Grand. But then it hit me, I should visit Belleville, IL.

I’d been to Belleville only a few times in the last 20 years, always as a motorist. I’d only gone into the downtown once and that was probably 15 years ago.  It was a nice day and I knew from others that the light rail station was close to their downtown.  When I arrived it was unclear which way I should head so I boarded the “Main Street” bus after confirming with the driver it would get me to their Public Square. Fares paid on the Metro system are good in St. Clair County where Belleville is located. Metro East cities like Granite City, Collinsville and Edwardsville are served by Madison Country Transit and require additional fees.

The sidewalks along Main Street and around the large traffic circle in the center of the Public Square have been redone recently. Folks from other municipalities in our region should visit Belleville to see first hand.  Even better, visit in a wheelchair to see how the ramps and crosswalks work compared to most — which don’t work well.

Aligning ramps opposite each other seems obvious but to often engineers miss this.  The width of the ramp is nice too because it prevents a conflict when meeting others that need the ramp (wheelchair, stroller, etc).

In the City of St. Louis, for example, ramps are often placed at the apex of the corner.  In the above picture that would be the area between the two black bollards.   The problem with that is pedestrian traffic in both directions are squeezed into the apex.  Often when I cross a street I must go outside the crosswalk area to line up with the ramp and then ask people who are waiting to go the other direction to move aside. I’ve found the able-bodied like to use the ramps rather than stepping down from a curb.

Belleville’s solution solves those issues. Not every intersection had the above full corner ramp — others had a ramp for each crosswalk. Navigating the sidewalks of Beleville was much easier as a result.

I didn’t see any spectacular individual buildings but that was fine with me, the sum of the ordinary buildings along Main Street was greater than the parts.  The scale was pleasing and I saw many pedestrians — I was there at lunchtime.  I stopped in a Quizno’s and there was a neighbor of mine from two floors down.  Small world.

Like every Main Street Belleville has some bad buildings from the second half of the last century as well as a gap or two. Hopefully the corner spot shown above will get new construction soon.

One of the best things they did was bring out the curb at some corners to block the end of the on-street parking.  This reduces the length of crosswalks and slows down motorists.

In other cases this extra sidewalk was put to good use as a place for outdoor seating for the adjacent restaurant.

From my short bus ride to downtown I knew Charles Street would take me directly to the station. On the bus ride I was looking to see if I thought it would be accessible for me — it was indeed.

The above ramp is a type that St. Louis should have in many places. I was able to stay in line with the crosswalk and just continue on my path.  In St. Louis the ramp would have been directed at a 45° angle to the curb/crosswalk, requiring me to leave the crosswalk to get onto the ramp.  St. Louis does ramps that way because those can serve two directions at once.  But in the above case there is no where to cross the street in the other direction — there is only one way anyone would approach this ramp.  Belleville made sure the ramp faced that one direction, St. Louis has had a habit of doing the same treatment for ramps regardless of different conditions.

Approaching the station, a little less than a mile later, the pedestrian sidewalk continues.

Pedestrians don’t have to walk through a parking lot behind cars.  Crossing drive areas are minimized and marked.  Even those who drive to this station can use the central sidewalk to walk into the station rather than just in the parking area.

I bought enough bus & MetroLink passes in May & June that I went ahead and bought a monthly pass for July. So look for more posts from throughout the region as I explore via transit.

– Steve Patterson


I still want urban buildings along the new Grand bridge

ABOVE: The Grand Ave bridge is scheduled to be replaced soon
ABOVE: The Grand Ave bridge is scheduled to be replaced soon

In January 2006 I posted the idea of urban buildings with retail next to a new Grand bridge (Grand Bridge Should Follow Columbus Ohio Example):

“St. Louis is planning to rebuild the existing Grand bridge by adding a landscaped median as well as wider sidewalks and bike lanes. The intent is to make it more pedestrian friendly so that St. Louis University to the north and their medical center campus to the south are better connected. You can dress up a bridge all you like but it is still hundreds of feet of dead space. No amount of median planting will make it pedestrian friendly.”

To prove my point I give you Exhibit A:

ABOVE: Recently completed Jefferson Ave bridge.  Image: Google Streetview
ABOVE: Recently completed Jefferson Ave bridge. Image: Google Streetview

The new bridge/viaduct for Jefferson Ave (above) is what is proposed for Grand Ave, without question a huge improvement over the old crumbling bridge it replaced.  It is new and pretty but to the pedestrian on the wider sidewalk it is still a long dull stretch. The planted median is there to make the drive less boring for motorists. Buildings next to a bridge?  We’ve had this for decades along Tucker (formerly 12th):

ABOVE: Tucker (right) is built over a railway line with buildings built up to the bridge structure.

Granted the Tucker bridge/tunnel is falling apart — it is roughly twice the age of the Grand bridge. The point is the Post-Dispatch, St. Patrick’s Center and Globe-Democrat buildings are all built on lower ground up against a bridge structure.  From the sidewalk you don’t realize that is the case.  Along with the Columbus Ohio recent example I cited in 2006 the idea is not far fetched at all.  But in 2006 some felt the idea wasn’t feasible.

Some, incorrectly, thought it was too impossible because of the amount of rail lines.

