August 16th, 2006

Brad @ Burning Man

Coming Soon STL: The New Metrolink Line

We're less than two weeks away from something that's a medium-big deal here in St. Louis, and the relevant government agency is doing at best a mediocre job of explaining it. As of August 28th, a week from Monday, Metrolink (St. Louis' light-rail system) will no longer be a single line. The map from their website about this, at right, shows you the overall effect of this, but it's misleading. Buried deep in Metro St. Louis's website is a "map" of the new Metrolink routes (PDF link) that comes much closer to explaining how it will actually work. In fact, it does a better job than the signage on the actual trains is apparently going to do.

Imagine that there are two routes, a blue route and a red route. The red route is the existing route, the longer version of the classic Metrolink line that Bill McClellan mocked so long ago as going "from the airport to a graveyard on the east side." It goes much farther than that, now; now the Illinois side reaches all the way to the almost entirely empty new overflow airport they built adjacent to Scott Air Force Base. Other than some changes in the times that the trains pull into and leave the stations, this "red" line isn't changing at all. Now imagine an entirely separate "blue" line. This blue line travels from Shrewsbury on the south side, north-bound to Clayton, then turns east from there and runs about 1/3 of the way as far into Illinois as the classic "red" line does, ending at Emerson Park in East St. Louis. What makes this hard to visualize is that the two train lines 100% overlap from Forest Park Station to Emerson Park Station. For those 12 stations, every other train will alternate "red" or "blue." And that's going to result in a lot of people taking the wrong train for a while, because they're not doing anything as smart as calling them the "red line" and the "blue line." No, the "red line" is keeping its old name, "Lambert/Shiloh,"* and the newer "blue line" is getting the utterly useless name "Shrewsbury/Emerson." So if you're anywhere between Forest Park Station and Emerson Park Station, and you want to go to Washington University, Clayton, or the US-40 or I-44 Park-and-Rides, you board the "Shrewsbury" train. If you want to go to northwest county, University of Missouri St. Louis, the I-70 Park-and-Ride, or the airport, you board the "Lambert" train. If you want to go east from anywhere in the overlap zone, you can in theory board either the "Emerson" or "Shiloh" trains. But if you want to go any further east than the Emerson Park Park-and-Ride, you'll need to board or transfer to the Shiloh train at some point. Is that clearer?
The web page also does a terrible job of explaining exactly where the new train stations are, the ones along the new segment of track. So I spent most of an afternoon alternating between their terrible maps and Google Earth, and I think I can do a better job of explaining where the actual stations are, to help you figure out if any of them would actually drop you off anywhere useful:
  • Skinker Station: This is a completely stupid, useless name for this station. They could have named it something a lot more useful, and everybody in St. Louis would have known instantly where it was with no further explanation. They should have called this the Washington University Northeast station, because that's exactly where it is: right exactly on the northeast corner of the Washington University campus, right there at the far corner of the parking lot.
  • University City-Big Bend Station: Another aggravatingly mis-named station, because the gods help anybody who gets on this train thinking it'll take them to what most of us think of as UCity, namely the "Loop" area. (That would be the Delmar station on the "red" Lambert/Shiloh line.) No, what it should have been named is the Washington University Northwest station, because again, that's exactly where it is: right exactly on the northwest corner of the Washington University Campus, right there at the dorms.
  • Forsyth Station: Washington University west campus in the former Famous Barr building, at the intersection of Forsyth and Hanley. Can you tell that WashU had a lot to do, financially, with the placement of the stations?
  • Clayton Station: The Clayton stop's in a somewhat inconvenient spot, but there was only so much they could do about it. There's no way they could afford to demolish buildings in or tunnel under the most expensive chunk of high-rise real-estate in St. Louis in order to actually put the stop within comfortable walking distance of anything you'd want to get to in Clayton, especially when they already owned a usable right-of-way that was almost within walking distance. The Clayton stop is in the median of Forest Park Parkway right where Central Avenue dead-ends into it, with an elevated pedestrian crosswalk across the westbound lanes of the Parkway. According to Google Earth, it's almost exactly 1000 feet from there to the St. Louis County Government Center. That's going to seriously impair its usefulness, because 1000 feet is far longer than almost any American is willing to walk unless you tart up the intervening real-estate with distractions enough for a Disney theme park. Worse, imagine the plight of someone from out of town who thinks that since they're staying in a Clayton hotel and working with some Clayton office, they don't need a rental car. Sure, it says on the transit map that they can take a train from the airport to the Forest Park transfer station, wait 5 to 15 minutes (depending on time of day) for a train going the other way to Clayton, and be dropped off right there. Yeah, they can - but "right there" is about a quarter of a mile's walk from their hotel or office. But it was what Metro St. Louis could afford to build.
  • Richmond Heights Station: They didn't have the guts to call it what it is: the Gonorrhea Galleria Mall station. It's on the south parking lot of the Gonorrhea Galleria.
  • Brentwood Station: I'm really scratching my head on where they placed this one, because it's not convenient to anything as far as I can tell from the map. It's on Eager Road, the south outer road along I-64 in that stretch, about 3/4 of the way from Brentwood to Hanley, way too uncomfortably far from any of the shopping destinations there to walk, but not near enough to anything else except one small office building. The only thing I can think is that this is meant to be the Park-and-Ride lot for people driving in from West County on I-64, and I guess it works for that. With that and the Shrewsbury station (see below), it is now possible to attend a Cardinals or Rams game without having to park your car downtown (which is the only thing that most St. Louisans are willing to use Metrolink for) from any of the 3 western highways, I-70 or I-64/US-40 or I-44. Whatever.
  • Maplewood-Manchester Station: Just slightly north of Manchester Road, one block east of Hanley. A pretty good working class commuter station, possibly the best on the whole system, since that's within reasonable walking distance of an awful lot of the metro area's working-class housing.
  • Sunnen Station: Remarkably, they didn't muck around and name this one euphemistically like they did several of the others. It lets off on the parking lot of Sunnen Industrial Park, where Sunnen Manufacturing is, and is of no use to anybody else. But hey, they're a somewhat major employer, and it was on the way.
  • Shrewsbury Station: This one is going to give people headaches for years to come. It's clearly meant to be the Park-and-Ride lot for everybody coming in from the southwest part of the county on I-44, and the parking lot is huge. The catch is that from the direction most people would actually use it there's no exit to Shrewsbury Road. Instead you have to get off a mile beforehand at Murdoch, magically pick the correct direction at one of the metro area's most confusing intersections, and then zig-zag over to Lansdowne to the corner of it and River Des Peres. I readily grant that this is less expensive and less aggravating than parking downtown. But that stretch of road is not built for heavy traffic, and if they didn't put a Metrolink sign at every intersection and in the middle of every block, the gods' pity on anybody unfamiliar with Shrewsbury who's trying to find that station the first time. If this station gets anything like the kind of traffic that Metro St. Louis obviously hopes that it will, MODOT is simply going to have to come up with the money to expand the Shrewsbury Road exit so that you can get onto Shrewsbury from eastbound I-44, and get onto westbound I-44 from Shrewsbury. But so far as I know, that's not even on the drawing board yet?
Because of fuel prices and the need to start paying on the debt service for the new line, fares are going up the same day. That sucks, and not just because of the extra 25¢ per trip, but because the previous amount was convenient. A while back, they eliminated their previous rule about using transfers for return trips; now instead of a single transfer ticket, they push a $2 ticket that lets you transfer as many times as you want, in any direction, for the next two hours (usually rounded up). That was an easy amount of change to carry, and for me that $2 ticket was exactly enough time to run most errands. Now that ticket is $2.25, exact change required. Great, one more reason to have to hoard quarters. Oh well, what can't be cured must be endured.

