Friday, December 30, 2005

Making Choices

Making Choices

Lately there been discussion on other blogs, particularly Urban Review - St. Louis, about making choices in education, transportation, and housing.

My general sense is that:

1) People with more money have more choices;
2) People who are white and male often have more choices than others do;
3) Our choices are path-dependent: that is, what we choose today may constrain what we can choose tomorrow.
4) Public policy is an additional constraint on individual choice. In fact, maybe that should be point #1.

Thus, when we want to travel from place-to-place, we have choices. But those choices are limited by money, in some cases by gender and race, by past choices, and especially by public policy.

Through massive federal, state and local subsidies during at least the past 50 years, and arguably since the 1920s, the private automobile has become the preeminent transportation "choice." Indeed, for distances of a couple hundred miles or less, some people believe it is the only viable choice.

Amtrak and Greyhound provide increasingly limited service, serving most major cities but not necessarily frequently nor on-time. Very few small to medium sized towns have service from either. Greyhound does a decent job of serving college towns and military bases, but otherwise, their service is limited indeed. Amtrak routes are similarly limited, and frequently threatened with elimination.

Airplane travel is viable for traveling cross-country, but seems utterly silly for going to places as close as Chicago or Kansas City. It's an option, but not a very efficient one. And forget about flying to other places in Missouri or Illinois; the fares are often ridiculously high despite the short distance and lack of amenities.

For education, sure, there are choices. However, if you cannot afford to pay tuition, your choices are limited significantly. Public schools are an incredibly important social institution. When individuals "opt-out" of the public schools, ultimately democracy may suffer. Innovations in public education like public schools and charter schools are great; but they, too, may lead to an increasing divide between those who know how to access those kinds of options, and those who do not.

So perhaps a point #5 should be:

5) We can only make choices based upon what information we have available. An economist might say the choice set is constrained by imperfect information.

This very esoteric essay comes down to this:

You can't always get what you want!

Anyway, have a fun, safe new year! See ya' in 2006...

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Whom Do They Represent?

Whom Do They Represent?

The St. Louis Board of Education now has five African-American members - a solid majority of a now seven-member board. This is a very good thing.

However, none reside north of Delmar Boulevard, the traditional definition of "North" Saint Louis. And none reside east of Grand Boulevard, where much of the African-American population has moved and where lots of immigrants live as well.

This is not surprising; after all, school board members are not paid, so they volunteer their time. It's a large time commitment, so it's something that middle-class professionals can more easily do. Also not surprisingly, several of these board members are high-level executives in non-profit organizations, which suggests they would know something about working with board members themselves.

Thus it is at least heartening to realize that all five African-American school board members represent a pretty substantial African-American middle-class presence in the City of St. Louis - albeit concentrated in the central corridor.

More specifically, four board members reside in the greater Central West End / Skinker-DeBaliviere area, either on private streets or on Lindell. Another resides in the historic Tiffany neighborhood on a dead-end street.

Both white board members live in St. Louis Hills.

While geography isn't everything, the combination of geography and profession strongly suggests that the current school board members' day-to-day experiences are quite different from the everyday lives of most SLPS parents.

Passing the Parkway Buck

Passing the Parkway Buck

On Christmas Eve, made the comment that "Without any real public notice, Metro (Bi-State) has postponed the promised 'end of the year' re-opening of the Forest Park Parkway. Many of us wonder what’s going on over there."

They have a good point - I can't figure out why there's been no Cross County news since September. Although they did open the stretch from DeBaliviere to Des Peres for neighborhood users - but only because they closed the Des Peres Avenue access to Lindell permanently.

However, Mayor Slay should also walk upstairs to Room 301 at City Hall and check with Marj Melton and her engineers at the Board of Public Service.

BPS is responsible for the reconstruction of Forest Park Parkway from Euclid to DeBaliviere. This stretch was not directly impacted by MetroLink construction, except for a new retaining wall related to additional trackage laid at the Forest Park station. BPS was wise to schedule this rebuilding of a 40+ year old roadway at the same time as the rest of the Parkway would be closed for MetroLink construction.

