Friday, September 29, 2006

Cross County MetroLink Part Deux: Observations on Each New Station

Cross County MetroLink Part Deux: Observations on Each New Station

I have used each station on the new alignment of MetroLink from Forest Park - DeBaliviere to Shrewsbury Lansdowne I-44 at least once in the month or so it has been operating. Here are some thoughts:

1) Forest Park - DeBaliviere (existing two-platforms replaced with new center platform). This is a very busy station; even busier than it was before. It opened over the summer. I've rarely used the new walkway under DeBaliviere. It would probably make sense if I was a park-and-ride user; and does include a second elevator. Transfers from train-to-train are a major activity here; so a center platform was needed. The red glowing LED (or is it LCD?) clocks are a nice touch, found also on the new line.

I no longer need to use the stairs though; mostly I'm just transferring between trains. Also, I wonder if and when they will demolish the sad looking former elevator tower and stairs to the old westbound platform.

Bus connections: #01 WUSTL-Gold (on Pershing), #03 Forest Park Circulator (summer only, on DeBaliviere), #90 Hampton (on DeBaliviere).

2) Skinker. Obviously I use this station a lot. It has a real urban, subway feel. I even spotted Chancellor Mark Wrighton using it last week. The mezzanine-level bridge connecting the two platforms (only one bridge here, over the western end of the platforms) is quite convenient, as is the long rampway to the WashU campus. Only thing is -- once you get onto campus, you're walking across a sea of surface parking! This is student parking, not park-ride. Not so urban.

It's a longer walk (across the parking lots) to academic buildings, library, etc. than it was from the shuttle stop at Brookings @ Hoyt Drives, so I have to plan for that. Still, it provides a much faster connection from downtown (Civic Center to Skinker takes only 13-14 minutes) than waiting at Pershing and DeBaliviere for a shuttle bus.

Bus connections (on Skinker): #01 WUSTL-Gold, #02 WUSTL-Red, #16 City Limits.

3) University City - Big Bend. I use this station slightly more than Skinker, since some of my classes and office are on the northwest side of campus. I rarely go to Mallinckrodt student center anymore. At Big Bend, you find two mezzanine-level bridges; one over each end of the two platforms. Otherwise, it's like Skinker, an urban subway-style space.

But again, poor WashU planning at ground level: the SE stairs exit onto the sidewalk along busy Forest Park Parkway adjacent to a gate into The Village dormitory complex that is always locked. You can walk around it, through a parking lot driveway and path adjacent to the Millbrook Apartments, but that involves walking around a big dumpster!

One morning, I had to wait for a trash truck (itself waiting for an opening in traffic to turn left) to exit the parking lot driveway -- and then walked through disgusting trash water that had been streaming out the back of the trash truck. Yuck! Cutting through the Millbrook Apartments' courtyard is a fast way to get to academic buildings; I hope they don't decide to fence that off, too.

Bus connections (on Big Bend): #60 Midland, WashU Green line (operated by Huntleigh ShuttlePort).

4) Forsyth. I've used this station once, returning from an errand to Clayton. It makes sense, sometimes, to head west to Clayton station, then come back walking east on Forsyth to this station. Eventually I'll probably use it to get to West Campus Library. It's an interesting subterreanean, yet open-air two-platform configuration. It's not a subway station like Skinker or Big Bend. The station and its lengthy ramps are on the northeast side of Forsyth under the elevated section of Forest Park Parkway; but each platform includes a walkway with stairway access to the southwest side of Forsyth.

Bus connection: #01 WUSTL-Gold (on Forsyth, only when operating via Forsyth to/from Brentwood I-64).

5) Clayton. I've used this station both to access destinations in the Clayton business district, and to transfer to/from buses at the Clayton MetroBus Center. Sure, it's a little weird you have to walk upstairs (two different sets of stairs to choose from for some reason), across a bridge, then downstairs, to get to the buses, but it could be worse. The center-platform is located in the middle of the tracks, which are themselves in the middle of Forest Park Parkway. But at least the car traffic is pretty far away, separated by barricades, and slightly below you, on both sides.

