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A Look At Kansas City’s New Modern Streetcar

Last week leaders in the St. Louis region argued publicly over future pubic transit:

St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay has made clear his support for a north-south MetroLink expansion, saying it’s a top priority in his final year in office. But a recent push for money to plan such a route has met with strong resistance from St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger.

Stenger, in a letter to the Federal Transit Administration, said he will not endorse the north-south route until other proposed routes are studied. (Post-Dispatch)

At the other end of the state, in Kansas City, there’s also a disagreement about the expansion of rail-based public transit. The local non-profit behind the new KC Streetcar wants to expand South on Main Street, while another is pushing a light rail plan.

[Clay] Chastain argues his plan gives Kansas City residents a real choice and a much more extensive rail transit system, from the airport to the Cerner Trails campus under construction in south Kansas City and from Union Station to the stadium complex. 

He estimates it would cost $2 billion to build, or about $45 million per mile, although some light-rail systems have cost considerably more than that per mile. He assumes the federal government would provide $1 billion of that amount.

The local match would come from a 3/8-cent sales tax increase for 25 years, plus 3/8 cents that currently go for the bus system, once that tax expires in 2024. (Kansas City Star)

Anyone who has flown in/out of KC’s airport knows it is a long distance from downtown KC. It’s a 20-25 minute drive, but takes over an hour by bus. Frankly, they need to do both — expand the new streetcar and build light rail to far off destinations like their airport and stadiums.

Kansas City was without rail-based public transit from 1957 until May 6, 2016 — the day the 2.2 mile starter streetcar opened.

THE FUNDING:

  • Cost to build: $100 million — $37 million from the federal government, $63 million from bonds.
  • Cost to operate: $4 million annually to be paid by a combination of sales & property taxes within the transportation district.
  • Fare:  $0 — free
  • Local comparison: Our Loop Trolley vintage streetcar project. also 2.2 miles long, is costing $51 million to build. The 8-mile cross-county MetroLink extension that opened in 2006 cost $430 million.

THE VEHICLES:

  • “Each vehicle is 77 feet and 8 inches long; 78,000 pounds; and 12 feet tall.”
  • “Each vehicle capacity is approximately 150 riders and is bi-directional (can run both directions). There is a combination of sitting and standing within the streetcar.”
  • “There are three “cars” in each streetcar vehicle, with 4 sets of doors (one on each end and two in the middle car).”
  • Each of the four vehicles cost $4.39 million each (source).
  • Same as vehicles used in the Cincinnati Streetcar opening later this year.
  • Model: CAF Urbos 3 100% low-floor
  • Manufactured in Elmira NY by CAF USA, a subsidiary of a Spanish company.
  • To meet US crash-standards the body is made of steel
  • Comparison: our 4-car light rail vehicles are 90 feet long; capacity of 72 seated plus 106 standing
Each end is identical
Each end is identical
The lights change depending upon direction of travel. The step on this end of the Union Station platform is annoying.
The lights change depending upon direction of travel. The step on this end of the Union Station platform is annoying.
This view gives you an overview of the three cars in each vehicle -- middle and two ends. Wheelchairs, strollers. bikes, the middle car, the door on each end has a step
This view gives you an overview of the three cars in each vehicle — middle and two ends. Wheelchairs, strollers. bikes, the middle car, the door on each end has a step
The center car is very open, the ends are filled with fixed seating. The floor is level throughout,
The center car is very open, the ends are filled with fixed seating. The floor is level throughout,
The center car has two areas with theater seats. My wheelchair fit here and my husband could sit on one seat.
The center car has two areas with theater seats. My wheelchair fit here and my husband could sit on one seat.
It got packed to capacity a few times we were riding
It got packed to capacity a few times we were riding

THE ROUTE:

Kansas City is lucky to have Main Street as a central arterial. We have Olive/Lindell, but they’re very different. The 2.2 mile route does a loop on the North end around their River Market area. It goes down Main and ends at Union Station.

The route is 2.2 miles long and travels along Main Street in downtown Kansas City from the River Market to Union Station/Crown Center. The route also includes a loop around the City Market and runs on 3rd St on the north, Delaware on the west, 5th St on the south, and Grand on the east. (KC Streetcar FAQ)

An extension to continue South on Main Street is already being planned.

