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MetroLink Escalators “Temporarily Closed” For Years

April 18, 2022 Accessibility, Downtown, Featured, Public Transit, Transportation Comments Off on MetroLink Escalators “Temporarily Closed” For Years

Escalators are great, very helpful to those who find stairs difficult.  However, like elevators, they’re expensive to install and maintain. Escalators exposed to the elements are even more challenging to keep in operation.

When our original light rail line opened in 1993 two stations were located within an old freight tunnel under the central business district (CBD). The Convention Center and 8th & Pine stations were designed with stairs, elevators, and escalators. Because the tunnel is narrow the tracks are in the center, the passenger platforms are on both sides — one per direction of travel, east or west. This meant a total of four elevators and four pairs of escalators — all exposed to elements to a degree.

When the Shrewsbury (Blue) expansion line opened in 2006 its three underground stations had stairs, elevators/ramps — no escalators.

In 2018 & 2019 I’d frequently see ThyssenKrupp maintenance people working on the Convention Center escalators, or at least their service truck on the public sidewalk near the westbound entrance/exit. April 1, 2019
Here’s the same location on November 2, 2020
Another view, with parts visible. November 2, 2020
View from the platform level. November 2, 2020
The big plywood barricade has been gone for quite a while, but the escalators remain out of service. March 7, 2022
The eastbound escalators at 8th & Pine have been a similar story. Note access to the elevator is on the right, back — between the escalators and stair. April 21, 2021.
The street entrance of the eastbound 8th & Pine station after the plywood construction barricade was constructed, steps & elevator are accessible. March 1, 2022

I search all Metro press releases from 2019 through the present, only one mentioned escalators in the subject/summary.

From May 3, 2021:

Rehabilitation work on the westbound escalator at the 8th & Pine MetroLink Station in downtown St. Louis begins on Tuesday, May 4. During this project, the station’s westbound elevator will remain in service, however, the accessible pathway to the westbound side of the 8th & Pine Station (near Pine Street) will have to be closed temporarily.

MetroLink riders who are traveling to or from the 8th & Pine Station and use a wheelchair or mobility device may need to make adjustments to their commute, as it will be necessary for riders to use stairs (located near Chestnut Street) when entering or departing the westbound side of the 8th & Pine Station.

The escalator rehabilitation work is expected to take approximately three months to complete. (Source: Metro)

The above press release was issued a week after I followed up with Metro again since I hadn’t received any specifics from my inquiry on December 28, 2020. Receipt of my original inquiry was acknowledged but I never received anything. Just the one press release, above.

Since I use my power wheelchair when using transit why do I care if the escalators aren’t working?

Well, it looks bad to have something temporarily non-functional for days, weeks, months..years.

What do I hope to accomplish with this post?  I want all the escalators either in good working condition — or I want them removed and replaced with fixed stairs (I can’t speak to concerns of those who have a hard time with stairs). It obviously won’t happen quickly, but steady progress needs to be demonstrated.

It looks very bad for visitors to see out of service signs, but it’s even worse when returning visitors say “oh yeah they were out the last two years I’ve visited.”

— Steve Patterson

 

Amtrak Faster to Chicago than closer Kansas City

January 31, 2022 Featured, Public Transit, Transportation, Travel Comments Off on Amtrak Faster to Chicago than closer Kansas City
The Texas Eagle train uses 2-level trains like this one, the Lincoln Service to/from Chicago uses a one level train.

In October 2021 I booked an Amtrak trip to Chicago for a weekend next month. At that time the trip was scheduled to take 5 hours 40 minutes to Chicago Union Station, via Lincoln Service.  This is faster than it has been over the years — improving every year since the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 was signed by president Obama. Amtrak recently revised my trip — it’ll now take only 5 hours 25 minutes. Fifteen minutes quicker than before!

Amtrak will implement a schedule change for Chicago to St. Louis Lincoln Service and Texas Eagle trains, effective December 13.

These schedules reflect a maximum authorized speed of 90 mph for Trains 300 – 307 and Trains 21 & 22. Chicago to St. Louis corridor travel times are reduced by approximately 15 minutes, end-to-end.

Updated schedules now on Amtrak.com reflect these changes, as do new bookings, eTickets and other boarding documents.

This is a step toward 110 mph schedules that are planned for the next 12 to 18 months. These improvements use federal grants and other funds from the Illinois Department of Transportation. (Amtrak)

These speeds aren’t close to high-speed rail experienced in other parts of the world, but it is very welcomed.

Driving a car is still faster, but it’s exhausting and very expensive to park in Chicago, station to station is 297 miles, requiring 4 hours 20 minutes. Of course, that’s assuming no restroom/eating/stretch breaks.

