Critical Choices Ahead for St. Louis Transit

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There are many public transit “maybes” in St. Louis right now. Its been eight years since the eight mile MetroLink Blue Line opened in 2006, but its not clear where the next substantial transit expansion will be built. Political leadership hasn’t established a top priority among a handful of proposals. Population density drives transit ridership as much as any other factor, but will the next expansion serve the most densely populated part of St. Louis? And Metro, stuck with long-term debt from the last MetroLink expansion and perpetually starved for state funding, operates in an extremely constrained capital expenditure environment.

While state funding is MIA, what isn’t in question is demand for transit. Metro’s routes that connect dense residential areas with employment or educational centers have high ridership. While Metro has acknowledged that a major network expansion is off the table without an additional revenue stream, independent groups are pushing their own transit initiatives. Even MoDOT’s surveys show St. Louis area residents want transit expansion more than they want additional road capacity.

Years of regional leadership equivocating on transit priorities have left us with a long list of possibilities: the North/South MetroLink alignment, the Downtown Streetcar, Bus Rapid Transit, and the Loop Trolley. But which of theses projects most enhances the existing network? No one at the top of the political/transit heap has expressed a strong preference for any of them.

What does transit look like when its not driven by the region’s transit agency? The default test case for transit expansion absent a clear regional strategy is the Loop Trolley. The 2.2 mile on-street project scored an FTA Urban Circulator grant of $25 million in 2010. Other funding for the $44 million project is derived from institutional contributions and a sales tax overlay along the route.

Delays with the project since the federal grant announcement lay bare the limitations of this arrangement. Building and running a streetcar line, even just 2.2 miles of track, is no easy task. While Metro isn’t a flashy agency, it does possess the engineering and financial expertise to plan and execute a project. The Loop Trolley Company, while a great expression of transit-desire bootstrapping, simply doesn’t have the same expertise available. By mid 2013, in danger of losing their federal funding for not showing sufficient progress, Metro stepped in and loaned their chief engineer Chris Poehler to the effort. They’ve since been able to meet deadlines set by the FTA, but it remains to be seen whether the Loop Trolley can stay on sound fiscal footing without being tethered to the guaranteed revenue stream of a larger transit agency. The groundbreaking date for the project still isn’t firm. Meanwhile Cincinnati’s streetcar, awarded the same federal grant in 2010, broke ground in early 2012 and despite political fireworks around its construction, remains projected to open in 2016.

Going forward, it should be clear Metro needs to be the lead agency on transit projects. The political liability of another false start is too high. St. Louis already has a fractured political landscape, the region can’t handle a jigsaw puzzle of transit agencies.

The original MetroLink line was built primarily in available railroad right of way. All the new proposals are street running. While street running systems tend to be more expensive and complicated to build, they also have the distinct advantage of more route options and highly visible, accessible stations. A street running system goes where people already are, it’s built directly into the existing urban fabric. In St. Louis, that means an urban fabric that grew up around the pre-1950’s streetcar system. The dense, fine grained residential and commercial environment in south St. Louis was built to allow people to walk to their streetcar (we should remind ourselves they were practically everywhere) and will function in largely the same way when that infrastructure returns.

A large part of south St. Louis, from I-44 on the north to Carondelet Park on the south, and Broadway on the east to past Kingshighway on the west, contains block after block of intact multifamily flats and densely packed single family homes. This large area suffered almost none of the neighborhood clearance of the central corridor in the 1950s and 60s and very little of the vacancy that affects north St. Louis. Population density ranges from 7,000 to 13,000 people per square mile. Outside of a few blocks of the Central West End, this is the highest in the region.

The three major proposals on the drawing board consist of 5+ transit lines. What should alarm both transit advocates and riders is only one of five proposals serves the densely populated, built-for-transit southside. And sadly, its the proposal that no one, not even Metro, is talking about. Metro has barely uttered the words, “MetroLink South” since they finalized the preferred route in 2008.

Why is no one talking about MetroLink South? Without an investment by the state of Missouri, there’s no chance to pay for it in the near future. But there can be little argument this area is the best suited to deliver high ridership on a new line. While the region has an abundance of east and west transportation options, fewer run north and south. South St. Louis has the demographic mix most likely to want and use transit. Bus Rapid Transit between downtown and the Chesterfield Mall will be built before downtown is connected to the population dense, car optional southside.

North of downtown, the MetroLink North route and the Natural Bridge BRT line would follow essentially the same alignment. The lower capital cost of BRT and lighter touch infrastructure means Metro can move some of the same people MetroLink North would serve, for a fraction of the upfront cost. The region has no funding plan for MetroLink South, and is actively pursuing a bus line that replicates MetroLink North. Metro should pull back the curtain and admit that building the North/South Metrolink alignment is already off the table for most of our lifetimes.

A glance at the Metro system map shows they provide bus service to almost the entire 584 square miles of St. Louis City and County. Because St. Louis County, with its larger population and sales tax base, actually pays the bulk of the tab for Metro, their mandate is to cover as much of the County as possible. Where most other transit agencies can prioritize service on the busiest routes, Metro’s busiest buses (the 70/Grand) leaves riders on the sidewalk while routes like the 210/Fenton Gravois Bluffs serve few passengers. This shotgun approach to resource allocation means Metro also generates less fare revenue from each route than they could.

What’s the funding solution that allows Metro to make decisions based on where the most riders are? Is it an additional sales tax like the Loop Trolley is using, or property tax surcharges like the Downtown Streetcar has proposed? I’d argue its neither. Even a modest funding stream from the state of Missouri, on the order of $20 to $30 million a year, would allow Metro to prioritize service improvements to routes with the most ridership. $20 million a year represents only .2% of the state’s discretionary budget, while it would account for around 8% of Metro’s annual budget.