Looking North on Main St toward Downtown Kansas City
Looking North on Main St toward Downtown Kansas City.
Looking South in the CBD
Looking South in the CBD

See a route map here.

THE STOPS:

Stops are every few blocks, over the 3-day weekend I rode the streetcar a few times but also traveled the route on the sidewalk. For the most part. the stops are built out into the parking lane — leaving the sidewalk unblocked.

Another view of the Union Station stop
Another view of the Union Station stop
The River Market North stop is the only stop in the middle of traffic
The River Market North stop is the only stop in the middle of traffic
Another view of the River Market North stop
Another view of the River Market North stop
Next stop is River Market West
Next stop is River Market West
The view from the sidewalk
The view from the sidewalk
Looking North you can see the streetcar coming around the corner in the background
Looking North you can see the streetcar coming around the corner in the background
People gathering for the next streetcar, we tried to get on here a couple of times but it was too full from the two prior stops
People gathering for the next streetcar, we tried to get on here a couple of times but it was too full from the two prior stops
North Loop is the most unusual stop, as it's mostly parking lots
North Loop is the most unusual stop, as it’s mostly parking lots
Looking West from the stop
Looking West from the stop
Sidewalk next to Northbound Metro Center stop
Sidewalk next to Northbound Metro Center stop
Same stop, same direction -- just out near the curb
Same stop, same direction — just out near the curb
Opposite view
Opposite view
Southbound Metro Center stop
Southbound Metro Center stop
Streetcar at SB Power & Light stop
Streetcar at SB Power & Light stop
NB Crossroads stop
NB Crossroads stop

NEW CONSTRUCTION:

New construction is everywhere in Kansas City, especially near the streetcar route.

New construction at 13th & Baltimore, one block West of Main
New construction at 13th & Baltimore, one block West of Main
Rehab on E 19th, just East of Main
Rehab on E 19th, just East of Main
New construction E 5th & Grand
New construction E 5th & Grand
New infill on Main Street between 19th-20th
New infill on Main Street between 19th-20th

VIDEO:

I put together a brief video of various clips I took:

FINAL THOUGHTS:

Their streetcar isn’t meant to be a regional system, at least not initially. CAF makes very similar vehicles for use in higher-speed light rail applications, so if they ever do a light rail line the vehicles could look just like their streetcar.

The main problem we experienced was crowds — but it was a nice holiday weekend in the first month of service.  Would like to ride it on a regular weekday. We did speak to a retired couple that recently moved from the suburbs to new construction downtown — the streetcar was one reason,

Being right there it helped add life to the street. It’ll be interesting to see if they’ll be able to expand.

— Steve Patterson

 

St. Louis’ Last Streetcar Line Ended 50 Years Ago Tomorrow

May 20, 2016 Featured, History/Preservation, Public Transit, Transportation Comments Off on St. Louis’ Last Streetcar Line Ended 50 Years Ago Tomorrow

The last streetcar in St. Louis made its final run fifty years ago tomorrow.

Mr. and Mrs. Leslie Heinz stepped aboard clad in the same tuxedo and beaded dress they had worn to a New Year’s Eve party 36 years before. Railroad enthusiasts took pictures at every stop. A young man brought a case of beer.

Such was the clientele on Car No. 1628 on May 21, 1966, the last day of streetcar service in St. Louis. It ended an unbroken run of 107 years of public transportation on rails, sundered by family sedans and cul-de-sacs.

In the 1920s, about 1,650 streetcars rumbled along 485 miles of tracks in and near the city. Other lines ran to Florissant, Creve Coeur, Alton and Belleville. They ran across the Eads and McKinley bridges and down most every major street. Whole neighborhoods were built to be near them, and large apartment buildings sprouted at junctions and loops (turnarounds).

Then came buses and, fatally, automobiles. St. Louis Public Service Co., forerunner of the Bi-State Transit Authority (now Metro), bought a last fleet of streamlined streetcars shortly after World War II. But ridership continued to plunge while complaints rose from motorists about 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. (Post-Dispatch — with great images)

The Hodiamont line ran in exclusive right-of-way between Vandeventer to near the Western city limits, otherwise it ran on rail imbedded in the streets.