Kansas City is closer to St. Louis than Chicago is, so you’d think both driving & train travel would be less. Driving is 250 miles — 47 miles less than to Chicago, requiring 3 hours 37 minutes. Makes sense. The train trip to Chicago, however, is 5 hours 40 minutes.

Yes, the trips used to take the same amount of time even though one is closer. Now the STL to CHI train is faster. Once more improvements and speeds of 110 mph are achieved the time difference of traveling to Chicago compared to Kansas City will be even greater.

It would be nice to see similar improvements made to better connect St. Louis and Kansas City, spanning the width of the state.

— Steve Patterson

 

 

Decisions Applicable To Bus Rapid Transit And Local Bus Service

January 27, 2022 Featured, Planning & Design, Public Transit, Transportation Comments Off on Decisions Applicable To Bus Rapid Transit And Local Bus Service

Monday’s post Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Not Right For St. Louis certainly ruffled a few feathers — at least among non-transit riding civic boosters. Lots of good discussion on the Facebook post.  What we need next is to go through specifics one by one to see if there is any consensus. BRT has been implemented worldwide with great success. In general, BRT projects in the United States have been less robust than in other countries. That’s ok.

The Healthline in Cleveland, 2015. Click image to see my 4th post on Cleveland’s Healthline from November 2015.

My previous post was simply saying we can’t have a gold-level bus rapid transit system, per the Institute for Transportation & Development Policy (ITDP) Scorecard. To date no BRT system in the USA has achieved a top gold rating. The ITDP has ranked 10 BRT lines in the US with the following results:

  • Three (3) Basic
  • Five (5) Bronze
  • Two (2) Silver (Cleveland’s Healthline = 76, Hartford’s CTFasktrak Busway = 79.2)
  • Zero (0) Gold

Countless others being marketed as BRT don’t even qualify for a “basic” designation. Ouch. I guess as long as the users are pleased with the line compared to a conventional local bus then it doesn’t really matter what it’s called. Interestingly none of the 10 in the US have BRT as part of their name.  Our light rail system has two lines: Red & Blue.

Two battery electric 60 foot articulated buses recharging in November 2021. The right bus just arrived, the left bus is about to leave. Note that these buses have a unique color scheme to separate them from regular local buses.

Perhaps we come up with some criteria to use for calling a very high frequency bus route by a color name rather than the legacy bus number. For example, our busiest bus route (#70 Grand) could be the Green Line. Maybe if we made big changes to the #95 Kingshighway bus route it becomes the Orange Line?  And so on. Then we wouldn’t need to quibble over the BRT term.

Where I think we can agree is our next big transit investment in the city will have rubber-tired transit vehicles, not rails. How St. Louis County invests their transit dollars is a separate issue, they might opt for light rail in a street and/or an extension south from the Shrewsbury station. Today’s post is focused on the city, though applicable if the county considers a BRT-esque bus project.

Beyond the marketing name & tires there are many other items to be considered:

  1. Type of propulsion (diesel, hybrid, compressed natural gas (CNG), fuel cell electric, battery electric, overhead cable electric (commonly known as a trolleybus)
  2. Fare collection (on-board, off-board, honor, no fares)
  3. Boarding (curb height or raised platforms for level boarding; front door only or all doors)
  4. Stop intervals (2 blocks, 1/4 mile, 1/2 mile, more; if more than 2 block local will a local bus also run the route less frequently to serve those unwilling/unable to walk to the farther stops)
  5. Stop locations: center of street, right lane, or a mix of both)

Let’s go through each, discussing pros and cons to consider when making decisions.

#1 Type of Propulsion

In 2022 I  think we should invest only in transit vehicles with zero tailpipe emissions. That would eliminate diesel, hybrid and CNG. The three electric options each have their own pros & cons, infrastructure needs. Battery electric buses, like the 60 foot articulated buses on the 70 are presumably heavier than an electric trolleybus. Overhead wires vs increased wear & tear on streets and sourcing of rare earth metals. Battery electric buses (BEB) need to be quick charged during service, whereas the trolleybus doesn’t need to — but not everyone likes overhead wires.  Some trolleybuses have small batteries to allow them to operate any from overhead wires. Hydrogen fuel cells are another option, not sure if one can go all day without refueling during the day. If so, is that feasible. Fuel cell buses are heavier than trolleybuses but presumably lighter than BEBs.

Metro has historically purchased buses from Gillig, but the new articulated battery electric buses used on Grand came from New Flyer. The latter offers more sizes and propulsion choices.

#2 Fare Collection

This is an important area because it determines how the stops are designed.  First is getting our transit agency caught up on fare technology — assuming we’re going to continue collecting fares from users.

In August 2006 a Metro engineer explained the then-concept of smart fare cards to me.

