Loop Trolley Faces Development, Operation Challenges, Looks to 2013 Groundbreaking

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Delmar Loop TrolleyThe first of two Loop Trolley and St. Vincent Greenway information update meetings was held last Wednesday at the Missouri History Museum. The next meeting will be held today at the Regional Arts Commission in the Loop, 4:30-7:30 PM. Comments will be accepted through April 6.
 
Since the last project update, the $43 million, 2.2 mile, 9 station trolley line has been slightly delayed primarily due to the need to find the last bits of funding. Project officials believe that construction will begin by early 2013 with an anticipated opening sometime in 2014.
 
For the most part, not much has changed with the Loop Trolley. On Delmar west of the MetroLink station, the trolley will be double tracked and share the street with cars; east of the station, it will be single tracked in a grassy median. Along DeBaliviere, the trolley will run on a single track parallel to a multi-purpose trail within the new St. Vincent Greenway which will take over the road's northbound lanes.
 
Loop Trolley west
{the West Loop concept remains mostly unchanged from early designs}

And as before, the proposed initial service plan is still less than stellar. It's still proposed to run 11am to 6pm Sunday to Thursday and 11am to midnight Friday to Saturday. Trains will arrive only every 20 minutes and take 20 minutes to travel end to end. Its fares will not be integrated with Metro, separate tickets will be required.
 
One minor change is that the Loop Trolley will utilize standard heritage trolleys rather than the hybrid type that had been proposed before. For one, project officials were worried that traffic congestion and the power needed to run heating and air conditioning would result in hybrid trolleys getting stranded without power. Instead, trolley wire will be strung along the entire length of the line, including within Forest Park.
 
But the biggest changes to the project are being wrought by complications with utilities under the streets causing minor shifts in the trolley's alignment.
 
Along Delmar through the Loop, utilities have pushed the tracks towards the center of the street eliminating the center turn lane in many locations. The tracks swing outside to reach station stops before returning to the inside of the street. For bicyclists, the oscillating nature of the tracks will make Delmar a very dangerous road to travel.
Loop east track2a

{the East Loop may see tracks meander back and forth across Delmar from median to curb}
 
Similar changes are occurring along DeBaliviere Ave. Utilities in the center of the street are pushing the trolley track slightly to the east resulting in a slight reduction in width to the sidewalk and trail on the eastern side of the track. The change is significant enough that Great Rivers Greenway should stop calling the sidewalk/trail a multi-purpose trail as it will be little more than a glorified sidewalk. Tree wells along the length of the trail reduce the width of the trail to only six feet on the side closest to the trolley track and farthest from the building line, too narrow for two-way bicycle traffic. Great Rivers Greenway is hopeful that a much wider greenway is still possible as the design presented at this meeting is not final.
 
One detail of the trolley alignment seems to have escaped much scrutiny, or at the very least from myself. Along DeBaliviere, there has been a need to preserve driveways crossing the tracks and greenway into many properties on the east side of DeBaliviere, the Crossroads school in particular. According to project officials, the trolley will have to stop at each one of these driveways, or more than a half-dozen times as it travels .35 miles between Delmar and Pershing.

Loop south concept 1a
{a half-dozen stops within .35 miles will slow the Loop Trolley on DeBaliviere}
 
Another concern is whether revenue from fares will great enough to support the continued operation of the trolley. A handout distributed at the meeting shows that the Loop Trolley Co. hopes to raise $600,000 or 46% of the trolley's estimated $1.3 million yearly operating budget from fares. For comparison, the farebox recovery ratio for Metro buses is only about 20%; for MetroLink, almost 30%.
 
It's been clear from the beginning that the raison d'être for the Loop Trolley is economic development of the neighborhoods along the trolley line. What hasn't been clear is whether the trolley will serve a true public transit purpose. Given that the Loop Trolley seems to be fait accompli, St. Louis can only hope that the trolley becomes a success and leads to further economic development and expansion of a renewed streetcar network.

Delmar Loop retail study
{the Trolley project is meant to spur economic development such as this – depicted in a recent retail study}

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  • Douglas Duckworth

    Are these low floor vehicles where disabled people do not have to step up onto the streetcar?