The region’s fractured, dysfunctional political infrastructure is again failing its physical infrastructure. There’s no funding strategy to get light-rail to the location that would most benefit from it, while regional leadership is leaving the transit discussion to second tier players. Business and industrial leadership aren’t using their leverage at the state level to secure a modest, reliable stream of funding from the state. Metro’s current funding mechanism is pushing them to chase new sprawl in Chesterfield over built-for-transit south St. Louis. While the abundance of transit possibilities create a veneer of progress, the region is quietly in a public transit state of crisis.

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  • T-Leb

    South StL can thrive easily with some better transit options, good to see it agreed to that South StL is the most dense area in population.
    Sadly, when the latest Metrolink expansion went over budget and the unpleasant lawsuit happened, I knew this town would be done stomaching new transit construction for a bit. StL big institutions like Barnes and WashU have their part, no one really left to rally for further expansion.

  • http://yastlblog.blogspot.com/ Kevin Barbeau

    It’s definitely a tough (and frustrating) spot we find ourselves in with transit implementation. Metro is beholden to the County for the tax money it provides and thus must utilize funding/resources for areas of the region that, frankly, don’t and won’t use it. Even within the City proper, this damnable north/south divide makes it impossible to implement a project in one area without at least a separate-but-equal project in the other (just look at the YMCA issue).

    A Southside Metrolink line is a no-brainer — hitting the City’s densest neighborhoods and burgeoning commercial districts. And maintaining a pretty strong socio/demo diversity while doing so! It would (well, should) stabilize and improve a large swath of the Southside, while creating more opportunities for work and travel to the City’s and County’s business centers.

    It frustrates me to no end that a Southside line (extending up, as a start, to Hyde Park/Old North) isn’t on a fast-track as a regional priority. It scares me too — I’m in Chicago right now (an unfair transit comparison, sure), and I don’t know if I can go back to a system as thin, lacking and disrespected as that which we currently have in STL.

    Hell, at this point, I think Madison County may end up being our best transit partner. Get a two-hour heavy rail line there and see if their tax base is willing to support a stronger city system…

    • Joe Schmoe

      I hear a lot of ignorant comments about expanding to South City and forgetting about North City. There are plenty of dense and stable neighborhoods in North St. Louis City. It is not all bombed out like the near Northside. I can tell that many people on this forum have not spent much time north of Delmar. I support all of St. Louis City and although I’m an urbanist I would be completely against a South City line without a North City counterpart and my decision has nothing to do with race, is about logic and system balance.

      • dempster holland

        I have spent considerable time in my 76 years in North St Louis and
        I can assure you that there is no existing rail right of ways through
        the main parts of north st Louis. There are rail lines between
        Broadway and the river out to Baden and then a route west along the far
        northern portion of the city. This would probably not be very productive
        for north St Louisans but not too bad for portions of north county. For
        this reason it may turn out to just go with the south side. And, as a life
        long St Louisan, I assure you that a lot of the need to serve both sides
        of the city is about race. Having said that, I recognize that your view
        is pretty common and for that reason, building just a South
        Side line would be politically difficult. even if it was agreed that from
        a transit cost-benefit view it may be the best course, and even though
        many African Americans are well-served by the existing metrolink

        ..

        • jhoff1257

          The historic Hodiamont Line runs though several North Side neighborhoods from Vandeventer and Enright to the City Limits. Granted it’s fairly close to Delmar, but I think it would work if streetcars were to make a revival in St. Louis.

          • dempster holland

            This was not a grade-separated right of way such as is
            common with railroads and thus would not have the speed
            advantages of a grad-separated light rail line

          • Eric4364

            With infrequent stops and traffic signal priority, you can get most of the advantages of grade separation.

            There are two situations when you need grade separation:
            1) The line is really long and needs to maintain a high average speed with infrequent stops, or
            2) traffic volume is high enough that trains (and stops) must be longer than a city block, or so frequent that they would block most perpendicular traffic.

            2) unfortunately will not be true in STL for the forseeable future. 1) is true in the county, but not the city. So neither is relevant here.

        • http://yastlblog.blogspot.com/ Kevin Barbeau

          I always imagined running the Southside Metrolink in the De Soto right-of-way (maybe STL does a land swap with Union Pacific giving them more space for river-edge trackage) into downtown via some sort of Loop system (street-level, elevated or underground — not sure), then running at street-level through North St. Louis (say, Florissant…)

      • Alex Ihnen

        The density argument clearly points to South City transit. I would add that people who think South City, especially the most dense parts of entire region shown in purple above, are far from being some kind of white, anti-North City enclave. IMO – the North-South debate is an old and aging construct – why not talk about density and who would be served by transit? I genuinely support all of St. Louis City as well, but a “balanced” system predicated on simply places lines both north and south doesn’t make sense.

        • Joe Schmoe

          I never said South St. Louis was a white, anti-North City enclave. In fact, the proposed N-S line would past through a bunch of majority black neighborhoods in south city. It seems like you and dempster are the ones most concerned about skin pigmentation in this debate, I’m really not. My point is that single south city line would not make the system that much better to justify such a short spur. Seems like a lot of people here are thinking small and provincial, my ideas about expansion are a lot broader and inclusive. A single southside line through the city would be DOA and rightfully so because its a stupid idea, but obviously it would be played politically as racial/social dynamite just to bring it to a halt. I’m an advocate for full build-out or nothing, A line from N 270 to S 270 literally has the potential to transform the region, a south city spur of a couple miles doesn’t. There also way more transit dependent people in north county than south county and despite what dempster says they are not all appropriately served by the red line.