But, now, what would keep it from reopening separately? Is Metro using that section as a staging area for their work? If not, it seems like it could be reopened sooner than the section out west, and at least then the City of St. Louis could get some credit for having gotten something completed faster than Metro did. BPS could use an opportunity for good press, considering how long it took to complete projects like the Southwest Avenue bridge over River Des Peres.

Also, it would reinstate a useful, quick connection to the BJC complex, midtown and downtown from the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood. That section of expressway used to be several minutes faster trip than nearby Lindell.

Reopening the BPS-managed section of the Forest Park Parkway project soon would be a great opportunity for the Slay administration.

Friday, December 23, 2005

My Comments on "Metro Redefined"

My Comments on "Metro Redefined"

In case anyone is interested...

Comments I submitted to Metro on their bus system restructuring plan (10 page PDF).

The plan is called "Metro Redefined."

Bad Malls

Bad Malls

Just for fun, and in the spirit of bemoaning the over-commercialization of the Holiday season, here's a link to last night's Letterman Top 10 list. Topic: "Top Ten Signs You're At A Bad Mall."

Seems like many of these could apply to, say, Saint Louis Centre (just ask Tom Lampe), St. Louis Union Station, Crestwood Plaza, or even Northwest Plaza. Except #3 doesn't really apply - none of these have a JC Penney store! ;-)

To say nothing of Northland and River Roads.

South County Center and Jamestown Mall might work, too, for several of the top ten items. Particularly at Dillard's...

We sure have a lot of crummy shopping malls around here, don't we? And the number seems to be increasing.

Personally, the only time I go to Saint Louis Centre is to grab something at that odd little 4th-floor Walgreens or to cut through to somewhere else, using the skywalks to avoid cold and/or rainy weather.

Although that Dillard's store on Washington closed several years back, it is still possible to walk inside parking garages and retail space (all at roughly the 4th floor level) from the corner of 7th & Washington all the way to about Broadway and Chestnut, the SE corner of the Kiener Plaza East garage. It's kind of a surreal experience.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Christmastime Chaos

Christmastime Chaos

Why was yesterday so crazy? Between news reports and personal experience, I know at least four strange things happened yesterday and last night:

  • A standoff between police and a paranoid guy in Walnut Park yesterday morning;
  • A police officer shot in Hamilton Heights on MLK Drive about 2 this morning;
  • A fatal accident yesterday afternoon at Skinker and Forsyth which may or may not have involved gunfire -- and which really screwed with my homeward commute from WashU. Forsyth was backed up in both directions through the campus, and Skinker backed up to about Clayton Road.
  • About midnight, as my wife and I were trying to get to sleep, we heard a volley of gunfire either on our block or quite nearby. Then a car sped off. I looked out the window, but didn't see anything; this morning I walked around the block with our dogs and didn't see any evidence of anything having happened. Nevertheless, until about 12:30 there were one or maybe two police helicopters hovering over our block, oftentimes sounding very, very close to the rooftops.

    I realize sounds carries in strange ways, especially in the gangways between our brick houses. Nevertheless, it was quite scary. I didn't call it in, because the choppers were there almost immediately.

    I can't help but think some of these events are related, but who knows?

    Maybe it's just pre-Christmas desperation.
  • Wednesday, December 21, 2005

    Metro Redefined

    Metro Redefined

    This morning on the bus I picked up a huge brochure detailing the changes planned for the MetroBus system when Cross County MetroLink opens in fall 2006.

    Damn near every Missouri bus route is supposed to be changed, and service expanded in some areas, under the plan called Metro Redefined 2006.

    This time around, a whole bunch of public hearings are scheduled for January 2006, with the final summary presentation at Metro headquarters on Laclede's Landing on February 2, 2006.

    Other locations of public hearings in the City of St. Louis include:

    St. Louis City Hall
    1200 Market St
    St. Louis, MO 63103
    11 a.m. - 3p.m

    Salvation Army
    2740 Arsenal St
    St. Louis, MO 63118
    4 - 8 p.m.

