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February 23, 2010

Why We Invest in Public Art in Transit

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Hive at Delmar Loop Transfer Center

The Hive at Delmar Loop Transfer Center. Photo by Dan Donovan.

Last night, a story on KTVI discussed the installation of two public art pieces at MetroLink’s Delmar and Richmond Heights stations, asking why Metro had spent money in that way. We tackled this question last October when Metro President and CEO Bob Baer was interviewed for the story, and we did a short video about the Hive artwork at Delmar.

But we think the answer to the question of why we install art at transit stations is relatively simple: It’s required as a condition on the funding we get through the Federal Transportation Administration (FTA) and it’s a valuable way to enhance public transit as a vital part of our community.

Under the Transit Enhancements Section of FTA regulations, a transit agency in a region with a population of 200,000 or more must spend at least 1 percent of the federal funds it receives on projects that enhance transit activities. While one percent is the FTA minimum, communities often spend more to ensure that transit enhances, rather than detracts from, the urban landscape. The FTA requires that level of spending because it believes the visual quality of the nation’s public-transit systems has a profound impact on transit customers and communities at large. Public-transit systems should be positive symbols for cities to attract local riders, tourists and the attention of decision-makers for national and international events. Good design and art can:

•    Improve the appearance and safety of a facility
•    Give vibrancy to public spaces
•    Make customers feel welcome
•    Contribute to the creation of livable communities.

How does art help accomplish that?

•    More attractive spaces add value to the homes and businesses around the transit plazas
•    People take better care of more attractive spaces, which reduces the cost of repairing vandalism
•    It attracts customers, adding to a sense of safety and comfort while using the space
•    Regions enhance their public spaces to attract tourism

An added bonus is the financial impact on the community through the employment of local engineers and fabricators used on the projects.
Let’s look at how much was spent on the Hive sculpture at the Delmar Transit Plaza in July 2009.

•    FTA grant: $69,291
•    Local matching funds required by the FTA: $17,322
•    A total of $86,613

How much was spent on the Mime sculpture at the Richmond Heights MetroLink Station in July 2009?

•    Local capital funds from the Cross County project: $140,000

These artworks are installed across Metro’s system by our Arts in Transit program, which began in 1986 to coordinate the efforts of artists, engineers and architects in the design of the MetroLink light-rail system. It has since installed many public art pieces, as well as developed a curriculum guide for teachers, coordinated ongoing community projects, and installed literary works in buses and trains.

Questions about our public art in transit? Leave your comments below.

15 thoughts on “Why We Invest in Public Art in Transit”

  1. RTBones says:

    Seems like we had a discussion on this topic last year at one point.

    Art installations at our stations can only offer so much because nearly all of our stations are not much more than “concrete ashcans”. Drab, dull, utilitarian, and entirely uninviting. More attention to aesthetics should be done during the design phase of the station. You can only dress up concrete so much.

    But initial design and art installations are only part of the issue.

    It doesnt help that places like the Forest Park Metrolink station have a bus stop attached with a chewed up curb or bad pavement, or a beat up bus shelter. It doesnt help that at some stations there are newspaper or magazine distribution boxes that look like they have seen better days, are no longer used, or been vandalized. Forest Park has these. Maplewood has some too.

    It doesnt help that some stations (like Brentwood) are horribly designed. I understand that before the parking garage was built, the owners of the parking lot in front of Dierbergs wanted to discourage the use of that lot for Metrolink riders. But now that the garage is built, why exactly do we have to walk a quarter mile out of our way to be dumped out behind the storefronts with no sidewalk to take us to where we need to go?

    Then there are the stations like North Hanley that have changed access to the platform over the years. While there is security at the one entrance/exit to the platform, there are still people jumping the fence and coming up the platform on the far side of the station, in part because the change in access was only “partially” removed.

    The fact that we have a number of stations with blank advertising “windows” also lends a “disused” look to our stations.

    It doesnt help that certain stations require you to run a gauntlet of folks asking for “train or bus fare”. This is particularly bad at the Forest Park and depending on the time of day, Convention Center stations. At Forest Park, there is security on the platform, but that does nothing for you when you are standing at the ticket machine near the drop-off loop. Union Station is only marginally better. And I wont even begin to discuss the station under Grand.

    If you want to address the bullets you listed in the article, it is going to take more than art.

