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Transit officials aim to increase MetroLink ridership by making the stations more inviting

A view of the completed project to make the Emerson Park Transit Center in East St. Louis move inviting. Transit officials hope similar projects will encourage more people to ride the MetroLink.
St. Clair County Transit District
A view of the completed project to make the Emerson Park Transit Center in East St. Louis move inviting. Transit officials hope similar projects will encourage more people to ride public transit.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published by the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.

A project aimed to make Belleville’s MetroLink stop more inviting to riders is in its early stages of planning.

The project comes as a result of a partnership between the St. Clair County Transit District, Citizens for Modern Transit and AARP and will see the MetroLink platform at 800 Scheel Street in Belleville “transformed.”

Transit District Director Ken Sharkey said the district’s board has pledged $60,000 to the Transit Stop Transformation project in hopes of turning light rail and bus stop from a “dull space” into a more “vibrant” and “interactive” area.

“If you go to these MetroLink stations they’re all pretty drab and boring so we’re trying with this opportunity to come up with some ideas to help that,” Sharkey said. “We want to build a nicer environment for our riders.”

Sharkey said that while it’s early in the design process a similar project that transformed the Emerson Park Transit Center in East St. Louis is a good example of what to expect in Belleville.

The Emerson Park project cost $70,000 and was completed in late August. It added colorful jazz-themed decorations throughout the center, new green, shaded seating canopies and a large mural designed by East St. Louis High School students, playing off the city’s deep-rooted musical history.

All of these improvements come on top of a new multi-million dollar facility that is planned for the Emerson stop in the next few years.

In addition to the $60,000 afforded the Scheel Street project, more funding will be sought through various grants. The project is expected to wrap up in early summer of 2022 and is currently in its design phase.

Kimberly Cella, executive director of Citizens for Modern Transit, described the old Emerson Park station as a “sea of gray.” She said the hope is to see a similar transformation happen at the Belleville center.

“Grey concrete, gray walls, gray parking lot, gray buildings,” she said. “We wanted to take this sea of gray and change it into an interactive corridor for commuters and the community.”

Projects aim to invite community to ride transit

The first project through the program was completed on the St. Louis side of the river, where last summer a MetroBus stop in Maplewood got a similar makeover. Cella said the work better integrates the stop with the surrounding area.

The Belleville transformation will be the third-ever through the Transit Placemaking Program, Cella said.

The program was formed by the AARP and Citizens for Modern Transit in hopes of increasing “placemaking” near transit stops. Placemaking is an approach to city planning, design and management that connects public places to the people who live near them.

Cella said through the projects, the two organizations are working to turn uninviting transit spots into community centers that encourage people to use public transit.

Projects start with outreach to the surrounding community’s stakeholders to help mold the transformation into something that best reflects the community’s needs. She said neighbors, school and other local officials, businesses owners and others were contacted for input.

For years, the Metro system has struggled with security issues that many have claimed keep people from riding the system. Sharkey said these improvements to transit centers won’t interfere with security updates being made along the system, including a planned $10 million public safety building at the Emerson Park center.

In late 2020, Metro announced an overhaul to the system’s security in hopes of winning public perception back that saw more than $35 million go toward contracts with local sheriff’s departments to increase police presence on the MetroLink.

“This project doesn’t come at the expense of security,” Sharkey said.

More projects could be coming

Sharkey said while the Belleville transformation is early in its development, the transit district hopes to renovate additional stops. He said the Emerson Park and Belleville transit centers came first because of the high volume of riders the two stops see on a daily basis.

He said another high traffic center, like the Fairview Heights stop, could be next. He hopes that one transformation could be done every year going forward.

These projects and other investments, like LED lighting added at several stations, are crucial to maintaining and growing ridership, Sharkey said.

“You have to be able to show that you’re making improvements and investments into the system to make transit a little more enjoyable and this is how we do that,” Sharkey said. “I think our customers deserve nicer amenities.”

Cella said any communities that are hoping to have a similar transit transformation can visit cmt-stl.org for more information on the program.Kavahn Mansouri is a reporter with the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.

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