St. Louis Streetcar: A Vision for Urban Rail

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Rail transit vision for St. Louis, MO

Come Monday, I will be stepping back from my roll with the St. Louis Streetcar Company to take on a new challenge. I do plan to stay involved with the project, but right now I am making a plea. For the health of St. Louis, we need a plan with priorities for transit and the political leadership to support the effort.

The last expansion of rail transit was the Cross County extension of MetroLink in 2006. Since then different transit projects have been considered to improve and expand St. Louis’ transit system, we have some good studies, but none of these projects are moving forward. That needs to change and projects need to get beyond the feasibility study.

We need a vision for transit that has both community and political support and dedication. For the St. Louis Streetcar, we are promoting a neighborhood rail transit system that complements existing and future MetroLink corridors with modern trains providing efficient transit while spurring economic development.

As much as we envision a greater connected rail system, we encourage a phased approach to the build out due to the capacity for funding. We view this greater rail system as part of the MetroLink and MetroBus system. It would be a new mode of transit that is proving to be an effective tool in other cities for both transit ridership and economic development.

I live in unincorporated St. Louis County and own a condo downtown that we rent. As much as my daughter may want to see a train coming down Manchester Blvd. from I-270, it would be a poor use of resources. The Manchester #57 MetroBus provides the right level of service for this area. Neighborhood rail needs density, a good built environment, and destinations to justify the investment. The urban core provides the best environment for rail transit investment. This should go without saying, but a strong urban core benefits the entire St. Louis region.

On Monday, I am proud to be joining Gateway Greening. I am glad to be returning to non-profit work that is improving the lives and communities of St. Louis on a daily basis. Advocating for a better transit system does not provide the daily gratification and requires a long-term vision along with a heavy dose of optimism.

But we need a long-term vision to improve and grow St. Louis. Transit is a critical piece for St. Louis to compete for new jobs and new residents. We have opportunities to improve our transit system, and I hope we can gather the community and political support to start making it happen. Get involved and call your local politicians and tell them what you want for St. Louis. If you wish to help champion the idea of neighborhood rail transit, please send an email to [email protected].

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  • Tim

    Any new news on this?

  • gmichaud

    If a transformational streetcar plan is achieved, what would it look like? Here is one example. The current streetcar plan extends up Grand Ave to Natural Bridge. By further extending it to the Water Tower would allow for the creation of a plaza. It is mostly city owned land around the water tower(unless they recently gave it away).
    A plaza is cheap to build and creates a place for vendors. This is in correlation with the site developed as a major collection point for transit. In addition to streetcars, feeder lines and lines from Florissant Rd and Broadway should be directed so they contribute to a new major station. This location actually serves a large area.
    Any new buildings would be dense apartments and multuse buildings to feed the plaza.
    The Water Tower would be saved, it would be transformational for the surrounding neighborhoods. Economic development starts at the most basic form of a vendor selling in a plaza/square This balances the opportunities for well connected developers. The Water Tower Station creates identity, making transit easier to navigate (I’ll meet you at the Water Tower) (note also it is a circular turn around point)
    A Water Tower Station energizes a whole section of the city.
    This is conceptual to demonstrate an approach. In comparison the current streetcar plan basically replaces bus lines. Economic development is projected, which is fine, but there is little indication of how these lines will interact with existing transit to create a better transit system and physical city for the citizens.
    As I say I am just dashing off some conversation, but I think a federal grant would be more likely won if there was an attempt to create opportunity for all economic levels from vendor up, while using streetcars to help remake St. Louis in significant ways.

    Any streetcar plan that does not contain the interaction of transit with the community is going to be a difficult public sell. The purpose of the investment should be to show how it improves the transit experience and life in general. Even questions like integrating the streetcar with Paul McKee’s development probably should have been addressed in the Feasibility Study. They are concurrent so it seems like it should be a natural concern.

    I am heartened that streetcars are being discussed in a significant way. Just a few closing comments.

  • gmichaud

    I am glad to see this happening. I went to the streetcar website and took a look, I am surprised I have not heard about this until now.

    There is a St Louis Streetcar Feasibility study, that is great. A few points I want to make. First off the whole transit system needs to be fixed with streetcars as an important part of the solution.

    I feel like if a transformative plan was presented it may have won the federal grant.

    What I mean is that, as I mentioned before in Helsinki the transit near Olympic Stadium, the approximate size of Busch Stadium, has 6 lanes of traffic, the middle two are dedicated for streetcars (trams), the outside two for buses and the middle lane on each side for cars. There are three systems working together, they meet just down the road at the main rail station and plaza.(designed by Elliel Saarinen father of Eero, architect of the Arch), not to mention important pedestrian and bicycle provisions on all routes. All of these transit components have to work together to determine the viability of any plan.

    St. Louis needs a major transit uplift. Here is a quote about the bus system in Seoul, South Korea from Governing Magazine in an article by Alex Marshall.”The reorganization of the bus system was particularly impressive. Kim (the director) and others reorganized the routes, putting into place a more comprehensible system of trunk, feeder, commuter and express lines, identifiable by color.”

    Nor in the Feasibility Study there is any mention of creating public space and walking neighborhoods. This is an essential element of transit, the ability to create gathering spaces by collecting transit. Helsinki for instance has numerous squares and pedestrian orientated plazas, along with green spaces liberally sprinkled around the city.

    The lack of a transformative plan means that one of the most important aspects of transit is ignored, this ability to enhance old and create new transit collection points which in turn create commercial and social value. (How is it possible to judge the merits of any streetcar route without knowing any of these above mentioned factors)?

    As far as paying for all of this, a transformative plan, might cost what, 3 Billion, 5 Billion, I don’t know, but it is easier to gain acceptance of something people can believe in. Big changes are needed and not just to improve urban living, but to take into account global warming, citizens know this. A good plan might actually win the support of the public.

    The truth is East West Gateway, who I see supported the current Feasibility Study, should be taking the lead in pulling all of the pieces together.
    In the end you can still do the 120 million 1st phase if that is all the money that can be raised.

    You get the idea, my view is what St. Louis really needs is a transformation, it is well past the time to still be monkeying around the edges.

