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Local Example of Light Rail in Center of Street

For a while now I’ve been trying to convey how disastrous light rail in the center of Natural Bridge & Jefferson would be. I kept trying to think of a local example, but then the 2006 light rail extension in the center of Forest Park Parkway in Clayton came to mind.

Southbound traffic on S. Meramec in Clayton see a wall and right turn only signs at Forest Park Parkway
Southbound traffic on S. Meramec in Clayton see a wall and right turn only signs at Forest Park Parkway. Click to view in Google Street View
To achieve higher speeds,places to cross would be reduced through the use of concrete walls.
To achieve higher speeds,places to cross would be reduced through the use of concrete walls.

Such walls preventing pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorists and crossing the street except at a few points would be horrible for the surrounding neighborhoods. Do as I did — go to the interception of Meramec & Forest Park Parkway and see if you think that would be good for Natural Bridge or Jefferson.

— Steve Patterson

 

 

 

Most Bus Stops On A St. Clair County Route Not Designed For Pedestrians

Last week I decided to visit downtown O’Fallon IL so I could see & photograph their old city hall — which is for sale. It is just a 24-28 minute drive from my loft in downtown St. Louis but my husband and I share a car, which he uses has for work. Transit was my best option, but it would be 90 minutes each way. The first half via MetroLink light rail, the second via MetroBus.

The MetroLink stations/platforms are all wheelchair accessible, as are all MetroBus vehicles. The weak link is MetroBus stops. With thousands of stops throughout the region, a transit agency can only do so much to improve municipal/county rights-of-way. I assumed I’d be ok once I reached downtown O’Fallon so I didn’t look ahead at the stops along the way.

But on the bus I began to snap pictures as the bus stopped — in some cases as we went past stops. For those unfamiliar with riding a bus, they don’t stop at every bus stop. If you want off you must pull the cord to let the driver know you wan the next stop. A bus also stops for those waiting to board. Light rail, however, stops at every stop because they’re limited and spaced far apart.  Still, the bus stops are needed because throughout the day each and every stop will likely be used at least once.

Below are some of the images I took from the #12 MetroBus heading East from the Fairview Heights IL MetroLink station to the O’Fallon City Hall. The bus was near seated capacity when we departed the station.

One of the first few stops, just grass -- no sidewalk
One of the first few stops, just grass — no sidewalk
Entering a retail area, the stop isn't accessible at all
Entering a retail area, the stop isn’t accessible at all
Curbs & mulch at Vatterott College
Curbs & mulch at Vatterott College
This was one of the busier stops, numerous people got off the bus here.
This was one of the busier stops, numerous people got off the bus here.
St, Clair Square. No smoking at bus shelter. No access to out parels
St, Clair Square. No smoking at bus shelter. No access to out parcels
One of the worst stops was for Green Mount Crossing shopping center -- just a little shoulder and worn grass before quickly going downhill into a drainage ditch . Click image to see a list of business
One of the worst stops was for Green Mount Crossing shopping center — just a little shoulder and worn grass before quickly going downhill into a drainage ditch . Click image to see a list of business
Looking back toward the main automobile entrance.
Looking back toward the main automobile entrance.
Just to the North we see construction of a new building next to one bus stop.
Just to the North we see construction of a new building next to one bus stop.
Just around the corner the new St Elizabeth Hospital is under construction. Will they provide an ADA-compliant bus stop and route to front door? How about crossing the street to go the other direction?
Just around the corner the new St Elizabeth Hospital is under construction. Will they provide an ADA-compliant bus stop and route to front door? How about crossing the street to go the other direction?
The bus driver tried to let off at the bus stop nearest the city hall, but the ramp stopped short of the sidewalk and the height difference would've gotten me stuck. He had to retract the ramp , pull up to the corner, and let the ramp out again.
The bus driver tried to let off at the bus stop nearest the city hall, but the ramp stopped short of the sidewalk and the height difference would’ve gotten me stuck. He had to retract the ramp , pull up to the corner, and let the ramp out again.
I got around fine, but a missing ramp in downtown O'Fallon forced me into the street until I found a driveway. Washington & Vine
I got around fine, but a missing ramp in downtown O’Fallon forced me into the street until I found a driveway. Washington & Vine
After crossing Cherry 4th I got stuck trying to reach the sidewalk on the West side of Cherry. I had to stand up and pull my front casters onto the sidewalk. All while hoping I don't fall -- because I can't get up on my own.
After crossing Cherry 4th I got stuck trying to reach the sidewalk on the West side of Cherry. I had to stand up and pull my front casters onto the sidewalk. All while hoping I don’t fall — because I can’t get up on my own.

