Realigning MetroLink to Better Serve St. Louis

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In the post I wrote last week comparing the Grand and Central West End MetroLink stations, I concluded with a question: "Would additional stations or even a different alignment have better served the neighborhoods MetroLink passes?"

As the map at the top shows, I believe that a MetroLink alignment along Market St and Forest Park Ave would more effectively served the city's central corridor, the city's spine, than the existing alignment. The wide right-of-ways and long intersection spacings of both Forest Park Ave and Market St could easily accommodate MetroLink at-grade without significantly slowing the line's speed down. In a way, it's a shame St. Louis didn't have any money of it's own to invest in bettering MetroLink's route when it was built. But, then again, who can resist free [right-of-way]?

Glancing at the stations along this relocated transit line, a new "infill" station at Jefferson would bring convenient MetroLink service to the corporate campus for Wells Fargo Advisors and other area businesses. Adding a station at Jefferson on the existing alignment would be of limited value given the area's isolation similar to the existing Grand station.

Speaking of Grand, relocating the station north to Forest Park Ave would bring MetroLink 1/4-mile closer and within very easy walking distance to SLU making MetroLink a significantly more attractive option to the university's students and faculty. The entire main campus, in fact, would be within a 1/2-mile radius of the station as would be parts of Grand Center. Additionally, bringing the station out of the valley is much more likely to encourage transit oriented development than the existing station site.

Splitting the difference between the Grand and Central West End stations is a station at Sarah. This station would serve the growing CORTEX district as well as the small neighborhood commercial strip to the north.

Interestingly, there have been multiple proposals for a MetroLink station at or in the vicinity of Sarah St in the past. Back in 1997, when debates centered on whether the Cross County Extension should be routed north or south of Forest Park, the south-of-the-park route would have included a station at Boyle Ave before diverging from the main line. More recently, the 2003 Midtown Strategic Development Plan proposed a station at Sarah to serve the then called Technopolis business park:

Technopolis is located between two MetroLink stations – one at Euclid Ave. and one at Grand Blvd. – that are approximately 1.5 miles apart. The Midtown Plan recommends adding a new station at Sarah St., midway between the existing two stations, to directly serve Technopolis. A new, conveniently located station should add to the area's attractiveness to new businesses and employees. Also, this station, especially if developed with a park and ride facility, could add to the attractiveness as of Midtown as a residential area with easy access to downtown and other employment centers served by MetroLink.

Lastly, there are pros and cons to relocating the Central West End station to Forest Park Ave. On the up side, the station would be closer to the residential and commercial neighborhood that gives the station it's name; on the down side, the station would be on the periphery of the BJC hospital complex instead of at its heart. Also, the station would no longer be within walking distance of the Forest Park Southeast neighborhood to the south. Given the increasing density of the neighborhood north of Forest Park Ave, however, the down sides of moving the station out of the hospital campus might not be as great as they seem.

Interstate 64 is often called St. Louis's spine as it runs the length of the region's favored quarter from downtown to Chesterfield. While this may be true west of Clayton, east of the innerbelt, it is not I-64 that serves as St. Louis's spine, but rather a combination of Forest Park Ave/Market St or Lindell Blvd/Olive St. Those are the streets on which the city lives and breathes, not the highway. For that reason, it would make sense that MetroLink's spine aligned with the city's. The result would be greater intracity connectivity and an additional transportation option connecting the places we already go.
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  • It was much cheaper at the time to use existing rails. It can be changed in the future when more funding is available. It’s absolutely true that your line would function better, but it was wiser to use what was available at the time, rather than to receive nothing at all.

  • rbeedee

    Interesting post, but I think our transit dollars would be better spent on building connections to the existing alignment. I think BRT, more frequent bus service from the existing stations to destinations, and/or streetcars would give us more bang for our transit buck.

  • Great idea (if unrealistic, at least for the immediate future), and a classic example of how good planning and doing things right from the start can save costly retrofits in the future.

  • Eric Pedretti

    I think a lot of you are missing the point. Part of the problem with the current allingment is that it is used more as ‘commuter rail’ because that’s all it can really be used as, as it exists. Obviously it’s important to to connect North & South St. Louis and we all want that, but think of the benefits of truly connecting people, businesses, shopping, etc. along the entire central corridor. The central corridor is blossoming, Mid-town, Auto-row, etc. But imagine the increased traffic of people, money spent and investment along this corridor if it were actually accessible & connected by rail…if all of those ‘commuters’ and tourists were forced past this blossoming area day in and day out on their way from Forest Park to Downtown. To connect DT, Mid-Town, The Fox, CWE, & Forest Park is a no-brainer. Great post.