  • SnakePlissken

    Addition to the below comment… For the love of the god just give a comprehensive bike network! I ride to and from work every day and like clockwork I’m almost killed daily! I even had a guy throw his coffee at me… I mean seriously what on earth is wrong with people?

  • SnakePlissken

    I have an idea lets extend Shrewsbury Metrolink South to I55 and connect the Chippewa and Kingshighway Line.

    I love and hate this. I love what a comprehensive streetcar and light rail could mean for real estate values. I hate it bc (1) it’ll probably never happen and (2) if it does I’ll most likely be dead or 80 yrs old… I’m 33.

  • Devin in South City

    I would like to know how well streetcars would induce greater demand for transit. The Grand bus is always packed whenever I ride it, that’s for sure. But when I ride out to the Ballas TC, I’m frequently literally the last one on the bus. On a cultural level, do you all think there is a “bus stigma” we’re trying to avoid, à la the Forest Park Trolley (or the short-lived Shuttle Bug before)?

    Maybe it’s the whole package—rethought routes, multiple modes all integrated with one ticket, some shiny new modes, as well as a commitment to TOD and disincentivizing driving and parking in the city—that will help people visualize what could be for our city. But who in our city government is going to advocate for this?

    Stadiums have some leverage in our election cycles that a 15-year vision for civic transformation just doesn’t.

    Until then, I will keep enjoying my Metro “limo ride” from Clayton to Ballas. 🙂

  • gmichaud

    It’s great this is being done. I often wondered if an alternate government would form, a shadow government so to speak. if you look at the transit planning agency for the region, East West Gateway and their recent Connected 2045 plan basically flat lines the whole transportation system, projecting in 3 decades transportation will be essentially the same as it is today in regional St. Louis.

    If possible, MoDot is even worse. Government sponsored planning entities simply don’t have public conversations that include any aggressive expansion of transit opportunities. It apparently is not their priority.

    I’m happy to see alternatives being offered.

    By the way I agree with the notion that the focus should be on the City of St. Louis and making it work in that environment first. Older suburbs that have a infrastructure that can support transit may be easy to include also.

    It makes no sense to expend monies trying to makeover a large area that was never designed for transit when compared to the city, that was for the most part, designed to accommodate transit.

    Lessons can be applied to the suburbs The city should be a model of what can and should be accomplished. Each community has to measure their commitment to transit. There is no doubt the cost to build a transformatiive transit system in the city would cost far less than the suburbs.

    I also think there is probably a lot of changes that could be made even with current budgets levels.
    From my point of view this would include two main areas:

    Redesign the existing layout of the complete transit system to find if there are other conceptual ideas of how transit routing can occur and be integrated with the community better serve users
    In tandem with this, rethink the zoning, building codes to accommodate transit. This would include the building or enhancement of public spaces, which in turn these spaces enhance the transit layout, making in more visible and usable and hopefully successful.

    That would be a question to ask, what is the best way a streetcar plan can fit with the rest of the system, whether BRT, buses, MetroLink, pedestrians and so on?

    I also have to agree with the notion that Gravois should be included in any planning. It is a wide street, plenty of room to work. It crosses both east west and north south streets creating greater access the city, it is a quick route to the county, and other connectivity factors are present.
    Thanks for all of your work on this and thanks for your leadership.

  • TM B33

    Here’s a link http://www.skytran.net

  • TM B33

    I wish STL Metro would like at SkyTran. Skytran provides rapid transit more in line with the lifestyles of Americans. Go where you want, when you, with whom you want directly to your desired location. It takes far less space and can be imbedded into existing neighborhoods and buildings. Skytran could have been installed built in the LA basin to cover the entire area with stops within 1/4 mile of any location for less than the $5B they were going to spend to build a rail line to Ontario. Why not try something new and innovative. Try leading into the future instead of following past failures. Let’s face facts, most people do not want to ride a bus or rail car with other people which is the reason cars are still the choice mode of transportation.

    • matimal

      People’s ‘wants’ arefo rmed from their experiences. People don’t want something before they conceive of that thing in the first place.

  • PacifistLXIX

    STL needs to stop taking an either-or approach to transit. Different modes and technologies serve different purposes and require different funding/operating mechanisms. Regionally we should pursue streetcar AND northside-southside MetroLink. They would follow different timelines for funding and development and would both serve the same overall goals of transportation options and economic development.

  • JZ71

    First question – how many people ride the buses along these corridors, now? Second question – how many MORE people would ride the “buses on rails” (which are what streetcars are)? Third question – would it be worth the hundreds of millions of dollars in investment to attract “X” new riders? Fourth question – if the same money was spent just buying more buses, to provide both more frequent AND more comprehensive transit service, wouldn’t we ALL be better off? Fifth question – which local tax are we going to add / increase to make this a reality? The state can’t figure out how to raise the fuel tax to fund MODOT – in which fantasy do you expect more state dollars to fund urban transit?! And sixth (and final) question – do regular transit riders favor more frequent service (on mundane vehicles) OR less frequent service (on fancier, what-is-old-is-new-again vehicles)? Transit funding IS a zero-sum game . . . .

    • pat

      Have you ever driven on a busy street following a bus? They’re slow and clog up the road. Now imagine more of that on a road. A streetcar or brt would have more frequent service than a bus. Buses, at least from my experience, have a frequency of about 30 minutes in the city. A streetcar would have a frequency of 10 or 15 minutes.

      • JZ71

        Have you ever been on a busy street following a streetcar? I didn’t think so . . . And I’ll repeat, how do you plan to pay for your fantasy?! The reason most bus routes operate with 30 minute frequency is a) because of actual rider demand / usage, and/or b) that’s all Metro can afford to put out! Adding more frequent bus service would require more tax revenues. Replacing buses with streetcars would require even more tax revenues. And replacing buses AND increasing frequency would require way more tax revenues.

        MODOT has no extra money. The no-new-taxes crew in Jeff City could care less about the area’s transit “needs” and dreams. So that leaves it up to us locals to fund them (but wait, we “need” to spend a billion dollars on new stadium, we “need” to give “free” land to the federal government to keep federal jobs in the city, and we “can’t afford to” hire more police officers!). And spending millions of dollars inside the city, with none going to anywhere in county, means it’ll be all on the city to find the new tax revenues!