    MetroRide Store
    701 Washington Blvd
    (at Convention Center)
    St. Louis, MO 63101
    9 a.m. - 1p.m.

    Washington University Medical Center Eric P. Newman Education Center (EPNEC)
    320 S. Euclid Ave.
    St. Louis, MO 63110
    10 a.m. - 2p.m

    South City YMCA
    Meeting Rm A & B
    3150 Sublette Ave.
    St. Louis, MO 63139
    10 a.m. - 2p.m.

    Elsewhere in the region, sessions will be held in East St. Louis, Jennings, Wellston, Kirkwood, Mehlville, Ellisville, Maplewood, Clayton, and at UMSL, SWIC, and the Ballas Road MetroBus Transfer Center.

    I have to give them credit -- they really are trying hard to publicize these changes and get extensive public comment from constituents all across the portions of the region served by public transit.

    At least two of the routes proposed seem to contradict my argument last week that Cross County wouldn't save WashU money:

    1) The proposed #51 Central West End seems to blatantly replace the WashU Gold Line and part of the Blue Line. The proposed route "will provide bus access to Washington University students connecting them to the Washington University Hilltop Campus and Washington University Medical School" operating every 15 minutes weekdays, every 30 minutes evenings and weekends. Exactly the same route and schedule as the Gold Line. It would also replace the western portion of the #93 Lindell which the Gold Line currently overlaps for several blocks. The #93 route will still exist, but serve a very different corridor. I sure as hell hope WashU will pay for this service, one way or another!

    2) The proposed #54 Washington University is even more blatant, named for the school itself. While the northern portions replace parts of the #64 Lucas Hunt and #16 City Limits, the southern portions seem to trace the route of the WashU Red Line and the eastern half of the Blue Line.

    I don't necessarily object to WashU cutting its directly-provided shuttle services; I just hope they compensate Metro for this service. Of course, it could instead be that Metro is trying to compete with WashU in these areas; but given that WashU shuttle service is free-of-charge to anyone with a University ID, that seems like a hard price to beat.

    Also, I am more than a little annoyed at the proposal to extend express bus service to Jefferson County!

    Under the proposal, the existing I-55 Mehlville Express would be extended to the Richardson Road park-ride lot via I-55. A 50-cent surcharge would be included in this fare. That bugs me, because Jefferson County does not pay the transit sales tax! If you want to play, you have to pay. Same goes for St. Charles County and Franklin County. They both had some limited service a few years back; but their votes have not approved a tax levy for public transit.

    I definitely plan to attend at least one of the public hearings next month.

    Tuesday, December 20, 2005

    UMSL Developments

    UMSL Developments

    Yesterday I visited the University of Missouri - St. Louis campus for the first time in perhaps two years.

    It's funny, since I used to spend so much time there. I lived in what was then called Honors Hall from 1997 through 2000, except for summers. At the time, the Pierre Laclede Honors College was housed in the former Sister of Charity of the Incarnate Word - St. Louis Province convent, built in the 1920s, right next door to the all-girls private Catholic high school Incarnate Word Academy. One time while cleaning my room I found a tiny crucifix stuck between the baseboard and the floor.

    So I lived in a dorm room in a fascinating old building just two flights of stairs away from many of my daytime classes. The former chapel, with funky yellow glass windows since the sisters had removed their stained glass, was used for large classes and special events.

    However, the Honors College outgrew that space and moved a few years ago into another, larger former convent that's about as old: the former Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul facility, now an integral part of the UMSL South Campus. Honors occupies the center Marillac Provincial House section; two other sections are used as separate residence halls. A new residence hall is I think still under construction just south of there. So the on-campus housing component to UMSL is really growing.

    On the North Campus, even more dramatic changes have happened since I graduated in 2001. At that time, the huge new Millennum Student Center had just opened; now it is a very busy place.

    Although the campus is still quite hilly, the new student center makes it a lot easier to walk from the UMSL North MetroLink stop to the core classroom buildings in SSB, CCB, Lucas, and Clark Halls. There's a long indoor skywalk that connects the outdoor plaza around which those buildings were built in the early 1970s, to the student center second floor.

