WU aims to bring trolleys back to Delmar Loop area
Decades ago, trolleys used to glide around St. Louis in large numbers. Washington University was often called the “streetcar college” because many students from St. Louis rode trolleys to campus.
Now, the University is looking to help bring some trolleys back to the Delmar Loop after their absence from St. Louis for more than 40 years.
“Wash. U. is interested in the continued development and vibrancy of the Loop,” said Cheryl Adelstein, director of community relations and local government affairs at the University. “Any project that involves the Loop, we would like to be at the table so we can understand what’s going on.”
Backers are proposing a 2.2-mile, fixed-track trolley line that would run from Trinity Avenue down Delmar Boulevard and turn right on DeBaliviere Avenue until the Missouri History Museum. Many questions about the project still remain, so supporters stress the project is still in its infancy.
Members of the advisory board of the Loop Trolley Company (LTC), the non-profit group behind the idea, say trolleys would foster development on the Loop, provide environmentally friendly transportation and reduce congestion. Among the advisory board members is Adelstein, who said students would benefit.
“It could be a quick way to get up and down Delmar,” Adelstein said. “It could provide some additional transportation options, provide an additional way for people to get into Forest Park.”
In fact, ridership models show students would make up a “significant part” of the market for the trolley, said Tom Shrout, executive director of Citizens for Modern Transit.
The LTC has not decided whether the western endpoint will come to a direct stop at Trinity or if the track will loop around the Trinity Avenue-Delmar intersection. Adelstein said the University would like the western end to serve the 560 Music Building, which is at the corner of Trinity and Delmar, to give music students easy access.
Supporters said the trolleys would be electric-battery hybrids that run on an in-street track. The trolleys would run with traffic in two street lanes. Hours of operation would likely be from 7 a.m. until 1 a.m.
But the LTC, headed by Loop businessman Joe Edwards, still has to address questions of funding, what fares to charge, engineering, and who will operate the system.
Funding is the biggest question. The system will cost from $48 million to $57 million to build. Although there would be fares, they still would not cover the additional $4.2 million annual operating cost, Adelstein said.
Shrout said the project has some funding for engineering studies from University City’s economic development sales tax and other funding from a new sales-tax district in the Loop area.
Supporters have also asked U.S. Reps. Russ Carnahan, D-St. Louis, and William Lacy Clay Jr., D-St. Louis, to acquire $40 million in congressional funding for the project. Private donations could also be needed.
Adelstein said consultants plan to present financing options at an upcoming LTC advisory board meeting.
Despite concerns about traffic and costs, many at the University seem open to the project.
“Any time you have public transportation that can relieve congestion, that can get people around, that is as romantic and aesthetically appealing as this is, it’s fantastic,” said Andrew Rehfeld, associate professor of political science and a former and future resident of University City.
Senior Kyle Koch, who lives near Kayak’s Coffee, said he wouldn’t be opposed to trolleys on the Loop. But he noted they would not touch main campus.
“I’d rather see them put more money toward the Metro, after they cut some of those funds,” Koch said.
Traffic was a primary concern of local residents at a public forum on the trolley project last July. Some locals said trolleys could worsen traffic on the Loop by stopping in the street to pick up passengers.
Shrout said the system could actually reduce traffic by providing another transportation option.
“You could make a case that it could subtract cars [from the road],” Shrout said. “A group of students, instead of piling into a car to go to Blueberry Hill, might instead jump on the trolley.”
Trolleys could also spur development, Shrout said, because building tracks into the road tells developers that the trolley routes are permanent.
If the project succeeds, it would put trolleys on the road for the first time since May 1966, when the last trolleys to serve St. Louis went out of operation.
Shrout said St. Louis developed around trolleys and used to have one of the largest rail networks in the country, with more than 1,400 trolleys. The city and many of its inner-ring suburbs thrived off trolleys throughout the early 20th century.
But after World War II, Shrout said, the rise of highways caused rail transit to go out of fashion. One by one, the city pulled its trolley tracks from the road.
“I think the region is coming full circle after a number of years,” Shrout said. “People are realizing that rail transit is important to having a vibrant city.”
Adelstein said the trolley system would have no direct impact on the school’s sustainability plans. But she acknowledged that “anything that reduces car trips would help” lower emissions.
Edwards, who owns Blueberry Hill, The Pageant, Pin-Up Bowl and other Loop businesses, devised the idea in 1997. A 2000 study by Metro found that a trolley system would be feasible and encourage development on the Loop. Citizens for Modern Transit then took over the project and founded the LTC.
The LTC recently acquired a federal grant to restore two old streetcars, which are now on display outside the Missouri History Museum and Commerce Bank on the Loop.