(Unedited) Podcast Transcript 397: Transit Stop Transformation

August 24, 2022

This week we’re joined by Kim Cella of Citizens for Modern Transit and Sheila Holm of AARP. to discuss how they are transforming transit stops in St. Louis. We chat about how they involve the community, engage transit operators, and bring life to grey spaces.

Listen to the episode at Streetsblog USA and our hosting site on Libsyn.

Jeff Wood (39s):
Kim Cella, Sheila Holm. Welcome to the podcast.

Kim Cella (1m 14s):
Thank you for having us.

Sheila Holm (1m 16s):
Thanks, Jeff.

Jeff Wood (1m 16s):
Thanks for being here before we get started. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? We’ll start with Kim and we’ll go Sheila after that.

Kim Cella (1m 22s):
Sure. I am the executive director of citizens for modern transit. That is the regional transit advocacy organization in the St. Louis region. So we don’t own or operate the transit system, but we challenge champion and build grassroots support for public transit in the St Louis region. And I’m also the executive director of the Missouri public transit association. So we represent all transit providers in the state of Missouri

Sheila Holm (1m 50s):
And I’m Shima home. And I am with a RP based in the St Louis region. And I am all things therapy. I do community outreach. I engage on all different levels of ARP in the hood here in St. Louis. So, and I am fortunate to be on the board of citizens for modern transit and Missouri public transit associations. So I am deeply entrenched in transit.

Jeff Wood (2m 22s):
How did you go get in involved in transit? Like what was your first experience maybe when you were younger, that made you say, oh, this is really cool. This is something I want to be involved in.

Sheila Holm (2m 30s):
Well, I’ll start. So growing up in the St Louis region, transit’s not really looked at is something you want to use, unfortunately, but my grandparents lived in the DC area and that’s a mainstay. And I rode a bus for the first time, a public bus when I was 10 years old and I first was frightened. But second thought, how cool is this? You can look around, you know, you don’t have to do anything observe. And that was my first introduction to public transit.

Kim Cella (3m 4s):
So when I graduated college, I came back to St. Louis and I was not familiar with public transit and I jumped right in with both feet. So my first job was with citizens for modern transit. And I have been here for 29 years. I did have a brother who was disabled. And part of the reason I love this job so much is that I saw the need for people of every walk of life who needed to be able to have access. And I knew, you know, after my brother was injured, it was really, it was a whole new perspective on how to get around and maintain your independence. And that’s a critical role of public transit in the St Louis region.

Kim Cella (3m 47s):
So that’s kind of driven part of my work since then as well. And so now here I am 29 years later, and I am deeply embroiled in public transit in all ways in the St Louis area and the state of Missouri. So it, but I think a large part of that was in college when my brother was injured and coming out of that, looking at access and independence and how important it is for everyone to have that,

Sheila Holm (4m 14s):
You know, I think that really led me to getting into public transit once I started with ARP, because the number one thing, when I started asking older adults, what’s important to you, what do we need to do? And transportation was number one. And then Kim and I met and the rest has been history. So to speak,

Kim Cella (4m 37s):
We were writing history, right?

Jeff Wood (4m 42s):
You’re not history

Sheila Holm (4m 45s):
Living history. I love that.

Jeff Wood (4m 47s):
Exactly. Exactly. Well, we’re going to talk about transforming transit stops, but my first question is like, what was the first time where you saw a transit stop that you thought to yourself, it needs a little bit of help.

Kim Cella (4m 59s):
So Sheila and I have been working together for quite some time, I would say almost a decade, Sheila, and prior to doing some of this transformation that we’re going to be talking about Def Sheila and I looked at a lot of the transit stations in the St Louis market and said, oh, these need some help. And many of the stations in St. Louis a decade ago, 15 years ago, had nothing around them, but a sea of parking. And so when we initially dipped our toes into this placemaking around transit, we started with pop-up events around public transit stops, what could be.

Kim Cella (5m 39s):
So we did demonstration events, maybe two or three hours long and activated the space around the transit staff. And that was really our first foray into the conversation about what could happen around these transit stops. And so our work pretty much progressed from, but initially it was Sheila. And I talking about the fact that there’s nothing around this stop. There’s no activity. It’s not a part of the fabric of the community. There’s no reason for anyone to stop. There’s no one city. I mean, it was truly a pass through rather than an interactive part of the community. And we knew we wanted to do something.

Kim Cella (6m 19s):
So starting with a pop-up seemed like the best first step. And then we have kind of progressed from there and we are where we are today.

Sheila Holm (6m 28s):
I think, you know, the second piece of that is then after we started doing the pop-ups, we did audits of a couple stations that really then led us to, well, what could we do about that? What kind of impact could we have? And that’s when we started bricks and mortar kind of stuff.