By the way, if (like me) you have any bus route timetables around, as of Monday the 28th they become at least partially, and in some cases totally, useless. Email Metro St. Louis and get new ones. Because of the new trains, they had to adjust the transfer times at the Metrolink stations, so even the majority of the buses that didn't change their routes are changing their times. Although they have made it a lot easier to get by without them, if you have access to a computer when you decide to go from somewhere to elsewhere. One thing that Metro also rolled out a couple of weeks ago and couldn't afford to heavily publicize is their new web-based Trip Finder service. It's not 100% perfect; out of the couple of dozen times I've used it I was able to find a better route on my own exactly once. But on the other hand, two of those times it found routes for me that took half of the time the more instinctive chain of connections would have taken me.

* Footnote: And by the way, "Lambert" is a horrible St. Louisism. For historical reasons, most St. Louisans refer to our main regional airport as "Lambert Field," a name that it has never officially held. After the Lambert family donated farmland for the airport a lifetime ago, it was named Lambert Airport, not Lambert Field. Now it doesn't even have Lambert in the name. Now it's St. Louis International Airport. But nobody that I know calls it that.
  • Current Music
    Jerome Sydenham & Dennis F. - Koko (Koko Demo Dub) (D I G I T A L L Y - I M P O R T E D - House - si
  • Tags
Black Rock City

Well, that puts things in a certain perspective.

In Google Maps and Google Earth, the satellite photography for my neighborhood is at least 5 years out of date.

But I'd swear, from looking at it and from looking at the copyright data on the images, that the satellite photography for Black Rock City, Nevada is in very nearly real time.
  • Current Music
    Belmiro - DJ Mix: Cosmic Visions (D I G I T A L L Y - I M P O R T E D - House - silky sexy deep hous
  • Tags