7-mile Streetcar Envisioned to Connect Old North, Downtown, Midtown and Central West End

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Kiener streetcar

What started simply as an idea to increase connectivity of the Central Core of St. Louis has now culminated in the impending release of the first phase of a study for a seven mile streetcar line. In June of 2012, The partnership for Downtown St. Louis lined up private funding for a $200,000 streetcar study and issued a Request for Qualifications. Out of the responses to the RFQ, URS Corp was selected to carry out the feasibility study. The study was meant to take a broad look at the feasibility of a hypothetical streetcar line- determine the best location, make preliminary estimates of construction costs, estimate potential ridership, determine the ability to spur new development, and calculate the competitiveness of the proposal for Federal and local funding. All images here are from that feasibility study. The study and details of a public open house scheduled for March 7 can be found below.

Streetcars have become the next big thing in mass transportation for cities. Currently, cities such as Atlanta, Cincinnati, Milwaukee, and even Tucson, AZ are considering streetcar lines. Closer to home, Kansas City, MO has approved a two mile line, and is studying a second phase. There is much competition for Federal Funding, at both the Small Starts and New Starts level. URS and The Partnership appear to have developed a solid plan with overall numbers that look realistic, but are still competitive for funding. Let’s dig in and take a closer look at the St. Louis Streetcar Plan.

St Louis Streetcar map
{MetroLink in red, proposed streetcar in yellow, proposed BRT in purple, proposed MetroLink in green}

The feasibility study actually considers two lines that will work in tandem. The main double-track line runs East and West mainly on Olive and Lindell. The eastern terminus makes a loop along Olive, 6th, Chestnut, 7th, and Locust. This would allow for a station at Keiner Plaza and just one track on the narrower streets of the CBD. The western Terminus would go south on Taylor to the current Central West End MetroLink Station, or alternately make a loop on Euclid South to Forest Park Ave and back North to Lindell on Taylor. This line hits several large employment and residential centers.

west terminus
{proposed options for Central West End streetcar terminus}

east terminus
{proposed downtown St. Louis streetcar terminus}

The north-south alignment’s northern terminus is on North Florissant Avenue at St. Louis Avenue. The double-track route runs south on North Florissant Avenue and 14th Streets, uses the single-track loop through downtown, terminating on 14th Street at Metro’s Civic Center station. This line will greatly improve connectivity between near north side neighborhoods, including Old North and Carr Square, with the Central Core of St. Louis.

Low-floor Modern Streetcars are proposed for the line. Each car would have a fifty person capacity and run from 5:00 am- Midnight. Headways would be ten minutes at peak times and fifteen minutes at non-peak times.

Lindell streetcarWhile the proposed line appears to duplicate current MetroLink service, it is actually more complementary. The streetcar would better connect the business, homes, and entertainment centers or the central corridor. More stops would be available along the route, and more sources of ridership would be within easy walking distance of stops. If you want to get from downtown to the Central West End or beyond quickly, you are likely going to choose the existing MetroLink line. However, if you are taking the train to get from one point to another along the central corridor, you are likely to take the streetcar line. For instance, if you are going from Jefferson and Olive to Vandeventer and Lindell, the streetcar will be a no brainer. In short, the streetcar serves local neighborhoods at a small scale level that MetroLink could never do, and should never do.

Ridership is projected at 7700 daily users. 2700 of these riders would be completely new to public transportation. Ridership projections are based off the population within an easy walking distance of the line. This is generally regarded as about a quarter mile, which typically comes to four blocks along the potential line. With a solid and growing residential population (with room for plenty more growth) and several employment nodes, ridership projections appear realistic.

Construction costs are estimated at $270 million for the roughly seven mile system. This estimate includes funding streetscape enhancements along the route. This would consist of new sidewalks, lighting, trees, street furniture, etc. The streetscaping is intended to make the new system more walkable and rider friendly, and could be removed from the plan if funding does not materialize. The basic system comes in at about $218 million. Depending on the level of improvements, the cost is between $30- 40 million per mile. This is a competitive range in comparison to proposed systems in other cities.