Jeff Wood (6m 48s):
And what is the transformation of a transit stop mean specifically? Like, what are you talking about when you’re talking about transformation and I’m kind of getting deeper into the weeds in terms of the words, but like, what does it mean to actually transform a station?

Sheila Holm (7m 2s):
I think from our perspective, it really is. We’re not building big stuff. Okay. It’s not a Tod, it’s not transit oriented development. It really is trying to create a sense of place at the station it’s to make it more enjoyable it’s so that it responds to the needs and interests of the individuals who use the stop and use it, meaning the transit riders, the operators, anyone that comes to that step passes by the station. So it’s the community at large, but it’s not huge. It’s, you know, what’s important to you and how can we transform this space within our limited budget and create a sustainable space for years to come.

Kim Cella (7m 51s):
And I think part of what has happened is a lot of these stations are an afterthought in these communities or in these neighborhoods. They’re not really a part of what is happening in those areas. They’re not a part of the fabric of the community. And what we found when we focused on these stations is that by engaging the community, we make sure we’re delivering something that the community really wants or needs. In our first pilot project. It was an afterthought adjacent to a parklet with nothing around it. And by engaging the community, we found they wanted a front porch to their downtown main street.

Kim Cella (8m 32s):
It was a bus stop. And we were able to deliver that. Jeff, just by listening to the community, it’s a soft touch. It’s not massive infrastructure, but that soft touch on those sites is bringing increase investment to some of the stats that we’ve already looked at and we’ve already completed. And I think part of it is just opening the dialogue and changing the dialogue around what public transit could be rather than this afterthought or the side piece that’s sits over here. And we only use it if we’re going to get on the bus or we’re going to get on the train and we’re going to connect. So this makes it important, not only to the writers, but the residents and the surrounding businesses as well.

Sheila Holm (9m 17s):
You know, using the example of Maplewood when we took this stop, that was completely separated from the rest of the community. It was for those people, whoever those people are. And now we have everybody that just sits in one of the shelters because it’s cool. Cause they, one of them has a glider, you know? And so they just will sit in, in glide. You know what I mean? It feels like it’s part of the community is Kim was stating and, and that’s really been a goal for every stop. Is that it, it becomes more of, oh yeah. Transit. It’s cool. Let’s go use it.

Jeff Wood (9m 54s):
So how does that work to open up to the community? How do you initially engage with groups that are a part of the neighborhood that maybe didn’t feel like they were engaged with before?

Kim Cella (10m 2s):
So Sheila LA, I like to do these projects at the height of being the most challenging time. So our first pilot project was in the beginning of the pandemic. So we had to be very creative Jeff in how initially when it started in the pandemic hadn’t yet happened. So we had community meetings. We actually partnered with local businesses, a local coffee house, adjacent to this bus stop and held community meetings and w and let people pretty much charrette style, but neighborhood stret style. Some people drew pictures of what they wanted to see. And we had a facilitator and we did all that really good stuff. We also did survey work and we went door to door and met with every business along that main street.

Kim Cella (10m 48s):
And so our first jump into this permanent place, making Maplewood, we had a community engagement campaign, and we knew what we were doing. Our second stop was in east St. Louis. And, and that truly was in the middle of the pandemic. And so Sheila and I had to think very much outside the box of what did community engagement look like. And, and so that’s when we actually were at the station, we were massed up outside interviewing writers on what they wanted to see. You know, we’ve gotten back to the old school. We did direct mail, which was very successful in that market. We also held virtual public meetings to make sure that people could hear from our designer and we could hear from them.

Kim Cella (11m 34s):
But again, we were faced with the restrictions of the pandemic. And so we had to find ways to make sure that we were getting to these audiences. The other thing that we considered when we were in east St. Louis is the demographics and not everyone had a cell phone or not everyone had access to a computer. So that’s why of our events while we were socially distant, were in-person at the station or in some of the areas in the neighborhood, there is a senior living center within walking distance of that station. There is a local retail grocery store within walking distance of the east St. Louis station. So we were using neighborhood outlets where people were still going or living in order to make sure that we were engaging the community on what they wanted to see.

Kim Cella (12m 22s):
The other group that we engaged was the operators. And I think it’s really important that when you’re talking about transit, you try to look at as many of the groups represented as possible to hear what they think is important at these stops and stations.

Sheila Holm (12m 38s):
It’s not only the different audiences, but the different methods. And Kim talked a little bit about that, but it could be something as simple as having a listening board posted, and people can put a sticker on it, or, or it’s an online survey, or again, it’s bringing people together online. And just having that dialogue, the conversation, and doing a capture that way each time we’ve done a stop, it’s been a little different on how we engage. Not, not only because we’ve learned, but also because of the community and how they engage. And so having the boards at the grocery store, and he St. Louis was critical. It’s the only grocery store in the whole city, which is shocking for a community that has over 50,000 people.