But as you can see above the width for the rail lines isn’t that wide, perhaps 20% of the total span.  See map.

ABOVE: Scott Ave along the north edge of the MetroLink station

Two city streets serve the properties on both sides of the bridge  — one north and one south of the tracks.

In the left of the above image you can see a single story structure next to the current bridge.  This structure actually continues under the bridge.

ABOVE: purple areas indicate where buildings could be built with a floor at bridge level.
ABOVE: purple areas indicate where buildings could be built with a floor at bridge level.

The plan is to redevelop both sides of grand for research facilities.  The #70 Grand bus in the busiest bus line in the region and the MetroLink light rail station is currently roughly in the middle of the pack for station traffic.  When this desolate area is remade transit will be key.

So here is my bridge concept:

  • forget the planted center median
  • plan railings that can be removed as buildings with storefront floors are built up to the sidewalks.
  • Allow on-street parking along the bridge except at the transit station, which would be reserved for buses.
  • The area at the station/over the tracks would be slightly wider and have room for a newsstand, food kiosks, seating, etc
  • Each side would have a self-cleaning pay public restroom.
  • the structures next to the two streets below could have elevators to get get pedestrians to/from the bridge level to the street level.
  • the buildings could contain research offices on the lower levels, retail on the bridge level and residential above.
  • with transit (bus and light rail) and a few car=sharing vehicles available for use by workers and residents the total parking count could be significantly reduced.
  • The retail on the bridge would be the commercial center for all the offices and residential I envision along the bridge and in the surrounding blocks.

Unfortunately my idea won’t happen, the engineering for the new bridge is well under way.  Maybe in 20-30 years the bridge can be retrofitted and it can still happen?

– Steve Patterson


Readers want more frequent transit service, additional light rail

The poll last week asked, “Now that Prop A has passed, what do you want to see in our local transit system?”  Here are the results:

  1. More frequent service 47 [ 27.98%]

  2. schedules & maps at bus stops 37 [22.02%]

  3. Other answer… 35 [20.83%]

  4. GPS on buses to indicate next arrival time at bus stops 33 [19.64%]

  5. Doesn’t matter, I still won’t ride public transit 8 [4.76%]

  6. don’t know/unsure 5 [2.98%]

  7. With the old routes restored the system will be perfect 3 [1.79%]

As you can see above “other” was the third most popular answer.  This is primarily due to my failure to include an option for new rail lines.

Here are all of the other answers from readers:

  1. MetroLink to Westport, Text message schedule information

  2. another metrolink line

  3. A north-south Metro line up Gravois and Natural Bridge

  4. more metrolink line

  5. begin planning and build north-south metro line

  6. Light rail from South County to downtown.

  7. Expanded Metrolink

  8. Expand MetroLink

  9. wireless

  10. all of the above

  11. Metrolink Fare Enforcement.


  13. A north-south line within the city – Jefferson to south 55

  14. Expanded Service

  15. extensions out to other major areas and restorations, more frequent routes

  16. expansion

  17. expand metrolink

  18. weekend circulator route serving high-density business districts

  19. BRT (with dedicated lanes and higher frequency) on Grand!

  20. Trolleys!

  21. weekend circulator route serving high-density business districts

  22. Weekend circulator route serving high-density business districts.

  23. The north-south Metrolink line

  24. Light rail in South City, more frequent service, schedule and maps, better signs

  25. responsible fiscal management

  26. more lines

  27. Restored service and upgrades of exsiting stations, like BATHROOMS!

  28. metrolink expansin

  29. north south metro expansion in the city

  30. Expansion.

  31. Expanded light rail system. This time lets be a little more strategic

  32. restoration of old routes expanded Link service

  33. Metrolink Expansion

  34. Expansion

  35. services aimed at not just the transit-dependent

I personally wouldn’t build another light rail line in our region, especially not one on local streets.  What I would do is build a network of modern streetcars to serve more local service.

ABOVE: Madison County Transit express bus equipped with WiFi.
ABOVE: Madison County Transit express bus equipped with WiFi.

I like the idea of at least our longer bus routes having WiFi such as Madison County Transit’s “WiFi on Wheels.”

– Steve


Poll: Prop A transit tax passed, now what?

Last week voters in St. Louis County approved a half cent sales tax for transit:

ABOVE: unofficial results for Prop A

In November 2008 the same measure was narrowly defeated by a narrow margin (48.45% to 51.55%).  Now what?

“The sales tax increase will generate about $80 million a year for Metro. The measure also triggers a previously passed 0.25 percent tax increase in the city of St. Louis.

By the end of the year, the bus and light-rail agency will restore all the routes and service it had to cut last year, said Metro President and Chief Executive Bob Baer. Metro will also be able to maintain and add jobs, he said. “Instead of a loss of 600 jobs, we’ll be adding 125,” he said.”  (full story: Voters approve Metro tax – St. Louis Business Journal)

So the poll question this week is what would you like to see in the way of changes & improvements to the system.  Obviously the prior level of service will return but I think we should expect more. Some of you have said you’d like route maps and schedules posted at bus stops.  I’d like to see Metro add GPS to buses and display at bus stops how long until the next bus arrives. For the poll in the right column I’ve listed a few items but feel free to add to the list.  As always, share your thoughts in the comments below.

– Steve Patterson