        And, WTF? As with every recent transit plan, who’s looking at the big(ger) picture? Why stop the “future” Chippewa branch at Hampton? Why not connect to the Shrewsbury Metrolink station and exponentially expand those riders’ options?! Why show only two “Initial Lines”, neither of which crosses Kingshighway? Few potential riders want to stay that local, they want to go further than just a few miles, and they damn sure don’t want to be forced to transfer, to shift modes, much less to do so in some pretty sketchy parts of town (Grand and Natural Bridge? Really?), just to get some new (old) technology in place!

        Finally, the ONLY way to get whole community behind this vision is to offer more than just random lines (to nowhere?) drawn on a map. Voters need some specificity. We need a viable budget and a realistic schedule, not something nebulus, like “future” or “possible”. we’re not stupid, we know the history of transit (non) investments in the city. If we’re not individually going to benefit, in any way or form, for 20 or 30 years, explain why we would want to vote for higher taxes?! More buses would deliver far more immediate “bang for the buck”, for far more voters / taxpayers than any streetcar line will. Extending our existing Metrolink lines beyond their arbitrary, irrational end points would deliver more “bang for the buck”.

        Hell, even connecting the Delmar Loop Tourist Line to the proposed Olive-Lindell line makes more sense than building a line halfway up Natural Bridge (even the city’s old lines, a century ago, went further than that!). I know, I know, it’s probably the PC thing to do (14th – Florissant), but it makes little sense in a larger transit SYSTEM! The core mission of any transit system is (or should be) moving people, NOT helping developers or attempting to solve society’s ills. If we’re all paying for it, it should be shaped to serve all of us, not just those lucky few in the cntral corridor! Rant over . . .

        • pat

          Oh man. Simmer down now.

          This link was posted earlier. Provides some context.
          http://www.thetransportpolitic.com/2010/05/17/ottawa-closer-than-ever-to-replacing-bus-rapid-transit-with-light-rail/

          Adding more buses, adds more cost. That’s more drivers, more equipment to maintain, etc. A streetcar keeps the same amount or fewer drivers with equipment that lasts longer and can grow more to meet demand.

          Arguments can be made for streetcars or buses but I think either need to have their own right of way to make them more functional than driving.

          To raise funds, I think a small city wide property tax increase (maybe .25%) and a larger (1%) increase for areas within a half mile of the proposed line would be passable. I don’t know how much that money it would raised. I’m trying to add it up. Put a 10 year sunset on it. You match those funds with federal money. I think something like that would pass in the city.

          In regards to you issue with the lines, I agree. Any streetcar or BRT needs its own right of way to be fast and frequent. That really only leaves roads like Jefferson, Gravois, Natural Bridge, and some others as options.

          • JZ71

            Yes, more buses add more costs. That isn’t the real issue. The real issue is that streetcar advocates want to ignore the seriously high capital costs of getting any new line open. We’re spending $43 million to build the 2-mile, mostly single-track, Loop Trolley, with two “refurbished” vehicles. Tempe, Arizona, is getting ready to spend $177 million on a 3 mile system, presumably double tracked and with more, new, vehicles.

            For the sake of argument, let’s say that averages out to $20 million per vehicle, to potentially replace one or two existing bus routes. A transit bus costs between $300,000 – $600,000; let’s use $500,000 each. A transit operator costs probably $80,000 per year, with fringe benefits, whether they’re driving a bus or a streetcar. So yeah, if we spend $20 million on one streetcar or $15 million on 30 buses, that still leaves $5 million to cover the 50 new bus operators we’d need, along with a whole lot of fuel.

            Transit is not about moving people at the absolute lowest cost; transit is about getting people from where they are to where they want to be, efficiently and safely. Yes, on any one route, streetcars will do that better than the same bus(es), but at way, way higher costs. Metro’s ENTIRE budget for this year is $78 million. It makes absolutely no sense to expect to dedicate one-quarter of that to building and operating just one 2-3 mile line.

            Yes buses are not sexy, but they’re pretty good at moving a large number of people to many, many places over our service area. And, for the same $$$, I’ll take 30 of one type of vehicle over 2 or 3 of another on any day!

            http://publictransport.about.com/od/Transit_Vehicles/a/How-Much-Does-A-Bus-Cost-To-Purchase-And-Operate.htm

  • STLEnginerd

    why does every transit study hate Gravois…?

    • John R

      fear of mispronunciation?

    • tbatts666

      Seconded. Running a transit line down Gravois to the county would connect the blue line metrolink, south grand, soulard, downtown.

      And with lots of right of way to spare.

  • Brian Lewis

    Your suggested route through the park will incense one neighbor in particular. Is this intentional? If so, that’s some fantastic trolling.

  • Chicagoan

    I really think StL should skip the streetcar and go all out on BRT. Genuine BRT, hitting all the points. Dedicated bus lanes throughout, train station-like bus stops, signal preference. It’ll likely be cheaper (right?) and they could run it up and down a number of major streets.

    This feels like, in my opinion, StL’s chance to be truly innovative. A lot of cities have done BRT, but very few have executed in 100%. Chicago is installing something very close to BRT downtown, built to shuttle people east-west, especially those taking commuter trains into the city who then need to move in further east downtown for their jobs.

    But, the Chicago Transit Authority skimped on the train station-like bus stops due to cost concerns and complaints from business owners saying they’d be blocked/covered by the stations. So, they built really nice stations, but something between a bus station and a train station. I give it 90% BRT.

    If StL can gather the support to undergo this kind of infrastructure investment, I think it could be revolutionary for the city and could put it on the map if they manage 100% BRT.

    Thoughts, anyone?

    • Alex Ihnen

      I could be convinced. The challenge, as you note, is actually doing BRT. 100% BRT may be close in cost to a streetcar. But a real BRT system? Perhaps 30 miles of it criss-crossing the city? Sure. This idea won’t be popular with rail adherents, but it should at least be part of the discussion. There are benefits to various transit modes, but the important thing (I think we all agree) is building a network, connecting our city, and providing transit options.