    1. Courtney says:

      Per usual RT, you’ve hit home on a lot of important points. That’s part of the reason that we’re trying to communicate via blogs and social media – to get more community input and work on the perceived problems in the system (and as you pointed out, around the system). It is an ongoing process. We had a question on Twitter ( about the sidewalks you mention at Brentwood, and I’m looking into that with the engineering department.

  2. nA says:

    I love delmar station’s hive and I am glad that Metro is making investments in art and I always read the poems that are posted on the trains.

    However, Metro has to invest in green. Plant more trees in all the stations especially Grand, Forest Park.

  3. Adam says:


    aren’t curbs and sidewalks the responsibility of the city? and newspaper boxes the responsibility of whomever owns them?

    anyway, arts in transit is fantastic and i’m a big fan of hive in particular.

    1. Courtney says:

      Generally, yes. There are some sidewalks that we do work to not because we own them, but because they need it. But we can’t take on every project. There must be a partnership with the streets department of the owning municipality or county entity.

  4. Suzanne says:

    nA — Grand Station is getting a makeover with the reconstruction of Grand Blvd. above. There may be a new artist’s sketch available soon of the plans for Grand that will really improve that station and the connecting bus shelter. There will also be significant improvements on Grand bridge that will help out the MetroBus #70 passengers! The demolition and reconstruction begins later this year. It will take awhile for the city to get all the work done as it is a complex bridge. From the early reports I have heard — it will be a much better structure that is more appealing to all of Metro customers when finished.

  5. Henry says:

    I had wondered about the “Mime” sculpture when it appeared at the Richmond Heights station. It is an interesting piece and makes a nice landmark for the station, especially in the little roundabout in the street. I never knew before if the city of Richmond Heights or Metro had paid for it, but if Metro was required by the FTA to spend money on art, that actually makes me feel better about its installation. The site even helped explain to me the “art” displays at Big Bend and Skinker stations. I had never realized the display in Skinker was art, and I wondered about the permament “Christmas light” display at Big Bend. My favorite is the “Maplewood” display on the overpass over Manchester. I had always assumed the city of Maplewood was responsible for that, but I was wrong!

  6. Daron says:

    Can I get any traction on arbitrary station themes?

    I’ll second the concrete ashcans moniker, but I’m hopeful about the future.

  7. Courtney says:

    For questions about the Brentwood station, which also came in on Twitter – – asking about the ADA-accessible exit closer to Dierbergs. That particular station already had a retaining wall ready to go, thanks to the parking lot for the plaza. But to make an ADA-accessible exit, you should have no more than a 2% slope. So to keep the retaining wall intact, a long exit ramp was built. The question was also about the street behind Dierbergs where the ramp exits into, which according to the Twitter follower, has no sidewalks. The City of Brentwood is the owner of this street, and therefore its streetscape amenities. However, our engineering department said it would be willing to partner with the City of Brentwood to apply for grants or other funding to get sidewalks installed. Please contact the City of Brentwood to tell them you would like to see sidewalks for that street, and let us know what you hear!

  8. David Shane says:

    Thanks for the reply (to my tweet) Courtney. Obviously this isn’t what I wanted to hear, but it’s useful information nonetheless. I actually did send an email to Dierbergs a while back, but I have never contacted Brentwood.

    I don’t have the station precisely memorized in my head, but I wonder if it would be possible to put a (non-ADA!) set of stairs in place that would take you right to the storefront sidewalks. They might be a little steep, but not too steep, since (as I tweeted) some people already scale that ground and jump the fence instead of going walking. (Adding sidewalks to the road would be a great improvement, but as the poster above points out you would still have to walk way south, just to turn around and walk way north, to reach your destination.) But that would cost money if nothing else, I know. ‘Tis an imperfect world.

    1. Courtney says:

      The main problem is the retaining wall. We have to keep that intact to basically help the station keep its shape, not crumble down. Since the retaining wall already existed, they didn’t want to rebuilt it or create an expensive bridge. But, hopefully we can work together to do something to improve the streetscape. I have often walked that way to get to Trader Joes from the Brentwood Station, and also feel that sidewalks would be a vast improvement in safety and walking comfort.

  9. RTBones says:

    Why not install a small elevator, and a flight of steps?

  10. Pingback: Techie Authority » Using Common Sense When Deciding on Art Pieces

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