Absent Needed Transportation Discussion, Here Comes North-South Light Rail Study

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There’s a rail advocacy organization in St. Louis. There’s a regional transit entity in St. Louis. There is no transit advocacy organization.

The creation of the region’s first not-quite-heavy rail line was a huge move forward for the region. The second line opened after similar heavy lifting by rail advocates. The Blue line offers important access to Washington University in St. Louis campuses, the region’s largest and fastest growing medical and innovation district, and downtown Clayton and St. Louis County offices.

Current possible light rail route:

The Blue Line has been something of a farce as well. It was completed over budget, failed lawsuits added to the cost, and the really damaging part of the process has proven to be the lack and any transit development planning in the communities along the corridor. The line has been open 11 years. It opened 13 years after the region’s first (Red) line.

Of course in 2010, St. Louis County voters approved a 0.5% sales tax increase to fund transit. The vote triggered an already-passed St. Louis City sales tax increase of 0.25% for transit as well. What happened? About half of the approximate $75M of revenue produced by Prop A and the City sales tax was to be committed to restoring and maintaining Metro service. The remaining amount was to be targeted toward service expansion, bus, MetroLink and possible Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) lines. At the time of publishing, we’re not sure where the $259M committed to expansion might be.

Seven years ago, Metro was awarded a $700,000 Federal Transportation Administration grant to examine the Moving Transit Forward high-speed, high-capacity transit service corridors. It was assumed at the time that a Bus Rapid Transit plan could be forthcoming. The five corridors identified in early planning included a Grand Avenue line as well as options for I-55, I-44, I-64, and I-70. Planning was to be completed by fall 2011.

Possible bus rapid transit routes:

In 2013, a $200,000 light rail study was completed. The environmental assessment was projected to be completed in 2014. The optimistic timeline on that rail line? Construction was said to start as early as 2015, with the line opening in 2016.

In late 2014, a 60-station bike share study was released for St. Louis. The study concluded with “In the next two to three years, St. Louis will place itself within a growing group of US cities that have made their cities a better place to live, visit and explore through bike share.” The bike share plan isn’t dead, but there’s been no observable progress.

So, so what? As there’s still no pedestrian or bicycle advocacy organization in St. Louis, no group dedicated to the betterment of bus transit, the money and talent that cares about transit is getting ready for another round of rail expansion. That new effort is now live online: NORTHSIDE-SOUTHSIDE
LIGHT RAIL FOR THE ST. LOUIS REGION

This site has been a big supporter of the promise presented by a north-south rail line primarily within the City of St. Louis. But even assuming this effort progresses smoothly and quickly, St. Louis transit planning will still be greatly lacking. We may have another rail line in 5-10 years, but when will the city and region care about more than rail?

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  • kjohnson04

    After the reshuffling of insufficient service this week, I have say Metro needs to work on increasing frequency of bus lines (20-30-40, or 60 minutes between buses is ridiculous in region this large). Before committing billions of dollars on MetroLink expansion, how about making the existing MetroLink work better? (i.e. skip stop express, third tracks for express trips to opposite ends of the line to increase capacity and frequency).

  • rgbose

    Only if you take the coal ash in your backyard!

  • Patrick Richmond

    Up until 1966 we had streetcars. And I think giving them up was very stupid. The Northside/Southside line is a great idea. Expanding public transit is what we need here in St. Louis. Gas prices has gone out of control. Clean air is good for our health. Eventhough the much newer cars on the road don’t pollute as much as the ones built in the 1980s or older, but the ones that do pollute still run on our roads. When I used to ride Call-a-Ride, I would look out the window of the van and see people doing stupid stuff such as talking on their phones while driving and they know that is a no-no. When you drive, you DON’T have the right to space out behind the wheel of a car. I see a lot of motorists out there that should be on the bus and the MetroLink.

    • Come on bro

      Gas is $2.15 a gallon…

      • Patrick Richmond

        Yes. But do you care about clean air, I do.

        • Come on bro

          I’m a proponent for transit but until we find a way to make it cost effective, safe, and convenient, most people will continue to load their cars with unleaded as long as gas is below $5.00 a gallon. We are a good 20-30 years away from any real transit solution for STL.

        • JZ71

          Where do you think electricity comes from, in Missouri?! “Coal fuels about three-fourths of Missouri’s net electricity generation”! Only 3 other states are dirtier: https://www.eia.gov/state/analysis.php?sid=MO Until there’s a LOT more solar, wind or hydro in the state, streetcars would only be “cleaner” in the sense that the pollution source is not the vehicle, itself!

          • Come on bro

            I think about 20% of St. Louis County’s power comes from the Callaway County nuclear plant.

          • JZ71

            Nuclear is far worse than coal – where do you think the waste goes?!