          • http://yastlblog.blogspot.com/ Kevin Barbeau

            A short spur? The proposed Southside alternative and the De Soto ROW runs between 7-9 miles!

            I see no problem with building a line in the City’s densest area besides, as I said above, the all-too-common “if South, then North” hemming and hawing.

            From a pure business standpoint, it makes the most sense to build a Metrolink line from the place where the most people are to the City’s downtown core (a City lives and dies by its downtown’s ability to nourish business, culture and activity).

            Now, boarding fares and passes certainly won’t cover costs of operation, but it’ll come a LOT closer than doubling the length to serve the far-reaching suburbs or providing it as a social service to areas with low population.

            If a Southside line is successful, guess what!? It’s more likely that other efforts will be fast-tracked. Maybe those South Countiers who balked before will decide its time to build and connect to the southern City terminus. Maybe that short Northside spur (say, Old North/Hyde Park area) encourages activity and development. From there, you build out further north.

          • STLEnginerd

            Every transit line starts somewhere. It SHOULD be designed to expand in either direction but it should START at the current metrolink. Then it has to pick a direction. The main arguement here is that it should head south FIRST. The simple answer is density and the bigger answer is the bigger the success the better the case will be for expansion.

            Now if you say why not build both direction I will tell you the COUNTY voters who fund alot more of the metrolink than anyone will likely not appreciate it and will probably kill it. A complete southside line will serve the county might satisfy that political block. It might not be the most efficient way to build but the city can’t afford to fight amongst themselves because the county can kill any proposal if its not satisfied by what it gets from it.

  • moe

    Very true…the most logical choice would be a n/s Grand route. But there are no big draws at either end. The only big player is SLU, and they have their station already. Now, if the northside would get a EJ expansion or some major player, then….

    However, we also have to be realistic. Spending millions upon millions for fluff trolleys to try and bring back the past is folly. Trolleys are folly! It doesn’t matter whether it is local, state, or Federal $$$….Common sense needs to come in and ask how much is too much to spend?

    • rgbose

      The Grand Metrolink station really only serves the Grand bus line.

      There would be plenty of money had we not built the Page Ave x, Hwy 370, and the Musial Bridge

      • moe

        the problem with that RG, is that most of that money was State and Federal. While Federal is a bit more…shall we say flexible, with State money it’s a whole different ballgame of people in the woods asking why they should support busses and rail lines when they can’t even get 1 bus. But yes, there has been money in the past…just poorly spent.
        And I would think the Grand Station could be relatively easily expanded as needed.

      • JD

        What in the world did you just say? That comment shows your total ignorance on the topic of how transportation is funded. Do people in st.charles who pay 20% of fuel taxes/car sales tax and who acually partly funded Page Ex not deserve their money going towards something they want. Right or wrong they choose to live there and they want page ex. But yeah let’s not build it and use that money for metro Link expansion in the city that even metro doesn’t think is worth considering the low ridership projections

    • matty_fred

      Agreed that a N/S Grand route is now the most logical choice, given what appears to be a lack of political will to build the N/S “locally-preferred alternative” N/S MetroLink alignment depicted in the map above.

      What would make most sense to me would be a N/S Grand BRT route similar to what Chicago is attempting to do on Ashland. The Ashland BRT will have actual station platforms, which gives the line a bit more of permanency. Moreover and for permanency’s sake, actual station platforms would allow for an easy transfer to streetcar rails. CTA estimates that it will cost $10 million per mile for its Ashland line. Using that estimate for a N/S Grand BRT line, we’re talking roughly $90 million.

      Here’s CTA’s Ashland BRT link: http://www.transitchicago.com/ashlandbrt/

  • dempster holland

    As I recall, when the increased transit sales tax was enacted, it was stated that one
    new light rail line would be built in the first ten years. As Mr Ogilve states, it now
    appears that the debt service for the Shrewsbury line is using up such a large
    amount of the sales tax increase that there are no funds for another light rail
    extension. About two years ago, Metro published its balance sheet and there
    was a huge amount of debt–in the hundreds of millions–that would not be paid
    off for twenty or thirty years. This raises the question whether the voters were
    adequately informed about the prospects for additional light rail lines when they
    approved the increase in the sales tax.
    On the planning side, it should be noted that the north south line is not just
    one that serve the city. In its fullest extent, it serves south county out to
    South county shopping center and north county out to 270. The best route
    through south St Louis would be along the MoPac desoto branch, which is an
    existing rail line that possibly could be purchased. This would provide a true
    grade-separated light rail line for south St Louis that would present the same
    advantages as the original light rail line in terms of speed. There is no comparable
    rail right of way through north St Louis, but in terms of racial balance, African
    Americans now live in inner suburbs northwest of the city and are therefore
    served by the existing light rail line through Pagedale, Wellston, Normandy etc
    Thus building a south-only metrolink line would not discriminate against
    African Americans, although the politicians could no doubt not resist the oppor-
    tunity for rhetoric
    I am all for nostalgia, but I do not think building a rail line on existing
    streets gives much of a time-saved advantage over buses, and therefore
    is no really worth the expenditure

    • Danny

      Just my anecdotal experience, but I remember being informed several times before the Prop A vote in 2010 that no system expansion would occur without the commitment of significant state funding. It was clear to me that Prop A would ALLOW for eventual expansion to occur by keeping the system operational, but that it wouldn’t actually be funding any expansion.

      Where does the DeSoto line run? Would it provide easy, visible connectivity from where people actually live and need to go to in the City?

