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Metro Makes Long-Needed Changes at 18th & Clark, Still Violates ADA

In a couple of weeks Metro’s new North County Transit Center will open, so many MetroBus routes will see major changes:

Metro’s quarterly service change on March 14 will impact the operations of 48 MetroBus routes in the St. Louis metropolitan region, including the introduction of nine new MetroBus routes and discontinuation of service on eight routes. This service change will also introduce a new and completely redesigned MetroBus service plan for North St. Louis County, made possible with the opening of the new North County Transit Center in Ferguson, Missouri on March 14. (Metro)

On that same day, changes will take place in downtown (technically Downtown West):

The Civic Center Transit Center is scheduled to be closed down for construction activity shortly, at a date to be decided. In advance of the closure, Metro has prepared bus stops at 18th Street & Clark Street, adjacent to the Union Station MetroLink, to provide the same system connectivity. 

The routing and schedules of the routes serving the Civic Center Transit Center have been modified to serve 18th Street & Clark Street to ensure the same connections with the other MetroBus routes and MetroLink at Union Station instead.

Please note that till the closure of the Civic Center Transit Center, these routes will continue to serve the Civic Center Transit Center. Public Announcement of the closure of the Civic Center Transit Center will be made in advance of the event. (Metro)

The following MetroBus routes will change to include 18th & Clark.

  • 10 Chippewa
  • 32 ML King-Chouteau
  • 41 Lee
  • 73 Carondelet
  • 80 Park-Shaw
  • 94 Page
  • 97 Delmar
  • 99 Downtown Trolley
  • 40X I-55 Express
  • 58X Twin Oaks Express
  • 410X Eureka Express

When I need to catch the #10 Westbound I do so at 16th & Olive, but starting March 14th it’ll use 18th rather than 14th Street. Same goes for the #97  — I usually catch it at 16th & Washington but it’ll turn on 18th.  Those who ride the #94 & #97 to Washington & 14th, then catch the #99 Downtown Trolley to take them the rest of the way into the Central Business District (CBD), will need to figure out an alternates. Perhaps catching the Trolley bus at Civic Center/18th & Clark? That’ll require more time though — years ago more bus routes entered the CBD.

For a few months now I’ve been watching the changes at 18th & Clark. I posted about the upcoming Civic Center changes in 2014, see Civic Center Transit Center Sans Trees, Awaiting Redo.

Before I get into the recent changes along Clark I want to show you the before conditions, in October 2011 & August 2012.

Looking west toward the Union Station MetroLink Station from 16th & Clark, October 2011.
Looking west toward the Union Station MetroLink Station from 16th & Clark, October 2011.
At 18th pedestrians had worn a more direct path since MetroLink opened in 1993, October 2011
At 18th pedestrians had worn a more direct path since MetroLink opened in 1993, October 2011
The crosswalk to Union Station led directly to a curb, those of us in wheelchairs had to go outside the crosswalk and use the auto exit, at right -- a clear ADA violation for years, August 2012
The crosswalk to Union Station led directly to a curb, those of us in wheelchairs had to go outside the crosswalk and use the auto exit, at right — a clear ADA violation for years, August 2012

Ok, so now you’ve seen the before. In December last year I began seeing work going on so I braved the cold one day to get some pics:

The asphalt in the parking lane was removed, sidewalk & curb ramp at 16th also removed, December 2015
The asphalt in the parking lane was removed, sidewalk & curb ramp at 16th also removed, December 2015
The old bricks were visible, street trees gone, December 2015
The old bricks were visible, street trees gone, December 2015
The corner was completely opened up, forms were placed for new concrete, December 2015
The corner was completely opened up, forms were placed for new concrete, December 2015
Looking West across 18th you can see the curb & sidewalk have been removed, December 2015
Looking West across 18th you can see the curb & sidewalk have been removed, December 2015
From the West side of 18th looking back, December 2015
From the West side of 18th looking back, December 2015

I was encouraged seeing the West end of the crosswalk completely removed — a fresh start so it’ll be done correctly! I returned a month later, in late January:

Now we can see the sidewalk has been widened, replacing half the parking lane, January 2016
Now we can see the sidewalk has been widened, replacing half the parking lane, January 2016
About halfway between 16th -18th the extra sidewalk narrows to the original width, January 2016
About halfway between 16th -18th the extra sidewalk narrows to the original width, January 2016
Looking across 18th we see at the end of the crosswalk --- A NEW CURB! WTF!?!
Looking across 18th we see at the end of the crosswalk — A NEW CURB! WTF!?! January 2016
Pedestrians taking the direct route from MetroLkink East across 18th, with the ramp on the left, January 2016
Pedestrians taking the direct route from MetroLkink East across 18th, with the ramp on the left, January 2016

I returned again, a month later, on February 26th:

The widest park, near 16th
The widest park, near 16th, February 2016
Temporary bus shelters added in the narrow section makes it tight, February 2016
Temporary bus shelters added in the narrow section makes it tight, February 2016
There are new benches in places , February 2016
There are new benches in places , February 2016
Crosswalk not yet changed to include the new curb ramp, February 2016
Crosswalk not yet changed to include the new curb ramp, February 2016

The ramp location behind the crosswalk is a head scratcher, for sure. I resisted the urge to post it to social media — opting to wait until the project is closer to completion.  I even went back yesterday to see if the crosswalk had been changed. It hasn’t. I also discovered another problem: pedestrian signal location.

