This is the second of a two-part article on civic and business leadership for transit in Missouri cities.
Artists rendering of St Louis streetcar. Image source: Partnership for Downtown St Louis
Part II: Meet Me in St Louis
Meanwhile, at the other end of that trans-Mo rail corridor, Tom and Debra Shrout have been working as professional consultants and citizen activists in support of transit. They helped form a civic group called Citizens for Modern Transit, and spearheaded a successful 2010 tax levy, with the persuasive slogan, “Transit: some of us use it; all of us need it.” (They even used St Louis Cardinals baseball stars in the advertising…will that take them to the World Series championship again?)
In recent years, long-term transit boosters Tom and Debra have been finding more and more allies in the business world. And it is business leaders who are now leading the push for better short-distance transit circulators, one to strengthen the downtown and another to improve the Delmar loop business district, a popular retail and restaurant area near Washington University.
Matthew Schindler, head of the business organization Partnership for Downtown St Louis, has always been considered the leading voice for commercial and residential growth in St Louis’ core, but now he’s wearing an unfamiliar hat: “Suddenly I’ve become a streetcar guy,” he told me, still sounding a little surprised himself. The Partnership, funded by businesses, put up the money for the feasibility study required to bring a modern streetcar back to downtown St Louis last year, initially at arms length with the powers that be in City Hall and the Metro transit agency.
But the big corporations and major property owners with a stake in downtown St Louis aren’t the only ones pushing for better transit access to their businesses. On the other side of town, Joe Edwards of the Blueberry Hill restaurant has organized the neighborhood to bring better transit to Delmar Boulevard, a traditional, walkable array of small businesses in the Loop neighborhood. While Joe and his neighbors picture sort of a vintage trolley for atmosphere, their efforts should also produce useful, modern mobility for his customers, including the hundreds of students and faculty and staff of nearby Washington University, who would much rather be able to come and go by transit than to pay over more of the campus for ugly and expensive parking lots. The Delmar streetcar would connect to the existing Metro light rail line, Forest Park with its museum, multiple bus lines, and – in my opinion – the streetcar being built out in that direction from downtown. It seems to me that if St Louis is going to invest in new streetcar lines, it should maximize the investment by making sure the lines actually connect with each other, as well as with the light rail and bus system that already exists, to maximize the number of directions passengers can travel by seamless, well-timed connections. Joe is a shrewd businessperson, and learning rapidly about the transit world, and is likely to see that streetcars complement buses just like ice cream complements the pie at his famous restaurant.
If people like David Johnson, the Shrouts, Matthew Schindler, and Joe Edwards are successful in creating better connections within their neighborhoods, not to mention better train connections between Kansas City and St Louis, they’ll also be connecting businesses and residents by multiple modes of travel (including the bike and the human foot) and making great places for people to live, work and play.
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