    It is a little annoying that the newly constructed walkways leading from the student center to the infamous Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center just west of the MetroLink station, do not lead conveniently nor directly to the MetroLink stop itself.

    You still have to walk diagonally across grassy areas and parking lots. The grounds department has placed "Please Use Sidewalks" signs in this area, which are entirely ineffective. The paved walkways are too far out of the way, especially since it's obvious there is a direct, well-worn dirt path to use.

    It seems like that section of campus had been under construction for much of the past decade, between the student center and performing arts center projects. Now that those are complete, perhaps the facilities planners will figure out they need to build a paved pathway directly from the UMSL North MetroLink station to the student center.

    Meanwhile, the southward view from the student center bridge is much more attractive than it was a few years ago, now that a group of decaying surface parking lots in the low-lying center of campus have been replaced with a couple small lakes including a fountain or two. They seem much more appealing than ol' Bugg Lake near the science complex.

    I think most of the old, rusting "temporary" parking garages that stood for three times as many years as intended, are gone. There might still be one standing; but for the most part, parking is now provided in larger, concrete-built structures. I guess you gotta have it somewhere; at least these look more like actual buildings.

    Most excitingly, I could see from the MetroLink platform the new bikeway that crosses high above Florissant Road on a former railroad bridge near the even higher up MetroLink bridge near the Bellerive Drive entrance to the campus. I understand the path leads to old town Ferguson, with only a couple street crossings. Pretty cool; need to check that out sometime. It's another thing that was several years in the making.

    UMSL is one campus that is actually pretty easy to reach, with two MetroLink stations, several MetroBus lines, and now direct access to I-70 via "University Boulevard" (relocated Florissant Road). The bikeway only adds to that accessiblity, and will eventually connect with the St. Vincent Greenway currently in the planning stages.

    Although it's definitely not located in the City of St. Louis, in some ways UMSL is more connected to the community than WashU or SLU. Given that it is part of the land-grant UM System, it offers lots of community education programs. And the tuition is much, much more affordable than those other two.

    And, oh yeah - I'll be teaching an evening class (Introduction to Urban Politics) at UMSL in the upcoming spring semester. ;-)

    I guess I've come full-circle. Eight years ago, I took that same class at UMSL, taught by Joe Davis, who seems to teach part-time at every college in St. Louis. My pizza delivery driver even mentioned him the other day as one of his teachers at SLU!

    Monday, December 19, 2005

    Traffic-Calming for South Tucker Blvd.

    Traffic-Calming for South Tucker Blvd.

    Next spring and summer, look for some major construction work on one of the main arteries connecting the Southside with downtown St. Louis: South Tucker Boulevard, from Chouteau Avenue to the I-44/I-55 split.

    The construction project, known as "Phase 4D" of the Near Southside infrastructure work that goes along with the redevelopment of the former Darst-Webbe site and environs, will be bid out in February 2006. Work should commence in May and finish by November. It is pretty much the final phase of this massive multi-year infrastructure project which included rebuilding Park with a roundabout at 14th, constructing 13th Street inside the development, and more recently some street rebuilding near Truman Parkway, both in the orphaned corner of Lafayette Square along Dolman, and around the Clinton-Peabody public housing complex.

    Tucker is to be reduced from 3 lanes to 2 lanes in each direction. The road will be repaved, right-turn and left-turn lanes will be added at Lafayette, Park, and Chouteau, and on-street parking will be allowed in some sections.

    The street lights, sidewalks, and landscaping are to be improved in places where that work hasn't already been done.

    Hopefully, reducing the number of lanes here will slow traffic somewhat, and make it less likely that horrible accidents will happen here.

    Also, I hope the left-turn lane from NB Tucker to WB Chouteau will be equipped with a left-turn arrow signal! Currently, many MetroBus routes make that turn, but are forced to wait for SB Tucker traffic to pass. Although this is probably not a high-volume turning movement for cars, it certainly is for buses. Hopefully, this will be considered as part of the improvements.

    I don't know whether bicycle lanes are included in this project, however.

    Nevertheless, this is a good step in reclaiming the street for pedestrians.