      • Chicagoan

        I just feel like BRT is a great opportunity. Obviously, heavy rail isn’t coming to StL, like the L in Chicago (or New York’s subway). That was constructed largely in a time where rail was the primary mode of transit and Chicago’s population was booming. So, they poured money into the elevated rail system that we now still use today.

        Light rail probably isn’t coming either and I think it’d be more cost-prohibitive than BRT. You’re putting shovels in the ground and it’s going to be costly.

        I think, if done right, BRT could revolutionize transit in StL. I know people prefer rail, but if there’s dedicated lanes, nice stations, and signal preference, what’s the difference? They can paint the bus lanes red (for your Cardinals), build charming stations that protect people from the elements, and install the necessary technology to keep the buses moving, especially in rush hour.

        That’d make StL the first city in the country with 100% BRT and I think that’d be an exciting thing for the city. Unless Chicago completes the Ashland Avenue BRT, which they seem pretty dedicated to doing all the way (It seems, anyway).

        • PacifistLXIX

          True BRT does a fine job moving people but is not a catalyst for development. At least not in US. Busses = vehicles; Rail = infrastructure. See CNT.COM for “development oriented transit” discussion. Streetcar make great sense for rebuilding city neighborhoods; light rail for regional connections. BRT perhaps option for corridors where rail doesn’t work or maybe interim step toward rail.

          • John R

            That certainly is in dispute. Cleveland’s Health Line BRT, e,g,, has helped spur a ton of development down Euclid Ave. And we can’t exactly say our light rail has resulted in a lot of redevelopment. Personally, I think either quality BRT or streetcar down Olive/Lindell would help with redevelopment.

      • tbatts666

        that blows my mind that 100% brt would be as expensive as a streetcar line.

        Wouldn’t it just involve buying fancy stations, big buses, acquiring the right of way?

        • STLEnginerd

          It’d be close, only difference is no rails in the ground. The cars themselves and how they are powered is another factor I guess but one rolling box is a lot like any other.

          • matimal

            There are many other advantages to streetcars. They offer a much smoother and more controlled ride. They produce no emissions. They are much quieter and can operate both above ground and in tunnels or other restricted spaces where diesel exhaust become a problem. They last for decades and busses last only a few years. Streetcars can take steeper gradients as well. There is much more to it than you suggest.

          • JZ71

            Most electricty in Missouri comes from burning coal, so while streetcars don’t create direct emissions, they’re far from producing “no emissions”!

          • matimal

            They produce no emissions exposure to users and those on the streets.

          • Alex Ihnen

            There are hybrid bus/BRT systems that could function as electric w/ guide wires in tunnels or select areas and use a gasoline engine (or electric engine off-wire) elsewhere. I think Boston’s Silver Line runs like that.

          • matimal

            But the cost of the busses and the shorter lifespan mean that operating costs are much higher. The smooth even rails means that streetcars take much less wear and tear.

          • John R

            True. But it also is easier for transit agencies to secure fed aid for securing energy-efficient vehicles than it is to land New Starts for light rail or streetcar lines.

          • matimal

            Cincinnati did it. If Cincinnati can get federal money for streetcars and overcome a local hostility to streetcars that surpassed Palestinian hatred of Israel, then anyone can.

          • John R

            We also got New Starts for the Loop Trolley and I wouldn’t doubt we could get more for a starter Saint Louis line. (I believe Cincy is a bit more than a 2 mile loop and Midwest peers KC, Detroit and Milwaukee also secured fed funding for relatively short downtown runs.) But if we’re talking about securing enough federal $$ to advance a large streetcar system or build N/S Metrolink, my understanding is getting aid for BRT alternative is much easier.
            I agree that streetcar or lightrail would be ideal, but from a time and cost perspective I think we can advance BRT much quicker and is more feasible to begin with.

          • matimal

            If a powerful enough coalition can be organized, you’d be amazed at what can be achieved. This is not about technical specification or cost estimates, it’s about investing in a place. Playing the game of narrow mechanical or financial calculations risks dying a death of a thousand cuts.

          • John R

            I don’t disagree, but at some point we need to move forward with a realistic plan. Whatever plan that is should have been decided years ago… I think a great step would be for Slay, Stenger and Metro to agree on a timeline for developing an ambitious yet feasible rapid transit expansion plan that benefits both city and county.

          • Thomas R Shrout Jr

            There is a plan, but no leadership.

          • John R

            What’s the plan?

          • Thomas R Shrout Jr

            East West Gateway has a MetroLink expansion plan for at least 20 years. N/S ML has had a higher level of planning since around 2006 within the city limits of St. Louis. Metro has advanced some BRT ideas that have received some level of planning. No one is moving forward.

          • matimal

            Without a basis of support the plane is beside the point. We need good salesmen on our side, not political operatives.

          • John R

            I think the key for me is for the leadership to set a timeline to have a comprehensive plan settled…. the actual plan would be developed through a strong public process. I don’t think we’ll make much progress until such time as our leadership begins to hold themselves accountable for getting something done.

            Relatedly, the sooner we can determine whether the County is “with us or against us,” the better for the City to pursue its own options.

          • matimal

            Don’t assume you know who “our leadership” on transit even are. It may be someone entirely new to politics. That’s how streetcars happened in Cincinnati.

          • Thomas R Shrout Jr

            Loop Trolley was Tiger, not New Starts

          • John R

            thanks for the correction

          • Tim E

            I believe It was neither, It was part of the stimulus package that doled out $100 million in one time funding but separate from TIGER grants (which is a year to year appropriation) or New Starts (which is part of the transit funding set aside in the Highway Trust Fund)

          • Thomas R Shrout Jr

            It was Tiger. Money came from stimulus.

          • John R

            Cleveland’s BRT vehicle is hybrid-electric that emits 90% less emissions than their standard bus.

          • Chicagoan

            Do streetcars really produce a much smoother ride? What if there are dedicated bus lanes and signal preference? I’ve taken heavy rail and light rail in a number of cities and very few produce a completely smooth ride. Chicago’s commuter rail (Metra) is one, but it’s commuter rail, so I don’t think it quite counts. The subway in Vienna is another that comes to mind. I don’t think streetcars are necessarily quieter. Chicago recently bought a number of “green buses” that are pretty dang quiet and I’d imagine the emissions situation is better.