14th street north
{14th Street looking north in downtown St. Louis}

While it should be noted that the new line would duplicate some existing bus service, fixed rail transit is seen as a long term investment when real estate development decisions are being made. Bus routes can be changed on a whim. Moving a streetcar line is just a little harder. Projections for development along the streetcar lines in the first five years after opening are $540 million. Over twenty years, the line is expected to generate $2.1 billion in economic development. This could be a conservative number. Obvious points for development along the line are around the expanding Midtown Alley, Olive between Jefferson and 14th Street, and heading north out of Downtown. North Florissant between Old North and St. Louis Place in particular is and undeveloped natural commercial corridor that could flourish with the impetus of a streetcar.

There have been concerns that the north-south streetcar could impede the future development of the North-South MetroLink line. This is not the case since the track gauge would be the same for both. If MetroLink expansion occurs, the tracks can be utilized for light rail. With that said, many people would prefer the North-South expansion done as a streetcar instead of light rail. In that case, the line can simply be expanded, even in a piecemeal fashion.

{Olive Street at Compton Street}

The proposed streetcar line could also form the spine of a much larger system. Imagine lines radiating out at roads such as Jefferson, Grand, Vandeventer, and Boyle. That could be the start of some real connectivity. The line could also theoretically connect to the soon to start construction Delmar Loop Streetcar.

Several funding sources have been proposed to build and operate the new streetcar. At the Federal level, the line can compete for Small Starts funds from the FTA. This could theoretically fund 50% of the project. Other Federal funding could come from Congestion Mitigations and Air Quality (CMAQ) funding. What is clear is that the line as planned cannot be broken down in to smaller segments to remain competitive for Small Starts funding. The overall line is greater than the sum of its parts.

At the local level, a Transportation Development District is proposed. The TDD would allow for property taxes or special assessments on the properties that benefit most from the proposed line. It is envisioned that this will cover the four blocks on either side of the route, and assessments would be smaller as property gets further away from the line. Residential could be assessed lower than commercial, and there could be a fee even on tax-exempt non-profit land along the route. This will be fleshed out more in future studies. At this point, no sales taxes are proposed, and the study has not considered funding from the State or Missouri based on lack of previous transit funding.

Operating expenses are estimated at $9.7- 10 million annually. This would be covered with a mix of fare-box revenue and TDD funds.

Up next comes a more in depth study and Environmental Assessment (EA). This will require a $300,000 local match, which the Partnership is working on raising now. It is not thought that a full Environmental Impact Statement will be needed for this project. East West Gateway will also need to adopt the streetcar project into the long range regional transportation plan so that streetcar will be eligible for Federal funding. The EA is projected to be completed in 2014. If everything moves quickly, the streetcar line could start construction as early as 2015 and open in 2016, though this may be a little aggressive.

DRAFT_St. Louis North Side/Downtown/Midtown/CWE Streetcar Feasibility Study 2013 by nextSTL

STL streetcar open house 3/7/13

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  • John

    In what ways is a street-running MetroLink (N-S Line – Jefferson) different than a streetcar? Why don’t we just make that line a streetcar instead? Surely we could build it much sooner if we did, then make a N-S MetroLink line somewhere else whenever we get the funding.

    • Alex Ihnen

      It’s unclear. To the south, a NS MetroLink could run in a heavy rail right-of-way, similar to the MetroLink Red Line. Elsewhere it would run on the street, like a streetcar, including the entire north of downtown segment. IMO – they’re basically the same thing, and the south extension would be much better running on Jefferson than in a rail trench – isn’t that one lesson we should have learned from the Red Line?

      • John

        Would it be cheaper to go with streetcar instead?

