Cross County MetroLink: First Impressions
I didn't ride the new Cross County MetroLink on the free days -- Saturday and Sunday -- so I was eager to try it out today. I rode from downtown to Brentwood I-64 station and back to run a couple errands.
Generally, I was impressed. The two underground stations -- UCity-Big Bend and Skinker -- have a very "city" subway-style feeling, which might creep out some people but might also give WashU students the impression of being in a real big city after all!
I was impressed at how many WashU students already were using it today, particularly getting on and off at UCity-Big Bend station. Of course, there are residence halls in The Village just steps from that station, not to mention hundreds of off-campus apartments run by the university's Quadrangle Housing Company nearby. Even the South 40 isn't too far to walk, through campus. I suspect this will be the main station I use to access the western half of campus, including that rusty ol' hunk of concrete, Eliot Hall.
Although those two stations are underground, the trains pass by campus alongside Forest Park Parkway a little above grade, enough that they'll be visible to students, faculty and staff going to and from the parking garages, or in the law library, and some classrooms, offices, and laboratories. Anything that makes high-quality, high-speed public transit visible like that, is a very good thing.
I don't yet see the utility of the Forsyth station, though. I noticed WashU sent out a message informing folks they're putting up access gates at the West Campus parking lot, as well as the parking lot on the Danforth Campus closest to Forest Park and Skinker. That, of course, is to prevent park-ride usage.
Also, the availability of parking on campus is at a real premium due to the ongoing construction of the Sam Fox School expansion near Skinker, and now the construction of the new student center on the former site of Prince Hall (the replacement for Mallinckrodt Center). Within the past month, a temporary macadamized parking lot has been laid just south of there, on the formerly grassy informal playfield located west of Graham Chapel and south of McMillan Hall -- the very center of the campus. And starting September 1st, the parking lots just south of the Law School will be taken over by construction of the new Social Science and Law Building (supposedly the replacement for Eliot Hall).
Ironically, one of the things that is restricting traffic flow and parking at WashU is... building more parking garages! Along Snow Way just west of the Law School and south of The Village, a couple fraternity houses were torn down to make way for expanding an already large parking garage. The new student center on the Prince Hall site will include a new Central Underground Parking Facility in its basement. This underground parking will also extend under parts of the playfield.
Back to MetroLink: the ride through the tunnel was quite fast. The trains slow a bit west of Clayton station, because of the very wide curve they make on elevated structure, above both the eastbound lanes of Forest Park Parkway and the Clayton city maintenance garage. Then it's onto a pre-existing right-of-way berm adjacent to I-170. There are sound walls galore protecting all the adjacent single-families, although no such barriers on the side facing the Clayton business district even near high-rise condo buildings and hotels. The Richmond Heights station looks and feels pretty isolated. All the gates between the Tropicana Lanes parking lot and the right-of-way appeared to be locked, probably to discourage unofficial park-ride usage. The similarly adjacent parking lots for the BSKI synagogue were similarly empty. I realize they're both private property, but it seems like some sort of shared usage arrangement could have been considered given both those parking lots probably get very little usage on weekdays.
When I alighted the train at Brentwood-I-64, there are several quite unfriendly signs indicating no parking at the Dierbergs Brentwood Pointe shopping center. Indeed, they claim the City of Brentwood will issue a fine of up to $250 for anybody who parks more than three hours in the shopping center parking lot!
Not that the shopping center parking lot is particularly convenient to access from the adjacent MetroLink stop. Indeed, they seem to have made it as hard as possible. There's a walkway that's clearly an afterthought, leading from the westbound platform several hundred yards parallel and adjacent to the tracks, then turning so you are dropped right into heavy truck traffic across Hanley Industrial Court from the docks behind Dierbergs. There's no sidewalk on either side of that road, so you either walk in the grass/plantings or on the road itself, backtracking pretty far to get to the shopping center's covered walkway in front of the stores.
I visited my bank inside Dierbergs, then crossed over again using the MetroLink platform itself as a shortcut, to check out the new bus transfer/waiting area, which does not yet have any real seating. Also the parking garage is still under construction right at the top of the access ramp for the eastbound platform. Eventually that will be very convenient for park-ride users, but provides a visual and physical obstacle to accessing the Home Depot and McDonald's along Hanley. There's no evident plan for a pedestrian walkway to Hanley; you just have to walk through the limited surface parking (owned?) by Metro that's currently available for park-ride.