It is funny, though, how nervous Clayton seems to be about bus passengers: the old transfer/layover point, at Forsyth and Central, was adjacent to County Police Headquarters. The new transfer center and MetroLink stop is adjacent to Clayton Police Headquarters, and you have to walk past the police station to get into Clayton from MetroLink. No access is provided to neighborhoods south of Forest Park Parkway.

Bus connections (all at transfer center): #01 WUSTL-Gold (when operating to/from Brentwood I-64), #47 North Hanley, #66 Clayton-Airport, #97 Delmar, #66x Ladue Road Shuttle (very limited service), "C" Clayton Road Connector.

6) Richmond Heights. This at-grade center platform stop is on the wrong side of I-170 from Saint Louis Galleria and The Boulevard-St. Louis, a so-called traditional urban development that is certainly not transit-oriented. Access under I-170 along Galleria Parkway is via narrow sidewalks, pressed close to the busy roadway with no margin for error. Also you have to get past on and off ramps (one on the north side and two on the south side), plus the parking garage ramps for The Boulevard. Then, there's crossing Brentwood Boulevard!

If your destination happens to be a little further south, a more pleasant option may be the pedestrian bridge over I-170, a bit south along McMorrow across from the Residence Inn. Driving north on I-170, you might notice it right behind the "Galleria Parkway - EXIT ONLY" sign. Finding its western approach is tricky, but it's near the dead-end of Antler Drive off Francis Place, behind 3-Day Window Treatments, across from one of the few remaining houses on Francis Place.

Given its structural decay and lack of ADA compliance, I have a feeling the bridge may disappear in the I-64 reconstruction. It looks like I-170 will be relocated slightly east in that section, according to the study maps online (which are probably outdated). By then, maybe a better walkway along Galleria Parkway will be built. Ideally, both a walkway under I-170 at Galleria Parkway and an upgraded pedestrian overpass at Antler Drive could be built; but that seems unlikely, especially since The Boulevard "Phase II" is planned for the area extending south from Darst Court to Antler Drive.

Bus connections (at adjacent bus turnaround loop): #01 WUSTL-Gold (when operating to/from Brentwood I-64), #02 WUSTL-Red.

7) Brentwood I-64. I gave some impressions about this area on the first day of revenue service. Nothing has really changed about this two-platform stop located open air but below grade with no direct access to Eager Road, but walkways to the end of Hanley Industrial on the west and to the bus transfer loop/parking garage site on the east, except the rapid progress on the park-ride garage which Metro will lease from the private developers of the adjacent The Meridian retail/office complex. Last week I needed to go to Kinko's at the south end of Brentwood Square shopping center, and since walking on Eager Road is not something I'm eager to undertake, I tried walking through Hanley Industrial Court. Not much better (bizzare sharp turns, no sidewalks at all, best to cut through the incongruous strips of grass between the road and the parking lots), but much less traffic.

Almost as ridiculous is the pedestrian access along Strassner Avenue, which currently connects Hanley Industrial directly to Brentwood Blvd., and will eventually be extended through Hanley Industrial onto a segment of pavement now being built under MetroLink currently, through the Hanley Station development, and connecting to Hanley Road lined up with Bruno Avenue (hopefully). This will provide a local traffic alternative to Eager for getting from one massive strip mall to the next.

The part of Strassner I walked is the existing segment from Hanley Industrial west to Brentwood Blvd. There's no sidewalk on the north side of the street at first; to cross over a small creek bridge you must cross over to the south side of the street, where there's a walkway to connect two parts of a park together. But a short distance after crossing the creek, within that park itself, the sidewalk ends, you eventually run into the monument signage for the park, and must cross Strassner again to continue on the sidewalk on the north side, alongside the Mid-County YMCA. Eventually you cross Urban Drive, then curve north a little to cross Brentwood Blvd. at the thankfully signalized intersection with crosswalks at Strassner/Wrenwood (entry to Brentwood Forest condos).