      • dempster holland

        As to the light rail promises, see the answer from Thomas Shrout above.
        He is the former director Citizens for Modern Transit.
        The Desoto line (generally)leaves the Mill creek main line between
        Jefferson and Grand, then runs southwest to near the corner
        of Shaw and Kingshighway, the south just east of the Hill, then
        back southeast to Carondolet Park. From there there is an aban-
        doned right of way which meanders through South County to near
        the South county shopping center, part of which is now a Greenway
        bike/hike trail Using figures from an early 1970s study, I determined
        that this was the third most cost-effective rapid transit route, the
        first two being the original Metrolink line and the second being the
        Kirkwood commuter line. It has numerous bus connections and
        serves a good part of south st Louis.

    • Thomas R Shrout Jr

      Dempster you got it right about Prop A — restore bus service that was cut and build one LRT line in 10 years (2020) was the promise.Metro discussed BRT during the campaign which in my estimation there is little public support for. My experience is politicians who don’t ride transit like BRT.

    • eric4653

      “The best route through south St Louis would be along the MoPac desoto branch, which is an existing rail line that possibly could be purchased.”

      No, that’s a pretty bad route. Even if you can purchase it (not at all guaranteed that they’ll agree to sell), it’s very windy, and mostly goes through unpopulated industrial areas where few people will want to take it.

      • dempster holland

        with the relatively fast speed of light rail, it doesnt matter that much
        that it is windy.Also, it has good bus connections, and should
        substantially reduce the travel time to downtown; A fair amount
        of light rail use is from bus transfers, Also, it doesn’t matter as
        much what the area is between stations as it does where there
        are stations Around potential stations are hose west of Botanical
        Heights, at Kingshighway/shaw; at arsenel west of Kingshghway;
        Morganford/Gravois area/ Delor ; Grand near Carondolet, etc

        • http://yastlblog.blogspot.com/ Kevin Barbeau

          Count me among those who prefers the separated De Soto route as a first effort over the Jefferson/55 surface line.

          Of course, my vision (picture included upthread) is contingent on Union Pacific vacating the route, setting a long-term single-use lease to the City, and the City turning over some LRA space for additional UP trackage on its Lesperance line.

          Driving the De Soto route, there is great opportunity for TOD there already and, frankly, a fair amount of multi-family/single-family residential immediately adjacent what would be its station stops. And, as you said, Dempster, there are some stront E-W and N-S bus routes to which it could directly connect.

          The only thing I might consider changing in my map is going subterranean under Tower Grove Park and Tower Grove Ave. before hooking up with the Red/Blue line near the trainyards. Very cost prohibitive though with the dig down — maybe a future B-Line to alternate with the A-Line hitting The Hill, K’Hwy and SW Gardens… :)

          Also, just a quick walk from the Metrolink station at Chippewa to hit Civil Life!

  • David Montgomery

    It seems we really need to focus on getting the state to pony up a bit for transit in STL and KC; any suggestions on what we as citizens can do to make this happen? I’m not sure why, with such a large percentage of the population living in those two metros, its always been so hard to accomplish
    .

    • moe

      Easy…get rid of the republicans! Seriously though…there is a huge mind set difference between the rural and urban…always has been. But with the recent turn in political discourse, it has sunk to a new low. I think people in the Urban areas would be far more willing to fund transportation projects in the rural counties that we would never use, than the rural counties would be willing to fund projects that they will never use. They see us as takers, yet we are the power houses of the State.

      • Eric4364

        Someone should do a calculation of what % of transportation money is spent in each county in the state, and what % of people live in those counties.

        I’d bet that St Louis city & county get very low spending compared to population. But I’d like to see it in numbers.

  • Thomas R Shrout Jr

    Great piece. Thanks Scott.

  • John

    Well, let’s secede into Illinois. I’m sure they would be happy to have us and they’ll help pay for our transit projects like they do for Chicago.

  • John

    So then how about St. Louis moves to Illinois? They’ll do much more to help us out. Missouri doesn’t give a shit about us, so fuck ‘em. Let’s become St. Louis, IL.

    • Anonymous

      I think you might quickly discover that “Illinois doesn’t give a shit about us”.

      • John

        They paid for their part of the MetroLink and I think the State would job right on the idea of having another big city. It would never happen, but shit, if the opportunity arose…I would want us to seize it. They would take much better care of us

        • dempster holland

          And which would you rather be with:: the good ol boys of the
          SEC, or the public Ivies of the Big Ten?

      • moe

        Agree… Illinois has the same problem. They have Springfield and Chicago, we have Kansas City and St. Louis.

  • John

    Why the hell are there 3 identical lines going into Old North? How about picking ONE of them and then putting the other two somewhere else? For example, put the North MetroLink on Jefferson instead and let the streetcar do its own thing. Put a BRT line on Grand or Kingshighway. Seriously, though, the South Side needs something as well. I say that once half the funding is in place for the N-S MetroLink line, start on the South line immediately. Then, for a bit, the South side will have that and the North side will have its streetcar. When more funding becomes available, build the North side MetroLink line.

    • Alex Ihnen

      IMO there’s a real lack of clarity regarding what’s being proposed (this is the fault of Metro and our political leaders). A North-South street running “MetroLink” line is virtually synonymous with a streetcar. Not exactly perhaps – if one’s trying to build transit to the suburbs there are presumably fewer stations and perhaps the line runs in an old railroad right-of-way at some point, but a streetcar would never be replaced by MetroLink.

      • John

        What is the difference between a street-running MetroLink line and a streetcar? They seem to be pretty much the same except the MetroLink cars are bigger than streetcars, although I guess a streetcar could be designed to be just as big (as opposed to smaller, like the Loop Trolley)…if there’s demand for that many seats, anyway.

        If there really is no difference?

