Gateway Streets

Transportation issues in the Gateway City

Incentivizing Sprawl with Sales Taxes

From Boom: A Journal of California via Per Square Mile

To see what a city formed around a power center—one of those enormous retail complexes anchored by a huge big box storelike Targetl—ooks like going forward, one need look no further than Phoenix, which has been dependent on sales tax for a long time. The incentive is to continue to build sales tax generating centers at the edge of the city, nearer the highway, to capture the consumption of people who live in surrounding areas, and development simply keeps sprawling outward. On the other hand, a property-tax-dependent city has no interest in moving the border of the city. It is interested in increasing the value of land and one way of doing that is having more dense areas, more amenities located in proximity to population.
Here in St. Louis, we can see the effect sales taxes have had on the urban environment by the concentration of retail along the region’s major freeways and arteries, I-270 in particular. It makes you think how differently development may have been built out had sales taxes been capped to, say, 2% at the local level or abolished altogether.

“We’re a Highway Department, Not a Bicycle Department”

No bikes
// nofrills

So the St. Louis County Department of Highways and Traffic wants to build its long sought South County Connector, a $110 million dollar project that would build a new road between Hanley Rd and River des Peres Blvd. Following the release of the draft environmental impact statement, the project has elicited a fair amount of criticism and condemnation from the City of Maplewood, Great Rivers Greenway, Trailnet, and St. Louis Alderman Scott Ogilvie. Great Rivers Greenway expressed some of their concerns in a recent interview on KMOX.

Great Rivers sent a note of its own to the highway department, saying the Connector could neutralize $27 million in investments the organization has made to pedestrian and bike infrastructure on the River Des Peres Greenway and the Deer Creek Greenway.

“We would really like to see a connection that incorporates pedestrians, bicycles and motor vehicle use,” Susan Trautman, executive director of Great Rivers Greenway told KMOX. “The South County Connector could be a really great example of multimodal transportation where people can walk, ride their bikes, use their cars.”

But [St. Louis County Department of Highways and Traffic spokesman David] Wrone pours cold water on her comment.

“We want to provide a much need boulevard for cars and trucks,” he said, while also stressing that “bike ridership is important to us.”

“But I want to say we are in the business of providing safe and efficient necessary motor vehicle driving pavement. We’re a highway department, not a bicycle department.”

Words fail me, again.

It was a year-and-a-half ago that the County spokesman first left me speechless.

As a matter of policy, we don’t build dedicated bike lanes. St. Louis County salutes the bike-riding community, but we manage our system in the knowledge that motor vehicles comprise the vast majority of our customer base. The ground and money aren’t available to provide ‘Bike Only’ travel lanes.

And not long before that comment, there was the reasoning the department gave for removing Delmar Blvd through The Loop from the County’s arterial road system.

David Wrone, a spokesman for the highways department, contended that Delmar through the Loop “is a destination for many, many people. It has metamorphosed into a municipal road. It’s University City’s Main Street. You have so many pedestrians and parked cars and soon we’re going to have a trolley. It’s not an arterial road.”

“Our arterial roads are designated as such because they move a lot of traffic as quickly as is prudent.”

Click here if you would like to sign a letter asking County Executive Charlie Dooley and Councilman Pat Dolan to withdraw the South County Connector DEIS.

It is the opinion of the City of Maplewood that the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the South County Connector project is fundamentally flawed and the cost projections are woefully underestimated.

- City of Maplewood in response to the St. Louis County Department of Highways and Traffic regarding its proposed South County Connector project.

The construction of a system of rapid transit now would be a positive detriment to the growth of the city, particularly when it is considered that such rapid transit facilities would tend still further to encourage the shift of population to the outer suburban districts and consequently would lessen still more the usefulness and value of the intermediate areas.

- The St. Louis transit system: present and future (1920)

Illinois Chickens Should Only Cross the Road at Marked Crosswalks

Waiting to cross the road
// webmink

Must read article by Streetsblog Chicago. A recent court ruling in Illinois may erode the right of pedestrians to cross the street, making pedestrians personally liable if they get injured if they do not cross the street at a marked crosswalk.