            You’re right on the matter of how long they last, though.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rede_Integrada_de_Transporte

            I’d just love to see StL go all out on BRT like Curitiba, look what it did for them!

          • matimal

            The streetcars I’ve used in Portland, Seattle, Baltimore, and New Orleans were clearly quieter than the busses that operate in those cities. There is no question that their ride was much smoother, as well and did not depend on the quality of the road surface as did that of busses.

          • Chicagoan

            But, do those cities have BRT? And, are those cities using these so called “green buses” that run much more quiet, along with other perks? I don’t dislike the idea of a streetcar system in StL, I just think it doesn’t seem like it’s happening, so I’m trying to think of alternatives.

          • matimal

            I don’t know. Streetcars have brought tens of millions in development in Cincinnati and they aren’t even running yet. Busses would never have done that, because busses aren’t permanently installed. One schedule change from the transit authority and any investment intended to take advantage of the route is rendered worthless.

          • Chicagoan

            But, these aren’t just buses. BRT is a serious commitment. The buses should at no point ever be sharing the street with cars. They should have dedicated lanes that are painted a different color, giving them a clear path, which helps to eliminate the dreaded bus bunching. Usually these lanes are in the middle of the road and have green space between them and the streets used by vehicles acting as a buffer.

            They should have well-made, train station-like bus stops. These should be actual enclosures, not just a little glass box sitting along the road.

            There should be signal preference as well. These buses should be able to coast up and down their routes because traffic signals should be working in their favor.

            If StL wanted to do it right, they’d also order a new fleet of longer, more open buses. The sort of thing that is basically a streetcar on wheels. Give them a nice, clean look, not like the cheesy “trolley” buses that run around the city.

            The biggest issue with BRT is that I think some people don’t completely understand how comprehensive it is. I’m not saying you don’t, but it’d be an issue the city would have to grapple with on this.

          • John R

            Right. Something like the Health Line in Cleveland has to be studied for whether it makes sense for STL…. it’s helped bring billions in investment along the Euclid Corridor. It’s not perfect and can be improved even further, but it has done the job admirably with it’s tasks of increasing ridership, quickening the commute and boosting redevelopment.
            It doesn’t have its own r-o-w past Cleveland Clinic, but in the core it does and with pre-board ticketing, enhanced stations and sleek buses it is a solid and highly successful system that developers know isn’t going to be abandoned.

          • Alex Ihnen

            I think the amount of development attributable to the HealthLine is grossly exaggerated.

          • John R.

            Of course it is…. exaggerations are made for every successful project and it is difficult to determine how much is directly attributable to just about any transit project with any precision. But it cannot be said that there hasn’t been an incredible amount of redevelopment along the Euclid Corridor since the Health Line opened and it is difficult to see how streetcar would have added measurably more..

          • John R

            And exaggerations can be said for Metrolink… how much of downtown & CWE redevelopment has been the result of Metrolink? Some, surely; but not necessarily the amount touted. I think what is safe to assume is that a successfully designed transit project will help add to the amount of redevelopment going on in an area possessing the capacity for such activity and that the particular mode of transit that is best for a particular area depends upon the local circumstances.

            But to not even study whether a decent-level BRT system might make sense for Saint Louis is transit malpractice, imo.

          • Guest

            I’m old enough to have ridden streetcars in St. Louis. I really can’t see how anyone who’s ridden both streetcars and buses would prefer a bus or even say there’s no difference. There is indeed. Not only are your points valid (because I remember those same points), there are more in favor of streetcars. Like, no smell from exhaust. Electric rather than fossil fuel burning.
            When they took the streetcars out of St. Louis in 1958, I seem to remember they expanded bus service. I also remember hearing periodic merging and cancellations of bus lines and reduced scheduling not too long afterwards.
            So my question is if buses are so great why didn’t they have the same success as streetcars in St. Louis?

          • matimal

            modern streetcars are vastly improved over the old ones.

          • JZ71

            One, the majority of electricity in Missouri is generated by burning coal, aka “fossil fuels”. Two, if streetcars were such a “success”, why were they replaced by buses? Because their rolling stock were 40 years old and needed to be replaced (and buses were far cheaper)? Because it would have cost a ton of money to push rails out into the new suburbs (and buses were far cheaper)? And because fewer people were riding public transit because more people were driving themselves?

          • Adam

            A few objections:

            1) I’m not seeing why a bus would be cheaper than a streetcar (not the supporting infrastructure but the car itself). Do you have any historical numbers for comparison?

            2) That it would have cost a ton of money to EXTEND the tracks does not explain why the existing tracks were dismantled.

            3) Buses replacing streetcars doesn’t follow from more people driving themselves. If they’re driving themselves then they’re not riding buses either.

            4) Let’s not forget the role that automobile and oil companies played in buying up and dismantling streetcar lines, even if the extent to which they did so is debatable.

          • JZ71

            1. Buses cost between $300,000 and $700,000, new, depending on propulsion systems and size – diesel is the cheapest and hybrind are the most expensive, with CNG in between; a smaller bus is half the cost of a 60′ articulated bus.

            The costs of streetcars get buried in the total cost of a new system. Cincinnati’s new system is 4 miles long, has 5 vehicles, and the total project cost $148 million. Assuming that 2/3 went into track and infrastructure, and 1/3 went into vehicles, that would make the cost of each new, state-of-the-art streecar $10 million!

            2. Not used, in the way, so it was easier to tear them out or cover them over than to just leave them, since the assumption was streetcars would never be coming back.

            3. You’re right – it was a combination of many things, but primarily old equipment (needing to be replaced), falling demand and the need to follow the population out to the suburbs.

            4. Competition at work – if they didn’t want to sell, the “bad guys” wouldn’t have been able to buy!

          • Adam

            1) I don’t buy that a single streetcar, on its own, costs $10 million. I want to know the cost of a single streetcar, minus all the other infrastructure, and minus the overhead of putting together an entire system from the ground up.

            2) Yes, of course. I’m just saying that the cost of extending the tracks does not explain dismantling of existing tracks. I’m separating that cause from that effect as it seemed you were implying that the former in part drove the latter.