        I thought the N-S MetroLink line would be built on elevated overpasses like in Brentwood (or Chicago?). Now that it seems like they’re just streetcars basically, then I think we should just go ahead with the streetcar idea. That said, if we’re only going to have money to build the one shown in the picture, I would say we should change it so that it copies the N-S MetroLink line. Have the streetcar run along Jefferson…or Kingshighway!

        • eric4653

          There’s no inherent difference. There are two big questions about a light rail/streetcar line: whether it has separate lanes from cars, and how often its stops are. But in a city like St Louis with wide streets, streetcars should have separate lanes too. And transit planners will tell you that all transit (even streetcar and regular bus) should have infrequent stops, like every 300-500 meters, so there isn’t much difference there either.

          This was not always the case. Less than 20 years ago, low-floor electric rail vehicles were invented. Before that, you had the choice between light rail with high platforms that wouldn’t fit on normal streets (like current MetroLink), and streetcars with steps (inherently slow inefficient boarding). We aren’t going to tear out the high platforms we currently have, but all future systems will have low platforms (basically curbs), which allows them to fit cheaply on a normal street, like Natural Bridge or Jefferson or Gravois.

          • dempster holland

            Good point, but there is still the problem of cross traffic

          • John

            So basically a streetcar is just cheaper to build? The cost estimate of the Central Corridor streetcar is way lower than that of the N-S MetroLink. I think maybe we should go ahead with the streetcar option first. However, for this Central Corridor streetcar to work, there must be a N-S line with its own dedicated lanes.

          • STLEnginerd

            Not exactly. The cost to build may be slightly lower but estimates are not apples to apples. I’ve heard that the biggest expense for the N-S metrolink is modifying the viaduct across the railroad track. The streetcar on Olive doesn’t cross the viaduct, therefore no direct comparison of cost can be made on a per mile basis.

            The real question is and should always be which one delivers more VALUE. Thats always debatable but I would contend that a Southside line would do more to expand service which is a key part of metros mission, and recenter transit around downtown.

  • TimJim

    I’m all for expanding MetroLink on the south side, but why along Jefferson? Seems like this route expands on what is already MetroLink’s major weakness: too few stations where people really want to be. How about Soulard, the brewery, south grand?. And I don’t think the Chesterfield route would be a bad idea (shame for not doing it when 40 was rebuilt). Building support for public transit means making it attractive to people who have choices, like people in West County. Well, it’s all a transit pipe dream at this point as our rural/conservative-dominated state legislature won’t provide even a modicum of funding.

    • Alex Ihnen

      Will never understand support for mass transit along I-64 corridor. If nothing else, the map above once again shows that such a line would traverse the least dense part of our metro area. People in West County do not have choices due to how that area was developed. A light rail line would fail miserably for lack of density and certain opposition to any added density. That investment idea is exactly what this article points to as a massive flaw in our current system.

  • Alex Ihnen

    I see the challenge being that Metro may never serve the transit needs of the City without a change in leadership and/or mission. If its goal is to connect 90%+ of all jobs in the region with 90%+ of the people in the region, we will never have a functional transit system that encourages economic growth and car-optional living. It sounds good, but what Metro is saying is that they’re going to spread their resources so thin as to have little impact. Anyway, with the funding realities as they are, I would wholeheartedly support a BRT network across the city/county. For the cost of ~10mi of MetroLink, we could have robust BRT lines on Broadway, Jefferson, Gravois, Grand, Kinsgshighway, Natural Bridge and Manchester. Why not? Metro can do a network of BRT and streetcars can still be considered as a separate project (assuming Metro maintains its stance that streetcars aren’t a regional transportation solution and therefor will not be considered in planning).

    • rgbose

      Metro understands that a person’s most important trip is to work, so they serve that. The problem is a larger one of job sprawl and sprawl in general. Metro’s attempt to span the breadth of St Louis City and County prevents it from having the kind of frequency needed to make bus riding convenient. Ex I waited more than 30 mins last night for a bus because one was early and the next one was late. Lame. We need to combat the larger problem.
      Can the BRT routes have their own lanes and traffic signal control?

      • Alex Ihnen

        I’d rather tackle the immense challenge of getting Metro to focus on urban/sustainable transit (or creating new entities) than the quixotic fixing sprawl.

        • jhoff1257

          Would it be crazy to suggest re-creating something similar to the St. Louis Public Service Company or St. Louis Transit to build and operate modern streetcars throughout the City? Leave Metro to build long distance light/commuter lines for suburban destinations?

          • eric4653

            It doesn’t matter what you call the organization – the funding just isn’t there.

          • jhoff1257

            That wasn’t my point. My point is that Metro pretty much has dedicated itself to building transit throughout the region. Well the City is only 11% of the region. Even if the money is there, you wouldn’t be seeing much activity within the City, where transit is mostly needed. Create another organization that can compete for federal (maybe state) dollars to expand transit in the City. Metro clearly can’t get it done.

          • http://yastlblog.blogspot.com/ Kevin Barbeau

            Or just see if St. Louisans are willing to support a local Metro transit tax through which money raised is ONLY for projects in the City.

            Not necessarily condoning yet another transit tax, but think that might be the only way to move forward without being weighed down by the County’s needs and/or disinterest.

  • Sam Coffey

    Scott Ogilvie for Mayor! We need North and South rail. South is a great start to prove that the North will work. Before you know it we might be able to ride the Link to Ted Drewes and then hop on a train to Hyde park, yes please.

    • Danny

      Isn’t Ald. Ogilvie saying that N-S MetroLink line is likely off the table for at least a generation? He said that Metro is actively trying to replace a hypothetical North Metrolink line with BRT and there is no funding source or plan for a South rail line. For that reason, he argues that we need to lobby the state for additional funding to improve bus service in south City at a fraction of the cost of rail. It would be great if we could have a N-S Metrolink line, but since he’s saying that there is very little possibility that it will happen for at least a couple of decades, I agree with his conclusion that we should focus on finding state funding to improve bus service in south City in the meantime.