    How will this support economic development if it’s single tracking, running every twenty minutes, and has a separate fare system from Metro? Developers thinking of building new along the line will want a lot of customers coming off the car and shopping. That will be reduced with such long headways and the fact that probably no one will transfer from Metro. Moreover, if it cannot be physically connected to new streetcar lines well this is basically obsolete right from the beginning by again limiting ridership brought to the front door of retailers.

    Why not delay an additional year or longer if that’s possible and drop the single track?  This would be better than supporting a technology now which would be incompatible with others down the road.  The cost of replacing this system would be really high and that’s what Toronto is doing with their Scarborough RT.

    “Along DeBaliviere, there has been a need to preserve driveways crossing the tracks and greenway into many properties on the east side of DeBaliviere, the Crossroads school in particular.”

    Why? Easement or other objection?

    • Alex Ihnen

      Seems to me that the streetcar should then run in a median on DeBaliviere and avoid conflict with the driveways.

    • http://www.gatewaystreets.org/ Herbie Markwort

      Even if the vehicles were low floor, they would still require a step up from the platform as the platforms are little more than standard sidewalk curb bump-outs.

      Many of the properties on the east side of DeBaliviere lack access to any other streets or alleys, thus the present need to maintain driveways.

  • Guest

    Pushed back yet again.  Just cancel it.  Stopping at every driveway?  I won’t ever ride it just because it’s not tied into the Metro system.  HUGE mistake in my mind.  The way this is setup, it will be closed in 3 years.  Wow…once again STL waters down a once decent proposal.

    • Douglas Duckworth

      Did you read that retail study? Apparently building streetcars and doing “transit oriented development” requires more parking. Sounds like this will be a cheaper, educational alternative to Six Flags. Park your SUV and pay three dollars so your kids can understand how transit used to operate in Saint Louis. Only back then it was a system while this line can never be integrated into one. 

      I wonder if voters would support MODOT building a highway that only goes in one direction and does not connect to others?

  • Scott Ogilvie

    You can’t build a comprehensive street car network without building the first 2.2 miles. This is the project that people figured out a way to fund, so this is what is getting built. It will be able to connect to other potential future lines going east or south. Nothing about it makes it obsolete from the beginning.

    The reason it couldn’t be run by Metro is that Metro incurred a ton of debt building the last MetroLink extension – Which was a locally funded project. We have the unfortunate circumstance of being in a state which provides zero public transportation funding while it has gone on a statewide road-building bonanza. Metro also had the service cuts of 2008 & 2009, so was in no position to take on this project while it was being planned. As long as Missouri fails to support public transit, new routes are going to be a struggle – but you have to give credit to the folks who have figured out how to make this happen.

    I look at this as step #1 – If folks want to see this become a network, we’re going to need to figure out how to get Jeff City to step up, or continue to be creative with locally funded projects.

    • WOW!

       There is a lot of truth to this statement. This is just the first step.

    • http://www.gatewaystreets.org/ Herbie Markwort

      The need for the State of Missouri to pitch in with transit funding cannot be emphasized enough. Expansion of the Metro system, MetroLink in particular, is dependent on increased funding from the state.

    • Douglas Duckworth

      How can future streetcar lines integrate into this one which single tracks?  How can headways be increased? Neither can therefore it’s obsolete. It would be better to wait, raise more funds, and build a line which can connect to larger system. At the very least consideration should be made for running tighter headways. What if it gets really popular and single tracking limits that possibility! People walk away.

      As designed today, this could fail or do poorly. If that happened kiss ever having more streetcars in Saint Louis goodbye. Transit has to do well for people to support it. Why design something in flawed manner that limits its technological potential?

      If you wanted someone to start cycling would you loan them your $100 beater with a rusty chain, flat fire, and weathered seat? Or something that’s fast, comfortable, and actually gets them around town?

      What if future lines use different vehicles? That could pose problems for running them on this line, assuming it’s switched to normal tracking, given issues like platform height. Have these things been considered or is this a situation where a private company is building a line without consideration of the larger network? That situation is why North American cities took over all private transit companies because they were competing with each other and not providing quality service.

      • http://www.gatewaystreets.org/ Herbie Markwort

        Since last year, the trolley station at the MetroLink station has been http://www.gatewaystreets.org/2011/credit-j/” rel=”nofollow”>changed from single track to double track. I believe this change is sufficient to allow 10 minute headways on Delmar.

        As for vehicles, it is my understanding that the trolley is being designed so that it can easily be converted to run modern streetcars in the future. Theoretically, the only change that will be needed is to lengthen the platforms and raise them by a few inches.