          • rgbose

            No, completely wrong. There is far less waste from nuclear. The waste should go into the ground.

          • rgbose

            It’s certainly better for people to pollute where they aren’t then where they are. Which is more efficient burning coal or natural gas at a plant to power streetcars or burning gas/diesel on the streets?

  • JZ71

    Transit, first and foremost, is about moving people, not building rail lines! Yes, rail is one OPTION (just like buses are another option), but we need to figure out what we’re trying to accomplish, what and who we’re trying to connect, BEFORE we go investing millions (or billions) in any more fixed infrastructure (I’m looking at you, Loop Trolley)!

    • Kevin Ryan

      Joe Edwards is paying for that one. If that’s his money, it’s his concern. He has a lot invested into the loop, so that makes sense far beyond logistics. Mr. Edwards owns the Pageant, Blueberry Inn, and Moonrise Hotel. Why not give people more of a reason to be down there?

      And, that’s 1/2 mile long, in a small area. We’re not talking about two of the same things here.

      • JZ71

        Joe Edwards may be spearheading the Loop Trolley effort, but he’s far from “paying for it” – from http://www.looptrolley.com/funding/ – half the funding came from Federal grants, with much of the rest made with an additional, on-going 1% local sales tax! $52 million to go 2.5 miles is a LOT of money for a publicly-funded tourist attraction, especially given the region’s other pressing transit needs . . .

        • kjohnson04

          Money that could have been spent on the existing mass transit system, and not the tourist junket nonsense.

  • Dahmen Piotraschke

    I respect all the bike riders, yet, our city streets are still not suited for bike riders, as I have almost hit them since they usually do not follow the same stops and space as cars. Most zoom by and they are hard to see coming beside you. So, I don’t even drive a car. This is from my friend’s passenger seat. Anyway, the current Metro red line is a joke. Going from the Metro East ( which has an unprecedented length of rail for miles all the way to Scott). The airport to downtown line is hardly used, after travelers ride it and try it..later opting for an Uber or cab. Turnstiles and a new North-South new tram line is a definite win!! From Florissant down Natural Bridge or to Jefferson and down pt South County is a definite worker’s dream line. Trust. We all at some point truly need to get to North County and visave’ !! Build it and we will Ride.

    • Patrick Richmond

      I saw one of the proposed routes of this alignment and I noticed that one of the stops may be very close to the City Museum. And at the City Museum is a 1975 Ford Carpenter school bus on the roof and there is also an old theatre organ that plays! About every December, I go there and play the organ and I play Christmas carols on it.

  • brickhugger

    I would run the north-south leg of the proposed new line all the way down Jefferson, with a west Florissant/tucker/Jefferson streetcar loop, a Market/Washington/broadway/4th street loop, and a line that starts out at Riverport, runs down page to where the rail lie meets it, continuing east to Natural Bridge, then east on NB to Kingshighway, south UNDER (yes, under) kingshighway to connect with the red/blue lines just past cor-tex, then arching over the railyards to tie into the line that curves through SW city.
    I would also extend the red line west* to downtown st. Charles (and maybe even the casino), and east to Mid-America terminal, and extend the blue line southeast to River City, and east to O’Fallon IL, and possible even Lebanon IL.
    * As a part of this, the airport stations would be rebuilt to hug the front wall of the terminals, so that people don’t have to walk all over creation to get to/from the platform.
    (I would also like to see a north-south line from Edwardsville to Columbia, IL, but that is even more unlikely)
    these are not cheap(!) propositions, but if we are serious about building a regional transit system, I believe these new lines and extensions are necessary. And if this was combined with an end to the war on drugs, and a national transportation/infrastructure bill, the north side (and all of St Louis for that matter) would take off like a rocket.

  • Faithful viewer

    How about we stop trying to fight crime with police. We have tried this for decades in many cities and the only outcome is to hire more police. How about judges convicting petty criminals to mandatory work. Judge gives you a second chance with a low paying, labor intensive city job, maybe building that north South metro line. But seriously, most of these criminals just trying to eat like everyone else, but with poor education and very broken homes and neighborhoods the likelihood of an individual dealt this type of hand is almost predictably going to commit some form of crime to get ahead. Is he a bad guy? Or a misguided person with terrible options before him to get money? It’s like a trapped rat in a room with some cheese on a mousetrap, he can get the cheese but at a high cost. Why in the world or our societies structured like a mouse trap? The most prosperous nation on earth. The game is rigged!

    • HawkSTL

      We have tried to fight crime without police on MetroLink. It hasn’t worked.

      • tpekren

        Plus I would add that most cities successful in fighting crime do both, police and community programs.
        ..
        Hate to say it but we have so much stuff, and so many people that petty theft in society is here to stay. The automobile makes everything convenient even crime. The focus has to be controlling and preventing violent crime. I don’t have an answer for St. Louis but any help that can support the family structure and conflict resolution within the African American community is a long term commitment that needs to happen.