      • Scott Ogilvie

        I’m calling attention to the fact that Metro has already quietly, indefinitely postponed MetroLink North and especially MetroLink South. The only way to change that is to add to / change Metro’s revenue / funding situation. I guess I’ll address that more directly in another column. My personal opinion is that MetroLink South is the highest value expansion that Metro could build.

        • Joe Schmoe

          I think the region (at least St. Louis City/County) should rally behind a fully built N-S Metrolink expansion (270 to 270). It would benefit every demographic and could be something everyone could agree upon. What can the City of St. Louis do to promote Metrolink expansion in the city? Could the mayor and board of alderman better lobby the state and MoDOT?

          • dempster holland

            you are correct that politically this is the best route. Add the
            westport line and it is even better. From a transit improvement
            perspective, this would be a major step, even though the north
            side line in the city may suffer from on-street routing

          • Joe Schmoe

            Not trying to come off as a jerk or make this a racial/socioeconomic issue, because in all honesty I want what is best for all of St. Louis. We just have to be honest and admit that if the next metrolink line gets off the ground, a strictly southside line would be dead in the water for multiple reasons. I say southsiders (whether black, white, red or yellow) get behind a fully built N-S line that will do more for the city/county in the long run. Most of us know that South St. Louis in 2014 is nothing like South St. Louis in 1974 and its probably the most ethnically diverse area in the region, but any proposal to expands in the city without the inclusion of the northside is DOA! My point is any future metrolink extension is going to take some serious coalition building.

          • John R

            The other thing is that Northside Regeneration is likely to boost prospects of bringing federal $$ to the table.

  • Joe Schmoe

    A generation to build another LRT line? Ha! If St. Louis leadership thinks we will be economically competitive in a generation without rapidly expanding our transit system, were are in bigger trouble than I thought. BRT is no substitute for LRT. The honest truth is we need both and have no financial strategy to get either. Prop A was a fraud election.

  • Thomas

    Some ideas I’ve thought would be logical next steps for Metro:

    1) Am I the only one that thinks running a light rail / streetcar / BRT line south along Tucker downtown picking up Gravois southwest-bound down to maybe River Des Peres cuts a better slice of density and thriving neighborhoods than following Jefferson straight south? It seems that the current Metrolink lines are decently close to dense areas but most are just a little to far for a convenient walk to. Running down Gravois hits the edges of Soulard and Lafayette Square, Tower Grove / South Grand and onward would provide the largest number of people with true car-optional travel. Another option would be to head west when it intersects with Chippewa and (maybe this is pie in the sky) connect with that ill-fated Shrewsbury terminal to make a southside loop.

    2) The Shrewsbury line could benefit from a short extension that allows for direct (no transfer) travel to the airport. Instead of having to stop at Forest Park and wait for another train (people don’t like not knowing how long it will take to get to the airport), would it be that difficult to have a spur go up Skinker and intersect with the Northbound red line in the Loop somewhere? You would make travelling to the airport competitive time-wise with driving for almost everyone riding that line, and it would be cheaper than a more direct but very costly and politically impossible line up 170.

    • STLgasm

      I completely agree with you and think the rail line should run along Tucker/Gravois. This seems to make a lot of sense to me because it slices right through the heart of South City and would serve so many different neighborhoods. I envision stops at Chouteau, Lafayette, Russell, Jefferson, Compton, Cherokee, Grand, Gustine, Chippewa, Morganford, Kingshighway, and Hampton. THAT would truly be a game-changer for St. Louis. Not to mention Gravois is wide enough to accommodate a train and auto traffic is fairly light. Also, it is densely-built and perfectly suited for walking and transit. Just think of the development opportunities along that route. I think Natural Bridge is equally vital for the North Side and presents many great development opportunities as well.

      WHY ISN’T THIS THE #1 PRIORITY FOR THE CITY OF ST. LOUIS?

      • T-Leb

        Big institutions already have their metro stop. UMSL, WashU, Barnes, Downtown, Airport…

        • STLgasm

          Yeah, but their Metro stop doesn’t connect to the places I mentioned in my post. So its in those institutions’ best interest to have a more expanded rail network that serves other parts of the city.

      • John R

        There is enough room for transit, autos and a bike lane on that monster.

      • Steve Kluth

        Gravois is wide enough south to Chippewa, but it would be difficult to fit between Chippewa and Bevo Mill especially under the rail viaduct. You could run it south on Grand (or Gustine) from Gravois, then west on Delor (which is not that busy) to get it back to Gravois. But I really don’t see the point of running it down Gravois at that point.

        Your proposed line could be the start of a South Side Circulator. To toss out a potential route (and I admit it probably can be improved) Tucker, Gravois, Utah, Fyler, Morganford, Oleatha, Sublette, Southwest, Macklind, Shaw, Tower Grove, Manchester, Choteau, Compton, Olive, and back to Tucker. Of course, the line would also run in reverse. This connects a huge part of the South Side including several business, restaurant, and residential districts. I’d prefer to run it down Chippewa from Gravois, but it is also too narrow under the viaduct between Gravois and Meramec.

  • Steve Kluth

    A north-south city line along Grand could do wonders to expand transit usability, either light rail or more probably streetcar. Starting from Carondolet Park, it could head north to Fairgrounds Park and then west ending at the old Army Center on Goodfellow. If it’s too difficult to fit on parts of Grand (South Grand restaurant area, SLU, Fox Theater area), it could jog slightly east or west on Spring or Arkansas.