On November 9, 2009, Joan Orth, 51, was crossing 95th Street at Kenton Avenue at around 5:45 p.m. in the Village of Oak Lawn. Before she could get to the other side of the street, a driver struck and killed her. […] The village and ComEd denied responsibility and the case was thrown out. Oak Lawn said it didn’t owe anything, arguing that Orth “was not an intended and permitted user of the street where the accident occurred” because there was no marked crosswalk, according to the ruling.

I can think of more than a few places where this ruling would effectively outlaw pedestrians.

What we ought to be trying to accomplish is reduced cars driving, work closer to where you live, those sort of things that are environmentally friendly as opposed to trying to segregate things out.

Dean Wolfe on Chesterfield prohibiting mixed-use zoning

Loop Trolley 2015

Loop Trolley
// merfam

At the East West Gateway board meeting on Wednesday, it was mentioned that the Loop Trolley expects to break ground sometime late summer or early fall. Construction would then take approximately 18 months. In other words, it’s estimated that the Loop Trolley will begin service sometime early 2015.

The Loop Trolley is a project to reintroduce streetcars to St. Louis and will extend just over 2 miles from the western end of The Loop to the Missouri History Museum. The out of date Loop Trolley website still includes mentions of possible project completion by early 2013.

Are Pets Allowed on Metro?

passenger awaits train (2)
At the 24th/Mission BART station, San Francisco. // Michael Patrick

Can you take your pet aboard a Metro bus or MetroLink? Metro’s website seems to clearly say no.

Can I bring my pet on MetroLink or a MetroBus on a leash or in a pet carrier?

Only service animals accompanying customers with disabilities can travel on Metro’s transit vehicles, and they do not need to be in a pet carrier.

However, a look at the St. Louis County and St. Louis City ordinances—both contain similar language—muddles the issue.

It shall be unlawful for any person to take any animal upon any bus or light rail conveyance or upon the enclosed property of any light rail conveyance, except the following:

  • An animal enclosed in a container, accompanied by a person and carried in a manner which does not interfere with any other person; or
  • Working dogs for law enforcement personnel, or dogs properly harnessed and accompanying visually or hearing impaired persons to aid such persons.

    So are pets allowed on Metro transit? City and county ordinances say yes but Metro says no. For what it’s worth, Metro confirmed by email that its current policy still prohibits pets aboard all buses and trains.

    City vs. County: The Fight Over St. Louis Transit Direction Begins Anew

    County Executive Charlie Dooley voiced strong concerns about a plan to build a $270 million light rail trolley downtown, warning it might conflict with his dream of expanding Metrolink to Westport or North Park.

    The border between the City of St. Louis and St. Louis County is rearing its ugly head, yet again, in the fight over the region’s rail-based transit future. Meanwhile, Metro is getting ready to host a series of public meetings to figure out which corridors—almost all highway corridors—should next be studied in detail. The most likely result of these corridor studies: BRT.

    The St. Louis Streetcar and MetroLink: Compatibility Issues to Address Before Expansion

    Artist drawing of St. Louis Streetcar
    St. Louis Streetcar on Chestnut between 6th St and 7th St. // nextSTL

    Streetcars are on the minds of many in St. Louis. The Loop Trolley finally got through the University City city council and will soon begin construction. Meanwhile, the Partnership for Downtown St. Louis unveiled their own streetcar proposal. Matt Fernandez already wrote a nice article on NextSTL, so I won’t repeat what he’s already said. In summary, the Partnership has proposed a system composed of 2 lines spanning 7 miles: one going from the Gateway Mall at 7th St to the Central West End via Olive, Lindell, and Taylor and a second line going from Civic Center to Old North St. Louis via 14th St and North Florissant.

    The proposed north-south streetcar line would duplicate portions of the Northside MetroLink line that was studied back in 2008. Given the general shorter range of streetcars, there has been some concern that the route duplication could impede the future expansion of MetroLink into north city and beyond. These concerns are not unfounded.

    Back in 2001, Portland opened one of the first modern streetcar lines in the US to rave reviews. However, the streetcar line Portland built is largely incompatible with its larger MAX light-rail system as the following sentence from Wikipedia explains.

    While streetcars can operate on the MAX light-rail tracks, a MAX car would be too heavy to operate on the streetcar’s tracks, too wide for portions of its right-of-way, and unable to pass through the tighter curves on the Portland Streetcar system.