That was in August 2006, at the opening of the most recent extension of the high-floor light rail. Metro’s Gateway Card finally appeared in spring 2018 — twelve years later. It has been almost four years now and nobody uses it. When I ride the bus or light rail I don’t see others tapping their cards. These cards are available for full fare & senior customers only — I think I’m still the only non-senior reduced-fare user with a Gateway Card.

Metro was working on a website login and app to go with the card, but it seems they’ve abandoned it in favor of a smartphone app to use for fare payment. Millions were spent changing bus fare boxes to allow cards to be tapped, and readers were placed at the entrances to the 38 MetroLink stations so security could see the green light as each person taps their card to enter.  Huge investment of time & money for nothing. People do use the Transit app to buy digital tickets & passes.

I prefer having a reloadable card that calculates if my second tap qualifies as a transfer or new ride. I’ve seen systems that use both smart cards and apps. The goal for all is to not have fare payment holding up boarding, When I visit Chicago locals and the vast majority of visitors use their smart card — boarding is so much faster.

A faster bus route isn’t going to have the driver give those who paid more a daily transfer. Yes, currently every Metro bus in the region gets little pads of transfers to use for that date only. Massive waste of time & money that Metro continues. You’ll often see these as litter around bus stops, especially since most bus stops lack basics like a trash can.

Moving on…

Lets assume everyone has a smart card. By tapping it on a reader at MetroLink station entrances (off-board) or on the bus farebox (on-board) the appropriate fee is deducted from the card balance. If funds are insufficient it gives you a red light & buzzer instead of green.

Since opening in 1993 our light rail has had off-board honor system fare collection. In response to calls for turnstiles it’s going from an open platform to a closed system. If we’re going to build nice new bus stops for a rapid line we need to decide where the user taps their card. Currently bus riders using the smartphone app show the driver their valid ticket upon entering, but that wouldn’t work if boarding is allowed at all 3 doors (60 foot articulated).

Would bus stops for a new rapid bus route have the honor system for accessing the platform & bus? I can’t imagine that would go over well. If we want fare verification performed off-board that means turnstiles.   The current smartphone app isn’t designed for use with turnstiles in mind.

#3 Boarding

Two questions here, both related to #2 above. Platforms level with the bus floor speeds up the boarding process for everyone, whereas curb-level boarding requires passengers to step up into the bus.

In the case of us disabled users (wheelchair, walker, etc) typically a ramp is unfolded to come down to curb level. The BRT scoring is better for smaller horizontal gaps between the platform and the bus floor:

Even corridors that have been designed to accommodate platform-level boarding could have gaps if the buses do not dock properly. A significant gap between the platform and the bus floor undermines the time-savings benefits of platform-level boarding and introduces a significant safety risk for passengers. Such gaps could occur for a variety of reasons, from poor basic design to poor driver training and technical opinion varies on the best way to minimize the gap.  (ITDP)

Some buses designed for BRT use have a bridge that can pop out to close the gap, others the driver has to come set a lightweight bridge in place.

The other aspect of boarding is if everyone enters through the front door only, or all doors. If the decision is made to eliminate fares, have turnstiles to access the platform, or the honor system, then boarding can happen at all doors.

#4 Stop intervals

This is a big one. With my power wheelchair I can go miles without any issues — assuming curb cuts are in place, snow & ice are cleared, etc. But many are used to frequent bus stops, people who use walkers or a cane might struggle if their local bus stop no longer exists. They might already walk a good distance to reach the bus route.  The solution in some cities is to have the BRT bus stop roughly every half mile while also operating a less frequent local bus. By having fewer stops you increase the possibility of having new development occur at these points, assuming zoning is sympathetic to requiring increased density at these spots. Fewer stops requires public & political buy-in to make it successful.

#5 Stop locations

Where the stop is located depends on where the bus operates. If it’s in the center of the right-of-way then obviously you’re going to have center platforms. Keep in mind some systems have a mix — some center, some right. Like our light rail vehicles, BRT vehicles usually have doors on both sides to accommodate different platform locations based on particular conditions. Having center dedicated lanes with center stations, even part of the length of the route, improves performance. If so you’ve got to make sure pedestrians crossing to/from the center are safe from motorists. The nice thing about center platforms is if you want to go the opposite direction from where you are, you only need to cross half the street to get to the stop.

Closing Thoughts

Even if the ITDP doesn’t consider a big transit investment BRT the only two groups that matter are the public and the feds — the ones determining if a project qualifies for matching funds. Other regions are ok with their BRT line not meeting ITDP’s minimum criteria to be considered. It’s up to all of us to participate, listen to others.

— Steve Patterson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Not Right For St. Louis

January 24, 2022 Featured, Public Transit, Transportation Comments Off on Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Not Right For St. Louis
Much of the length of Kingshighway is occupied by auto-centric businesses like car washes.