      • Wayne Brasler

        Streetcars can run in right-of-ways. The Ferguson-Florissant, City Limits, Creve Couer Lake, Kirkwood lines, Hodiamont, Berkeley, Brentwood and Sunset Hills lines all did as did the University line west of DeBalievere and the Ladue line west of Central. Heavy rail is not needed on right-of-ways. By the way, the line proposed westward is the route of the University line basically. I would not be on rails on Lindell; it has never happened except for the days when the Lindell line crossed that road at what is now the History Museum.

  • T-Leb

    There needs to be a streetcar through South City… I think downtown from Ballpark Village/BBs/Beal On Broadway/Broadway Oyster Bar to Soulard to ABInBev all the way to RiverCity Casino would be an interesting approach. Casino/AB/Soulard could see some of those coveted public/private partnerships. Along with the future Mississippi Greenway the south side of StL could flourish like the heavily subsidized central corridor and certain parts of downtown (WashAve).
    DT–>Midtown–>CWE seems like a good project too… if you can continue to palate heavily subsidized developments.

  • spif

    I’m just eagerly waiting for BRT on Grand. The smoother and quicker the ride to MetroLink, the more likely I’ll be to take it. Personally I don’t know if I’d take this streetcar until there’s more development along the route, but I’m sure that would come eventually. BRT is a sorely needed short term solution to bridge the gap in the meantime.

  • Danny Sooks

    I’d happily ride the metro out to the CWE and then take the street car into the retail area….makes sense right…..

  • Stlplanr

    Take the exclusive medians and stylized stops of this proposal, but use hybrid articulated buses. Then you could also build the full Northside-Southside MOS from Natural Bridge/North Florissant to Jefferson/Broadway, plus the East-West line on Lindell/Olive, for the same cost. Wires and tracks cost too much per mile, when so many more areas of the city deserve major transit investment.

  • Charlie

    My friend in Seattle just pointed out that a streetcar plan there would include a “Bikeway” that runs along side the rail lines. Really cool stuff: http://www.seattlebikeblog.com/2012/02/28/first-hill-streetcar-a-look-at-bike-plans-open-house-tonight/

  • ONSTLrocks

    Keep the Northerly direction! Old North is the next historic “happening place” with tons of restoration going on and needs the connection to the other neighborhoods!

  • I like this plan, but I also agree with those calling for a line from downtown to Soulard/Benton Park.

  • Kevin Murphy

    Two things:

    Why not keep the streetcar in a separate guideway West of Grand? It get a bit tight between Grand & Vandeventer but not that bad. Plus, it opens up West of Vandeventer until at least Boyle, if not further.

    Also, in Central West End Alignment option 2, how possible is it to continue south on Euclid all the way to the Metro station? Then come back up North on Taylor? (Aka just make the loop slightly larger)

    I realize that BJC most likely restricts that possibility but since BJC is already doing a massive redevelopment, why not plan the two projects together?

  • Justin Striebel

    You briefly touch upon this when talking about expanding, but do you see this as the sort of thing that could ultimate be our for of the subway (in NYC) or the L (in CHI)? A long ways away of course, but that sort of long-term thinking is obviously important.

    I currently live in South City (STL Hills-ish). That’s not covered by this (nor do I expect it to be at this point). Do you envision a scenario where someday I could walk a few blocks and take a couple of street cars to work downtown?

    Or would that be the function of the Metrolink? And is that sort of expansion a legitimate consideration for it?

    • Mike Pomatto

      I concur. The plan seems to promote driving for folks in this neighborhood.

    • I think the short-term goal for Metrolink needs to be a Southside line to serve and strengthen the City’s densest neighborhoods and the young, progressive, transit-conscious individuals and families that are settling there. The preferred alternative in Metro’s South Side study runs from downtown east on Chouteau, then south along the length of Jefferson before hugging the Interstate all the way down to the Loughborough Commons by Carondelet Park.

