Monday, October 03, 2005

Looking into the Future of MetroLink

Looking into the Future of MetroLink

I'm starting to get excited about the Cross County MetroLink line and its potential utility.

The projected opening date, according to the August 2005 Status Report (pdf) is now October 31, 2006. That's a little over a year away!

Yes, it was supposed to open, according to the banners hung in many communities on the route, in August 2005. But, hey, at least now the financing is (probably) secure.

The project web site actually has a lot of useful information. In particular, there are schematic renderings of the layouts for each station, to whet my appetite further.

For example:

  • Forest Park Station highlights include a new center platform setup, so that no matter whether your destination is downtown, Shiloh-Scott, Lambert Airport, Clayton, or Shrewsbury, you'll all be waiting on the same platform. I hope this works out ok. The existing (rather old) DeBaliviere Place overpass will be extended, so that new elevators and staircases may be attached to both sides of the overpass. That way, if you're coming from the park-and-ride lot or the southbound #90 Hampton stop, on the west side of DeBaliviere, you will no longer need to cross the street. It's similar to the setup at the Grand station - but, hopefully, it will be cleaner!

  • Skinker Station is underground inside a tunnel, and features a "mezzanine level" bridge over the tracks but below the street. This way, you won't have to cross the street here, either, to access either side of the tracks. This corrects the flaw in the design of some of the downtown underground stations, like 8th and Pine or Convention Center. Of course, since those were built using an existing historic railroad tunnel, that was probably unavoidable. Skinker will have two separate platforms, though, for eastbound and westbound passengers. Unfortunately, the only elevator access will be from the NE corner of the intersection, adjacent to Kayak's Coffee. It looks like the access from the WashU campus will be via a very long tunnel of ramps and stairs, from approximately the west side of Brookings Circle, then diagonally under Skinker just south of Forest Park Parkway. This tunnel is guaranteed to become a major target of (campus and non-campus) graffiti artists. Also, there will be stairways on the easternmost ends of each platform, close to the alley behind Pershing on the north side, and near the alley behind Lindell on the south side. There will be no access from the NW quadrant of the intersection, adjacent to the Parkview subdivision.

  • University City - Big Bend Station will also have only one elevator, this one in the NW quadrant of the intersection, near Hi/Tec Copy Center. Again, the access from the WashU campus will be via a really long ramp into the tunnel, next to Lopata House. Of course, since all the buildings in "the Village" have their main entrances turned inside the courtyard of that complex, the access is really at the back of Lopata House, even though it's the street-facing side. The access from University Drive (NE quadrant) will be a similar long ramp/tunnel design. Here, the SW quadrant, closest to residences on Westmoreland, will actually have a stairway access but not an elevator nor a ramp. Here, a mezzanine system will be used, but for some reason it is proposed to have two pedestrian bridges over the tracks. Skinker, somehow, seems like it would be a busier station, so having just one mezzanine bridge there seems odd, if Big Bend gets two.

  • Forsyth Station will have the most fantastic design of all the stations. It will be below the street level immediately north of Forsyth, but mostly open-air, with a large circular plaza integrating the ramp system that includes several switchbacks on each side. "The curved walls and recessed plaza are suggestive of classical amphitheaters and add an architecturally unique design to this MetroLink station." There will be no elevators, and access from the south side of Forsyth will be stairs-only. Most of the eastbound platform and ramps will be located beneath the fly-over overpass for Forest Park Parkway, rebuilt in basically the same place it was before. While it sounds impressive architecturally, it's not exactly a high-demand location, so I wonder whether many people will appreciate it. The only major attractions within walking distance are the WashU West Campus and the Ritz-Carlton.

  • Clayton Station will be much busier. Unfortunately, it is poorly located: right in the center median of Forest Park Parkway! The station will be a single center platform, just west of the flyover ramp from the eastbound parkway up onto Central Avenue. The only access will be via a pedestrian bridge over the westbound parkway, landing on Central in the new parking garage. To access bus transfers at the adjacent Clayton MetroBus Center - which opened almost a year ago - you will need to go downstairs. There will be no access to the neighborhoods south of the parkway, including Clayton's Meramec Elementary School. As now, the only way to get from downtown Clayton into those neighborhoods on foot would be via the Bemiston Ave. overpass, one block east.

  • Richmond Heights Station will be even more inconveniently situated. A single center platform, it will be adjacent to the curve in Galleria Parkway, just east of I-170. Access to Saint Louis Galleria itself will be via shuttle bus. No pedestrian access improvements are planned; only "an adjacent shuttle waiting area." Also, no access will be provided to residences along Linden Avenue, nor to the Tropicana Lanes immediately north. Something tells me WashU students and other bowlers will quickly make their own unofficial pathway to the Tropicana.