I reviewed the entire route on Google Street View, my stop in downtown O”Fallon was the 82nd stop after leaving the Fairview Heights MetroLink station. We traveled through Fairview Heights, Shiloh, O’Fallon, and likely unincorporated St. Clair County.

If you care to take a look, here’s a link to all the stops. Only a few I’d consider to be ADA-compliant.

Basically this is largely impossible for those of us who are disabled, but a miserable experience for the able-bodied. None of this was built with any consideration for pedestrians — everyone is expected to drive everywhere.  The reality is not everyone can drive. Physical, mental, emotional, and financial issues are some of the reasons why not everyone drives.

Sadly, this is the rule — not the exception. We’ve built so much that’s hostile to pedestrians and impossible for some of us. Tomorrow a similar example from St. Louis County.

— Steve Patterson

 

 

St. Louis Shouldn’t Build Light Rail, Modern Streetcar, or Bus Rapid Transit; Rapid Streetcar May Be The Answer

This streetcar in Portland OR is a circulator, not a rapid streetcar
This streetcar in Portland OR is a circulator, not a rapid streetcar

There are several camps in the transit world:

  • Light rail advocates
  • Bus rapid transit advocates
  • Streetcar advocates

These don’t mix — build their classic model or nothing. However, in the last decade a new group has emerged advocating a hybrid of these: The Rapid Streetcar. For example, Portland is looking at Rapid Streetcar for future expansion of its streetcar line.

The rapid streetcar concept aims to combine the best features of streetcars and light rail transit (LRT) to achieve faster commute/travel times than streetcars and lower system costs than light rail. Streetcars are typically designed to go shorter distances in central cities, densely populated mixed-use centers and neighborhoods. Streetcars are also typically designed to operate in mixed traffic, preserving street traffic patterns.

LRT typically functions as regional high-capacity transit (HCT), generally traveling in a separated right-of-way with relatively fast-moving, larger-capacity vehicles designed to rapidly transport large numbers of people between suburban and urban centers.

The rapid streetcar concept would apply some of the LRT features to streetcars to improve travel times while keeping capital costs lower. It would combine features of a semi-exclusive transitway and transit priority features within the street right- of-way to achieve faster travel times and maintain lower system capital costs. This could introduce two new levels of service to Portland’s system.

Several corridors under consideration for the Streetcar System Concept Plan are prime candidates to introduce Enhanced Local Service. These corridors are major arterials with 4 to 5 lanes and on-street parking such as NE Sandy Boulevard and SE Foster Road.

In Portland there are potential corridors for introducing priority service. Currently, the region is undertaking a study to extend the existing streetcar system along a former railroad right-of-way from the South Waterfront District, through Johns Landing and south to Lake Oswego. SE Foster Road and 122nd Avenue are also candidates where there may be sufficient right-of-way width to introduce streetcar priority lanes.

Drawing from the experiences from other cities around the world, enhancements to the streetcar operations can significantly increase average speeds:

Service/average Speeds

  • Urban Circulator Service:10 to 15 mph
  • Enhanced Local Service:  15 to 25 mph
  • Rapid Streetcar: 20 to 35 mph

(City of Portland, p14)

According to Wikipedia, our light rail has an average speed of 24.7 mph — within the same range as a rapid streetcar.