            3) Falling demand I believe due to autos, but old equipment and a “need” to follow people to the suburbs I don’t buy. Old equipment + demand = new equipment, and the buses never made it out any farther than the streetcars so clearly that “need” wasn’t much of a driver.

            4) Perhaps. It all depends on what got subsidized (cars) and what didn’t (public transit).

          • John R

            Cincy paid $20 million for its order of 5 streetcars (if my maths is correct, that is $4 million/streetcar) and KC paid $18 million for its order of 4 streetcars.

          • John R

            Cincy and KC are using the same Spanish firm for their streetcars; Detroit has a contract with an American company valued at $32 million for 6 streetcars.

          • gmichaud

            While costs and revenue are important, the problem I see focusing on what everything costs from the outset will result in zero solutions.
            When people spend money on their homes they don’t always get the cheapest materials possible, Not the cheapest doorknobs, the cheapest floors and so on. If you redesign a kitchen, upgrades may make the kitchen more attractive and easier to use, or maybe more durable.
            To me the questions surrounding the current presentation by Mr. Schindler should be more along the lines of can streetcars be a new approach to make transit more desirable for transit users? Or questions like what is the role of BRT in a transit system, or what does a city planning that engages the streetcar look like? This is all long before money is a concern.

            Costs are important, but they should not be allowed to kill ideas. If in the end a kick ass transit is designed and it cost a little more. I’m guessing people would be inclined to support something that they think will work and believe in.
            It is far more important to come up with excellent designs than worry about costs at this point. In other words, with an excellent design, any higher costs will bring far greater value society and the city.

          • Adam

            thanks for the numbers. so $4M is substantially less than the $10M but substantially more than the $300-700K figures that JZ quoted. so then we also have to weigh the capacity, lifetime, maintenance costs and development potential of streetcars against those of buses.

          • John R

            Correct. btw, Metro picked up its articulated buses for the #70 Grand at about $500K each, but they were refurbished ones.

          • JZ71

            Back in the day, streetcars were not subsisdized, they were constructed and operated by private companies, and even paid concession fees to the cities for the privilege of using the public right-of-way. Subsidies are a “modern” thing!

            No, you didn’t have to follow your customers out to the suburbs, but if you didn’t, you lost them.

            The Depression, followed by WW II, resulted in a 20 year span of deferred maintenance. Bueses were, and are, cheaper, so it made financial sense, back then, to make the switch, when you’re looking at replacing 50% – 100% of your rolling stock, all at one time.

            If you get rid of your streetcars, why maintain the tracks? We didn’t keep hitching posts, public watering troughs or spittoons, either.

            And you’re right, I couldn’t find the actual cost of “one” new streetcar, FOB Wherever. But spending $40M to go 2 miles or $148M to go 4 miles, when you can easily accomplish the same thing spending $1M-$2M-$5M on buses, is simple logic!

          • Adam

            “Back in the day, streetcars were not subsisdized, they were constructed
            and operated by private companies, and even paid concession fees to the
            cities for the privilege of using the public right-of-way. Subsidies
            are a “modern” thing!”

            I know. My whole point is that auto infrastructure WAS AND IS SUBSIDIZED while streetcars (and public transit in general) were not, which helped to put streetcars out of business.

            “If you get rid of your streetcars, why maintain the tracks? We didn’t
            keep hitching posts, public watering troughs or spittoons, either.”

            I don’t believe I’ve said anywhere that the tracks should have been kept after the streetcars disappeared. I’ve only commented on the circumstances that led to their disappearance.

            “The Depression, followed by WW II, resulted in a 20 year span of deferred maintenance…”

            Sounds plausible.

            “No, you didn’t have to follow your customers out to the suburbs, but if you didn’t, you lost them.”

            Again, you argued that buses usurped streetcars in part because they followed their customers farther out than streetcars. In St. Louis that never actually happened. It’s not a factor.

            “But spending $40M to go 2 miles or $148M to go 4 miles, when you can
            easily accomplish the same thing spending $1M-$2M-$5M on buses, is
            simple logic!”

            “so then we also have to weigh the capacity, lifetime, maintenance costs
            and development potential of streetcars against those of buses.”

          • gmichaud

            You also have to weigh the design of the whole transit system. Outside Olympic Stadium in Helsinki, along Mannerhemintie Avenue includes 6 lanes, two in the center for dedicated streetcars, two on the outside for dedicated bus, and two lanes for auto.

            Go to Google maps and type Mannerheimintie 21, 00250 Helsinki, Finland and you can see the arrangement of transit in the satellite image (if you know how to go to streetview and know how to move down the street you will see the streetcars and buses). This is adjacent to Olympic Stadium, about the size of Busch Stadium. If you can get around with Google maps you can see how little parking there is in this general area (and in much of Helsinki) because the transit system is successful.

            It is not about the money, but about the design of the system. Helsinki is approximately the same size metro area as St. Louis.

            To think that successful transit systems would not use both buses and streetcars is shortsighted.

            But really, in my view, discussions of costs at this point make no sense. There is a far greater chance that the public will support a transit design that works than the insane failure of transit in the St. Louis region as it now stands.

          • JZ71

            Streets and highways are “subsidized” by all taxpayers and are available for the use of all citizens, including many transit vehicles and their passengers. After that, subsidies start to diverge, widely. Transit vehicles have professional operators primarily paid for with public tax dollars; most private vehicles are operated by their owners or by the owners’ private employees. Transit vehicles’ capital costs, fuel and mainetenance are all subsidized by direct tax subsidies; vehicles in private ownership are generally not subsidized for their capital costs (the costs of some alternative fueled vehicles being the exception), their fuel costs or their maintenance costs AND they are taxed continually over their lifetimes, unlike public transit vehicles.

            Streetcar companies had the option of laying tracks in new, suburban rights of way; they chose not to! These days, public transit, which gets maybe 5% of the trips made in the region, is subsidized by 100% of the taxpayers – be careful about asserting that transit is subsidized less than the infrastructure that 95% of the people apparently want and actually use!

          • Adam

            “Streets and highways are “subsidized” by all taxpayers and are available
            for the use of all citizens, including many transit vehicles and their
            passengers.”

            Except, realistically, anyone who can’t buy a car since our bike and transit infrastructure are pretty much nonexistent.