Bus connections at Brentwood I-64 (eventually a transfer center will be built, near the garage and The Meridian development): #01 WUSTL-Gold, #02 WUSTL-Red, #58 Chesterfield Ellisville (express all day every 30 minutes to Ballas Road MetroBus Center in only 10 minutes!), #59 Shaw Kirkwood, #158x Highway 40 Clayton Road Express (peak hour only).

8) Maplewood - Manchester. This is a strange location in some ways, but one with tremendous future potential. The center-platform sits high above the flood-prone land nearby; evident is the large area to the northeast bought out in the mid 1990s where houses used to be. The main access route will ultimately be from the east, where a MetroBus transfer station/loop is under construction. For the time being, buses loop at the Brentwood Garage, and just stop on Manchester by the Maplewood station to board passengers. The Sutton Loop in central Maplewood is no longer used.

Also dominant at this stop are the offices of Sunnen Products and Enterprise Rent-a-Car. There's a direct walkway to their complex just to the northwest; you drive past the other side of that building along Hanley just north of Manchester, by the electric substation. I cannot identify any direct connection to the Maplewood Commons shopping center, although that would make so much sense; the train passes right by Red Lobster! There's another walkway that crosses over Manchester, both accessing directly the Sunnen headquarters campus, and featuring a staircase down to the south side of Manchester, where currently you have to go to catch an eastbound bus.

Bus connections (for the time being on either side of Manchester; eventually at a bus loop downstairs from the platform): #16 City Limits, #30 Soulard, #57 Manchester.

9) Sunnen. I've used this station once, and I can't imagine I'll use it very often. This is not the stop for Sunnen's headquarters; that's Maplewood station, and they wouldn't really name it after a corporation, right? No, this is the stop for Sunnen Drive, the main corridor of the Sunnen Business Park whose tenants include the St. Louis County Board of Election Commissioners. In a sign that this area is planned for transformation -- into a bigger industrial park perhaps, or hopefully a significant transit-oriented development -- Laclede Station Road was permanently closed just north of Sunnen Drive. This station has almost a rural feel in its landscaping, and since Sunnen Drive could not be closed to traffic, there's actually a grade crossing there, which adds to the rural feeling.

Also very odd is there's still one house, formerly on Laclede Station, located really close to the platform, just past the cul-de-sac where the one bus route serving this stop receives passengers. I can't imagine 3025 S. Laclede Station Road will be around much longer. Like most of the neighborhood, it is owned by Sunnen. The Sunnen station has walkways serving the neighborhood in several directions, both north and south along Laclede Station, and east on Sunnen Drive.

An informal, unofficial, rather hazardous walkway does exist to get from Deer Creek Shopping Center via a steep climb up the side of the nearby railroad berm (from the parking lot behind the post office in the former Colonel Day's space), across the UP double tracks, through the parking lot of the Maplewood Village apartments (built during the Maplewood apartment craze of the 1970s and now owned by Sunnen), then through the rocky area underneath where the MetroLink tracks start their ascent high above grade level, into the business park adjacent to the station. It's probably a remnant of the days when Deer Creek housed Venture, a discount department store which Maplewood Village residents likely frequented.

Bus connection (at the cul-de-sac on Laclede Station): #56 Kirkwood Webster (now the only bus serving the Old Orchard area of Webster Groves and Webster University; the Shrewsbury station, strangely, does not offer a bus that will take you into the heart of Webster).