  • Tpekren

    Scott, Appreciate your comments and insight. But I ask of one thing, can we move on with the political reality or at least recognize that the state isn’t going to give any meaningful funds to Metro in the foreseeable future. The Missouri statehouse is a mess. I think the GOP has a filibuster going on between themselves over tax credit reform and tax cuts. It must be a first when members of the same party who have veto proof majority filibuster themselves.
    .
    At end of day, I think the question is what can the city do now to make the central corridor streetcar happen that also lays the groundwork for N-S extension? without Metro playing leading role (but contract their expertise) and without St. Louis county politics. I think the biggest issue by far to improving transit is the county politicians handling of Prop A funds and its own 1/2 cents transportation sales tax. Until Dooley is called out on it, you will see no meaningful transit expansion but somehow local matching funds will appear for the South County Connector
    The political reality is that their will be one federal funding opportunity for the city before the next presidential election. That is when the highway trust fund goes broke in September and politicians wheel and deal

  • PRS1

    Sometime around 2010 then Mayor John Nations and then Metro President Robert Baer spoke to a civic progress group I belong to in Chesterfield (I live Downtown and work in Chesterfield.) The majority of the questions were regarding metro finance, when finally asked about metro link expansion Nations replied that light rail would not be expanded in his lifetime. Now did he mean that or was he just politicizing to a small group of conservative Chesterfield business leaders?

    In my opinion, its pretty obvious that Nations was hired to get metro’s finances, management and public persona back “on track” (sigh) and not for expansion purposes.

  • STL ExPat

    Build a City BRT line between UMSL-North and Shrewsbury stations via Natural Bridge, North Florissant, 14th St, Gravois, Chippewa and Lansdowne.

    • eric4653

      Exactly. The cost of such a line would be really low – you basically just have to paint bus lanes on the existing street, add curb-level stops, and realign traffic light patterns. And the line would be heavily used in both directions – to downtown, and to UMSL/Shrewsbury in the other direction.

      You could use the same technology/equipment to put BRT on Grand at the same time.

  • MRNHS

    Seems like a logical step to me would be to split the eastbound Red/Blue lines after the Forest Park station. Have the blue line go north (around the part of Forest Park where the train turns south), maybe up to Lindell/Olive, Delmar, or a street even more north. You could then “stagger” the stations so that more areas are served. For example, stations at Kingshighway, Vandeventer, Compton, Jefferson, etc., then meet up downtown somewhere for the benefit of the westbound trains; the Arch/Landing station seems to make sense…another option would be to “loop” the line with the red line downtown. Probably expensive to do, but in my opinion would actually increase ridership, as it would open up more of the CWE, SLU (which pretty much has zero ridership since Grand is so far away), Wash Ave, and would hit some of the bus lines along the way.

    • eric4653

      For that cost, you could build several complete streetcar or BRT projects. Which would provide a greater benefit overall.

  • pat

    Judging by the amount of comments on this article, St. Louisans probably don’t want more transit

    • STL ExPat

      Back when (2006) Northside-Southside Study had public meetings, there was little excitement. The excuses for apathy then were largely the lack of funding. Well, that hasn’t really changed. But truly, where there is a will, there is a way. So stop blaming the lack of funding, and collaboratively develop a vision that builds the broadest support. Refine the will (fewer alternatives), then seek out ways (alternative funding)!

    • Adam

      is this sarcasm?

  • Dan

    Scott, you are right on the money with this. Gives me some hope for the future direction of St. Louis!

  • Mike A

    it’s just really shocking that one area of St.Louis City that would use the Metrolink the most is south city, and they have been so overlooked. Sorry i’m reiterating what this article has already said but it’s just really amazing how blind bi-state is to this fact. Ever since I moved to St. Louis (1998) i’ve notice how the metro link solves 3 things only:
    How do i get to the airport on Public transit
    How do I get to the ball-game on public transit?
    How do i get to University on public transit?

    It accomplishes probably 2 of these things well. But if you look at cities with mature and established subway/light-rail systems, one will notice that these three aspects are the least of concerns to daily commuters. Transit like this is a very permanent solution and isn’t easy to change (like the article states) and I think the biggest error Bi-state made on this current alignment is that is completely disregards the city commuter. well, it disregards the city in general. it’s quite clear that this system was developed for the suburban commuter (and done quite badly at that) over the urban commuter.

    If I worked downtown and wanted to commute with metro link, my options are very limited. I’d have to live either in Clayton, DeBaliviere, UCity, Wellston, Shrewsburry or near UMSTL. The stops between Barnes and Downtown have absolutely no connection to any residential communities within a “safe” walking distance. I wouldn’t even want to commute to SLU if I had to take the Metrolink after dark. Which Brings me to the other aspect they sorely missed was that this transit system (yes, i’m sure SLU has all sorts of shuttles to/from the Metrolink and security, but it’s still a hassle on foot).

    It only really connects downtown, 3 major universities and the airports. and I think it connects to SLU very poorly at best as stated above. Which comes back to my statement about Towner Grove and the Grand Center corridor. Had they developed a line(s) that connected Soulard, Tower Grove, The Loop, CWE and Grand Center (perhaps with more than a single alignment and some future expansion to “The Grove and downtown Maplewood) to the existing current alignment, you’d really have a working urban network of Light rail. The biggest aspect to the current alignment that’s missing is to connect the major urban populations…the people that would actually use this kind of system.

