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Auto-Centric Pandemic, Vaccine Site Adjacent To Light Rail Station Didn’t Mention Using Transit

March 25, 2021 Central West End, Featured, Public Transit, STL Region, Transportation Comments Off on Auto-Centric Pandemic, Vaccine Site Adjacent To Light Rail Station Didn’t Mention Using Transit

The previous 12 months have highlighted how auto-centric the United States is. So far during this pandemic we’ve seen drive through food banks, and COVID-19 testing. Each with cars backed up for miles. To keep the cars on the road there were also lines at licensing offices.

From May 28, 2020:

On Friday, May 29 CVS Health will open 22 new COVID-19 drive-thru test sites across Missouri, including locations in St. Louis.

CVS Health expects to have up to 1,000 locations across the country offering this service by the end of May.

The testing will be by appointment only. You won’t go into the store, but sit in your car and administer the test. (Fox2)

From June 11, 2020:

Many St. Louis-area residents endured long lines and waiting times at licensing offices Thursday, which recently re-opened due to COVID-19 worries.

Thursday, a News 4 crew found some people who waited several hours at two licensing offices in west St. Louis County, where only a few people are allowed inside at one time to due to COVID-19 restrictions. (KMOV)

From November 25, 2020:

From California to New York, pictures have emerged of thousands of people waiting to receive groceries from their local food banks ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday.

It’s one side effect that has cropped up as a result of the coronavirus pandemic that continues to sweep the nation. Experts say the problem is rooted in high unemployment and low cash flow. (CNBC)

So it was no surprise when it came time for vaccinations that many sites weren’t accessible by foot or public transit. As with food & testing, people in their cars were backed up for miles to get a shot.

Last Thursday:

Traffic was backed up for more than a mile in both directions entering the county’s drive-thru mass vaccination site. The event, put on by the St. Charles County Health Department with support from the Missouri National Guard, was expected to vaccinate 4,000 people by the time it wrapped up Thursday evening. (KMOV)

Monday I got my first shot. I’d been on a waiting list at BJC only, as I knew I’d be able to take transit. Many people signed up for multiple lists with the expectation they’ll drive wherever they need to.

Valet parking makes sense, especially for those who can’t walk far.

I was given a choice of vaccination sites, but I picked the 4353 Clayton location because I knew it was adjacent to the Cortex MetroLink station. The instructions from BJC, however, didn’t mention transit at all.

  • Due to social distancing restrictions, do not arrive before your scheduled time.
    • If you arrive earlier, please remain in your vehicle until it’s time to enter the building.
  • Please park in the lot at the front of the building, labeled “30 minute visitor,” or the lot west of the building, labeled “2 hour visitor.”
    • Free valet parking is also available at the front of the building.
    • Click here for a parking map.

Despite my criticism of their lack of mentioning transit, the entire process was very well orchestrated. Outside they had signs & people to direct drivers. At the building they had people stationed at every step to keep the flow going. I was in and out in under a half hour!

– Steve Patterson

 

Metro’s New Battery Electric 60-Foot Articulated Buses Coming Soon To #70 (Grand) Route

March 15, 2021 Environment, Featured, Public Transit, Transportation Comments Off on Metro’s New Battery Electric 60-Foot Articulated Buses Coming Soon To #70 (Grand) Route

My previous post was on the subject of BEVs — battery electric vehicles —- was the realization the used car we will purchase in a couple of years can’t be a BEV because we rent and can’t charge at our apartment. Even though we won’t own a BEV I’ll still be able to ride in one…on the #70 bus route.

The North Broadway transit center reopened after adding infrastructure to charge electric buses.

From September 2020:

Metro Transit announced Tuesday a deal with Minnesota-based New Flyer of America to add 14 zero-emission buses to the city’s fleet.

The new buses stretch 60 feet long and come with a price tag of $1.33 million each. Eighty percent of the cost will be covered by grants from the Federal Transit Administration, said Jessica Mefford-Miller, executive director of Metro Transit.