Looking East on the last eastern section of the Hodiamont Right-of-Way, 2012
Looking East on the last eastern section of the Hodiamont Right-of-Way, 2012
1966 photo of the Hodiamont streetcar at the Wellston Loop. Source: Ancestry.com -- click image to view
1966 photo of the Hodiamont streetcar at the Wellston Loop. Source: Ancestry.com — click image to view

Other cities ended their streetcar lines prior to St. Louis.  For example, Kansas City replaced their last streetcar lime(s) with buses in 1957 (Source). Two week ago today a new modern streetcar line opened in Kansas City — an absence of 59 years. We’ll be in Kansas City for Memorial weekend to ride their new line.

Many incorrectly think streetcars are just about nostalgia. Not true.

Streetcars bring people right to their destination, in a way out light rail in old freight right-of-way can’t. A half century ago the bus was quieter & smoother to the dated streetcar. Today, however, the modern 100% low-floor streetcar is the quieter & smoother choice. Streets with streetcars, trams across the pond, look & function differently. For me it is about how well the public right-of-way functions for all users.

— Steve Patterson

 

Expanded Civic Center MetroBus Transit Center Will Reopen In Fall 2017

The Civic Center MetroBus Transit Center, at 14th & Clark, is now closed for the next 18 months. It will be redone to handle more buses — and longer buses.

Tuesday 4/19 dignitaries each tossed a shovel of dirt to kick off the new project.
Tuesday 4/19 dignitaries each tossed a shovel of dirt to kick off the new project.

In May 2014 I posted about the future plans for the redo, see Civic Center Transit Center Sans Trees, Awaiting Redo

The trees had just been cut down in May 2014
The trees had just been cut down in May 2014
Sign announcing expansion project
Sign announcing expansion project

Then, in July 2014m I posted that the  Triangle Park Plaza Is Useless Public Space, In Poor Condition. At that time I included the design.

New design, as of July 2014
New design, as of July 2014

b

Construction will expand the Civic Center Transit Center and triple the current number of bus bays, which will allow MetroBus passengers to connect with all of their bus routes inside the transit center and out of vehicular traffic on 14th Street. A new building will also be constructed on  the site that will feature new passenger amenities, including public restrooms, an indoor waiting area, digital boards with MetroBus arrival times, a concession area and a Metro Public Safety substation.

“It is our duty to ensure that residents, workers, tourists and visitors can travel safely and efficiently throughout the bi-state region,” said Ray Friem, Executive Director of Metro Transit, “and that they enjoy the best possible transit system and experience we can provide.”

Metro successfully secured federal funding to rebuild the Civic Center Transit Center, and those funds will support 80 percent of the total project cost of $10.5 million. “The competition for federal transit dollars is intense,” said Mokhtee Ahmad, Regional Administrator for the Federal Transit Administration, Region VII. “Bi-State Development and Metro are to be commended for being so diligent and fiscally conscientious in maximizing federal transit funds to get taxpayers the highest return on their investment.”

b

The design has changed.

Latest plan, click image to view larger PDF on Scribd
Latest plan, click image to view larger PDF on Scribd

The ramp down to the MetroLink platforms is much more direct — but steeper than previously drawn. The other changes are at the North end. There’s now an accessible route from the center bays/canopies to Triangle Park. The “park” is also different — the metal panels (shown in first photo, above) will go away. A 2nd sculpture is shown right in front of the accessible route — a potential problem.

Close-up of Triangle Park
Close-up of Triangle Park

I also don’t get having a new sculpture next to the existing one.We’ll see how it turns out in 18 months.

— Steve Patterson

 

 

 

 

The 2013 Northside-Southside Study Was About Development, Not Transit

In 2006/07 I attended many public meetings on a proposed Northside-Southside light rail line, it was finalized in 2008. In writing about these plans in the last year, people have asked if I’d seen the new study that was done, it’s not the same as it was in 2008. The study they’re referring to, Transit Oriented Development Study for the PROPOSED NORTHSIDE-SOUTHSIDE ALIGNMENT, isn’t anything new on the actual transportation side. It was completed in July 2013. At first, it wasn’t online. I pushed to get it online…downloading it on April 18 2014.

