Kill the Delmar Streetcar

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Someone needs to say it: The trolley proposed to connect the Delmar Loop to Forest Park at the history museum is a waste. I loved the idea at first, but it’s a wasteful duplication of the mass transit investment already made. Instead, the Delmar Metrolink stop should be reoriented to face Delmar Boulevard and efforts should focus on extending development east of Skinker Boulevard.

To the east the Delmar Metrolink station is a couple hundred feet more than 1/2 mile from the corner of Delmar/DeBaliviere while the Forest Park Metrolink stop is just more than 1/3 mile from the same corner. The far western end of The Loop is roughly 3/4 mile from the Delmar stop. The Skinker stop is roughly 1/2 mile from the Skinker/Delmar intersection and the Big Bend stop is just more than 1/2 mile from The Loop’s west end. This is a mass transit corrider without a trolley!

[existing Metrolink shown in blue, proposed Delmar Trolley shown in orange}

The Loop Trolley has a new website to further promote the idea. A number of statements on the site are dubious. Most notably, the “Other Cities” tab highlighting the introduction of modern streetcars across the country is misleading as the Loop Trolley is not planned to be a modern streetcar line providing new mass transit accessibility. The site even includes ridership of these lines in other cities. This is very misleading.

{The Loop Trolley leaves out the Skinker and Big Bend Metrolink stops (shown as white circles), apparently believing that 1/3 mile is too far to walk}

The site also states, “The Loop Trolley will link two existing Metrolink Stations to cultural institutions like the Missouri History Museum, the University City City Hall, and all the attractions in The Loop like theaters, restaurants, offices and shopping opportunities . . . ” First, I can’t imagine that one would ride the Metrolink to the Forest Park stop and then stand to wait for a trolley to take them the final 800 feet to the History Museum. And while University City City Hall is a cool building, it’s not a “cultural institution” people are jonesing to be linked to. An additional point is that these attractions are already well connected. Q: What connects two existing Metrolink Stations better than an historic trolley? A: The existing Metrolink line!

The most analogous system is likely the Market Street Railway in San Francisco, meant in part to be a “museum in motion”. A non-profit effort acquires and maintains the line and cars. Anecdotally, during my last trip to San Francisco I rode the BART, the cable cars and the trolley line and while BART was busy and the cable cars predictably packed, we were often the only people on the street cars. The line travels slowly and only seemed to attract a few tourists. I have no doubt that in the high season tourists are more plentiful.

But back to Delmar: The photos below show just how concealed the current Metrolink stop is. Not only does it not feel as safe as a result, it’s just not visible to people on Delmar. The Wabash Railway building should be made the main entrance/exit. This would provide a functional anchor to the east Loop.

{a direct view of the Delmar Metrolink stop from Des Peres}

There is enormous development potential adjacent to the Delmar Metrolink stop which would not be increased with a trolley. The map below shows development opportunities highlighted in green, a new bus depot in blue and Washington University land in orange. Des Peres should be eliminated and the bus depot moved to the east side of the stop. Further, Enright and Clemens east-west connections should be explored.

{development potential: vacant/unused lots=green, WU land=orange, proposed bus depot=blue}

The trolley is a really neat idea. However, development opportunities west of Skinker are very limited, the Delmar Loop is well established and has been recognized as one of the great steets in America. Maybe a streetcar would be icing on the cake, but it’s unecessary. The new Trolley website states that a trolley would “enrich neighborhood ambience and would “be a source of local pride,” “cultivating a delightful sense of place.” These are laudable goals, but in my opinion do not justify the cost of the project.

Washington University students, faculty and staff receive Metro bus and rail passes for free. Many other organizations subsidize passes. As the streetcar would be an entity separate from Metro it would be duplicating a free transportation option for thousands of users.

So for all the criticism, I understand that people enjoy envisioning and enacting their own ideas, but in this case the efforts of Joe Edwards and others would be better spent highlighting existing Metrolink access and developing vacant land on Delmar. I strongly believe that modern streetcars should be brought back to St. Louis, but let’s connect new areas of the city to mass transit. Why not South Grand to Midtown and SLU? Why not ONSL through downtown to Soulard and Carondelet? Or a streetcar on Jefferson?

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  • Geoff Whittington

    I just want to know where all this opposition was during the almost 20 years people were working hard to gain the funding for this program.

    • STLEnginerd

      Well they probably didn’t think it had a chance in hell of ever being built… I credit the tenacity of trolley boosters with getting it done (well, this far its not done yet)

      The idea that the trolley will activate the East Loop and spur its revitalization, when its revitalization appears, at least to me to be well underway, is suspect. Rushing to build a trolley to take credit for the resurgence of the loop makes me wince.

      But my main arguement against the trolley is not that it will be a failure or a waste of money (as I believe it will be) but that its failure will be used as a weapon to oppose future much more viable and benificial projects.

      That said I’m not out there pounding the streets to block it. I have stated my feelings on it and am willing to let it play out.

      • Alex Ihnen

        Hey – you guys found my old column! 🙂 This was published anonymously, but didn’t stay that way for long. The premise is that there are many better places to put a streetcar. That said, we’re well down the line in getting this built now and there’s no reason to trash it. I actually think it will be pretty cool and successful (as long as successfully framed by boosters). I’m looking forward to riding. The East Loop, at least for a block or two has seen development, though the Moonrise and Pageant at least are Joe Edwards, who’s been the force behind the streetcar as well. Still, there’s a mile of the East Loop with very little development, or at least huge potential for more development.

        • John R

          It’ll be more or less an amusement, which is fine, but I am intrigued about the possibility for extending it down Delmar over to the CWE in the future. Who knows, if its a big hit it could actually serve a more vital transportation purpose.

          • Ryann

            If its a big enough hit and we are able to expand it that would be great and we won’t need to rely on the city for their lengthy “studies.” it doesn’t seem like the city actually cares about accessible transit they just want a form of transit, but metrolink just takes you to a few select places IN the city and then out of the city (or state) in a couple directions. thats my opinion anyway 🙂

        • Geoff Whittington

          STLE and Alex. Thanks for acknowledging the effort trolley proponents have put forth through the years on this project. I have often wondered why other groups from the community did not apply (did any?) for the $25 million in funding from the Urban Circulator Program. I believe sustainability, economic development, the capacity to attract private investment partners were the criteria. If so, I am confident the winning team and route have it in spades.

  • dempster holland

    Suggestion that mass transit connect south grand to midtown> Answer: existing
    Grand bus line. Suggestion that mass transit connect old north to midtown and
    Slu. Answer: existing broadway bus line.