      For a first step, I personally think Metro and the City would be better served by purchasing or leasing long-term (if possible) Union Pacific’s De Soto right-of-way which terminates at the same Loughborough Common location, but bows west into/through some active neighborhoods before meeting up with the Red Line at Grand into downtown (or continuing on new tracks to CWE and north?).

      The reasoning for this is that with the existing right-of-way already in place, collateral costs for grading/excavating/fencing/etc are reduced greatly, demolitions are virtually nonexistent (!) and Metro has a line that, right out of the gate, has the potential to be a profitable one.

      But speaking only for the South Side here, the end goal should be BOTH of these lines, AND a full-length streetcar heading downtown along Gravois and Broadway.

  • JPCosgrove

    I like this proposal. However, I also think that we’re in desperate need of a streetcar from downtown to Soulard and possibly other near-Southeast neighborhoods. Such a short line would be cheaper and it would probably be a lot easier to get people excited about it.

  • I think the east west connection on this study is a fantastic idea (even if 3/4 of the route is sparsely populated both in commercial and residential), however i have to completely disagree with the north south connection of the study (hopefully the full report will prove that my ideas have already been taken into account). The population of the area that the line would theoretically connect in the north is dismal versus what it could connect in the south. Lets not forget, if this trolley line were to go through, it would be for everyone to use, not just those with no vehicle (or disadvantaged households as the article stated). So why not connect more than less. The last comment I would like to make is to point out the idea of barriers that a south line would cross versus those a north line does not have to cross. To make my point more clear, would it not make more sense for the line to gain pedestrian access to those of south city where it is more densely populated. It would allow access through the 64-44 corridor. It would make more sense to research a line down Grand, Jefferson, Broadway/7th or Gravois/tucker.

    • dani

      I completely agree. It would make so much more sense to go to lasalle park, Lafayette, and soulard than north.

    • Shmeremy

      Took the words right out of my mouth. Lafayette Square, Soulard, Benton Park, etc would use the hell out of this. I live in Soulard but work in Clayton and I would love to take Metro out to work but getting to a Metro Link station via bus or bike just isn’t worth it. If I could ride this downtown and then hop on Metro, I’d leave the car at home.

  • John

    My father-in-law always talks about taking the streetcar to Sportman’s Park and other places. It’s too bad we have to spend millions to re-create what was already here 50 years ago.

    • Wayne Brasler

      There were streetcar lines to, take a deep breath, Florissant, Berkeley, Ferguson Creve Coeur Lake Park, Kirkwood, Webster Groves, Clayton, Sunset Hills, Brentwood, all on wooded right-of-way not relying on street running. The Delmar line ran all the way from down to the Delmar Loop, the Hodiamont line all the way from downtown to north of the Wellston Loop, almost all of it on reserved off-street right-of-way which is still there, used for nothing. Sportsman’s Park on Grand got so much ridership a streetcar yard was built in back. Itwas all junk because the cost of maintaining rail, overhead, generating electricity and maintaining powerhouses had become problematic and so many of the areas served were sparsely populated. It was mostly gone by the late 1950s. Ten year later the areas served were bursting with new homes and people thirsting for fast, economical public transportation. Too late. Talk about lack of vision!

  • Joe Monahan

    While light-rail and streetcars sometimes are treated as urban development panacea, I really like this plan.I think Lindell is perfectly set up to handle a streetcar–there is existing density along the route, and with good zoning there is plenty of room for adding more. I love the inclusion of the North-South line to integrate the Near North neighborhoods into the greater downtown.

    That said, It seems silly that this streetcar would not connect with the Loop streetcar at Lindell and Debalivere. The value of public transit is in the network, not just linear travel. These connections are really important if we want to build St. Louis into a city in which public transit is a viable and reasonable option. Not to mention it would just feel right to have streetcars running along the North side of Forest Park. Here’s to hoping that the forces behind this have the vision to figure out a way to make it work in future plans.

    • Simon Nogin

      Just below the Olive & Compton photo there is a mention of connecting it to the soon to be Delmar Loop trolley line. I agree though, this shouldn’t just be considered but needs to be implemented.