10) Shrewsbury Lansdowne I-44. The segment of mostly elevated track from Sunnen to Shrewsbury is truly surreal. After the incongruous grade crossing at Sunnen Drive, a simultaneously curve and ascent begins. The tracks cross above the double-track UP freight train corridor (most of us have probably gotten stuck waiting for a train on Sutton Avenue in Maplewood at one time or another, so this high-line crossing is a good idea), but then appears to hang out over Deer Creek shopping center. In reality, the elevated tracks are elevated over a rocky outcropping, a (natural?) bluffline rendered invisible to most of us because it's behind the docks of those stores and below the railroad tracks. But now MetroLink has sunken its deep piers into that rock, and in places into the pavement behind the still operating stores in Deer Creek. Despite its loss of an anchor, the center is still probably half-full; but yeah, a lot of that is State of Missouri offices. A tall retaining wall built to support fill dirt on which MetroLink was built near the eastern end of the center makes for a rather narrow exit to the dock areas behind those stores, which would seemingly make it impossible for a tractor-trailer to service them. By this time, the elevation of the tracks is somewhat lower, but still elevated due to flooding concerns. The elevated tracks pass above S. Big Bend Boulevard, then Oxford Avenue, and then for a time are pretty much at-grade passing adjacent to the Big Bend Industrial Park and several houses on Manhattan and Sussex Avenues. This Oxford Ave. area seems like it could have been a potential location for a stop, too, because it's a pretty established neighborhood most of which is not flood-prone. Maybe someday.

Then the ascent begins again, high above Deer Creek, the BNSF tracks, and of course I-44. After passing over the interstate, the trains slows down, heads downhill a little, for its approach to the terminal station off Lansdowne Avenue on the boundary between St. Louis and Shrewsbury.

The pedestrian access to this station is actually better than I expected. If you walk north from the platform, yes, that's all a sea of parking. But if you walk south, downstairs to the bus transfer center, you're pretty close to the street. You can easily walk across the new Lansdowne bridge into the Lindenwood Park neighborhood.

The problem comes in getting further east. Wabash Avenue, though there seems to be plenty of room in front of the houses, does not have sidewalks in most sections. So before you get to Wabash's extra-wide intersection with Lansdowne, turn left onto the alley behind the houses on the west side of Lansdowne. This alley extends northward to Bancroft Avenue. But trying to cross Wabash is tough, too. I tried walking in the grass next to the road, alongside a vacant lot and a couple houses, until Lindenwood Place. At Lindenwood, the divider in the middle of Wabash starts, which can provide a brief respite, long enough to get across the wide road.

Wabash and Ellendale Avenues, as a link between River des Peres Boulevard south of Lansdowne, and McCausland Avenue north of Canterbury, are necessarily high-speed, high-volume corridors that are part of the regional transportation network. They're also an important intermodal freight link, as the main truck gate to the BNSF Lindenwood yard is located off Wabash near the River des Peres bridge.

But from a neighborhood and safety perspective, they're horribly designed. Perhaps the city should consider seeking federal funds for upgrading this relatively short, but not insignificant, stretch of pseudo-highway. At the least, it would be nice to see continuous sidewalks along at least one side of Wabash/Ellendale, and a much less sharp turn at the River des Peres bridge/Wellington Court. Several other curves along Ellendale could also use improvement, if possible. Also, potentially a signalized intersection at Lindenwood Place would provide safer left turns and pedestrian crossings in this vicinity. (I'd also advocate for signals on Jamieson Avenue at Fyler Avenue and at Lindenwood Place; the current four-way stop configurations are inadequate for the traffic counts and speeds on that section. South of Chippewa, Jamieson is much less busy, but between Chippewa and I-44 it's a speedway.)

Bus connections at Shrewsbury Lansdowne I-44 (at the bus bays immediately south of and downstairs from the platform): #8 Bates, #11 Chippewa, #17 Oakville, #46 Tesson Ferry, #93 Midtown South County, #11x Shrewsbury Express (peak hour only), #210 I-44 Fenton Shuttle.

1 comment:

Doug Duckworth said...

Unlike several stops ahead of us, the Galleria station is a perfect example of public transportation meeting public need. It brings workers and shoppers to this bustling business and residential center; it is well lit, and an easy walk to the nearby Galleria and Boulevard developments. The next stop, at Highway 40, also makes sense with the string of strip malls and shops bordering the south side of the highway.