            “EVERY mode of transportation is “subsidized”, in one way or another,
            unles you’re actually walking on a dirt path. Believe what you want,
            but I’m sticking with what I know from 5 years of actually serving on
            the board of a major transit system.”

            You just ADMITTED above that streetcars were not subsidized “back in the day” and now-a-days some modes (roads and highways) are subsidized to a MUCH greater extent than others (anything public). You served on a transit board in Denver, did you not? How much does Colorado spend on highways versus transit? Why is Denver aggressively expanding its light rail if it’s such terrible idea? Missouri has one of the lowest funding rates in the nation for transit. The city gets virtually no money from the state for transit investment despite being the state’s economic engine, while MODOT has been expanding highway capacity for decades, fueling and fueled by federally subsidized suburban sprawl. Your attempt to “break down” how transit money is spent completely ignores the incomparable amount of public money most states, including (nay, LEAD by) MO have spent on roads and highways for individual users, per capita, versus public transit. MO has spent so much that it now can’t afford to maintain the system it’s built. Sorry, but since at least the 60’s automobiles, roads, and highways have been preferentially subsidized over other modes of transit in most places including St. Louis. You’re fully aware of this.

            “Streetcar companies had the option of laying tracks in new, suburban rights of way; they chose not to!”

            They chose not to because automobiles and sprawl—heavily subsidized by the government—made competition impossible.

            “These days, public transit, which gets maybe 5% of the trips made in the
            region, is subsidized by 100% of the taxpayers…”

            What? 100% of WHICH taxpayers, exactly? And given that only about 5% of transportation funds actually go toward non-automobile transit anyway, and the rest goes toward highway expansion (including taxes paid by city residents) I don’t really see your point.

            “…be careful about
            asserting that transit is subsidized less than the infrastructure that
            95% of the people apparently want and actually use!”

            Not sure what I need to “be careful” about. It’s a true assertion regardless of what people “apparently want” (i.e. they have no other option but to drive everywhere since there aren’t any viable alternative transit options).

            “If transit were actually cheaper than having people drive themselves,
            guess what? The government would be far more willing to support (or
            mandate) transit over individual vehicles.”

            ^ This is pretty hilarious. Yeah, corporate lobbyists have nothing to do with how the government spends its money. It’s always about what’s cheapest. Give me a break, and see my comment above about how MO (and a bunch of other states) have over-built their road and highway networks to the point that they can’t maintain them. That’s some frugal spending.

            “What St. Louis really needs is a true SYSTEM that works (far better than
            it does now), not spending dozens of milions of dollars on just few
            lines.”

            The two are not mutually exclusive.

            “Plus, be careful about what you ask for – if transit ridership magically
            doubled overnight (from 5% to 20%, Metro has NO MONEY to expand service
            to match any significant increase in demand!”

            I’ll take more demand than capacity eight days a week. Demand leads to capacity.

            “It’s also a public cost that is far higher, on a per passenger, per
            mile basis, than the costs of maintaining streets and having individuals
            drive themselves.”

            I don’t believe this for a second, and I don’t think you can provide evidence to support that our vast automobile infrastructure and energy requirements are more cost-effective per capita per mile than rail.

          • JZ71

            EVERY ride on public transit, in Denver and in St. Louis, is heavily subsidized, with any and every rider paying between just 5% and 20%, in individual fares, on that trip, while the rest of the cost (80%-95%) of actually providing that trip, is paid for with taxes paid by taxpayers (across the region) who are NOT riding that bus or the train at that time. Some routes are busy and packed, some are not. Yes, routes with extra capacity can absorb more riders. But Metro does not have any more resources (taxes or buses) to put out any more service on busy routes or at busy times unless they cut back somwhere else (and give some riders less or no service).

            When the transit union decides to go on strike, it’s actually a good thing, financially, for the transit agency – tax dollars continue to roll in, while operators are not paid, tires are not worn down and fuel is not consumed. The opposite is true when demand increases – costs go up far more than actual revenues, once you reach the point where the bus is consistently “too full”, passengers are being left at the curb abd complaints become far more vocal. It costs pretty much the same to operate a full bus (or train) as it costs to operate an empty one, so yes, when run AT CAPACITY, public transit is very efficient. The challenge come in adding that next whole bus, that next whole trainst, that next whole route, that next whole line.

            Dollars are finite. In Denver, it took two unsuccessful tries, a lot of coalition building and a major marketing campaign to convince the voters to raise the regional sales tax to a full 1%. Denver’s transit district is also far larger and more politically cohesive (no state line) than St. Louis’s, so they’re able to generate tax revenues from a much larger population base (think what Metro could do if Washington, Jefferson and St. Charles counties were included). Yet public transit remains primarily a tool used by daily commuters, not by people out shopping.

            Yes, the transit dependent, duh, use public transit, daily, to get around and live their lives. It’s the choice riders, the ones that decide whether higher taxes are truly “worth it” that are the key to justifying transit funding. They may commute every day or they may just use it to go to Broncos games (there) or Cardinals game (here), but they’re the swing votes in both saying “yeah, it’s worth it” AND “yeah, it’s for me” and not just for “those other people”. It’s not the St. Charles County mindset that the criminal element will be taking Metro across the river to steal their flat screens and guns, rape their daughers and get their kids hooked on drugs.

            As for the intrastructure question, te easiest way to analyze it is to separate buses and trains. It costs far less for a bus to share a public street than it costs to build and maintain a dedicated, private busway. The cost of a public street (or a single lane) gets amortized over far more users. If that weren’t the case, every transit agency would be building private busways, everywhere, because they could then offer faster, “better” service. And when it comes to trains, it all depends, much like buses, on the right of way. Streetcars, sharing the street, utilize the investment in the public right of way more efficiently because they are SHARING, it’s not “dedicated”.

            Energy efficiency is relative. If more people cared about it, we’d be seeing far fewer big ass pickups and SUV’s; everyone would be driving Priuses and Honda Fits. The same applies to public transit. Yes, the cost of fuel is one part of equation, but it probably makes up less than 20% of the hourly operating cost (the industry metric) of running any route: https://www4.uwm.edu/cuts/utp/cost.pdf

            Real “efficiency” in public transit comes in right sizing – getting right number of vehicles of the right size for the actual ridership at any point in time. It can be a small bus, a large bus, an articulated bus, a light rail train with one car or four cars – there is no one right answer for every route at every point in a day or a week.