I arrived on the West side just as people pushing a stroller used the ramp to cross 18th
I arrived on the West side just as people pushing a stroller used the ramp to cross 18th
That's when I noticed the pedestrian signs, far right, wasn't visible. The ramps also aren't aligned, but we already knew they wouldn't.
That’s when I noticed the pedestrian signs, far right, wasn’t visible. The ramps also aren’t aligned, but we already knew they wouldn’t.
The pedestrian signal is visible only when way South pf the ramp & crosswalk
The pedestrian signal is visible only when way South pf the ramp & crosswalk
From the same spot you can see the ramp. My chair is very fast so I was able to wait for the walk signal then move to the ramp & cross -- but not everyone can move so quickly
From the same spot you can see the ramp. My chair is very fast so I was able to wait for the walk signal then move to the ramp & cross — but not everyone can move so quickly
From the East side you can see the back of the pedestrian signal and how it doesn't relate to the other side
From the East side you can see the back of the pedestrian signal and how it doesn’t relate to the other side

The best words that come to mind are gross incompetence. Both sides were completely opened up — all new concrete. That was the time to move pedestrian signals so they align with the crosswalk, to build the new ramps so they also align. I’m not sure if St. Louis’ new bike-pedestrian coordinator reviewed this, but other civil engineers did see it on paper. This is yet another thing making me realize I need to live in another city.

— Steve Patterson

 

Another Local Example of In-Street Light Rail

A couple of weeks ago I posted about a local example of light rail in center of a street, which was largely misunderstood. Objections to my Meramec Ave & Forest Park Parkway example included:

  • Cars could never cross here
  • Pedestrians have no reason to cross here
  • Several cities have light rail systems without concrete walls, have pedestrian crossings

True, true, and true. No argument. My point was many existing cross streets would no longer be able to cross streets like Natural Bridge or Jefferson if we built light rail in the right-of-way. Places to cross by car, bike, or foot would be limited.

Some of the examples people mentioned included Minneapolis and Houston. I have no personal experience with either so I turned to the internet.

Houston’s original Red Line, opened in 2004, had few obstacles. The tracks were in the street with very little dividing it from traffic (example).  Similar for their 2013 Red Line extension (example). The Green & Purple lines, opened in May 2015, are different. The Purple line has fences & barriers (example) but does provide pedestrian crossings between stations (example). Houston usually has 3-6 accidents per month, but had 17 in July.

Besides accidents, these can be slow. From 2014:

Residents of the Twin Cities greeted the opening of the new Green Line light rail link last month with joy and excitement, finally able to take advantage of a train connection between downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul. The 11-mile rail line runs through a relatively densely populated area, serves two business districts, and travels through the heart of a university.

It’s also alarmingly slow. Green Line trains are taking up to an hour to complete their journeys, and even optimistic schedules released by the local transit agency put running times at 48 minutes, or less than 14 mph on average.

Of course, the Twin Cities are hardly alone in their predicament. Recent transit lines elsewhere in the country feature similarly leisurely travel times. The new Houston North Line, for example, is averaging 17 mph. Los Angeles’ Expo Line is slightly quicker at 18 mph. Bus rapid transit and streetcar projects popping up virtually everywhere are often significantly slower. Only the Washington, D.C. Metro Silver Line, which will extend that region’s subway deep into the Virginia suburbs, will speed commuters along at an average of 32 mph. It will do so while only stopping at 5 stations, all of which will be located in the middle of expressways.

Our MetroLink, which operates in exclusive right-of-way, has an average speed of 24,7mph, according to Wikipedia. How does Metro achieve higher speeds? Less conflict points mean the vehicles can get to higher speeds between stations.  Which brings me to another local example of how Metro builds light rail to reduce conflicts/accidents. Forest Park Parkway & Des Peres Ave., prior to the Blue Line, was as signalized intersection allowing cars, bikes, and pedestrians to cross the busy roadway.

The intersection is still signalized  — and cars coming from the North can still cross here, as can pedestrians & cyclists. It’s roughly halfway between the Skinker & Forest Park stations — a mile apart.

Northbound traffic on Des Peres Ave can't cross the high-speed tracks
Northbound traffic on Des Peres Ave can’t cross the high-speed tracks
Cyclists & pedestrians must use ramps to cross over the tracks.
Cyclists & pedestrians must use ramps to cross over the tracks.

Anyone who thinks Metro St. Louis will build an in-street light rail system — operated at expected light rail speeds — with easy pedestrian crossings between stations is naive. It’s not going to happen — and it shouldn’t. St. Louis has enough pedestrian deaths as it is!

I think we should improve North-South public transit in the region, through the city.   I’m just looking at how Metro builds light rail and thinking it isn’t what people want.

— Steve Patterson

 

 

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

 

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