Sheila Holm (13m 24s):
And it has one grocery store. So it’s critical to be in those places where people are. And that was one of the things that was really important to us.

Kim Cella (13m 35s):
I just wanted to add to that. It has been really important to Sheila and I, that these not be cookie cutter transformations. So we definitely want to hear from the residents and the writers, because when we leave, they own it. And we don’t want every transformation to look alike. We truly want it to reflect the neighborhood and the communities and the writers that are going back and forth across those stations or stops.

Jeff Wood (14m 1s):
Well, I was going to ask, you said folks had drawings of some things that they wanted. I’m curious if you had any favorite ones or anyone that stood out to you that you remember, maybe some kid drew a dinosaur at a transit stop or something. I dunno,

Sheila Holm (14m 11s):
You know what, one of the kids at the very first stop he drew a porch swing. And so we incorporated the glider into it, you know? So that was a cool one. I think that for each stop, we’ve tried to, we’ve engaged with the community, like for Emerson park, we had the high school students contribute drawings of what the community meant to them, and we incorporated them into this mural. And it is just a amazing mural that we had a local artists do. And we’re using high school students contributions for our last station, this station we’re just finishing as well.

Sheila Holm (14m 54s):
So it’s, yeah, just getting those ideas from them. Some of them work are kind of funky and no dinosaurs, but

Jeff Wood (15m 7s):
We’ve done three of these now, is there a common theme that goes throughout all of them in terms of what communities are asking for? And on the other side of that, is there something you mentioned, each one is a little bit different, but what are some of those different pieces that people want in these different communities?

Sheila Holm (15m 21s):
You know, I think for each of them, there have been some common things that people want. They want more seating. They want shade, they want lighting depending on what the station we’ve had. Some of the stations have upgraded their lighting. So lighting side as big of an issue. And then public facilities, restrooms have been like the top things. And those are really from the users. And then when we say, well, what about if we have color or something interactive? And they’re like, that doesn’t even occur to people. That that would be a possibility because as Kim likes to say, you know, we have a sea of gray at most of these stops.

Sheila Holm (16m 1s):
And so when we show them what could be, then they’re like, yeah, we need that, whatever that is. So, but the color has been a big thing in the end.

Jeff Wood (16m 12s):
Like those colorful triangular awnings.

Sheila Holm (16m 14s):
Yeah. Yeah. Or even just the hopscotch thing that we did at maple searchy paint on the concrete, but we find, you know, kids doing it and grandmother’s doing it with those grandchildren. I mean, it’s very, very cool.

Kim Cella (16m 29s):
Also, you know, when we talk about color, I think each of these stations has requested some element of art, whether it’s art to represent the community that they’re in. For example, the city of Maplewood, there is now a sign that was done by a local artist. On one side, it tells you that you have arrived in Maplewood, but on the back of it is pretty much a mural of different landmarks within Maplewood. And this sign is interactive and can move in east St. Louis. It was the art on the pavement, as well as this mural that Sheila was just talking about, that we were able to do through an ARP community challenge, grant those things, those art pieces truly reverse the sea of gray at these stations.

Kim Cella (17m 21s):
You know, whether it’s the pavement or the balustrades or the walls at the stations, everything is currently gray. And so these pieces of art bring that color, but I think they also bring life in interactive, play at the stations as well. And that’s something that we definitely have heard from all of the groups when we’ve done the different stations. Now, the one that we’re currently working on, that’s going to open in a week and a half the community there. The city of Bellville in Illinois is very interested in the arts community. They host, I believe the second largest art fair in the country on an annual basis. And so this theme of art grows in Bellville was a result of the community engagement and the writer engagement.

Kim Cella (18m 3s):
So at that station, we have been able to bring color in, in, in multiple ways, including some window artwork on the facility, that’s there as well as brown paint, as well as we have transformed the crosswalk Geoff into some colorful, interactive space. So as you’re crossing lanes, you’re going to be entertained there as well. So everywhere we have gone color has really, really been something that is of interest to individuals who have weighed in on these projects. It usually comes out in the form of art in one way or another.

Jeff Wood (18m 40s):
Now what’s the role of each of the organizations that gets involved in these projects?

Sheila Holm (18m 45s):
Yeah. Berries. So ARP and CMT are the mothership. So we own the program. So to speak. We do have pretty much though everything funnels through CMT, just from a organizational standpoint, it’s easy to have one entity that has the MOU with everybody and is a pain vehicle. However, we do have the last two stops. We’ve worked on, we have a transit agency that has really picked up the bulk of the capital on that. And so they’ve played a bigger role in those last two projects.

Sheila Holm (19m 25s):
So, you know, each one’s different and we, again, it’s, it’s like with the community engagement part, we learn, we’re learning with this. And we bring different players in each time where we’re starting our fourth one, where we have a, from, from Texas, that’s working with us on it. So that’s kind of different because they’re far away and so, and how to manage that. And so it, each one’s slightly different, but we do have lots of MOU in place as we go through the process.