The regional transit agency has been considering adding electric battery-powered vehicles to its fleet for more than a decade, Mefford-Miller said. (St. Louis Public Radio)

Here’s some additional detail:

The 60-foot battery electric buses have 320 kilowatts of battery storage on each bus. That is enough power to support about 10 2,000-square-foot houses for an entire day. They will operate exclusively on the #70 MetroBus route, which is Metro’s busiest route and carries about 10 percent of Metro’s customers on a daily basis. (Metro’s NextStop blog)

For comparison a Chevy Bolt EV has a 66kWh battery, the biggest Tesla battery is 100kWh.

After reading numerous articles about the new electric buses but I still had questions, so I asked Patti Beck, Metro’s director of communications, to answer them.

Much of the previously large open waiting area is now filled with electric equipment.

Q:   Why are the buses for use on Grand going to be stored/charged at Brentwood instead of Central?  My guess is not enough room at Central. Or was power supply better at Brentwood? Are the current articulated buses operated out of Central or Brentwood?

A: MetroBus operates out of three facilities- Brentwood, near Manchester and Brentwood; DeBaliviere, at Delmar and DeBaliviere; and our Illinois MetroBus Facility. Metro chose the Brentwood MetroBus Facility as our first battery electric operating facility because of its more advantageous location and power rate. Ameren Missouri, in partnership with Bi-State Development, constructed an electrical substation adjacent to the Brentwood facility that will provide power supply to Metro’s battery electric fleet, as well as the surrounding community.

Comment: The Central facility is very close to Grand, but it’s small. This is the location for Call-A-Ride buses, but not 40 foot or larger buses.

Q: As I recall the current articulated buses are from Gillig. Will having new articulated buses from New Flyer be a problem in terms of maintenance, parts, etc?  Does Gillig not offer an electric articulated bus?

A: The existing 60’ articulated buses will all be retired in 2021. Gillig does not yet offer a battery electric 60’ bus. They do produce battery electric 40’ buses, and we have purchased four Gillig 40’ electric buses that will become part of our battery electric fleet.

Comment: the existing articulated buses were bought used and refurbished, began operation in June 2014.

Q: I see buses will recharge at Broadway & Taylor. How many will recharge at a time? How long will they need to recharge?

There will be 3 active 450kWh chargers at Broadway & Taylor. A pantograph from the charger lowers to rails on top of the bus to deliver the charge. To maintain continuous operation of the #70 Grand, two chargers must be used to maintain an effective charge throughout the day. The third charger is a backup when one charger needs maintenance or if there is a component failure.

4.    What type of charging connector do buses use?

There are 22 150 kWh charging dispensers at the Brentwood MetroBus facility. These use a heavy duty plug type CCS type 1 built to the SAE J1772 standard. The depot chargers will “top” off the articulated buses at night and be the sole source of charge for the 40’ Gillig buses stationed there.

Comment: this is faster than even Tesla’s superchargers.

Two diesel 40-foot buses. The existing driver restroom in the back corner remains.

The North Broadway transit center will be an important part of the hopeful success of battery electric bus service.  Some other cities have had problems, Albuquerque returned 13 electric buses to the Chinese manufacturer and ordered diesel replacements for a BRT line.  Other cities didn’t build field charging locations like the North Broadway transit center.

My follow up questions were not answered. I’m still curious how different it’ll be from diesel buses. Will electric buses in service need to wait longer at North Broadway, or will the existing wait/break times give them enough charge? Do & will buses stay in service from begging to end of service, or do they serve part of the day with others taking over later?

I don’t normally have a reason to ride the 70/Grand, but I will at least once when the new electric articulated buses begin service.

— Steve Patterson

 

Electric Vehicles Aren’t An Option For Many Renters, Condo Owners

March 11, 2021 Environment, Featured, Transportation Comments Off on Electric Vehicles Aren’t An Option For Many Renters, Condo Owners

Hybrid vehicles have been for sale in the US for two decades now, thankfully recent hybrids are very different than the first Honda Insight. While I prefer the greener solution of using public transit, my husband has to have a vehicle for his job.

