The Loop Trolley open house occurred on July 8. Almost one month later, I’ve finally gotten around to writing down many of my thoughts on the project. Better late than never.
The First of Many
The 10 Delmar was one of the last operating streetcar lines in St. Louis, surviving until July 29, 1963. Today, it could be the first line to begin service of a brand new network of streetcars. Spearheaded by the Loop Trolley Co., the new Loop Trolley would go from the western end of the Delmar Loop east down Delmar Blvd before turning onto De Baliviere Ave and ending in a loop around the Missouri History Museum.
As exciting as bringing streetcars back to St. Louis is, the Loop Trolley project brings up an important question. Is this the right place to start?
Among the many claimed benefits of the Loop Trolley (and streetcar lines in general), one of the most important is its potential to encourage increased development everywhere along the line. Of course, it has been pointed out elsewhere in the St. Louis blogosphere that development is already occurring along the proposed line without the streetcar. Is the Loop Trolley capable of encouraging development above and beyond what is already naturally occurring. Is another corridor—Grand, Olive, or Broadway—more deserving of St. Louis’s first new streetcar line and the development it could bring?
It’s Not A Toy
Of concern is whether this train is being built for tourists and infrequent vistors and not for residents or commuters. The Loop Trolley should be a serious piece of infrastructure—another piece in the region’s public transit quilt—transporting people from one place to the next without fanfare or hoopla.
And DO NOT play music from Meet Me in St. Louis on this train! Nor any music, whatsoever! While perusing the sheets on the table in the middle of the room, I noticed someone had written
Play music from Meet Me in St. Louis all the time. This was followed with
Yes! My opinion, of course, is absolutely not! Not even when Meet Me in St. Louis is playing at The Muny. The Loop Trolley should not be a toy!
Vintage vs. Modern
In contrast to the high-profile and very sucessful streetcar systems in Portland and Seattle, the Loop Trolley seems poised to emulate Little Rock, Tampa, and Memphis by utilizing vintage as opposed to modern streetcar vehicles on the rail line. This is the wrong choice according to Urban Review STL. In my opinion, while I would like to see modern streetcars chosen over vintage models, vehicle type for the Loop Trolley doesn’t really matter. The Loop Trolley alignment is a small system with a tourist bent that is unlikely to be heavily travelled and requiring of the larger modern vehicles.
Should the Loop Trolley line be built, however, it should be fully compatible with modern streetcar vehicles. This includes not only the tracks or wires that power the system, but also the stations and maintenance areas which should be built or easily upgradeable to accommodate the larger modern streetcar vehicles.
Double vs. Single Track
A single track option, instead of the standard double track, is being considered for the half-mile segment along Delmar Blvd east of the Delmar Loop MetroLink station. Constructing only a single track in the median of Delmar Blvd would be $5 million cheaper than the double track option.
A very important aspect to remember when considering a single track option is passing flexibility. What is the likelihood of two opposing trains wanting to use the same single track segment at the same time? The issue is important because of the extreme traffic congestion on Delmar Blvd west of Skinker Blvd. Will congestion delays west of Skinker Blvd cause conflict delays east of Skinker Blvd. The robustness of the streetcar’s schedule needs to be looked at carefully when examining this issue.
Future expansion of the streetcar line must also be kept in mind when considering the double versus single track issue. The addition of a second streetcar line further down Delmar Blvd to the Central West End would decrease headways in The Loop area by half, thus increasing the likelihood of conflict should the single track option on Delmar Blvd be chosen. This is especially important since the single track option, as proposed, will be next to impossible to upgrade to double track without fully closing the line.
Take Baltimore, for example. When first built, Baltimore’s light rail had 9 miles of single track out of the entire 22.5-mile alignment. The lengthy single track sections require long headways between trains even during peak hours. Baltimore later went back and double tracked the entire alignmen which required lengthy full closures of the rail line. The cost to install the second track was significantly higher cost than had the the track had been installed from the onset.
In summary, the Loop Trolley should use double track for the entire stretch along Delmar Blvd. A single track is, also, proposed for De Baliviere Ave, but given the low vehicle and streetcar traffic, this is unlikely to cause any operational problems.
Narrowing Delmar East of MetroLink
The two options presented for Delmar Blvd east of the MetroLink station both placed the streetcar tracks in the inside lane or median of Delmar Blvd. This avoids any conflict with the parking lane, keeps the righthand travel lane free of track obstacles for cyclists, and should allow the streetcar to maintain a higher running speed.
With the streetcar firmly planted in the middle. I would like to see planners consider narrowing Delmar Blvd to just one lane in each direction, just as they are planning with De Baliviere Ave, thereby giving the streetcar exclusive use of the median. Delmar Blvd in this area is very lightly travelled and given the streets that feed into it, it is unlikely to ever see a high volume of through traffic.
Open House Sketch Commentary
Lastly, some of my thoughts above reference the presentation boards visible along the walls and the tables in the middle at the Loop Trolley open house. On these boards, many citizens had taken markers and written commentary to specific aspects of the project. It would be highly appreciated if the organizers of the Loop Trolley study could scan and post the commentated presentation boards to the Loop Trolley website for everyone to look and see.