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Metro looks to the public to help develop its plan for the future

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Octt. 14, 2009 -What would the transit system of your dreams look like?

Metro riders attending the agency's first "Moving Transit Forward" community workshop Tuesday night got a chance to ponder that question and then found themselves becoming a transit planner and creating their ideal system -- if only for a moment.

After negotiating their way through a myriad of posters explaining topics such as transit-oriented development, bus rapid transit, population density and funding, the 47 participants received maps of the metropolitan area. On the back: a price list of expansions and enhancements they could add to the current system in a long-range plan. 

The catch? (You knew there would be one, didn't you?) Your transit improvement plan runs 30 years into the future, but you have only $700 to spend in each decade.

  • Want more buses? That's $3 for each new route.
  • How about a new MetroLink line from downtown to the south-side city limits? That's $450.
  • Want to extend the line into south St. Louis County? Add another $270.
  • What about extending MetroLink from Shrewsbury to south county? Depending on your route, that's $675 or $700 -- your entire budget for the entire decade.
  • Extending MetroLink north from downtown to the city limits has a price tag of $350 and another $300 to extend farther north to Florissant Valley.
  • Want to add a a bus that runs on a dedicated route? $35, please.
  • How about a commuter rail line from St. Louis to Alton or Pacific -- like the METRA suburban trains in Chicago? That will take $300, almost half of your wad for the decade.

Participants were told they could select new MetroLink routes along corridors East-West Gateway Council of Governments has either studied or proposed as new routes. Or they could create their own corridors for other transportation modes.
They could also elect to spend money on enhancements: Adding a public restroom costs $1; a bus stop enhancement package, $5; a transit center, $20.

Before they designed their ideal systems, participants could ask Metro staffers questions. They also got an overview of the Moving Transit Forward initiative, learned about existing conditions, got a quick course on potential improvements and funding options.

When they finished designing their ideal systems, they were asked to list their priorities based on a budget of $700 a decade.

Then the participants received six circle-shaped stickers to place on two boards -- one listing modes of transportation, the other with enhancements.

And the results?

Riders love MetroLink. Light rail was the hands-down winner.

Bus rapid transit beat out urban buses, commuter rail (heavy rail) and flex routes (where buses on a short route can detour slightly to pick up passengers who call ahead for a ride).

When it came to enhancements, transit centers ranked first, followed by benches and shelters; security and lighting; and restrooms, 10.

Liz Kramer of University City found the exercise "interesting." Although she's "fairly involved in transit" as a board member of Citizens for Modern Transit, she said she didn't know flex routes until the workshop.

Evenn Moore rides his bike from where he lives on Magnolia in the city to the South Grand MetroLink station where he catches a train to Clayton. From there he bikes to his job near Olive and Hanley.

Moore is generally happy with MetroLink, but would like to see it go more places. "It gets some folks where they need to go but it should expand a lot," he said. "South city would be great."

But Moore understands that population density determines where future lines are likely to go.

Coming in late from work, Florissant resident Brian Whitman didn't design his ideal transit system but he said he got the message -- expanding the system is costly.

The bottom line is the metropolitan area "wants to play in a ballpark but they don't want to put the (money) into it," he said. "The more I learn, the more I realized we are cursed with this concept of a city and a county versus one whole area. We have two very bickering, differing opinions of government, and it does not work out the best for the people."

Jessica Mefford-Miller, Metro's chief of planning and system development, acknowledged that the people attending this meeting may have been a little more knowledgeable about transit because Metro's partner in promoting the meeting was Citizens for Modern Transit.

Upcoming meetings -- tonight in Chesterfield, tomorrow in north St. Louis -- are expected to draw yet another mix of participants, she added.

Following these workshops, a second series beginning around Dec. 7 will include the potential elements of the plan Metro is considering adopting, Mefford-Miller said. The plan will then be revised and another series of meetings will begin around Jan. 18, she said.

Kathie Sutin, a freelance writer, writes frequently on transportation. 

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