Kim Cella (19m 58s):
I also think a couple of critical partners of people are considering to doing these type of projects in other communities across the country. Most of our projects have a local government partner. So I think, you know, our, our first pilot project, the city of Maplewood played a critical role in us being able to transform the area that we were working in the city of Bellville has been a great partner. When were there other groups that organizations might consider are the realtors? So they have been a great partner for us in the last two projects, and they are going to be a partner as well on the one that we will be working on next.

Kim Cella (20m 39s):
So I think that when people are considering, you know, looking at transforming a bus stop or transforming a station in their communities, they really think outside the box because you know, who knew that a small regional advocacy organization for transit and ARP could be such a winning partnership, but also think outside the box on your other partners, realtors play a big role in communities and in what the community looks like impacts what their industry. So, so they’re very interested in being able to work with groups on improving transit in the community. And so they have been a great partner, but, you know, think outside the box, you’d be amazed how many people want to be involved in a project that while it’s a soft touch, it really changes what their community looks like.

Jeff Wood (21m 32s):
What is it that you tell folks when you’re trying to get them involved? Like, what’s the pitch? I mean, what’s the pitch to like the realtors? Like, what do you say to them to be like, Hey, this is, I mean, obviously they have a vested interest in the neighborhood, but I’m curious if there’s any magic words that can, can get folks involved or get them kind of interested in the project at least to come take a look at what you’ve already done so that maybe they can get some ideas about something they might want to do.

Sheila Holm (21m 54s):
I think right now they’d come to us more wanting to be involved because they have seen the results of the work that we’ve done so far. In fact, the real estate association in the St. Louis area came to us and said, when are you coming back to Missouri? Because we want to be a part of it. So I think people are really energized by it. They want to be associated with it, but the others that say we don’t have a relationship, I’ll give you the example of the very first one property was owned by a bank. The bus stop was owned by the bank, and he really did not want to be a part of the project.

Sheila Holm (22m 37s):
And Kim and I were trying to do our cell job. And until he actually saw what it could look like and heard some of the community response to the idea, then he started coming on and now he just is thrilled that he has this bus stop right across from his bank and that he was a part of this and he had a role in it. So I think it’s just exposing people to what could be and the benefit to them.

Jeff Wood (23m 7s):
It seems like changing their perception and their reality a little bit too.

Sheila Holm (23m 10s):
Yeah. So the Maplewood one, the bus stop used to be right in front of the bank. They didn’t want it there because they didn’t want those people in front of their bank. They moved it. Yeah. They moved it across the street and for that reason, and then now it’s a very, you know, it’s a hotspot. It’s cool. So yeah, it is changing perspective

Kim Cella (23m 31s):
And we are the show me state Jeff. So like one or two of these under our belt. I mean, each one that we transform is just another added bonus for individuals being like, they are doing something like this. Isn’t a figment of their imagination. So each and every one we transform our portfolio is growing and partners, as Sheila said, are coming to us. And, and I think it’s more of, they are delivering and this is making a positive impact in communities and around transit. And we could be a part of this. So I think it is a little bit of if you build it, they will come. And that’s truly what Sila and I have seen around these transformations.

Sheila Holm (24m 14s):
I think one of the other things is we make it easy to be a part of what we’re doing. So we really try and find out why did they want to be a part what’s going to benefit them? You know, what’s in it for them and try and capitalize on that. I think that’s probably one of the biggest things is how are they going to win with this? Or how are they not going to lose? So talking about our, our project we’re working on, we’re just kicking off. We have to make sure that it’s very low maintenance, whatever we create at this particular station, because that’s important to the transit agency. So as long as we keep saying, that’s what we’re going to do.

Sheila Holm (24m 54s):
That’s then they come in and then they’re willing to give a little more. And I think that that is, we’ve just been able to pay attention and listen to what they want and then respond accordingly in the end. It’s not ours, it’s theirs. You know, it’s the people who use the station, the people who manage the station, we’re coming in to throw some love into it and then celebrate that.

Kim Cella (25m 21s):
So Sheila just touched a little bit on what I was just gonna say. I mean, the other thing that is happening is the fact that when we’re transforming these stations, the writers are taking ownership. So one of our partners in east St. Louis was the St Claire county transit district, the, the transit district that manages the transit service on the Illinois portion of our online men in the St Louis region. And when we transform the Emerson park station, since the transformation, the transit district employees have stated over and over again, there has not been one issue with graffiti. There is no trash anymore at the station.