When considering costly new transit infrastructure it’s import to look carefully at existing conditions — identifying problems and offering solutions that solve them without creating new ones. Many in St. Louis are now pushing for investing Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) in St. Louis. The most recent is for the Kingshighway corridor.

BRT is a form of bus line that uses a few key elements to increase speed compared to regular bus service. These include:

  1. Dedicated right-of-way (ROW)
  2. Off-board fare collection
  3. Traffic signal prioritization
  4. Platform-level boarding

BRT is widely recognized as offering greater efficiency than conventional bus routes at substantially less initial cost than light rail. Everyone of the above differences is about moving the bus faster from start to end, all are necessary to be considered BRT. To justify the up front cost there needs be significant improvement in performance.

Retail at MLK & Kingshighway, one of many intersections where the right of way is curved, tight.

BRT for Kingshighway is a solution looking for a problem. The article states investing to improve the system. Tens of millions spent on BRT on the Kingshighway corridor wouldn’t improve the transit experience for those who currently use the #95 Kingshighway MetroBus. We shouldn’t spend big money just to make non-riders all warm & fuzzy inside unless it gets them to go car-free.

Right now if a weekday #95 bus travels the 11-mile 95/Kingshighway route northbound, just before 8am, it takes 56 minutes end to end. Driving the same route takes only 30 minutes. How much would each of the above BRT changes improve speed?

Since St. Louis doesn’t have any traffic congestion to speak of, having dedicated ROW or lanes wouldn’t make any substantial difference. Yes, the sub-mile Kingshighway between I-64 and Lindell gets a little backed up at times, but this less than a 10th of the route.

The biggest difference in this area between driving a car or taking the bus is the convoluted route the bus must take to reach the CWE Transit Center — connecting to other bus routes and light rail. The BRT could stay in the center of Kingshighway, but the 10-15 minute walk to connections would offset any gains elsewhere.

Off-board fare-collection is definitely a way to reduce boarding times. What does this mean? Currently bus riders enter a bus at the front door, paying their fare as the pass the farebox. Off-board fares are collected before allowing the rider onto the platform — a closed/turnstile system. If the fare is already paid then boarding passengers can enter via both doors, reducing dwell time.

Turnstile systems are more expensive and require more space than open platforms. Metro plans to retrofit existing light rail stations to require payment to enter. Unless fare gates are full height able-bodied riders can jump over the turnstile to avoid fare payment. The better alternative is simply to eliminate fares altogether.

Signal prioritization is effective, the bus communicates with a traffic signal to keep their light green for just a little longer. Reducing time spent siting at lights.

Platform height boarding reduces the time necessary for most passengers to board. Because of the horizontal gap, us wheelchair users still need more time to board. Light rail vehicles have a narrow enough gap that it’s not a problem. Higher platforms with turnstiles are more expensive than a regular bus stop. To save more time the number of stops is reduced, requiring some riders to walk farther to catch the bus compared to the existing bus.

Millions of dollars might reduce the total time from 56 minutes to 50 — easily offset by increased time walking on one or both ends of the trip.

My approach is to list problems and solutions:

  • Problem: #95 buses are often at capacity. Solution: use longer articulated buses like the ones used on the #70 Grand. Operate buses more frequently, also like the #70 Grand.
  • Boarding takes too long. Solution: stop accepting paper tickets & transfers. Require use of the Gateway Card for fare payment, or eliminate fares completely. Build raised platforms.

I’m not sure what problem(s) BRT is supposed to solve.

— Steve Patterson

 

Hodiamont Streetcar Ended Service 55 Years Ago, Right-of-Way To Become Trail

May 21, 2021 Featured, Public Transit Comments Off on Hodiamont Streetcar Ended Service 55 Years Ago, Right-of-Way To Become Trail

Fifty-five years ago today the last streetcar ended service. That line was the Hodiamont. West of Vandeventer Ave. it ran on a private right-of-way, not mixed with vehicles on the street.

Looking East on the last eastern section of the Hodiamont Right-of-Way, 2012

For a time after the last streetcar Metro (then known as Bi-State Development Agency) ran a bus down the private strip.  The bus was a huge improvement over old fashioned streetcars — faster, quieter, flexible, etc.

Not sure when buses stopped using the Hodiamont right-of-way. Currently Great Rivers Greenway is working on making it a trail.

The Hodiamont Tracks were once the route of a streetcar line and in later years a bus route.  While the bus route is no longer active, the 3.5 mile corridor has the potential to become a greenway that would link the St. Vincent and the future Brickline Greenways. (GRG)

In the ideal world a new streetcar/light rail line would occupy this corridor as it snakes through neighborhoods.

I’d love to go back in time to ride the streetcars and see the neighborhoods at their peak. Of course, I’d also have to see the segregation of housing and transportation.

— Steve Patterson

 

 

 

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