Today’s post is about this study — dispelling myths about what it is — and isn’t.  My criticism of running high-speed light rail down streets like Natural Bridge & Cherokee is the street grid will be severed to achieve desired speeds.  I’m an advocate of rail transit, and the preferred route. If it were up to me, I’d build it immediately — as modern streetcar/tram instead of light rail. This greatly simplifies construction by eliminating the need to reduce conflicts with a train speeding down the center of the street.

STUDY OBJECTIVE: To assist the City of St. Louis, its neighborhoods, and developers with preparing for and taking advantage of transit investment along the proposed Northside-Southside Alignment.

As the study title & objective indicate — it is about development related to proposed stations.  The study is a detailed look at two stations on the proposed alignment: Kingshighway & Cherokee.

This study builds upon the goals set forth in previous plans, while giving a strong framework for decision-making regarding Transit Oriented Development, which ,as defined by HUD, is compact, mixed-use development in close proximity to transit facilities. Transit Oriented Development promotes sustainable communities by providing people of all ages and incomes with improved access to transportation and housing choices and reduced transportation costs that reduce the negative impacts of automobile travel on the environment and the economy. This report aspires to meet these goals and study the Alignment at this higher level of detail, with a comprehensive analysis of each of the proposed stations, a set of Station Area Plans that describe detailed development programs, building form and distribution, street improvements, and environmental analysis for the proposed Cherokee and Kingshighway Stations. These two stations were selected because they embody a similar range of challenges and opportunities to the other station areas along the Alignment. In future studies of the other station areas, lessons from Kingshighway and Cherokee can be readily applied.

The study makes no mention of what happens between stations.

Two East-West streets are between Cherokee & Arsenal-- Utah & Wyoming
Two East-West streets are between Cherokee & Arsenal– Utah & Wyoming

Depending upon how the Arsenal & Cherokee stations would be designed — both Wyoming & Utah could be cut off — no more crossing at either. Most likely the Northbound platforms would be located north of Arsenal & Cherokee, respectively. The Southbound platforms would be located South of each. This, rather than a shared platform, requires the least amount of width.

Looking East across Jefferson at Wyoming, May 2013. Benton Park on left, Cherokee Recreation Center on right
Looking East across Jefferson at Wyoming, May 2013. Benton Park on left, Cherokee Recreation Center on right

The distance between the two proposed stations is 4/10ths of a mile. Another 4/10ths North would be a Gravois station. The streets of Crittenden, Pestalozi, & Lynch would become no-crossing points. Another 4/10ths of a mile North to a station/crossing at Russell, with no-crossing allowed in between.

We should build North-South rail connection, but not at the expense of the street grid and the access it currently affords. Build modern streetcar on the Northside-Southside route. Keep the grid fully intact.

The study showed the current Siemens high-floor light rail vehicles in the new proposed street-runing lines. Not going to happen. In-street platforms and high-floor vehicles don’t work together.

The Siemens SD-400 & SD-460 vehicles are a 1980s design, used in only three regions worldwide: Pittsburgh, St. Louis, and Valencia, Venezuela. Shown: Shrewsbury opening August 2006
The Siemens SD-400 & SD-460 vehicles are a 1980s design, used in only three regions worldwide: Pittsburgh, St. Louis, and Valencia, Venezuela. Shown: Shrewsbury opening August 2006
Upcoming modern streetcar lines in Cincinatti & Kansas City use the same 100% low-floor vehicles. (CAF's Urbos 3/100)
Upcoming modern streetcar lines in Cincinatti & Kansas City use the same 100% low-floor vehicles. (CAF’s Urbos 3/100)

The best solution to simplify platforms and make ADA-compliance easier is 21st Century 100% low-floor vehicles.