Kim Cella (26m 1s):
Writers will remark to employees, their ambassadors and others who are working at the station. This is great. We want to make sure our station stays looking like this. So riders are actually taking ownership of these transform stations maybe before they felt like no one cared or no one was really making an effort, but the writers are now making an effort to ensure that what has been completed at those stations is maintained. And it continues to look good because they are now considerate theirs, which is really an interesting dynamic that we didn’t anticipate. But that has also been an impetus for the St Clair county transit district to continue down the path with us and transforming other stations, because they’ve seen the response from their writers as well.

Sheila Holm (26m 50s):
The other thing that’s happened with that is they have increased their investment in the site as well. So they piped in music. So we have piped in music at that station that is relevant to the community. And the other thing is we have planters there that change the plant stock out seasonally, and it stays, it does not disappear. I mean, so there’s that pride. And that sense of like Kim said, that sense of ownership and respect for the station. You’ll find transit writers dancing as they’re walking from the bus stop to the train, you know, so, I mean, it’s very cool.

Sheila Holm (27m 32s):
It’s an energizing thing. It feels good. And then maybe Kimmie want to share about the grant that they got as a result of.

Kim Cella (27m 41s):
So the Emerson park station in east St. Louis part of what we did is we used that as a starting point for going for additional grant funding for investment in that station. And they have been able to leverage what we have done there and secure a $9.7 million grant from Illinois, a rebuild Illinois grant to pro to bring infrastructure and jobs actually to that station. So they’re going to be building a facility there where there will be jobs. There will be amenities for riders and operators. There will also be a nine 11 dispatch center there. So I mean, what we’re doing at some of these stations is we’re actually taking it and leveraging those investments and going after further investment to increase the footprint at those stations.

Jeff Wood (28m 29s):
Now with the transit agencies, it seems like they’re into it now, but where there any kind of it, was there any push to get them involved, or w did you have to change any rules to get them kind of on board to start with?

Sheila Holm (28m 39s):
You know, and so probably the thing that worked in our favor is we started with one where the transit agency owned nothing except for the sign on the light pole. And then the next one, the St. Clair county transit district was the lead and the funder and the overall transit agency was consulted from safety and security, those kinds of sight lines and everything to make sure we were good. I think how we eased into it with them so they could see that it was successful, has been a big thing. The other thing is Kim’s brilliant about building her board of directors and the CEO of the Bi-State development, which Metro is under, is on her board.

Sheila Holm (29m 26s):
And he’s all in, he supports the program completely. So it’s been strategic. Definitely.

Kim Cella (29m 34s):
I think the other thing that we have done well, and we fell into it, the first one is we have Chronicle projects from beginning to end. So we are creating videos that allow individuals, stakeholders, the transit agency to weigh in on the importance of these transformations. And what we’ve actually found is that the transit agency, once we had Maplewood, and when they saw the impact of what we were able to do, and, you know, they they’ve been a part of our ad campaign. Now they’re a hundred percent on board, but the videos have allowed us to move not only the transit agency, but elected officials and others further because they’re showing the transformation in two minutes.

Kim Cella (30m 19s):
So we don’t need to have anyone’s attention beyond a two minute video, but they demonstrate just how impactful these can be in communities. And not only is the transit agency on board, but now we’re having elected officials in these different communities actually come to us and say, I want that in my community, which is very helpful when you’re dealing with political entities, when you’re trying to get some things done at these stations.

Sheila Holm (30m 44s):
And that’s what happened with the one we’re finishing up right now, the mayor of Bellville, she came to our Emerson park ribbon cutting, and she said she wanted that. And not only is she supporting it through her words and whatever you need, but financially as well. So, you know, pennies do not fall from heaven on this. So it takes some time to figure out how we’re going to pay for these things and not only on the front end, but also then the maintenance, the maintenance is probably our trickiest thing to figure out when we’re negotiating. So is who’s going to maintain this before we step away?

Jeff Wood (31m 23s):
Well, that’s a good question is like how much do these projects costs typically and how much does the capital part of it costs, but how much does the maintenance generally costs?

Kim Cella (31m 32s):
So we like to say that these are low budget projects with big impact. So these projects are coming in under a hundred thousand, each transformation. So in the grand scheme of things, they truly are a low budget projects. And what we have found is we’re not asking the transit agency for investment on the front end for the capital side, but that’s where the transit agency has been pivotal moving forward on the one that we have recently done the ones at the light rail stations, they have agreed to maintain what we have done. So that’s a significant win for us because Sheila and I can’t say around and make sure that the thermal plastic paint on the concrete doesn’t peel off, or you know, that the plants need to be changed out on a regular basis, the plant stock.

Kim Cella (32m 26s):
So the transit agencies in our area have the one have stepped up to the plate with regard to the back end of these projects. They’re saying, if you can deliver these projects, we will be your partner. And we will maintain them moving forward.

Sheila Holm (32m 40s):
The Maplewood one, the city of Maplewood, they agreed to maintain the site. So that one’s a little different and because the bank owns, so the bank manages some pieces of it, but the city has agreed to maintain that.

