On a Roll

Joe Edwards, savior of the Loop, wants to bridge the Skinker Boulevard "moat" with a trolley. Can he get supporters on board?

The feasibility study backs Edwards' claim, predicting 70 percent greater ridership than that for a wannabe trolley on rubber wheels. Ollendorff worries that the annual-ridership numbers predicted for either option -- 264,000 a year for rubber-wheel trolleys, 455,000 for a fixed-track system -- are inflated. "I asked what formula was used to come up with that figure, and they couldn't give me one," he says.

St. John says the ridership numbers were generated through an analysis of trolley ridership in other cities. He stands by them and says they may even be on the low side. "There are 6 [million] to 12 million visitors who go to Forest Park. If you take a scant percentile of that, it will create a substantial number of people riding the Delmar trolley," he says. "These are people who will go to the zoo, then take a trolley into the heart of the Loop and have lunch at Fitz's." St. John is quick to note that heavy promotion of a rubber-wheel system might bring in the same ridership as that for a fixed track.

Joe Edwards
Joe Edwards

From a traffic standpoint, a fixed-track trolley is a double-edged sword: It could compound traffic problems, or it could alleviate congestion. The study calls for a one-way track to be constructed in each lane of Delmar. Because the tracks can be driven over by cars, there are no plans to close the street to cars. "The trolley stops will be no different than when the buses stop," Edwards says, "except they will be a lot less smelly because there will be no exhaust."

Ollendorff argues that the study never explored the impact construction of a fixed track would have on traffic and street parking. "We cannot accept the proposal of any system that takes a lot of parking spaces," he says. "'A lot,' to me, is more than two or three spaces. If it takes up dozens of spaces, it wouldn't work." St. John says the rubber-wheeled-trolleys wouldn't affect parking at all, whereas a fixed-track system would take up at least 10 spaces. "But parking could be improved, because [riders] can park at other sites along the route and shuttle in," St. John says. Ultimately, he says, any trolley stopping every 15 minutes in rush-hour traffic will be the equivalent of four cars per hour added to the mix of Loop traffic.

Some business owners in the Loop don't think more traffic is a bad thing. Sunstar Divine, the owner of Sunstar Divine Magical Temple, a bookstore at 6277 Delmar Blvd., favors the fixed-track trolley. "I have gone to other cities and been attracted to neighborhoods because of a trolley," he says. "I know it will work here. The more traffic, the better it will be for business."

No matter what version is put in place, everyone agrees it will bring riders with wallets who will pump money into the businesses along Delmar and help revitalize the Loop, especially the city blocks east of the Skinker "moat."

That's good news for M.K. Stallings, a joint owner of Legacy Books, located at 6172 Delmar Blvd., east of Skinker. Stallings opened the bookstore in March 2000, seven months before the Pageant opened. The paltry foot traffic coming into his store consists of pedestrians walking to or from the MetroLink station and concertgoers from the Pageant who happen to stop by. "There is a definite line of demarcation," Stallings says. "This area for so long has been known as an underdeveloped part of the city with no vital businesses. People have a hard time envisioning anything else. They don't walk past here to seek a business out. A trolley would change that by bringing them right past so they can see what is available."

Even as the debate over rubber tires or fixed track brews, no consensus exists on where to get the money, although the possibilities are numerous.

Edwards, who built Blueberry Hill and the Pageant and renovated the Tivoli Theatre, is used to rolling up his sleeves and dipping into his own pocket to get things done. The trolley, on the other hand, needs the consensus and cooperation of several neighborhoods, two cities and public agencies. This project will require a shovel and a compass to navigate a patchwork of private tax credits, state and federal grants and, possibly, a sales tax.

Stauder says Bi-State is not in a financial position to provide substantial funding to the project. Edwards says the East-West Gateway Coordinating Council is reviewing the plan and could offer some assistance. Missouri Gov. Bob Holden's transportation bill, if it passes, would most certainly help. The bill calls for a $7 billion increase in transportation funding over the next 10 years through the largest tax increase in Missouri history. The money would go not only toward maintaining and repairing Missouri's aging roads and highways but toward new projects, such as MetroLink expansion.

There is always the possibility that private investors can be lured with such a project. In Texas, Dallas and Austin have trolley systems that are privately funded and integrated with public-transportation systems. Private developers can be subsidized through tax credits and tax-increment-financing districts.

But before the discussion of money can go forward, a consensus must exist among community leaders and business owners. "Before we can even talk about funding, there is more preliminary work needed on getting a community consensus," Stauder says. "I haven't heard anyone really opposed to the idea of a rubber-tire trolley, but there are many who favor a fixed track. Once an agreement is reached on what the community wants done, then we will talk about funding."

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