        • Douglas Duckworth

          Fair enough, but 10 minute headways isn’t good enough if we’re talking about bringing back a streetcar system. Has anyone looked at the expenses associated with modifying the platforms both in terms of disruption and cost? 

    • Scott Ogilvie

      Even in the streetcar heydey, there were single tracks all over the place. This system is laying about as much track as it can afford with the current budget. From what I’ve heard it supports 10 minutes headways – although I can’t definitively confirm that. If demand warrants you can always build more double track or more passing tracks in the future. I don’t see how expansion is  limited – a south line could tie into the roundabout with ease, and an east line could diverge where the car is headed north on Debaliviere.

      • Douglas Duckworth

        Converting the system to double track after it’s single would create a lot of disruption and cost more than doing it now today.  That is something to be avoided.  I would suggest looking into the St. Clair Streetcar Line in Toronto to see how messing up implementation can bring a strong negative response from the public. 

        I believe running double track lines off the single track would create an even larger bottleneck with the potential for cars to bunch and basically make short turns impossible.   

        Why are planners arguing for more free parking and at the same time building a sub-par streetcar line? Charge for parking and use that money to partially fund the line. The Treasurer does that for his garages downtown.  Why is that model not being implemented for transportation systems which reduce our dependency on foreign oil?

    • jhoff1257

      Couldn’t agree more about Jeff City.  This current state government is a total embarrassment.  I also completely agree that you need to start somewhere when it comes to building these things (see KC).  Having said that, I am a huge supporter of transit, and would love to see this streetcar on Delmar.  I would just prefer to postpone it until there is enough money to build it in a straight line, double track it, have enough electricity to power ADA accessible cars, shorter headways, better hours, etc.  I also don’t think Metro needed to “take on this project.” I just think Metro and Loop Trolley (or whoever is planning on operating this) should work together to tie in some sort of transfer system.  Not asking Metro to fund or even operate this line.  Just want to be able to transfer between the two, after all it does connect with two Metro stations.  Honestly I don’t think thats too much to ask, again if we just waited until we could properly fund this project, I think it would be much better off in the long run.  If it opens and fails, streetcars will never roll the streets of St. Louis again, and nobody wants that.

    • John

      A a long term metro rider. I can’t see why to support a system that they operators and customer service issues and major bus changes from the addition to a system that I never cared for. and only recently used more often due to the speed and location now that it is to my home and work.

  • WOW!

    This is very disappointing to say the least. What makes this project viable? I think it will still be successful from a novelty or tourist standpoint, but the operation hours are a joke and the incompatible fee system will seriously hamper its transit effectiveness and economic development potential.

  • Guest Who

    I note that in FY 2011, the Tampa streetcar, which serves the popular tourist destination of Ybor City, was able to raise 22% of its funding from farebox recovery. Its goal is 25%. Does anyone think that 46% may be a little…optimistic? And if the farebox recovery does about half what they “project” or “hope”….where does that extra money come from?

    http://www.tecolinestreetcar.org/board/annual_report.pdf

    • http://www.gatewaystreets.org/ Herbie Markwort

      To be fair, other streetcar systems expect to have higher farebox recovery ratios than Tampa’s system. Seattle’s goal, for example, is 55%.

      • WOW!

         I’ve lived in Tampa on off for years. Delmar will be a lot more successful despite the sketchy planning. I’m not doubting the Loop Trolley will be a successful novelty toy that makes people oooh and awww. We just all know this could have been a lot better planned.

      • Alex Ihnen

        I believe that nationwide, receipts from the farebox average about 20% and I’ve not seen a system much higher than that. I guess it depends on the accounting, what costs you include, but like roads, these can’t be expected to be self-funded.

        • Douglas Duckworth

          Toronto is 70-80%.  Which is actually way too high and the result of austerity. Transit systems shouldn’t be funded by only farebox revenue as often capital improvements cost too much for that alone. There are also equity arguments.

        • Guest Who

          My argument isn’t with the subsidy, Alex. It’s with the 46% projection, which is so far from any other system’s reality that it makes me mistrust any other numbers that come out of this project. They need to address the issue of _why_ they think they can get 46% farebox recovery when almost every other system in the country, as you point out, is around 20%. That is my concern, not the fact that it is subsidized.