    It would be great if similar work could be done further north and further south along the ridiculously wide North Florissant/13th/Tucker/Gravois corridor. These streets don't really need to be that wide anymore. But I don't know where the funding would be found at this point. Gravois (MoDOT territory now) was just repaved a year or two ago from the I-44/I-55 split to Grand; and just this past summer from Grand out to somewhere in the county.

    Friday, December 16, 2005

    Metro High Actually Good at Sports?

    Metro High Actually Good at Sports?

    I don't usually read the sports section of any paper, but a headline in this week's St. Louis American caught my eye.

    "Metro High answers last-minute call" was about my alma mater, Metro High School, participating in the 25th Annual Shootout, held at Savvis Center, of the big high school boys' basketball teams. They were invited at the last minute when an out-of-town team cancelled.

    The article noted that the gym at Metro was being used for a dance recital, so the coach, named Michael Brown, had to get access to Beaumont's gym for practice.

    The most interesting quote is at the end of the story:

    "We know Vashon and those other guys are widely respected for what their programs are, as they should be. But sometimes some of the rest of us in the PHL [Public High League] get a bad rep. We just wanted to show that there's a bunch of good all over the PHL. Our kids are smart. They dress well and speak well. They study hard. And they play hard. And hopefully something like this will be a stepping stone to some great things in the future."

    The thing that was weird about this story, though, is that the team was called "the Phoenix." Back in my day (wow, do I feel old), Metro's mascot was the Panther. Actually, the logo looked very similar to that of the Black Panther Party. I always thought that was pretty cool!

    And a Post-Dispatch article from earlier this week refers to the Metro Panthers girls' basketball team. So, maybe somebody was just confused.

    Panthers sounds like a much more fitting logo than Phoenix for Metro, anyway? Phoenix to me suggests 'rising from the ashes' of the inner-city, which is not such an empowering connotation.

    I played on the Metro boys' cross-country and boys' tennis teams during my time there, although I wasn't really any good at either sport. Still, it was good experience in trying to improve my social skills and my motor skills. Not sure I succeeded at either one, however....

    Anyway, the girls' team mentioned in the Post won their game 58-17 over Clayton.

    The boys' team mentioned in the American lost to Champaign Central 86-47. But the article says "the final outcome didn't matter much to any of Metro's fans who cheered wildly throughout the entire game."

    Thursday, December 15, 2005

    Taum Sauk: One Day Later

    Taum Sauk: One Day Later

    I don't really have any news of my own about the Taum Sauk pumped storage plant dam failure. But I am impressed the Wikipedia article is up, as well as an updated article about the plant itself.

    In the immediate term, I hope all the members of the Toops family recover successfully. And I hope the flooding did not hurt anyone else.

    Long-term, I think we need to think long and hard about the safety and utility of pumped storage hydropower plants. Perhaps a couple hundred exist around the world. I've always thought they were a little hokey.

    Duke Energy's web site even acknowledges "The pumped-storage process actually consumes more electricity than it generates. What makes it useful is the fact that pumped storage can be used to capture unused electricity during times of low use."

    Wait, what did that say? The pumped-storage process actually consumes more electricity than it generates. And this is efficient?

    It is, apparently, because electricity demand peaks so much in the summertime, because of air conditioning. The Taum Sauk plant was built by Union Electric in 1963 to provide us in St. Louis with a reliable source of electricity during our hot, humid summers.

    But this means somebody has to pay for it. The plant is located in a relatively remote area of Reynolds County, but among some of the more geologically interesting parts of the state, on Proffitt Mountain which is adjacent to Taum Sauk Mountain, Missouri's highest point. This is in the St. Francois Mountains region of the Ozarks.

    Ameren absolutely must pay for the clean-up and environmental restoration of Johnson's Shut-Ins State Park and other impacted areas.

    They will, no doubt, try to blame their contractor Geo-Synthetics which re-lined the upper reservoir in 2004. GSI has removed their page about the project, but it can still be found in the Google cache.

