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Evaluation of St. Louis Streetcar by Jill Mead

Evaluation of St. Louis Streetcar by Jill Mead

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Published by UrbanReviewSTL
An evaluation of the proposed St. Louis Streetcar from Jill Mead, a Masters in Public Health and Masters of City Planning student at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. This is an edit of the paper for UrbanReviewSTL.com
An evaluation of the proposed St. Louis Streetcar from Jill Mead, a Masters in Public Health and Masters of City Planning student at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. This is an edit of the paper for UrbanReviewSTL.com

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Published by: UrbanReviewSTL on Jul 30, 2013
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Evaluation of the St. LouisStreetcar Proposal
Streetcar projects are proliferating across the United States. Spurred by the availabilityof federal funds and inspired by the success of projects in Portland and Seattle, city officials andinterest groups are proposing a wide range of historic and modern streetcar projects that theyhope will complement existing public transportation while catalyzing economic development. InMarch 2013, the Partnership for Downtown St. Louis released a feasibility study for a streetcarproject to connect two major population and employment hubs in the city of St. Louis. Thefeasibility study recommended the project based on its high likelihood of achieving its two mainobjectives: 1)
enhancing the region’s transit system and
2) catalyzing economic growththroughout the streetcar corridor. This paper gives a background of the funding streams thatsupport streetcar projects and weighs existing evidence that supports or contradicts thearguments advanced in the St. Louis Streetcar feasibility study. While it is clear that strategiesto improve economic growth and public transportation are necessary in St. Louis, it is not clearthat the St. Louis Streetcar project is the best use of public resources to achieve these goals.
Background: Why Streetcars? Why now?
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), there is a “wave of streetcar
projects sweeping across the nation
(LaHood, 2011). The Community Streetcar Coalition (CSC),consisting of representatives from local governments, transit authorities, engineering firms, andrail car manufacturers,
held their 4
annual Streetcar Summit in Washington, D.C. in March
2013, where they presented a map of 32 “Committed Streetcar Cities”
where projects areunderway with partial or full funding (Appendix A) (Community Streetcar Coalition, 2013).The sudden desire to resuscitate streetcar networks can be attributed in part to theavailability of specific federal funding streams to make these projects possible. The CSC formedin 2004, but the year of their first annual summit, 2009, coincided with three policy shifts andinitiatives that enabled this new generation of streetcar projects to access federal funding forthe first time. The first was the enactment of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act(ARRA) in February 2009 which made $1.5 billion dollars available in discretionary grants as partof the Transportation Income Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) program. TIGER grantsfund trans
portation projects considered to have a “significant impact o
n a metropolitan area orregion
(Federal Highway Administration, 2013a). Additionally, the ARRA made available anadditional $750 million available for new public rail systems and other fixed guideway systemsas part of the existing New Starts program (Federal Transit Administration, 2009).The second policy shift
was the Federal Transit Administration (FTA)’s introduction of 
new evaluation criteria for New Starts and Small Starts applications in June 2009 as part of the
DOT’s Livability Initiative
(Federal Transit Administration, n.d.). While New Starts projects wereoriginally evaluated based on the four criteria of cost-effectiveness, mobility improvement,operational efficiencies, and environmental benefits, the new FTA criteria introduced twoadditional considerations: the transit-supporting land use (such as TOD) enabled by the projectand its economic development effects. For New Starts and Small Starts programs, land use andeconomic development criteria were given equal weight as cost effectiveness, diminishing therole cost effectiveness played as a decisional criteria vis-a-vis other factors (Federal Transit
Administration, 2013b; Metro St. Louis, 2011). Cost effectiveness was further deemphasized
when the DOT removed the requirement that New Starts projects rate a “medium” or higher on
cost effectiveness in January 2010 (Freemark, 2009). Appendix B gives a graphical overview of current New Starts decision criteria.
The third initiative was the announcement in December 2009 that the FTA woulddisburse
$130 million in funds for the Urban Circulator program for “
systems such as streetcarsand rubber-tire trolley lines [that] provide a transportation option that connects urbandestinations and foster the redevelopment of urban spaces into walkable mixed use, high
density environments”
(Federal Transit Administration, n.d.). Although Urban Circulator fundswere part of the New Starts and Small Starts program, each grant was limited to $25 million,and was evaluated based on its potential to enhance quality of life through improving
transportation access and choice (“livability”), environmental sust
ainability, its potential tofoster redevelopment in adjacent parcels, and the extent to which it leverages public-privatepartnerships (Federal Transit Administration, n.d.).The combination of the influx of funding, along with the relaxation of funding criteriawhich had previously excluded streetcar projects from consideration due to their low cost-effectiveness ratings, created a funding environment favorable to cities interested in buildingtheir own streetcar lines. While from 2005-2009, no streetcar projects were funded with NewStarts funds (Freemark, 2009), from 2010-2012, the DOT provided almost $350 million infunding for 11 streetcar and urban circulator projects across the country (LaHood, 2012).
The Streetcar Comes (Back) to St. Louis
In the city of St. Louis, two streetcar projects are underway. The first, known as the LoopTrolley, represents a collaborative effort between the City of St. Louis, adjacent inner-ringsuburb University City, the non-profit Citizens for Modern Transit, and developer Joe Edwards(Citizens for Modern Transit, n.d.). The Loop refers to Delmar, a street close to WashingtonUniversity that attracts students, tourists, and residents to restaurants and retailers that onceserved as a terminal loop for one of St.
Louis’ many 20
century streetcars. The primarypurpose of the project is to revitalize and cultivate development on Delmar, making an easternextension of the Loop district possible (Citizens for Modern Transit, n.d.).The idea of building a streetcar in the Loop to attract development was introduced forthe first time in 1997, and a feasibility study was conducted in 2000. In 2007, the City of St.Louis and University City established the Loop Trolley Transportation Development District(TDD), and in 2010, a federal grant was awarded for the design of the project. In 2011, anenvironmental assessment (EA) concluded that there was no significant impact expected fromthe project. The project received final approval in 2012 and was awarded a $25 million grantunder the Urban Circulator Program (Citizens for Modern Transit, n.d.). The 2.2 mile LoopTrolley system could be operational by summer 2014 (Rottermund, 2013).Meanwhile, six miles east of the Loop, The Partnership for Downtown St. Louis, a non-profit composed of representatives of downtown businesses, the City of St. Louis, WashingtonUniversity, and Citizens for Modern Transit recently released a feasibility study for a second,

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