Single Tracking on Delmar May Kill Future Loop Trolley Expansion

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Delmar Loop TrolleyFollowing the Loop Trolley open house held two weeks ago at the Missouri History Museum, Justin Chick at Transit Turning Point expressed his concerns regarding the Loop Trolley's proposed fare collection and hours of operation. Justin and other individuals at the open house also expressed concern about the potential capacity limitations of single tracking on Delmar Boulevard. The limitations imposed by the single track alignment will have the greatest impact on any future system expansion.

As proposed, the Loop Trolley is a $43 million project that will run 2.2 miles with 9 stations extending from Trinity Ave near the Lion's Gate in the Delmar Loop to the Missouri History Museum in Forest Park. Initial service will be a trolley every 20 minutes. It is hoped that in future years trolley ridership will support service running every 10 minutes. Ridership is projected to be 800 per day on weekdays and 2,000 per day on weekends when the trolley first opens and is anticipated to grow to 2,600 per day on weekdays and 4,000 per day on weekends by 2030.

West of the Delmar MetroLink station, tracks will run in each direction, positioned in the traffic lanes. In order to cut costs, only a single track will be built east of the MetroLink Station, running  in the Delmar median. At DeBaliviere Ave., the trolley will turn south towards the Missouri History Museum, running on a single track in a dedicated greenway on the east side of the street. A small siding near DeBaliviere Ave will allow trolleys heading in opposite directions to pass.

Delmar Loop Trolley
{single track in median begins at Delmar MetroLink station}

Inadequately explored by the EA report, however, is how severely the large proportion of the single-tracking will limit the capacity of the Loop Trolley and its options for later expansion. From the report (pg. 6, Appx 3.4): Joe Edwards mentioned that […] the plan has always been to have additional extensions, starting with Forest Park and possibly expanding to Kingshighway, the Central West End, Grand and beyond.

The Draft EA makes a future year assumption of 10-minute headways for the trolley line. However, the study also states both operating scenarios studied with 10-minute headways were proven infeasible: trolleys running in opposite directions met in sections with only a single track. Operating scenarios with 12, 15, and 20 minute headways were shown to be functional.

Also stated as possible was an operating scenario in which trolleys ran every 10 minutes through the heart of The Loop, but just every 20 minutes east of the MetroLink station. Either way, the final EA must find a workable operating plan with 10-minute headways or more clearly explain that 10-minute headways will only ever occur west of the MetroLink station.

Loop east track2
{a single track median is the preferred alignment in the East Loop}

Loop east track1
{East Loop double track was would allow for shorter headways, but be more expensive}

In fact, the final EA report should place a very strong emphasis on finding a workable operating plan with 10-minute or better headways. This is because the the capacity limitations of single-tracking along Delmar Blvd will become doubly important if the decision is ever made to extend the trolley to the Central West End and beyond.

Loop east track2a
{proposed single track median alignment in the East Loop}

Extending the Loop Trolley east on Delmar Blvd. to the Central West End would require a 2-line system much like MetroLink operates today. With 20-minute headways considered a minimum acceptable service on any branch of the future trolley system, the entire stretch of Delmar Blvd from DeBaliviere Ave to Trinity Ave would see 10-minute headways. The system would then experience a single-track bottle neck. If a workable operating plan with 10-minute headways cannot be presented, expansion of the Loop Trolley will never happen.

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  • Ghaidiyoubet

    I am sorry, but with the country TRILLIONS of dollars in debt, the last thing we need is to add some trolley. I do not approve of this pork project. It never ceases to amaze me how dimwitted people can be with money. 

    Are they going to rebuild every utility, sewer, water main, gas main, etc. beneath the tracks? They need to or else they’re asking for increased costs.

    This is a special interest project and there is no money for it. It needs to be abandoned. I’d rather see the money spent toward expanding Metrolink.

  • adn

    I don’t see any consideration of bicycle traffic either. Huge oversight.

  • Patrick Shaw

    And we feel it absolutely necessary to have auto traffic on Delmar through the Loop? Is their no way we can divert to Olive? In all seriousness, is auto traffic vital to the Loop? Their seems to be plenty of access to parking by not using Delmar.

    I for one love the loop but dislike having a side of exhaust with my meal, as well as seeing the same “strip cruiser” run his routes to show off his taste in music or car.

    Let’s build the trolley right, put forth the best option that will allow for future growth and present the healthiest example of what a city can do by limiting auto’s.

    • Jake Banton

      Some auto traffic is essential to the health of a street. Just look at what happened in Old North St. Louis when 14th street was closed off to create a “pedestrian mall,” it died. Unfortunately if people can’t drive and park near a place, they won’t go. Even with good public transportation.

      • Alex Ihnen

        I agree that access to varied modes of transit is probably best. The 14th Street Mall example is a bad one though. No one believes that if that street had been kept open that it would have remained a viable commercial strip. It could, and maybe should, be argued, that the pedestrian mall, though a very fleeting success, may have prolonged the viability of that area.

  • James

    I really don’t see what’s wrong with a single track in the median. The Madison Avenue trolley in Memphis uses double tracks in the traffic lanes and it’s pretty annoying, actually. Driving on tracks is not fun.

    • There’s nothing inherently wrong with single tracking which has been proposed for the Loop Trolley as a cost saving measure. Putting the track in the median, as you point out, has the benefit of getting trolleys out of traffic.

      The problem with single tracking, however, is that it has the potential to severely limit the capacity of the Loop Trolley. Theses capacity limits may impact the Loop Trolley’s ability to expand as the single track on Delmar may not be able to accommodate trolleys from 2 different lines.

      • RobbyD

        Trolley expansion is the next bridge to cross, yes, but it is a pretty speculative one at this point, at least any significant expansion. I’m sure getting this intial line off the ground under budget and with fairly limited means has been the focus. I mean, without this initial effort, there doesn’t seem to be any future at all for trolley service in St. Louis, let alone a stunted one.

        If this line gets up and running and proves to be wildly successful, I would be shocked if the Loop line would be the end of it. There has to be a way to make something successful grow, right?

        At any rate, I know I will be riding the new trolley.

        • Zun1026

          Well put RobbyD! I concur. There has to be a success story before people get on board.

  • RA

    Would it be better to single track in the west loop instead?

    • That option was dismissed very early on. From the Draft EA: “The narrower width of right-of-way in this segment made this concept virtually impossible to coordinate with existing traffic patterns.”

      • Alex Ihnen

        Meaning that there wasn’t room to run a track down the center with a lane of traffic on each side and putting the track on one side or the other obviously wouldn’t work as the trolley would need to operate in both directions.

  • Douglas Duckworth

    Single tracking streetcars: how hoosiers do it.

  • Dave

    I still don’t see the real benefit of having this trolley line with the existing Metrolink in place as it’s end points essentially link two Metrolink stops on the same line.

    Hopefully it’s success might spur additional lines that operate into areas currently inaccessible by the current Metrolink routes.

    • Anon

      That’s what this is all about. The only hope of a useful system is dead because of single tracking.