A friend’s 1st generation 2000 Toyota Prius hybrid that she bought new. October 2020 photo.

We bought our current 2015 Hyundai Sonata Limited used in March 2018. It has been a good car, but the fuel mileage from the 2.5 liter four cylinder gasoline engine has been disappointing.

Our Hyundai Sonata in front of Broadway Oyster Bar, April 2018

When it’s paid off in two years I want our next car to be as green as possible. But what?

Now’s a good time to define some acronyms I’ll be using throughout this post.

  • Internal Combustion Engine (ICE):  An internal combustion engine (ICE) is a heat engine in which the combustion of a fuel occurs with an oxidizer (usually air) in a combustion chamber that is an integral part of the working fluid flow circuit. In an internal combustion engine, the expansion of the high-temperature and high-pressure gases produced by combustion applies direct force to some component of the engine. The force is applied typically to pistons, turbine blades, rotor or a nozzle. This force moves the component over a distance, transforming chemical energy into useful work.
    Examples
  • Hybrid Electric Vehicle (HEV): A hybrid electric vehicle (HEV) is a type of hybrid vehicle that combines a conventional internal combustion engine (ICE) system with an electric propulsion system (hybrid vehicle drivetrain). The presence of the electric powertrain is intended to achieve either better fuel economy than a conventional vehicle or better performance. There is a variety of HEV types and the degree to which each function as an electric vehicle (EV) also varies. The most common form of HEV is the hybrid electric car, although hybrid electric trucks (pickups and tractors) and buses also exist.
    Examples: Toyota Prius
  • Plug-In Electric Vehicle (PHEV): A plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) is a hybrid electric vehicle whose battery can be recharged by plugging it into an external source of electric power, as well as by its on-board engine and generator.
    Examples:
  • Range-Extended Battery Electric Vehicle (BEVx): A range extender is a fuel-based auxiliary power unit (APU) that extends the range of a battery electric vehicle by driving an electric generator that charges the vehicle’s battery. This arrangement is known as a series hybrid drivetrain. The most commonly used range extenders are internal combustion engines, but fuel-cells or other engine types can be used.
    Examples: Chevrolet Volt, BMW i3 with range extender.
  • Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV):  battery electric vehicle (BEV), pure electric vehicle, only-electric vehicle or all-electric vehicle is a type of electric vehicle(EV) that exclusively uses chemical energy stored in rechargeable battery packs, with no secondary source of propulsion (e.g. hydrogen fuel cell, internal combustion engine, etc.). BEVs use electric motors and motor controllers instead of internal combustion engines (ICEs) for propulsion. They derive all power from battery packs and thus have no internal combustion engine, fuel cell, or fuel tank. Examples: Nissan Leaf, Chevrolet Bolt, all Tesla models.

The above types are listed in order, getting greener as you move down the list. Now every manufacturer is promoting BEVs, General Motors and other vehicle manufacturers have pledged to go full BEV within this decade.  Numerous more affordable models are on the new & used markets.

When we got married in June 2014 a friend drove us to our reception in her new BEV, a Tesla Model S — a rarity at the time.

We just exited the Tesla Model S that drove us to Bevo Mill, June 8 2014

Before our wedding we even took a test drive of one, I told the Tesla rep we couldn’t afford one but they said to go out anyway.

Test driving a 2014 Tesla Model S, May 2014. I’m in the passenger seat because I need a spinner knob to safely steer a vehicle on public roads.

For this post I searched Auto Trader for a used Model S. Of the 1,621 results the cheapest is a 2013 with 124,459 miles for $21,000. Within 50 miles of our zip code there are 14 Tesla Model S, the cheapest is another 2013 with 71,609 miles, an asking price of $28,990.

Both are thousands more than what we paid for our current car, that was only 3 years old with less than 47,000 miles. Our credit union would finance such a purchase, but the interest rate is higher and the length of loan not as long. A well-used Tesla Model S still isn’t affordable to us.