  • Brentwood I-64 Station will be located just south of Eager Road in an open-air, two-platform configuration. The two platforms will be connected via a grade-level track crossing just south of the platforms. Bizarrely, although located adjacent to the Dierbergs Brentwood Pointe shopping center, there will be no access to it. Instead, the only access will be via a really long ramp/walkway leading to a planned park-ride garage behind the Best Buy located east of the station. This is really silly; why not have a direct access for pedestrians to access Eager Road? Metro seems to think the only value in this station is as a park-ride facility. Although they claim its location adjacent to major retail as a selling point, they do not take advantage of that location at all!

  • Maplewood - Manchester Station will be another busy transfer point, located at Manchester and Bartold in the western part of Maplewood. Most of the buses that currently serve Sutton Loop and vicinity will now be shifted here. The station will be a single center platform, located just north of the overpass above Manchester Road. One elevator will be provided, on the north side of Manchester, with stairs only leading to the south side of Manchester. There will also be a track crossing on the north end of the station, probably leading to the bus pull-in areas to be built west of the station. This seems like a pretty reasonable configuration, pretty accessible to nearby residences and businesses.

  • Sunnen Station will be one of the least busy stations, located at-grade, at the corner of Laclede Station Road and Sunnen Drive. Access will be via steps and ramps at each end of both platforms, leading directly to either Sunnen Drive or Laclede Station Road. Other than Sunnen Corporation and an apartment complex, the main attraction in this area is the St. Louis County Board of Election Commissioners office. While Deer Creek Center is not far away, it's quite a steep downhill climb, so most pedestrians won't do it.

  • Shrewsbury Lansdowne I-44 Station, awkwardly named partly because it straddles the St. Louis City limits, will have a ridiculously large park-ride lot, a bus drop-off area that (as best I can tell) would maybe be used by the #11 Chippewa, #80 Shaw-Southampton and #92 Lindenwood. The stop will be an elevated center platform, with an elevator down to the ground level at the Lansdowne end, and stairs at the northern end. Pedestrian access will only be from Lansdowne, both near the existing railroad overpass, and at the corner of River des Peres Blvd. This will be similar to North Hanley in its earlier, pre-garage days.

    Anonymous said...

    Access to Cross-County stations is limited due to NIMBY interests. Parkview and Catlin residents opposed Skinker access from the NW and SE. Clayton residents opposed Central access to Meramec School (S) or Brentwood Blvd. (W). Richmond Heights residents opposed access to the east. Brentwood retailers opposed direct access to their parking lots (though last I heard Dierberg's had reconsidered).

    As for Forsyth use, other than Wash U students, I imagine more will access the station from U-City residential areas to the east than areas to the west about the Ritz.

    Joe said...

    I understand NIMBYism by residents, sort of, but what's the deal with retailers in Brentwood? It wouldn't take much to make that area navigable on foot, there's so many stores so close together. But they are all very much car-oriented.

    WashU West Campus is primarily admininstrative office, retail and Library archive space, so very few students have it as a destination. I suppose Forsyth station would be useful for residents to the east, but at some point (around Asbury, say) it becomes more sensible to use the Big Bend station.

    Anonymous said...

    I had heard that retailers, since auto-oriented, were worried about overflow park'n'ride MetroLink riders taking parking spaces away from strip-mall patrons.

    But once the New I-64 construction is underway as a three-year-plus mess, maybe business will significantly die along Eager Road such that these large sites might have higher return as true mixed-use transit-oriented developments. And at Forsyth, hopefully, Bally's or WashU might rethink their sites at Forsyth for dense infill as well with new MetroLink access.

    Joe said...

    WashU owns large parcels for potential redevelopment at all three station locations: Skinker, Big Bend, Forsyth.

    Namely, WashU owns (either outright or through its property-management arm, Quadrangle):

    -The Bally's building, the Firestone building, and all the parking lots surrounding the Forsyth station;

    -The strip mall where Williams Pharmacy, Hi/Tec Copy Center, Frozen Assets, etc. are located at the NW corner of Big Bend and Forest Park;

    -The Kayak's Coffee building (of course) and a large vacant lot at the SE corner of Skinker and Forest Park.

    Whatever future development happens at these locations will be totally directed by WashU.

    As for Brentwood/I-64: I don't think the construction will be bad enough to kill many of those major retailers. There's just too much disposable income within close proximity; and Dierbergs isn't stupid. They're in that location for the long-haul. Others may come and go; indeed, they already have, especially the big chain electronics retailers.

    Anonymous said...

    Just an update on the Brentwood/Eager station. They have added a ramp to the Dierbergs side of the station. It's still kind of oddly located, its a little ways down the road towards the Industrial Court, but it is probably the only way it would work, because the grade there is pretty steep. But you can get to either side of the station it looks like.