            As for lobbyists, guess what? RTD and (I assume) Metro has paid lobbyists in Washington DC and their respective state capitals, just like everyone else. It’s the ugly reality of how politics gets done, these days. You can debate their effectiveness, but I’m sticking with my position that transit gets fuded proportionally to its actual usage (and nobody is getting as much funding as they think that they need or want)!

            Bottom line, the St. Louis region apparently once had (in the 1930’s and 1940’s) a very, good, comprehensive public transit system with a lot of interconnected streetcar routes. Over the last 75 years, that all changed. I’ve only been alive 60+ years, and in St. Louis for 11, so I can claim no responsibility, nor will I assume any, for the massive shift in public attitudes after WW II. The world we live in is a direct result of the choices our parents and grandparents made. Those choices were not made maliciously, they were made out personal experience, opportunities, propoganda, and, yes, government spending choices. But from what I can remember, as a kid growing up in the 1950’s, and visiting my extended family in Chicago, back then, public transit was not well regarded, and anyone who could afford a car and a house “further out” was jumping at the opportunity to not use transit and not live in an apartment, and our world, today, reflects that . . .

          • JZ71

            Perception question – how did you get to school, growing up? I spent, in order, 3 years riding the school bus to school in upstate New York, 5 years walking 2 blocks to a Catholic grade school, in Louisville, 2 years car-pooling to a Catholic high school, in Louisville, and my last 2 years in high school riding the school bus, most days, in suburban Louisville. To me, a car was freedom, and transit, in any form, was a back-up tool. In Boulder, then in Denver, I did a whole lot of commuting by bike, with transit as my snowy-day back-up. I don’t hate transit, and I can see how its presence can help spur denser development, but I’m a big(ger) believer in density happening when land costs reach a tipping point (where structured parking becomes financially viable). St. Louis lost much of its prewar transit infrastructure because many of its residents and businesses found the suburbs to be a better alternative, for them, at that point in time. Land values fell, it became cost effective to replace vacant / underused structures with surface parking supporting the remaining not-vacant, more-intensively-used structures, cursing the city with an increasing amount of suburban-scale density and dooming public transit to its present state . . .

          • Alex Ihnen

            St. Lousians (partially, largely?) found the suburbs a better alternative due to massive highways and home loan subsidies, and the neglect of urban infrastructure, and redlining of swaths of city neighborhoods. Your point about land values is spot on.

            For school, I walked for 2yrs, then took a bus for 4yrs, then rode by bike for 2yrs, then drove for 4yrs. Then rode a bike for 6yrs (college). In my small hometown a car absolutely equalled freedom. Everyone went to the DMV the first day we could get a license. But now, I don’t enjoy driving, and I don’t want my children in a car any more than necessary. I find it to be a (expensive) waste of time. Still, in St. Louis it’s nearly impossible to live close enough to schools, work, and all the other amenities (parks, doctor’s office, grocery, shopping, etc.) to do without a car. So we have two. I ride to work everyday. My wife rides as well, or takes MetroLink (we have chosen to live as close to MetroLink as possible). But we have to have cars for getting kids to school, shopping, getting to birthday parties, exploring the region, etc.

          • JZ71
          • tbatts666

            I see what your saying. I’ve read that the demise of the streetcar was complex.

            Many cities mandated low fares, Meaning the streetcar companies couldn’t charge a reasonable price to stay in business. In addition many streetcar companies were bought out by car companies and dismantled.

            I don’t think it’s as simple as streetcars didn’t work well.

          • Nat76

            Gradients aren’t a concern in STL though. Streetcars are better in areas w 100 percent dedicated ROW. On full lined where they would never need to share a lane with traffic, I would favor them over BRT. There are several high capacity corridors where that may not be expedient for stretches, like South Grand. Two problems with sharing: cars will tear up the rail bed (a more expensive repair) and one stopped car brings operations to a halt. With BRT in a shared section, there is the opportunity to get around the stopped vehicle.

    • nikelosm

      I am not convinced the city absolutely needs a dedicated source of revenue from the state to meet the transportation needs of the city. Of course state revenue would be great and the state should support St. Louis in any efforts, but St. Louis first and foremost needs a vision, a plan and leadership, of which we have none. None at all. There are most certainly things that can be done at a local level.

      • Alex Ihnen

        The city could find a BRT system if there was a concerted effort to do so. The recent Prop P for the Arch and parks will cost city taxpayers $120M IIRC over 20yrs. There was also a recent ~$85M bond issue for parks. We’re mortgaging city buildings to acquire land through eminent domain for NGA. A real transit network would be more transformative, but it’s more difficult to get off the ground.

    • kjohnson04

      I agree. BRT would be a gateway (no pun intended) to enhanced mass transit, particularly if the route is serving to points that connect highly visited locations. Oddly, Metro could implement a lot of BRT service right now using spare equipment, or purchasing older equipment from other cities, such as Chicago, or Ottawa (as was the case with the articulated buses).

  • Grumplestiltskin

    St. Louis might as well change its name to Future Phase City or Gateway to the Feasibility Study… This will never happen (period). Unless of course the St. Louis region has respected leadership in Jeff City. We need state funds and the current batch of STL area dems are not respected by the ruling rural republicans.

    I love STL, been here 32 yrs but gosh, at some point I’ve realized we only have problems and our solutions are reminiscent of an elementary school poster board on earthquakes.

    • Alex Ihnen

      I’d say that there a lot of smart, well done studies for development and transit in St. Louis. That they’re not acted upon is a failure of political leadership. The thing is, things do happen here, but they seem to be the single developer, single big idea stuff. For transit, investment is spread far and wide. Too many good ideas die here, but that doesn’t mean they still shouldn’t put forth.

      • Thomas R Shrout Jr

        That’s right. No leadership on transit. Meanwhile other regional investments, Mid-America Airport, Lambert Airport Runway expansion, Edward D. Jones Dome have failed, MetroLink is the one big investment success over the last 30 years and local leaders can’t seem to get it and keep the expansion moving.