A friend’s Tesla Model 3 on South Grand, October 2019

Maybe a Model 3? Of the 11 within 50 miles a 2019 with 26k miles is the cheapest at $34,990 Nationally 875 are for sale, a 2018 with 33k mile is the cheapest at $28, 492. No Tesla is affordable for us, but there are other BEV options.

Nissan Leaf BEV at the 2011 St. Louis Auto Show
Chevy Bolt BEV, 2016 Chicago Auto Show
A Chevy Bolt BEV charging at 620 Lucas in downtown St. Louis.

The Nissan Leaf came out a decade ago, the Chevy Bolt began with the 2017 model year. As the original purchaser enjoyed the tax incentives offered the used prices are well within our budget. Additional 4+ passenger used BEVs include the Kia Soul EV, VW e-Golf, Hyundai Ioniq, BMW i3, and Mercedes B-class.

Mitsubishi i-MiEV, 2014 Chicago Auto Show
BMW i3, 2015 Chicago Auto Show

The number of used BEVs in the St. Louis region is limited, but I’d be open to buying a California car and driving it home or having it delivered. The problem now with a BEV is charging it.

Most BEV owners charge at home, overnight. If you’ve got a garage this isn’t an issue, but for many out there it’s a huge obstacle. We rent and our car gets parked in a parking lot. We have a reserved space only because I’m physically disabled. At our previous loft we had an assigned space but the cost to get a charger to our spot would’ve been exorbitant. I doubt the condo has sufficient power to have chargers for even 20% of the cars.

I’ve owned properties before, but I usually parked on the street. At this point a BEV at any price just won’t work for us.  The next best thing is a PHEV— plug-in hybrid electric vehicle. As BEVs have decreased in price and range extended, PHEV sales have declined. The true benefits of a PHEV are only realized when you can change at home and drive 15-30 miles purely on battery power.

That leaves a HEV (hybrid) as my only choice. There are many hybrid choices these days, though I’m inclined to get a newer hybrid version of our car because the 2-position memory seat & mirrors feature is very nice when sharing a vehicle with a driver who’s significantly taller.

The issue of how renters & condo owners in the St. Louis region will charge BEVs/PHEVs in the coming years remains. High-end buildings in the central corridor may have difficulty getting enough power into owner’s assigned spaces. With 50-150 units/cars per association they’ll have major challenges as more and more residents want to plug in their BEVs overnight. At existing apartment complexes with surface parking lots the challenge will be the cost to set up chargers. Paying retail to charge at BEV at your apartment rather than adding the current to your existing electric bill could made operating a BEV very costly.

And before anyone mentions coal is dirty, BEVs charged with electricity generated by fossil fuels is still cleaner than ICE vehicles (source). Part of Ameren’s electric is generated by wind & solar. Additionally, half our electricity is generated by wind through Arcadia (referral link). Combined less than half our electricity is from fossil fuels. If we could get a BEV/PHEV and charge at our apartment I’d gladly pay the 1.5¢ extra per kWh for 100% wind power.

In the past BEVs were very expensive, but the electric vehicle has gone mainstream. GM, Volvo, Volkswagen, and other legacy vehicle manufacturers have pledged to go fully electric before the end of the decade. Toyota, whose Prius is synonymous with hybrid, will announce its first BEV next week.

Eventually battery technology will get to the point where charging won’t take overnight, but in the meantime someone needs to figure out how the masses without a private garage will charge their vehicle at home.

— Steve Patterson

 

Metro’s Blue Color Scheme A Welcomed Change

December 24, 2020 Featured, Public Transit Comments Off on Metro’s Blue Color Scheme A Welcomed Change

A year ago Metro announced that a new color scheme was being phased in.

You will continue to see the red-white-and-blue trains and buses for a long time. There are currently three MetroLink trains featuring the new look, as well as 26 new MetroBus vehicles. These new 30-foot Gillig buses have improved emissions and a much smaller turning radius than other buses in the fleet, making them more flexible in the types of service they can provide and in the locations where they can better operate.