Jeff Wood (32m 56s):
Do you have to sign agreements with the transit agency or anybody else, like a MOU or anything like that to get things going to make sure that these agreements stay in place over time.

Sheila Holm (33m 5s):
I like Kim speak to that, Kim and I always have an agreement. And then Kim will do it with the other entities.

Kim Cella (33m 11s):
Yes. So we most definitely have created MOU because we want to ensure that once these projects are finished, someone is maintaining them and everyone knows their roles and responsibilities going into the creation of these transformation projects, you know, collaboration. It has been a key part of the success of these projects, collaborations with all of these different partners. But we do want to make sure that there’s no gray areas. And so we do have MOU from the very beginning with all of the partners. So everyone understands their roles and what the expectations are in order to bring these projects to fruition.

Jeff Wood (33m 49s):
Now I’ve seen in the news lately that there’s, you know, there’s planning for more light rail transit in, in the region for the north south project. And other things I’m curious if you have your eyes on that alignment to see if you can’t get some transformations going on, some of those stops that might be popping up in the future.

Kim Cella (34m 5s):
So we’re actually very lucky where we are in this region right now. There’s actually an expansion underway in Illinois for light rail. That one is actually moving into vinyl construction, and hopefully they will move ground beginning at the end of this year. And so we have already had conversations with our partners over there about, well, why don’t we do this from the get-go for that new station at the end of that experience in project, the north side, south side is the other corridor that you were referencing. I believe Jeff, that has been in all of the St Louis news in the last couple of weeks, and that project will transverse the downtown area and then go north and south out of this until business central business district in downtown St.

Kim Cella (34m 50s):
Louis. And we know that there will be opportunities around that, but that project we haven’t jumped on board yet. Right. Sheila, we still have a few more in line on what we’re working on now. That is something that organizations to think about. If they consider, you know, we have the capacity for about two transformations a year right now, we don’t want to take on too many. I think as part of our goal, we want to make sure that the projects that we have under construction or under design are good, and that they, that we know what the community wants. And we do our due diligence. So we have been very cautious. And how many projects we take on each year? We know that two is good.

Kim Cella (35m 32s):
We dipped our toes this year. And two, two with one just beginning conversation, but it, you know, we know our capacity and we, we definitely don’t want to go outside of that and not deliver on what we’ve seen so far as successes,

Sheila Holm (35m 48s):
You know, bottom line, it’s two people. So it’s Kim and I, cause I,

Jeff Wood (35m 53s):

Sheila Holm (35m 54s):
Know, I’m an office of one Kimson office of two and a half right now. So there can be a lot that can be accomplished. I mean, if you think about that, that there’s only two of us, it’s just figuring out how to get more from others and, you know, inviting them in to be part of the party. And so far we’ve been successful.

Jeff Wood (36m 15s):
Well, how about the stations themselves? What’s involved in this from a transportation perspective, it is the bus stop or a transit stop in general, but are you thinking multimodal, are there places to think about mobility hubs or anything like that? Have you thought about those connections that can be made in those specific geographic areas?

Sheila Holm (36m 33s):
So our first stop was indeed just a bus stop, but the neck, the next two were transit centers. So bus and train, but the last, this one that we’re on right now, that’s bus train, but it also has a bike trail, has the largest bike trail system. And in that part of the state in Illinois, in St. Clair county. So it truly is multi-modal there. The trail goes right next to the light rail and then there’s the bus. So it’s all connected there. We really think that that is a bonus because the cyclists are going by, or walkers are going by strollers are going by on a regular basis.

Sheila Holm (37m 15s):
And it’s really used as a, a connector place. So, and really seeing that this could be a community hub in that it’s so close to the downtown, it has trained and has butts. It has space for walking for pedestrians. So we’re well with our ribbon cutting, which can, you know, let Kim talk more about too, but we’re going to have a big event where it’s passport to music on Metro, and there’s going to be a big event there with live music and then at our other station as well that we’ve done. So really trying to bring life to it and connecting the community to the station.

Kim Cella (37m 58s):
The Bellville station is the most multimodal station in St. Clair county, Illinois, the Illinois portion of the alignment. It also has the introduction of micro transit at that station. And so that was part of what we were discussing. Part of that multimodal. We kept that in mind when we were looking at our design. So we have included, especially designed bike racks for that station, as well as a part of this transformation, to make sure that we are not missing the bike and pet portion of those individuals crossing the station and not just focusing on bus and train. So we tried to be as multimodal as possible when we were thinking the design of that station. Now our future station, our fourth stop, that is the design concept is currently being worked on that.