    • WOW!

       No! Ybor is similar to Delmar except Delmar is a lot cleaner with a denser residential, forest park and many more institutions nearby. The Delmar streetcar will be a lot more successful, there is also a lot more urban development potential on Delmar.

  • Douglas Duckworth

    test

  • Malbrite10

    Agreed 100% with Scott. While it’s fair to criticize and attempt to refine this project for the better, realize its potential for jump-starting a St. Louis streetcar network. Already those involved in the project have hinted at expansions, and downtown is studying the feasibility of a streetcar as we type.

  • jhoff1257

    I do have a question regarding the “meandering” tracks.  The article states:  
    “Along Delmar through the Loop, utilities have pushed the tracks towards the center of the street eliminating the center turn lane in many locations. The tracks swing outside to reach station stops before returning to the inside of the street. For bicyclists, the oscillating nature of the tracks will make Delmar a very dangerous road to travel.”

    Then the picture caption just under that:
    {the East Loop may see tracks meander back and forth across Delmar from median to curb}

    So here is my question.  Will the tracks meander back and forth between Trinity and the Delmar Metro station (the double track section), or just in the East Loop portion between DeBaliviere and the Delmar Station (the single track portion).

    Thanks!

    • http://www.gatewaystreets.org/ Herbie Markwort

      Whoops. The meandering tracks are only west of the MetroLink station. The single track “East Loop” portion of the route has not changed.

      • jhoff1257

        Thanks Herbie!  Though I must say I was hoping the Eastern section would be the meandering section.  

  • MiguelTejada82

    Hang on – 9 stops in 2.2 miles means a stop every 450 yards or so – roughly a 5 min walk.  Assume each stop requires at least 30 seconds for boarding/alighting and there’s 4.5 min spent on stops.  Assume again that there’s an additional 2-3 minutes that will be lost at traffic lights, but you’d deal with that if you were in a car.  But now add the expected travel speed (25mph tops, probably will average 10) – and you’re looking at a 20 minute trip for something that should take, at most, 10 in heavy traffic.  This for a system that doesn’t work with Metro fares?  And doesn’t connect population centers with emloyment?  Why would anyone ride it???  It would have been much better to make it run from the Metrolink Station down Delmar and then turn turn down Big Bend and terminate at Clayton, passing Wash-U, Fontbonne, Concordia, and St. Mary’s Hospital.  Can then be a circulator from Skinker, accessing the park and the Demun area. 

  • Luftmentsch

    Stop this thing now before we waste another dollar. People, there is NOTHING on Debaliviere that is going to draw visitors from the Loop on a consistent basis. Have you looked at the visitor figures for the Missouri History Museum? They’re paltry. Where else can you walk to after getting off the “trolley?” A run of the mill playground, tennis courts, and a visitors’ center, i.e. not much. The talk of TOD flies in the face of what’s happened around transit in other parts of the city. Remember all the promises about TOD on the Shrewsbury Metrolink line? Ok, now look at Brentwood Station, where Dierberg’s turned its back on the Metrolink. Or how about Sunnen Station where a brand new development opportunity is being squandered even as I write.

    Who in this town is going to create the exciting new TOD along the streetcar tracks in the Loop? Joe Edwards, you say! Sure, but he’s already doing what he can, and it’s happening really really slow. How is this expensive, slow-moving, un-airconditioned train going to speed up development? Where are the developers willing to overlook the youth drug market at Forest Park Metrolink station? If they’re out there, then why haven’t they invested in this area already?

    This project is going to fail, and when it does it’s going to bring further discredit to public transportation in general, which is very very sad.

    A serious streetcar – one that goes between a residential area and an employment center or between two already vibrant districts – would be a great idea. Until that time, this is worse than nothing.

  • MrBobaloo

    This is the right project, and like everyone else says you have to start somewhere. Despite comments about setting up double-tracks and holding off until “the right project,” this is the time and the place to build a trolley, and the best plan.

    This trolley would still have growth potential with a single track system, in my opinion. If demand for the trolley indicates that more than one train would need to be run at a single time, they could build an extended loop of track around Forest Park, linking directly to Art Hill, the Zoo, etc. You could run more than one trolley at a time when you are using the full Forest Park track. On days which have less ridership, they would only run the single-track from the Loop to the History museum.

    Great plan, great opportunity, great growth potential. I say let’s roll forward.