The new paint scheme will only be applied to new vehicles being added to the Metro fleet as they replace older trains, buses and vans that are being retired out of service. All of these updates are part of the normal maintenance and replacement cycle for transit vehicles, signs and materials, and no additional funds are being used or needed to make these changes.

It took a while but I think most vehicles have now received the new design. Train vehicles haven’t actually been replaced, but individual cars gets updated and the livery changes from the standard to advertising, etc. Buses also get a change of livery based on advertising wraps.

The new blue design in July 2020
New blue design last month

MetroLink trains & buses have been white for decades.

The old blue & red design on a white background, 2014.
The old blue & red on a white background on August 26, 2006 — the opening of the Shrewsbury line.

I’ve been here 30 years and I couldn’t think of a different color scheme, but a friend reminded me prior to the 2003 Bi-State to Metro change to blue & red on white they had a red/orange/yellow scheme.

Red, orange, & yellow strip on white background. 1996 photo by Ron Walker.

I personally love the new design. The bold blue design stands out, at least for now. In time it’ll get old and tired. It’s refreshing to no longer have the white background. I’ve seen the new blue design on buses, but haven’t gotten a photo yet.

— Steve Patterson

 

Broadway and 4th Street Need To Become Two-Way Again

August 24, 2020 Downtown, Featured, Planning & Design, Transportation Comments Off on Broadway and 4th Street Need To Become Two-Way Again

Last week, in response to a death as a result of late night racing downtown, St. Louis put up temporary barriers in various places, including blocking all traffic across the Eads Bridge.

In addition to the bridge, the city also closed a section of Washington Avenue from Tucker Boulevard to 14th Street with barricades this week. Barriers also narrow traffic in stretches of 4th Street, Broadway and Market Street.
 
“These are temporary changes,” Krewson said Friday. “This isn’t something that we expect to be there forever.”

Krewson said downtown streets are built to hold a much larger volume of traffic than the city sees in an average day, and with fewer people working downtown because of COVID-19, the streets are even less crowded. (Post-Dispatch)

The last paragraph, quoted above, is an admission our streets are too wide. Previously when anyone argued the 4th Street/Broadway couplet (one-way in opposite directions) should be returned to two-way traffic the claim was always they needed to remain one-way due to traffic volume.

Southbound cars on Broadway at the Cole Street light. Three very wide lanes.
When the light turns green Broadway widens to five total lanes. The two outside lanes are no-parking, except for rare times when tickets are being sold at the Dome.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic the volume on 4th/Broadway couldn’t justify the one-way couplet. It’s past time for the decades-long experiment on our streets to end. The sole purpose of originally converting these streets to one-way decades ago was to quickly move cars into downtown offices in the morning, and then vacate them in the afternoon — just before the sidewalks were rolled up each night. Part of the engineer’s disastrous effort also included banning on-street parking — that slows down the flow of vehicles. This is exactly the opposite of how you build a user-friendly downtown.

Now, approaching Convention Plaza (Delmar), the vehicles that raced from the light form a single-file line.

Looking back North from Convention Plaza (Delmar)

Walk Broadway from Cole Street to I-64 and see how it feels being next to one-way traffic for over a mile. You’ll see in places the street has 5 very wide lanes that encourage high speeds. Even with the barricades at points, drivers coming off I-44 onto southbound Broadway at Cole street they reach high speeds to get into single file formation at Convention Plaza (aka Delmar).

The prior week a vehicle knocked over a bollard on the Southwest corner of Broadway & Washington Ave.
And then crashed through this temporary wall.

Changing 4th/Broadway back to two-way traffic is only part of the needed solution. Traffic signals must be timed so that a person taking off from a red light doesn’t encounter another red light just a block or two down the street. Our signal timing often encourages people to speed to make it through the next two or three lights. Lane width also matters — the wider the lanes the faster the traffic.

This isn’t the St. Louis of 1950, we need to reverse decisions made by people born in the late 19th century.

— Steve Patterson

 

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