  • Stlelsewhere

    I like that Herbie used blue and Red as if to suggest that the blue line could/shoule run parallel to the red line. Sorry Angelo, I don’t live in the Central Corridor, but that is where the big bucks should be spent.

    I’d love to see the next MetroLink expansion be a splitting of the Red and Blue as Herbie suggests. That’d be two stations along the Grand BRT and two stations near the Kingshighway BRT. My big hope…

  • Douglas Duckworth

    Other cities such as Los Angeles and Cleveland also used old rail alignments and like here this was not a good idea for supporting TOD — assuming that was ever a goal of the system. Metrolink is also essentially commuter rail, connecting various employment and institutional hubs throughout the inner core. Unfortunately still greater mobility and accessibility exists in St. Louis with the automobile so it fails in this regard as an alternative to the car.

    For equity I think we need an LRT on Natural Bridge or Page. Perhaps some day this could run all the way to St. Charles.

    • Tpekren

      Have to agree with your thoughts on what Metrolink is for all pratical purposes, a mini or light commuter line, intended or not, for the major employers and central business districts. No sense trying to deny the fact or taking it away.

      Removing the station for the number one generator in BJC and the biggest city employer makes absolutely no sense to me. If anything, go ahead and add the Sarah station on the existing alignment to support Solutia and Cortex.

      I also think your suggesting future investment that is more in line with streetcars when you refer to LRT on Natural Bridge or Page. Not sure if I agree with your first choices. However, I think it is where Metro really needs to steer the conversation as it makes sense to me to extend existing lines (past Lambert to Earth City & cross county into south county) as much reduced price vs an all out build out on a new line. Then you have the funds to build out BRT, streetcar lines off the spine starting from the core out. Even Loop Trolley adds something to metrolink

      • Alex Ihnen

        In this map the CWE/BJC station wouldn’t be removed – just moved two blocks north – actually closer to the Center for Advanced Medicine, the BJC headquarters and the same distance from Children’s Hospital. Anyway, I see this article as a way to discuss where and when to build in the future. Do we again take advantage of ROW? Do we wait and spend more if another route provides more TOD and connectivity? IMO – this segment will never be relocated, but it’s a good way to further a conversation about future transit.

  • Angelo

    A northside-southside line should be built first before any money is spent on slightly modifying existing rail.

    • Tpekren

      Even the book end version, just building out on each side of downtown, will be a no starter for a while. However, I think Grand BRT, Jefferson streetcar line, anything that strengthens north south connections along the metrolink spine will be a plus when their is the support and funds to build out a northside southside line.

  • Chad D

    There has been talk that many of the existing original line is going to need to be replaced in the next decade, it would be interesting to see if this proposal or one similar would be considered.

    • Tpekren

      I believe that talk revolves around the fact that the line was built with used rail to minimize cost and Metro would simply replace what is there.

      In other words, they bring in new rail via a work train, set it alongside, shut down service during the weekend while machines go to work replacing 1/4 or 1/2 mile sections at a time.

  • Sethteel

    At what cost…? Although I agree with most of what your are saying, it’s counter productive to discuss how something should have been done (many years after the fact). Especially since there is nothing that can or will be done to change the existing alignment. MetroLink in St. Louis is unique because it used existing rights of way for the majority of its original line. Additionally light rail (in other cities) is primarily used as a “commuter rail,” moving at high speeds with stops much further apart than you see here in STL. This would have been ideal connecting people throughout our region, but the reality was in the early 90’s that wasn’t what St. Louis & St. Charles Counties wanted. I like the alignment you describe, however it would be much better served by streetcars than a light rail system.

    • Herbie Markwort

      I would actually argue the opposite, that MetroLink is more “commuter rail” than other cities. Data from the APTA in 2008 shows that MetroLink riders travelled an average of 7.3 miles per trip, 6th most in the country amongst light rail and metro rail transit systems.

      In the end, I’m aware that this idea is unrealistic. It’s much more important to grow the existing transit system before we redo what already exists. But I do think it’s important to understand the successes and failure of the system we have today and what we want it to look like in the future.