Kim Cella (38m 45s):
One is a significant bus train connection point in St. Louis county in our region. And so there are 11 bus routes that traverse this station that we’re going to be looking at next. And that was part of the reason that we chose this station is because we want to make sure that these connection points really feel welcoming and inviting for transit riders. And so this station is another one that is a complete sea of gray, and that has significant amount of unused parking at this stop. And so by transforming the area around the station, there’s lots of conversation about what could be on that parking lot that we’re probably not going to touch, but hopefully once again, we can tee up future development adjacent to the station.

Kim Cella (39m 34s):
And so we’re trying to be very strategic. When we look at spots, we’re also trying to be geographically dispersed. So we don’t want to concentrate all of our efforts in one area of the region. You know, right now we have done a small municipality. We have done east St. Louis. We’ve kind of done a suburban community and think they’re county, Illinois. And now we’re doing the only stop in what’s considered unincorporated St. Louis county, the only stop that falls under our county government. And so we’re trying to be geographically dispersed as we work on these stations, to

Sheila Holm (40m 6s):
The other thing, with this particular station that Kim’s talking about, our one that we’re just starting on, it’s the first stop after people leave the airport or the last stop before you get to the airport. And we found out recently that pilots and travelers they’ll park there and then take the train there to the airport, which is something we didn’t know, but the diversity of the people who use this station and how it’s going to respond to those needs, I think kind of twisted a little bit after we were doing the onsite, just initial conversations. And so I think that’s another thing when you’re looking at this, don’t come in thinking, you know, really come in with an open mind and go, wow.

Sheila Holm (40m 52s):
Like we, we saw this older gentlemen, beautiful tan pulling a little suitcase behind him. We’re like, are you going on the trip? Yeah, I’m just going for a couple of days, you know, my park here. And then I go home, you know? So I just think, keep your open mind about how a site is used and how it could be used.

Jeff Wood (41m 10s):
Well, that’s another question I have is like, how do you measure these outcomes of the guy pulling his suitcase on a two day trip for a weekend or something along those lines? How do you measure and take stock of the impact that the station transformations have had?

Kim Cella (41m 23s):
So we’ve actually been talking about that. Jeff, how do we measure success? You know, and currently we are measuring success with the number of organizations that come to us after we unveil our whole, the ribbon cutting and say, Hey, we want you to come to our neighborhood next and, and do this bus stop or the station, but we’re also looking at building metrics. So what does that exit survey look like? Or that exit community engagement? Tell us what you think, tell us what works, what doesn’t work. So that’s part of the conversation that we’re having right now is how do we find out after we’ve left six months later, is the impact still there?

Kim Cella (42m 3s):
What is happening? You know, right now we’re counting it anecdotally. So we know that we were able to use the Emerson park investment to leverage a larger grant and bring more to that community. We know that writers of the Emerson park station are saying, Hey, we love this station. We’re going to make sure it’s clean. We know that there’s no graffiti. We were seeing that there’s no trash and maintenance is not been an issue at that station, but we would like to have some more detailed information as well. So that is part of the conversation that we’re having as a partnership is how do we develop metrics as a part of an exit kind of strategy from those bus stops? Are those stations?

Sheila Holm (42m 43s):
Yeah, that’s what I was going to say to Kim. It’s been more anecdotal right now, transit users or the providers, the operators saying what a pleasant experience, if people are happier and there is less destruction, and again, the partners coming forward and saying, we want to be a part of this, but yeah, if we were doing a grant report below hard to measure outcomes at this time. So I think again, we’re still forming that

Jeff Wood (43m 12s):
If somebody wanted a copy of this in another place. So are there any lessons that you all take from doing this work that you think that others should know before they embark on a journey?

Sheila Holm (43m 22s):
I think one of the things Kim had indicated it, and I used this phrase before, but some of younger individuals did not understand what strange bedfellows. So just, don’t just, don’t close yourself off of who could be a partner, you know, cast a wide net and be thankful for, you know, who you get to come in and join you on the journey. I think that’s one thing I think another is, listen, listen, listen. So don’t come in with the preconceived notion and I believe testing some things in advance. Like we did, we did these pop-up markets.

Sheila Holm (44m 4s):
We really saw that people were drawn to them. They were drawn to color and interaction and it made people have a smile, a smile came up and it was like, oh, okay. I didn’t even know this was here or that kind of stuff. So I think that just being open and listen and creative for funding purposes and get those champions that have influenced,

Kim Cella (44m 32s):
I would add two other things that she was spot on and all of the items she had listed, the only other two things I would say is that on the onset of your project, make sure the goals are clearly delineated prior to hitting the boat button, make sure everyone is on the same page on what your goals are. And, you know, we learn each and every time we do one of these projects, but we learned that from the very beginning that makes sure everyone’s on the same page with goals and then make sure everyone knows what their role and their responsibilities are. That has been very helpful through the process. You know, it was a little muddy the first couple of times, but we, you know, we have learned how to streamline and how to make sure we know that Sheila’s doing this and I’m doing this.