Streetcars are cheaper [than light rail] because of their lower infrastructure requirements. Often there is no need to relocat[e] utilities, right of way does not need to be purchased and the stops are smaller and the vehicles more pedestrian oriented. Streetcar stops are also closely spaced if the goal is to be a circulator or short line transport mode. However if a longer distance transit mode that mimics light rail is what you’re looking for, but your city is on a budget, the rapid streetcar might be your choice.

Many cities have taken up the mantle of the rapid bus to be their cost effective alternative to light rail, but only do this based on cost, not because its what the citizenry wants. Recent Rapid Bus movements in Oakland, San Francisco, and Charlotte have shown that people really want light rail on a budget but haven’t been able to engineer their systems to reduce costs and are therefore left with an inferior transit mode for their stated goals.

But by using streetcars in center lanes with single tracking and passing sidings at stations you can get the same performance as light rail on 10 minute headways. Streetcars aren’t single vehicles either. Skoda streetcars have couplers on them as well that would make them multiple car consists. The lighter vehicles are about 66 feet long as opposed to 90 foot LRVs yet you can still get increased passenger capacity and lower infrastructure needs. (The Overhead Wire)

Typically streetcars & light rail have double track — one per direction. But like BRT, if passing is done at stops, money can be saved by using single track in between.

From the person who presented this idea in 2004, Lyndon Henry:

North American planners only thought of streetcars as a slow, circulatory mode competing with pedestrians. Meanwhile, de facto high-performance streetcars were taking Europe by storm, and it was clear that streetcar technology could approach the service capabilities of “full” light rail transit (LRT) — in fact, streetcars could be deployed as a kind of “junior LRT”.

Another factor was the “gold-plating” disease—over-design—with each new LRT startup trying to “one-up” the last new start in another city. LRT railcars were getting bigger and beefier, and station designs were escalating from originally simple shelters into “palaces.”

This led me to recall the original inspiration of LRT—Europe’s invention of a rather bare-bones upgrade of ordinary mixed-traffic streetcars into a faster mode with lots of dedicated lanes, reservations, and exclusive alignments, only occasionally running in street traffic. This notion was expounded in the 1960s and early 1970s by transit visionaries like H. Dean Quinby and Stewart F. Taylor; interestingly, Taylor branded his version of the concept a “Rapid Tramway.” (Railway Age)

We shouldn’t cling to a mode from the past, we need to build a north-south transit line by establishing goals then designing a line to meet those goals. At the same time I’d look at doing what Houston did — redesign all transit routes & schedules from scratch.

— Steve Patterson

 

Three Track Types For Street-Running Transit

Many of us agree we should invest in better North-South transit, most likely rail-based. But details such as route, track type, speed, spacing of stops, etc is where there’s disagreement. Today I want to review three track options for street-running rail transit:

  1. Ballasted track
  2. Embedded track, shared lane
  3. Embedded track, protected lane

I’m going to use photos from Dallas to demonstrate these.

Ballasted track

This is the traditional type of railroad track.

Track ballast forms the trackbed upon which railway sleepers (UK) or railroad ties (US) are laid. It is packed between, below, and around the ties. It is used to bear the load from the railroad ties, to facilitate drainage of water, and also to keep down vegetation that might interfere with the track structure. This also serves to hold the track in place as the trains roll by. It is typically made of crushed stone, although ballast has sometimes consisted of other, less suitable materials. The term “ballast” comes from a nautical term for the stones used to stabilize a ship. (Wikipedia)

Our light rail uses this type of track in its exclusive right-of-way, with wood ties in the original 1993 line and concrete ties in later extensions. Obviously, this is not used in places where cars drive in the same space. With railroads they are completely separate but when used in the public right-of-way (streets) it requires physical barriers to keep cars off the track.

Dallas' South Blue Line light rail uses ballasted track in a wide median
Dallas’ South Blue Line light rail uses ballasted track in a wide median

This is the least costly and fasted type of track. To achieve the highest speeds it’s important to have few conflict points (crossings) and greater distances between stops.