From Wikipedia — a list of cities with Urbos 70 and Urbos 100 vehicles:

  1. Cuiabá, Brazil (40 ordered)
  2. Salvador, Brazil
  3. Belgrade, Serbia (30)
  4. Seville, Spain
  5. Granada, Spain
  6. Cádiz, Spain
  7. Debrecen, Hungary (18)
  8. Edinburgh, Scotland (27)
  9. Málaga, Spain
  10. Besançon, France (19)
  11. Nantes, France (8)
  12. Zaragoza, Spain (21)
  13. West Midlands, England (£40 million order for 20, with options for five)
  14. Kaohsiung, Taiwan (9 ordered; ACR system built in; no need for catenary)
  15. Cincinnati, Ohio, USA ($25 million for 5 trams)
  16. Sydney, Australia. ($20m order for 6 trams; order subsequently expanded to 12 trams)
  17. Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany (12 ordered)
  18. Kansas City, Missouri, USA
  19. Budapest, Hungary (47; €90m order for the 47 trams)
  20. Utrecht, Netherlands (27 ordered; to be operational in 2018)

See videos of the Urbos in Belgrade (Serbia)Kansas City, and Cincinatti.

The beauty of modern streetcar vehicles is they can be used for light rail as well. So if the lines were to continue into North & South St. Louis County the same vehicles could travel at higher speeds on closed right-of-way.

When it comes to the actual transit design of Northside-Southside, the final 2008 study still remains. The 2013 was a look at development options — a good thing considering how we’ve failed to capitalize on existing light rail stations since the first line opened in 1993.

— Steve Patterson

 

St. Charles County & St. Louis County Connected Via Public Transit

Five days a week people take public transit to/from St. Louis & St. Charles counties! No, MetroLink light rail wasn’t secretly extended over the Missouri River. No, MetroBus doesn’t serve St. Charles County either. “How”, you ask?

Just the way Madison County Transit enters the City of St. Louis, St. Charles Area Transit (aka SCAT), enters St. Louis County. In late February I took the last morning SCAT bus from the North Hanley Transit Center into St. Charles. Over four hours later, I took the first SCAT bus back.

The shuttle type bus used by SCAT.
The shuttle type bus used by SCAT at North Hanley. They can’t/don’t get close to the sidewalk for easy boarding via wheelchair. No curb ramp exists on the end so I had to backtrack to find the nearest ramp. .
I'm now at the nearest ramp to reach the white bus. Metro needs to add a curb ramp and/or SCAT needs to pull closer to the sidewalk.
I’m now at the nearest ramp to reach the white bus. Metro needs to add a curb ramp and/or SCAT needs to pull closer to the sidewalk.
The I-70 Commuter bus makes six stops in St. Charles plus one at North Hanley
The I-70 Commuter bus makes six stops in St. Charles plus one at North Hanley
I got off on the last stop -- the Streets of St. Charles, the driver is putting the wheelchair lift away. I'll post about that development on Thursday. Click image to see my initial post on it from February.
I got off on the last stop — the Streets of St. Charles, the driver is putting the wheelchair lift away. I’ll post about that development on Thursday. Click image to see my initial post on it from February.

We departed North Hanley on time — here’s the official schedule for the last SCAT bus leaving St. Louis County:

  • 8:55am North Hanley
  • 9:19am St. Joseph Health Center/Main St St. Charles
  • 9:24am Ameristar Casino
  • 9:31am Cave Springs Commuter Lot
  • 9:38am Zumbehl Commuter Lot
  • 9:46am Fairgrounds Commuter Lot
  • 9:50am Streets of St. Charles — where I got off
  • 10:16am last morning drop off at North Hanley

The route, logically, is designed to serve St. Charles residents needing to get into St. Louis County for the day. Just 30 minutes to go from the Fairgrounds Commuter Lot to North Hanley four times each weekday morning, starting at 5:44am!  Still, my bus from North Hanley into St. Charles had about 10 other passengers — people I presume were going to work.

In the afternoon the SCAT I-70 bus runs four times, starting at North Hanley at 1:38pm, the last on 5:59pm.

  • 1:38pm North Hanley
  • 1:45pm Fairgrounds Commuter Lot
  • 1:52pm Zumbehl Commuter Lot
  • 2pm Cave Springs Commuter Lot
  • 2:11pm St. Joseph Health Center/Main St St. Charles
  • 2:16pm Ameristar Casino
  • 2:20pm Streets of St. Charles — where I got on
  • 2:42pm arrival at North Hanley — next departure is 2:48pm

I’m so glad to see the City of St. Charles operating transit buses, connecting to the rest of the region — via St. Louis County. However, the webpage and route maps need improvement. Online maps for the four St. Charles routes must be viewed separately. No system map exists, at least not online.  Still, it’s a start.

— Steve Patterson

 

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