  • T-Leb

    To sell this idea better, make mention of the ability to lay high speed internet cables during construction like they are doing with Loop Trolley. Heck, why not get in bed with Google Fiber or similar company to help create synergy and increase gov/public support.. I’d ride a streetcar, especially if I wanted to make a few stops on the way home, it beats paying for an automobile.

  • Steve

    40 minutes from downtown to the CWE. Is that a fucking joke?

    • Alex Ihnen

      That’s standard speed for in-traffic streetcars. That’s why this is different than MetroLink (~15min for the same trip). Streetcars provide access to neighborhoods. This line will connect Midtown at Lindell and north to downtown and the CWE near Lindell much better than MetroLink can.

      • And the streetcar will take 15 minutes longer than the nearly identical trip by bus. Pitiful.

        • RyleyinSTL

          The bus doesn’t bring with it a half billion in development potential….pitiful.

          Who is it that’s taking the bus from CBD to CWE? That’s what the LRT is for.

          • No, the bus doesn’t bring in development. Also, nobody is going to be taking the streetcar from CBD to CWE… too slow. Almost everybody will be using it to go to/from someplace in between the two termini.

            I live in the CWE and go to Grand Center on occasion. But I drive there every time because 1) the MetroLink station is too far and 2) the bus in too infrequent. If the bus ran every 10 minutes as they’re proposing with the streetcar, I would be riding them much more often that once in a blue moon.

          • Steve

            It definitely doesn’t take 20 mins to go from CWE to Keiner Plaza. This seems like something people would take to go very short distances.

      • Steve

        I’m confused. If a streetcar can go as fast as a regular car and it’s only about 5ish minutes from downtown to the CWE, why would it be 40 minutes by streetcar? In 40 minutes, someone could drive from downtown to Six Flags. I would almost rather just wait for a bus that could be late.

        • Alex Ihnen

          At least according to Google Maps, driving from Kiener Plaza to Taylor Avenue in the CWE would take 20mins assuming no traffic. Add a few minutes to park and it’s 25-30mins. It’s OK if you’re not going to ride the streetcar, others will.

          • Baron of Dogtown

            Alex, now I know there are many people including yourself smarter than me working on this but I wonder why wouldn’t the street car make the turn at Liindell / Euclid follow Euclid to Forest Park Parkway, then EAST on FPP to Midtown station and either turn NORTH on Vandi or North on Grand to rejoin the line? Wouldn’t this supply better access to points of interest? Why would some kind of turn at Taylor make any sense at all? What’s on Taylor when there is a new metro station at Boyle and a “BIG BOX” or two at Vani and BTW grand is the huge street that goes through our namesake Institution? Is this one of those, “we could do it but it would cost more moments so lets build something that makes no new access” Just questions…

          • Alex Ihnen

            I think there are a couple issues. Transit general needs to run both ways to attract riders – that is run in each direction in the same street. There are loops, but they’re rare, are generally only in CBDs and I don’t think I’ve seen one more than a block wide. Here, FPP would duplicate MetroLink more than Lindell.

        • Baron of Dogtown

          I think you’re blending road times with limited access freeway times. Not you fault, I think this is typical of people from St. Louis.

    • T-Leb

      Vulgar comment, I didn’t see that time estimate in the article. Where did it come from?

      • Alex Ihnen

        It’s in the study. Estimated 40min downtown to CWE via streetcar and 13min via MetroLink. IMO this seems to highlight why the systems aren’t redundant. They’re different modes for different purposes.

    • RyleyinSTL

      Clearly you don’t get what a streetcar is about. Neighborhood access. Visitors might make a CWE to Downtown trip to sight-see but a local would still use MetroLink.

      Visit a city where this kind of setup is working well and you will wonder why every city doesn’t have one. Helsinki is one good example of this in action. They have an amazing streetcar system which links to a limited regional Metro (subway).