Cars dominate a key St. Louis transit hub — but a different Grand Boulevard is possible
A decade ago, Citizens for Modern Transit commissioned an in-depth study of the Grand MetroLink Station and its Midtown environs, highlighting the St. Louis transit hub’s role in the neighborhood and in fostering future possibilities for development.
Since then, a few things have changed based on recommendations from the study. CMT Executive Director Kim Cella points to the creation of the St. Louis Midtown Redevelopment Corporation and plans for the Brickline Greenway as two key shifts in the right direction.
“But we are always stuck with this issue of this doughnut hole where the Grand MetroLink Station is,” Cella told St. Louis on the Air.
Last month, CMT released a detailed report urging further attention to the transit hub.
“It is disconnected from exciting new developments while transit riders, other pedestrians, and bicyclists have limited options for mobility around the area,” a summary of the report reads in part. “If momentum in innovative development is to be advanced in the surrounding area, the Grand MetroLink Station must offer greater connectivity.”
Co-sponsored by Citizens for Modern Transit as well as the redevelopment corporation, the report from the Urban Land Institute St. Louis makes a number of recommendations for the transit hub — and for developers investing in the area.
“There’s a lot of great development opportunities happening, but a lot of them are happening in isolation,” explained Chris Beard, director of traffic engineering and planning for the Lochmueller Group and chair of the study.
Despite relatively short walking distances between various developments near the transit station, he said, it’s a challenge to walk from one Midtown spot to another.
“There’s not good connections, and some of it has to do with the vertical issues there,” Beard said. “The fact that Grand is elevated, and the streets down below that don’t have good walking connections to go up and over the railroad tracks to get to the station — that’s a big part of what you see happening. And then there’s a lack of a street grid, a lack of just general connectivity that makes those walking trips easy.”
Cella emphasized the hub’s great potential, if the connectivity issues can be addressed.
“There’s a real opportunity here, too,” Cella said.
One idea for bridging the gap between the tracks below and the street above would involve stramps, which integrate stairs and ramps.
“We think that there should be less reliance on elevators. … There are reliability issues with elevators, no matter where you go, in any transit system in the country,” Beard said. “So relying less on elevators, and having vertical connections that are ADA accessible that don’t rely on elevators, we think, are really important.”
He added that elevators “have a very closed-in feel” and can be uninviting.
“It’s also — with the Brickline Greenway coming in — we think it’s going to be important to get bikes up and down between Grand and the station level,” Beard said. “And having your bike on an elevator, it’s not a conducive means of vertical mobility.”
St. Louis on the Air reached out Monday to Bi-State Development, which operates the Metro Transit system, for comment. President and CEO Taulby Roach provided a statement crediting the new report as bringing up “many great points about the connectivity of transit and integration into the community.”
“Innovative projects like the Foundry and the evolution of the [St. Louis University] campus show that our urban environment is literally changing beneath our feet,” Roach’s statement read in part. “Metro Transit’s challenge is to embrace this change, and positively react to the momentum being built around this urban resurgence. So, we welcome this discussion and hope to be one of many partners changing the landscape of our urban environment.”
Roach suggested that “perhaps partnerships to develop better pedestrian and bicycle corridors that could bridge the railyards and Interstate 64 are a partial solution.”
“The #70 Grand route is the highest ridership bus route on our transit system,” he added. “We are proud to have successfully deployed our new fully battery electric vehicles on this route and we believe it is just a glimpse of an enhanced future. However, there is certainly more things to do and greater opportunities to explore.”
Beard struck an optimistic note in discussing the role that Midtown developers have to play in order for things to change.
“I think a lot of the developers we talked to are absolutely committed to trying to make this area more multimodal, and they see benefits for their projects in doing so,” Beard said. “So I think this is where we really try and leverage the Midtown Redevelopment Corporation. … They’ve got tremendous power over development incentives in the area.”
Community members tuning in for the broadcast had lots to add, too.
The Grand/Forest Park intersection should have resulted in a revocation of a traffic engineer’s privileges!! That intersection is the definition of hot mess.— Andrej Marich (@avmarich) January 11, 2022
What: Talking Transit virtual event
When: 8:30 a.m. Jan. 19
Where: Via Zoom
“St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill, and Kayla Drake. Jane Mather-Glass is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.