Embedded track

Embedded track is more costly to install than ballasted track, and vehicles operate at slower speeds.

Where a rail is laid in a Road surface (pavement) or within grassed surfaces, there has to be accommodation for the flange. This is provided by a slot called the flangeway. The rail is then known as grooved rail, groove rail, or girder rail. The flangeway has the railhead on one side and the guard on the other. The guard carries no weight, but may act as a checkrail.

Grooved rail was invented in 1852 by Alphonse Loubat, a French inventor who developed improvements in tram and rail equipment, and helped develop tram lines in New York City and Paris. The invention of grooved rail enabled tramways to be laid without causing a nuisance to other road users, except unsuspecting cyclists, who could get their wheels caught in the groove. The grooves may become filled with gravel and dirt (particularly if infrequently used or after a period of idleness) and need clearing from time to time, this being done by a “scrubber” tram. Failure to clear the grooves can lead to a bumpy ride for the passengers, damage to either wheel or rail and possibly derailing. (Wikipedia)

This type of track is more common where vehicles & pedestrians are in the same space as the track.

Embedded track, shared lane

Dallas’ light rail doesn’t share lanes with vehicles, where it uses streets not in a median cars are banned.

Light rail in downtown Dallas uses embedded track on Pacific Street where cars are banned. Emergency vehicles like fire, ambulance, police can use this street. In some cities cars are allowed to share these lanes.
Light rail in downtown Dallas uses embedded track on Pacific Street where cars are banned. Emergency vehicles like fire, ambulance, police can use this street. In some cities cars are allowed to share these lanes.

This is common for light rail. However, Dallas does have embedded track with shared lanes — their new tramway (aka streetcar).

Trams worldwide share lanes with other users.
Trams worldwide share lanes with other users.

Embedded track, separate lane

With a separate lane the transit vehicle can move slightly faster than it can when sharing a lane.

Dallas has a few spots where cars & transit use the same street. Transit here travels considerably slower than where it has an exclusive right-of-way.
Dallas has a few spots where cars & transit use the same street. Transit here travels considerably slower than where it has an exclusive right-of-way. Here cars can use the single grey lane, transit uses the red,
Here we see small bumps are used to let drivers know to stay in their lane (gray)
Here we see small bumps are used to let drivers know to stay in their lane (gray)

Each of these has their place, depending upon the situation and desired speed. I can see using ballasted track in auto-centric suburban medians, but not within the City of St. Louis or even inner-ring suburbs. The more separate ballasted track you have, combined with fewer stops, the faster the transit vehicle will get from A to B.

Those advocating more rail transit in St. Louis need to think about these track types and the implications of each.

— Steve Patterson

 

 

Reduced Fare Smart Card For Chicago, Still Waiting On St. Louis

Metro St. Louis is busy working on smart cards for paying transit fares, some have been testing the new technology. Meanwhile, we’ve been using the Ventra smart card for nearly 2 years when visiting Chicago. See Contactless Transit Smart Cards from February 2014. Last month I finally decided to apply for a reduced fare card.

Full fare Ventra card (top) and my reduced fare card (bottom)
Full fare Ventra card (top) and my reduced fare card (bottom)

Both cards are now on one online account, allowing me to login to add value. My husband will use the full fare while I use the reduced fare with my picture. I applied in person in Chicago and the card was mailed to me in about a week. Both are “contactless” which means the user just taps it at the reader, both have a magnetic strip on the back. The same card works for all three Chicagoland systems: CTA, Metra, & Pace. It doesn’t appear my new reduced fare card can be used as a debit card — that won’t matter to me but it might to others.

In St. Louis, our Metro isn’t going to have a debit card connection — deemed too costly. I’m told existing reduced fare ID holders like myself will automatically receive a new reduced fare smart card — once ready. New applicants will apply in person but leave with the card rather than have it mailed. Since my current Metro reduced fare ID expires in February 2016 I’ll need to renew it once more before I get a smart card version.

— Steve Patterson

 

 

 

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