    They’ve currently connected destinations to destinations but haven’t connected well to the people who might take most advantage of the system in daily use…something i know Bi-State is now struggling with. Unless you live outside the Kingshighway or east of the river this system is of little use to you. One still has to drive or (shudder) take the bus to Soulard or South Grand or the CWE for dinner. I used to take the 30 everyday for years and dread getting on another city bus. Plus, if you live that far out, there’s really no advantage to taking Metrolink. Parking at most downtown businesses is subsidized to the employee and costs about as much as a monthly Metrolink pass. And, if you live outside of Kingshighway, taking the Metrolink into downtown will take you longer than driving. So if you’re in a hurry to get to work, don’t take Metrolink. For example. If you live in Shrewsburry and work downtown, it can take you about 15-20 minted to drive and almost 40-50 minutes by Metrolink.

    in comparison, right now in Beijing, China, a place that has built 15 major subway alignments since 2002! it saddens me to see that St. Louis can’t even build 1.5 lines in twice as much time.

  • Bryan Kirchoff

    A couple of quibbles with the discussion:
    1) I’m a City resident and regular Metrolink user, but I’m not sure why the rest of the State of Missouri should have to pay for a light-rail system it does not use. I have a hard time believing that a single line extension on Metrolink will cause St. Louis to become such a competitive city that the resultant economic growth benefits the rest of the state.
    2) We assert that there is plenty of demand for mass transit, but that does not jibe with my Metrolink experience. Except for ballgames and major festivals, the trains are mostly empty. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that it is regular practice for riders to hand off or sell their ticket at a discount when getting off at their stop.
    I’d love to see a line from Laclede’s Landing to Butler Hill Road, but we do not have adequate ridership as it is, much less sufficient to fund a new extension.
    Bryan Kirchoff
    St. Louis

    • Alex Ihnen

      As a city resident, I don’t like paying for highways I will never drive on. STL produces 40% of the economic activity in the state. Having more transit options is better for everyone. Economically, it should mean that MoDOT can save 100s of millions on highway expansion, etc. It’s better for residents who may be able to have one car, instead of two, or keep an older car that’s driven less. Demand for transit is relative, I guess. The trains here aren’t packed like Boston or NYC, but riding on them yesterday afternoon, I was surprised to find I had to stand – no game, no festival, just people going to/from work and getting around the city. Ultimately, STL is the economic driver of the state, and adding more transit options makes STL more economically sustainable.

    • John R

      Bryan, I know where you’re coming from when you say Metrolink isn’t that busy so why support more. But I think you have to keep in mind two key things:
      1) we do not have a rapid transit system. we only have a rapid transit line (with a modest spur extension).
      2) this line is not particularly helpful for reaching key sites.
      Imagine instead if the state were to have been a partner that helped build just a modest rapid system that 1) followed the general corridor of the current system but that dropped people off directly at places like Grand and Lindell and Lindell and Euclid and 2) actually went through the densest residential corridor in the region?
      Such a system truly would have rocked and been an efficient producer of significant economic growth for the city, region and state. With today’s reality, more light rail may not be the best way to proceed — streetcar and/or true brt may be a wiser choice — but we really do need a n/s line and better central corridor connections.

  • TM B33

    I still cannot figure out why the line terminates at Lambert. That line should have continued out and had stops at Verizon, Hollywood Casino – cross the river – Family Arena and terminate at the Ameristar. The ML needs to go where people want to go like these places and Six Flags etc.
    STL should supplement MetroLink access with Skytran. Skytran is less expensive and easier to integrate than light rail. These two systems running in sync would be great.
    Missouri also needs a high speed line that goes from STL to KC with stops halfway between Columbia each way and a stop in Columbia at the Stadium. Run it right down the middle of I70.

    • Alex Ihnen

      Transit works best when it connects dense residential and job centers. The more varied times of use the better. The airport is a natural connection as it provides a basic and essential connection for travelers. Destination or event centers can seem like a good idea when you see packed trains, but the vast majority of the time there would be no one using a Verizon station. A high-speed line across MO is a great idea though.

  • Anthony

    StL native (Webster U.) but currently NYC resident for 6+ years. StL has a national identity crisis. A major issue when people visit is that they perceive the city to be dull with not much to do. Due to the sprawling nature of the city, it is incredibly difficult to know where to go. This is unfortunate as there is a brilliant historic nature to the city’s architecture and inside this distinguished city there are many great bars, restaurants, clubs, coffee shops, museums, independent stores, music venues… Rivaling or beating out more nationally appreciated cities of similar size (Nashville, Cleveland, Baltimore, Providence)

    Why do we not have a wheeled bus trolley (fashioned possibly after the original Delmar Trolley) that takes residents and tourists from area to area very easily. Cities like Charlotte and Providence and probably others have already utilized aspects of this. Why not connect, the thriving younger areas such as Cherokee, Lafayette Square, The Grove, Soulard, Washington, Grand Center, South Grand, Delmar. Making an attractive and historic looking bus trolley would also define the city much like the Arch does. Gov’t officials in StL don’t realize that cities go through a resurgence when the national perception is that it’s the “Place to be”. Look at Detroits bizarre artist boom for example or the way East Nashville’s grown.

    Would this not be a relatively low cost and simply implemented project or am I missing something?

    • Alex Ihnen

      IMO – a trolley (or old styled bus) falls short because there aren’t quite enough tourists, and STL locations/attractions are too diffuse. In my opinion, the answer is a much more frequent, more dense transit system – you could even brand lines by the districts they connect as a way to orient visitors.

      • STLEnginerd

        I agree with both. I think an old fashion bus/trolley down broadway from the dome to cherokee street definitely could tourist attraction. Far better than the loop trolley IMHO. It would link the landing, downtown, busch stadium, soulard, AB brewery, and cherokee. That said a network of trolleys would just be a duplicative service where Metro bus already serves the sites of interest. Making Metrobus more intuitive and user friendly shouls be the highest transit priority.