The main downtown St. Louis booster group announced today it has $200,000 to spend on a feasibility study for a streetcar line to connect downtown, the Central West End and the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood.
Such a project could make a lot of sense. A streetcar line from downtown to Forest Park would also connect riders to Midtown Alley, Grand Center and St. Louis University.
The corridor from downtown to Forest Park is an area of nearly unbroken population growth, the 2010 census showed. Much of that corridor--especially in the CWE area of high-rise residential buildings--already has the walkability and population density that could provide enough riders to make a streetcar work.
Modern streetcars have proved themselves as promoters of economic development along their routes. Portland is Exhibit A for demonstrating increases in residents, businesses and property values along streetcar lines.
The idea for a new St. Louis streetcar from downtown to the CWE has been around for a couple of years. In 2010, Rep. Lacy Clay, D-Mo., sought a $500,000 congressional earmark to study such a project. But given that "earmark" is a four-letter word these days in Washington, Clay's request never got into a transportation bill.
In any event, here--from Building Blocks--is a possible new route of a nearly six-mile St. Louis streetcar line:
Begin with a single-track loop around the Old Post Office downtown. Close Eighth Street between Olive and Locust to traffic and convert that block to a streetcar terminal connected directly to an expanded 8th & Pine MetroLink station below.
From the Old Post Office, a double-track line could head west on Locust past the Central Library, through the growing Downtown West area and Midtown Alley to near SLU, where the line could jog over to Olive Street and continue west through Grand Center to the CWE.
At Walton Avenue, the line could head south then west again at McPherson Avenue next to the apartment building where a young Tennessee Williams lived with his family. (The family's apartment is believed by some to have provided Williams the inspiration to write "The Glass Menagerie.")
After passing through a CWE business area, the streetcar line could turn south on Kingshighway then west on Waterman to Union, to Pershing and, finally, to DeBaliviere Avenue, where the streetcar could end with another connection to MetroLink and the planned Loop Trolley.
An argument could be made that such a streetcar line would simply duplicate MetroLink. But a streetcar is more like a bus than a train. Like buses, streetcars make numerous stops and because their tracks demonstrate a commitment to their routes, can become trusted neighborhood institutions.
FWIW, much of the route sketched out here duplicates--particularly on Olive--a long-gone rail line from the era when the city was laced top to bottom with streetcars.
In its "request for qualifications," the Partnership for Downtown St. Louis is seeking a consultant to come up with a streetcar line that would strengthen existing bus and rail service, plus spur economic investment. Whoever gets the contract will be expected to figure out how much the project might cost and how to pay for it. The downtown group assumes federal money could cover about half the capital expense.
Those interested in doing the feasibility study have until June 22 to submit their applications. The deadline to submit the completed study is next January 31. Information on what is required and how to apply is here.