  • HawkSTL

    Until the City, County, and Metro work out their disagreement over policing/security on MetroLink and then the crime is reduced on MetroLink, this is pointless. If trains aren’t safe, there won’t be riders.

    • STL Forever

      Agreed. The crime problem and negative, unsafe perceptions need fixing before further investment in light rail. Where is the leadership in this city?

      St. Louis City leaders are not moving fast enough to solve crime. It is awful. Then, the media reports this absurd, ridiculous fight about moving the confederate monument in Forest Park when people are getting murdered and robbed every single day in the news. It is sickening!

  • Nick

    The city and region are putting the cart before the horse with new Metrolink lines. Until we drastically increase density throughout the entire city, not just in the central corridor, it’s just a massive waste of money, end of story. As long as autos are more convenient, this will be the preferred mode of transportation for the vast majority of residents. Everyday single day at rush hour, both morning and evening, I see trains running through even the central corridor half empty. That doesn’t happen in the business districts of cities with successful mass transit. In the meantime, we’re talking about spending nearly a half billion dollars running a line through North city, an area that is still dramatically losing population…and the North side residents that stay have far bigger problems than a lack of a Metrolink stop….problems that COULD actually be addressed if we spent the hundreds of millions of dollars in a different fashion.

    We won’t convince people to move into to the city until we get crime under control and schools back in shape. We won’t accomplish anything for our poorest neighborhoods that we can’t already accomplish with a bus line at a fraction of the cost. We won’t be doing anything to improve the lives of those living in poverty on the north and south side.
    Hundreds of millions of dollars could go a long way for St. Louis. Spending the money on a Metrolink line won’t accomplish much for us however.

    • This thinking is exactly backwards. Density won’t come without transit first.

      There’s a photo, which I can’t find at this moment, of the IRT Flushing line being built, through empty fields. If New York had waited for development before building the line, Queens still wouldn’t have subway access.

      Transit comes first, density comes second.

      • Nick

        This would be a great argument…if the year was 1895. New York City was still in the process of being built out back then. As the city was blowing up in size, city planners foresaw the needs of the coming increases in population trends, knowing that areas like Queens would be developing soon, and planned infrastructure spending accordingly. It’s not like if they never built the train line, no one would’ve ever moved out to Queens.

        In St. Louis, in 2017, we have a completely different problem of a once-dense city that now has a hallowed-out core. The problem now is to convince people to move back into the city. The population continues to sprawl out, which means job centers (one of the primary uses of mass transit) also sprawl out, which means auto transport is far more convenient for most people. Metrolink is just not that big of a draw for people to move into the city at this point…so why waste the money?

        • Nick

          Further to this, people who choose to live in the county typically do so because it’s safe and the schools are good for their kids. They then don’t mind driving 30-45 minutes to their job, which they’ll most likely have to drive to anyway because they vast majority of jobs aren’t within a few blocks’ walk from a train line, even with the added orange route.

          • Patrick Richmond

            Yep. When I go downtown since I can’t drive, I take Call-a-Ride. I like help keeping the air clean. During the summer, you can get yourself sick when the air is very dirty. In L.A., the pollution level is so severe that you can barely see some of the buildings if you are approaching L.A. on Amtrak. I could remember when former Meteorologist Trish Brown on KMOV Channel 4 would even designate each day in the summer by a color. If it was a “green” day, the air was clean. If was an “orange’ or “red” day, the air was dirty. Orange days was when the air was dirty and people with asthma shouldn’t be outside and the red days was when the air was severely polluted. So Nick, what kind of air do you like? Clean or dirty?

  • STLEnginerd

    i am becoming more and more convinced that 4 really good BRT lines on Tucker, Jefferson, Grand, and Kingshighway would be a much better investment than fixed rail at this time.

    The NGA stuff annoys me because the site is so isolated from any kind of development that i just don’t see anyone using link daily to get there. It makes zero sense to me to divert the planned rail line at the expense of other neighborhoods. A solid BRT on Jefferson should be sufficient.

    I see BRT on Kingshighway as a solution to the congestion around Barnes in terms of allowing establishing bus/emergency vehicle only lanes.

    The current metrolink makes a great trunk for the metro system, now it needs some branches. A massive investment in fixed rail misses out on so much of the city.

    Metrolink should focus on increasing the number of stop along its length and increase train frequency to make it a more viable transit option through the centcore.

