This month Metro is holding community workshops in nearly a dozen locations across the metro area. It seems that the agency has settled enough following the cross-county extension litigation and departure of Larry Salci to begin a concerted effort to imagine the future of mass transit in our region. Enter “Moving Transit Forward”.
The challenges are significant; lack of financial support from the state, twice-defeated efforts to pass an increased transit tax in St. Louis County, service cutbacks and relatively smaller issues related to modernizing technology and infrastructure such as bus stops and MetroLink station access.
I hope that you will take the time to attend one of the nine community workshops. I plan to attend the event at the Newman Center, adjacent to the CWE MetroLink station this coming Thursday from 5:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. If you cannot attend what are you missing? If you are able to be there, what can you expect?
Metro is setting up stations staffed by Metro personnel to answer questions. The “boards” are mean to educate attendees and help focus comments on future service and expansion. The first board explains the workshop and sets forth a timeline for input and planning.
The second board gives a basic outline of mass transit. Metro simply states, “Transit works best when it links dense population center to regional business districts.” The board includes graphics displaying population and employment density. Those clinging to the idea that Metro erred by not running MetroLink along the I-64 corridor west would be well served to become acquainted with this board. As you can see by the images below, the I-64 corridor from I-170 to I-270 is one of the least dense residential areas in the entire region and clearly the least dense of any area inside I-270. A look at employment density is just as stark. Mass transit does not belong along the I-64 corridor.
MetroLink connects the region’s three largest employment centers; downtown St. Louis City, Mid-town/Central West End and Clayton. And it connects these areas with the more dense residential areas, save South City, and our airport. The basics of a light rail system are covered. The board also introduces transit oriented development (TOD), the opportunity for dense development adjacent to public transit. All together, the viewer is prompted to think about where additional transit may make sense.
The next board introduces various forms of public transit including, traditional urban buses, paratransit, light rail transit (LRT), bus rapid transit (BRT), flex routes and commuter rail. Our options are important to understand as public transit systems are most effective when working as a network of varied forms. Trains work best when fed by bus routes. Bus routes work best when serving walkable communities. A transit user need to be able to easily access varied modes. Too often in St. Louis we speak only of MetroLink expansion and our public transit system. Light rail cannot and should not attempt to reach every corner of the metro area.
Then we come to transit funding. Put aside whatever complaints or criticism of Metro for at least a few minutes and understand the severely limited transit funding available to our region. There are basically four sources of funding: federal, state and local governments and user fares. Nationally (and in St. Louis) fares account for approximately 20% of funding. Due to limited local support in the form of taxes Metro cannot take advantage of possible federal matching funds, a common method used by other cities to expand capacity and service. Currently Illinois provides nearly 20 times as much funding for public transit than Missouri.
The idea at this point is that you understand where public transit works best, the varied train and bus options and the funding issue. The final board involves an exercise that invites you to plan the region’s transit service for each of the next three decades. For each decade you are allowed “$700 ‘dollars’”. The dollars are theoretical, but perhaps roughly could be viewed in millions of dollars. But that’s really irrelevant, what you’re asked to do is prioritize future service given a defined budget and a price list for bus, LRT and BRT.
For example: the proposed Southside MetroLink line to the city limits costs $450. The Northside line is $350. You can’t choose to do both in the same decade. A line to Westport will set you back $600. You get the idea. Although I’m not currently a big booster of BRT, if done right this mode of public transit offers enormous benefits. At $35, is a 7-mile Northside LRT line really worth 10 BRT routes? No way. Imagine a public transit system connecting current MetroLink stations with BRT on I-64, I-44, I-55, I-70, Lindbergh, Olive, Manchester, Gravois, Grand and Jefferson. BRT is not the equivalent of LRT, but in our modestly dense metro area it just may be the right solution. An enhanced BRT, addressing some of the drawbacks of a line like the HealthLine in Cleveland would be only a few million more, still allowing many lines and providing a better system than LRT. This board is embedded below.
I like that Metro is bringing numbers and options to the public. Of course one can dream big, hope to inspire and excited and then hope that funding will follow, but I much more favor the route of sharing information and assessing options, asking what people want and how they would prioritize their wants given a particular budget. And I appreciate that Metro is holding a relatively large number of workshops within a short time frame. Hopefully both Metro and the public will learn something in the process.
You can find Metro’s Community Workshop boards at Moving Transit Forward and at the Urban Workshop’s Scribd library. If you’re not able to attend one of the workshops you can complete the transit planning form below and send it to Metro at Moving Transit Forward, Mail Stop 144, 707 North First Street, St. Louis, MO 63102 or e-mail it to Metro at [email protected]
Metro public transit planning #2