Kim Cella (45m 16s):
And all of these other partners are doing this. So making sure that that’s very clear and you’re upfront about what the goals are, helps everyone stay on the same page and bring these projects to fruition. For sure.

Sheila Holm (45m 28s):
Yeah. And I think that that continual conversation, so we, we meet on a regular basis with the team that’s working on this. So the designers, the project managers, us and anyone else that we need to have at the tables so that the communication piece is critical. And every single one of our projects has been different of how we managed it. So we do not have the end all be all system, but we do have a lot of lessons learned that we’re happy to share.

Jeff Wood (46m 1s):
What do you all think is the most underrated outcome of these projects? Something that you didn’t expect to happen, or maybe something that is really important, but it kind of passes under a lot of people’s radars, generally,

Kim Cella (46m 13s):
From my opinion, as the transit advocacy organization, the writer ownership of these stops and stations that have been transformed has been beyond what I ever conceived when we started these projects. You know, our goal at the beginning was to make the environment more friendly, more interactive for both writers and residents. But the fact that writers are considering these, their stations now. And, you know, they’re like, well, what about this other staff that I go to all the time, we should really look at that stop.

Kim Cella (46m 53s):
And we’ll add that to our list consideration. But the pride that transit riders in the St Louis market now have around some of these stations. And, you know, we’ve heard from lots of naysayers, this is not all rainbows and unicorns around public transit, right? We know that and naysayers are saying, well, you think putting a Benton is going to increase ridership on the system, but it’s, it’s more about showing that we care about the system that riders are using and understand that, you know, seating and shade and color and other amenities go along way when you’re in between a bus or you’re waiting for a bus or train, or you’re riding by yourself and it might not be daylight anymore, or, or these things that create this environment that makes these writers feel safer, makes them happier.

Kim Cella (47m 48s):
You know, if we can generate a smile at the Emerson park station with the little jazz music, as they’re waiting on the train, we’ve gone a long way. But really I think the outcome that I did not anticipate was the pride and the ownership on the part of the writers. And that, that just makes us so ecstatic as the regional transit advocacy organization. Because part of our goal is to ensure writers are enjoying the environment in which they’re traveling.

Sheila Holm (48m 15s):
I think for me, it would be bringing people in that never would imagine using transit before and their experience. So I hope that that would happen, you know, hope that they would feel more comfortable for whatever reason, if the color and the energy around our transformations make them feel more comfortable. Great. From an ERP perspective, I want to make sure that transit stops and transit in general feel safe and secure and accessible to people of all ages, specifically people 50 plus. And when people stopped driving, they need to be able to have access.

Sheila Holm (48m 56s):
And so this has been an important piece for me is if you activate the space and they feel safe, we are hearing that and we’re hearing it from people who would, who think they don’t have access to transit, but it’s really there. They just don’t think it’s there. And once we expose them to it into one of the stops, they’re like, wow, this is cool. I think I’m going to use transit now. So broadening the audience or the users of transit is really important. And it has been a nice surprise as well.

Kim Cella (49m 29s):
I think I would be remiss if I did not say this. We were talking about partners earlier, but I think if people are considering, you know, transforming a bus stop or looking at these locations in their communities, they should really reach out to ARP because this is a plug for Sheila. They’re an exceptional partner on the ground. They have a significant constituent base and they do incredible work in communities. And our partnership with a RP in the St. Louis market has allowed us to do this many stations. And so when you’re thinking about partners or collaborators in your communities, you should really think about giving a RP, a call, because I think that they do, they’re willing to talk about things that you might not consider a transit falling under the ARP umbrella, but it does.

Kim Cella (50m 19s):
And it fits their mission. And we are strange bed fellows, but it’s working. So I really consider in communities that people don’t think about

Jeff Wood (50m 29s):
Totally and, and ARP. I mean, they have such a good regional and, but also a national presence in terms of placemaking and transit and those things that we care about. So it’s a good organization to think of in that way. Where can folks find more information about the station transformations, if they want to read more or reach out to you all, if they have any questions,

Kim Cella (50m 47s):
You can go straight to our [email protected] actually highlight each and every one of the stations that we’ve transformed to date. There’s also those videos that we talked about that showed the transformation from start to finish. There will be a how to we’re working on that next, because we’ve had lots of people reach out to us about how do we do this in our own community. So we’re starting to put together lessons learned that we’ve learned here in the St Louis region, and hopefully those help others with their projects as well.

Jeff Wood (51m 21s):
That’s awesome. Well, Kim and Sheila, thanks for joining us. We really appreciate your time.

Kim Cella (51m 25s):
Thank You.

Sheila Holm (51m 26s):
Thank you so much for having us. We get excited to talk about this. We want more people to know about it, and we want more people to do it so we can learn from them as well.

Listen to the Talking Headways Podcast.


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