    Before outlining the issues at hand, let me first say that references to MetroLink below will usually refer to the low-floor streetcar-like version proposed in the Northside-Southside MetroLink study. The existing MetroLink lines are not compatible with streetcars in any way, shape, or form save for a quick trip to the Ewing train yard.

    Northside-Southside MetroLink at St. Louis Ave
    Northside-Southside MetroLink at St. Louis Ave

    So without further ado, below is a list of elements that could potentially differentiate streetcars from MetroLink along with how severely each issue may affect compatibility between the two systems.

    • Track gauge – Non-issue
      With the exceptions of New Orleans, Pennsylvania, or San Francisco public transit, 1435 mm is the near universal track gauge for all freight and passenger rail.

    • Power – Minor issue
      MetroLink currently operates under 750-volt DC power, a fairly common standard amongst rail transit systems in the US. The only likely difference between MetroLink and the proposed streetcar is the type of overhead wire: tensioned catenary for MetroLink, trolley wire for the streetcar. MetroLink should be capable of running under trolley wire as long as it doesn’t speed too fast.

    • Vehicle length – Minor issue
      MetroLink 2-car trains are approximately 180ft long. Streetcars in the US are typically 60 to 66ft in length, though some cities in Europe have streetcars as long as 175ft. A St. Louis streetcar is unlikely to be any longer than 90ft. A MetroLink train operating on streetcar tracks would be limited to a single car length barring significant platform expansion.

    • Track alignment – Moderate issue
      MetroLink trains are capable of turning on curvatures with radii as small as 25 meters. However, thanks to their smaller profiles, many standard streetcar designs are capable of handling curves with radii of only 18 meters which allows them to fit into tighter, more crowded environments than typically allowed by light-rail vehicles.

    • Platform height – Moderate issue
      Both MetroLink and streetcars would utilize the same 14in platform height. In the US, streetcars stations have also been built with 10in platforms. The lower platform allows buses to interface with the stations, as well, since 14in platforms are a hair too high and block the doors on buses.

      Another consideration is that the higher 14-inch platform allows for fully level MetroLink-like boarding while 10-inch platforms require the use of a bridgeplate for ADA purposes. Use of a bridgeplate, naturally, slightly slows down the boarding process at each station it is used.

      For obvious reasons, streetcars won’t be able to use existing MetroLink platforms and the existing MetroLink won’t be able to use streetcar platforms. Theoretically, both streetcars and MetroLink would be able to use the same tracks, although in MetroLink’s case, there would be some awkwardness in South County where high and low platforms would be required at each station to accommodate high and low floor MetroLink vehicles should both a Southside and MetroSouth expansion occur.

    • Vehicle width – Major issue
      Streetcars in Europe generally come in 3 different widths: 2.3m, 2.4m, and 2.65m with some 2.46m systems scattered about. In the US, the general standard for light-rail vehicles such as MetroLink is 2.65m (8ft 8.5in). Thanks to Portland, the emerging US streetcar standard is 2.46m (8ft 1in) with some cities opting for the wider light-rail standard.

      Northbound Streetcar at Jamison Square
      Portland Streetcar // SFCityscape

      Vehicle width will have the effect of “locking in” platform distances from the tracks. Platforms designed for narrower streetcar vehicles will impede wider light-rail trains, platforms designed for wider light-rail trains will prevent use of narrow streetcars. Also, wider vehicles will require a wider right-of-way or lane to comfortably mix with traffic.

    • Trackbed strength – Major issue
      Streetcars have become popular in cities for one major reason: cost. Whereas new light-rail alignments often cost $50 million per mile at a minimum, streetcars can be built for less than $40 million per mile. Aside from doing away with many of the amenities offered on light-rail systems, streetcar vehicles are smaller and significantly lighter than their light-rail cousins allowing for cheaper, shallower trackbed construction. A major side effect of this cheaper construction, however, is that the trackbed can’t support the weight of heavier light-rail vehicles such as MetroLink. Compatibility with MetroLink would require stronger, deeper trackbeds which would potentially wipe out much of the cost savings of streetcars versus light-rail.

    There are many different elements that could differentiate streetcars from MetroLink and make them incompatible with each other, but that hasn’t stopped cities across the country from jumping on the streetcar bandwagon. All things considered, I support using a model similar to Portland for the reintroduction of streetcars to St. Louis.

    Cross-posted at nextSTL.