    IMHO

    • tpekren

      Agree, I would say one or two well planned streetcar lines for development sake within city limits would be much better plan in the near future, would compliment metrolink spine by promoting development on north south axis, and much more cost effective.
      …,
      Grand Ave seems like a no brainer for BRT or streetcar as it would serve some key institutions well from south city, past tower grove park to a new hospital/SLU medical school, connects with metrolink, to SLU, to Grand Center to VA/North St. Louis. Bigger buses are nice but Grand Ave is setup for even more development and progress. It is time for city truly to think bigger then big buses.

      How about NGA new vs. old routed streetcar line (keeping N-S alignment for old north St Louis) to 14th past metro transit center (metrolink, buses and Amtrak) and instead of a right to get to Jefferson Ave (keep that for N-S) you swing east towards BPV and then south past Nestle on your way to Soulard/Bud/Lemp. Future N-S is still intact while you offering a street car route on the basis of the old NGA to the new NGA. The route would be anchored by new NGA on north end, downtown, Nestle campus and St. Louis Beer institutions on south end. Covering areas with solid institutions and job anchors/centers but room to develop more.

      Heck, maybe a starter line would be to extend loop tracks the other direction down East Delmar and into CWE to metorlinik via Euclid or Boyle (gets you to CORTEX and FPSE). Might be the most affordable option to get a modern city streetcar system going and give Delmar one more tool to continue with development of mixed/multi tenant housing if you build directly to a jobs center instead of having it mostly happening in FPSE

  • Jakeb

    Until such time as the Federal Government is willing to commit billions to funding light rail in cities like Saint Louis, light rail is going to fail.

    Light rail build out is hugely expensive costing much more than local government can adequately fund. Trying to do it ‘on the cheap’ as we have done for nearly 30 years now using existing rail lines as opposed to creating new lines placed to maximize ridership will continue to yield poor results.

    In every other country with modern rail transit, the projects are nationally funded, and it shows. Visit Germany and ride their subways in any major city. They are breathtaking and modern. As long as Republicans control Congress, we will never invest in modern infrastructure and our cities will be left to rot. Republican leaders are only willing to invest in military spending. U.S. military expenditures are roughly the size of the next seven largest military budgets around the world, combined*. The US spends $2.77 for every dollar China spends on it’s military. Republican leaders and President Trump insist the US Military remains underfunded and wants to spend an additional $53 Billion annually. Just imagine what this $53B could do to fund modern urban infrastructure? It would be transformative to our cities

    Imagine if the red line ran from downtown below Olive to below Lindell under Wash U out to downtown Clayton and then out to the airport? Such a line would have cost many times more than was spent and only possible with major federal funding. But how much better would our metropolitan are be served by such a line?

    *https://www.nationalpriorities.org/campaigns/us-military-spending-vs-world/

  • Faithful Viewer
  • Faithful Viewer

    Why are we putting rail lines where I can get by car in 10 mins or by a nice bike ride in 30 min? I could understand if we had the density to justify putting all this money into a train that doesnt go beyond 270. For the most part the train line in IL works, but on MO side, its morelike “build where old rail tracks currently are that are not in use, to save money, and then do TOD around it and people will come, build it and they will come” we need to put stops where people are now, yes its going to cost. Example is the cortext station, that makes since, but trying to do TOD around wellston station or building a line over hwy 40??? I guess I see two goal’s in train transit: 1) Get people into the core, to dense areas, jobs, events etc. in set locations and 2) Get people that live way out into the core, people living at least 40-50 mi out. A good location for a station would be in crestwood with that new development down there. Another good location for stations would be saint charles county but because of the (black-out) they dont want the (soul train) to travel into their county, but I do believe a vote might pass now as the demographics have greatly changed in the last 10 years. Im a city guy, I ride my bike to work and live in the grove. If I go downtown or clayton or northside or southside I dont right the metrolink, its pointless, everything is too close for me to justify doing that. but sometimes for events I will ride it because of parking and traffic. But if I lived in wildwood or saint charles or florissant or Jeff co. and wanted to get downtown to hang out on a saturday or whenever, yeah I’d pay $6 to ride in and avoid parking and traffic. What do you think? Our civic urban planners are like they came from the country and are trying to figure out how growing midsized cities work, its like they dont have a clue and are just doing what’s cheap, buying up union pacific railroad lines and putting metro on it and then saying its progress, then begging a developer to build TOD, terrible!

    • Mathew Chandler

      you live in the central corridor, which has good access to the metro. I live in Benton park, if I want to get on the metro link, I have to ride my bicycle downtown to the closest metro stop, from there CWE or the loop are the only places I take it too. The north and south side of STL do not have access to the metro link. I believe the north south would be a good opportunity to link those without access to personal transport to jobs in other parts of STL. I do not spend much time on the north side, however I can conclude that there is a lack of good jobs and food deserts. The north south would be a good way to allow those on the north side to ave access to the central corridor or south side where there are better job opportunities. Word Up!