    This part of the state is a popular destination for weekend trips by St. Louisans. I can recall spending numerous spring breaks as a child in the late 1980s and 1990s at the Shut-Ins and Elephant Rocks State Park, a former quarry with fascinatingly huge chunks of granite strewn all over. It's probably been ten years since I've been out there, though.

    We also went a few times to the decidedly anti-climactic "peak" of Taum Sauk Mountain State Park, and the similarly odd Fort Davidson State Historic Site in nearby Pilot Knob. Fort Davidson is basically a hole in the ground where the fort blew up during the Civil War.

    We're really, really fortunate this didn't happen during the summertime. Highway N is the only way to get to Johnson Shut-Ins, and there's only one road into the park from there; that road meets Highway N at the bridge over the Black River, so it probably flooded really quickly.

    If the park had been filled to capacity, as it often is during the summertime, there's no telling how many people might have drowned. There is high ground nearby within the park, but it's a pretty steep hike to get up there, not something you can do really quickly. I don't know what kind of evacuation plan exists for the park, if any. I do recall being turned away one summer because the parking lots were full.

    I recall the stretch of Highway N leading from Highway 21 southwest to the Shut-Ins as incredibly desolate, with broken-down cars and other random dump sites strewn all around. It also seemed really, really long as a result. I can't imagine it is much prettier now, nor that it will improve after this catastrophe.

    Also, Ameren needs to ensure at least two of its staff are on-site at all times at Taum Sauk. According to the IEEE page about the plant (which will probably also disappear soon),

    "Full automation of the generating units and their auxiliary systems from the control room of the Osage Hydroelectric Plant, which is 100 miles away, has been achieved by push button start and stop control utilizing the utility’s microwave system. Loading and unloading of the units is accomplished by remote control from the Load Dispatchers office in St. Louis."

    That's just ridiculous. You can't expect to control a major power-generating facility completely by remote control! If this was in a more populated area, it would be a seriously vulnerable target for terrorist attack. And even if this dam failure was not caused by seismic activity, this certainly is a region quite vulnerable to future earthquakes.

    A very tiny quake (1.9 magnitude on the Richter scale), happened about 11:40 PM on the night before this incident, but it was centered south of Sikeston, nearly 100 miles away from Taum Sauk Mountain. So it probably didn't contribute to this incident.

    Nevertheless, this devastating flood needs to be investigated thoroughly, and future incident like this need to be prevented as much as possible.

    Wednesday, December 14, 2005

    Locked Out in Meredosia

    Locked Out in Meredosia

    This month's issue of The Progressive has an article (unfortunately, not available online) about the intimidation of union workers in Meredosia, IL, a small town about 100 miles north of St. Louis on the Illinois River.

    The dispute between the Boilermakers Local 484 and Celanese Corporation has been raging pretty much since Celanese, a massive Dallas TX-based global chemical manufacturing firm, purchased Vinamul Polymers, the emulsion polymers business of National Starch and Chemical Company (NSC) in February 2005.

    National Starch and Chemical
    , founded 1895, built its Meredosia plant in 1955. The company makes a variety of polymers, adhesives and starches for food and industrial use. NSC was bought by Unilever in 1978, then sold to ICI in 1997. In early 2005, ICI sold this plant and several others to Celanese as part of the "Vinamul Polymers" sale.

    That's when the troubles began. Since early this year, the approximately 150 Boilermakers have been locked out of the Meredosia plant. According to The Progressive article, Celanese demanded "to cut wages by $4 to $6 an hour, as well as eliminate thirty-seven maintenance and utility jobs" in July 2005, after members rejected their previous, more 'generous' offer, by a vote of 145 to 2.

    Celanese has also hired Special Response Corporation for security during the lockout. Among their tactics: "Special Response personnel... regularly patrol the streets of Meredosia, videotaping union members and their families in public or even in their own backyards."

    I sure hope Celanese doesn't acquire any facilities in the St. Louis metro area.

    However, I did notice that the Carondelet phosphate plant at Germania and Alabama formerly owned by Monsanto, and then Solutia, and then Astaris, was bought in November 2005 by Israel Chemicals Limited. They are based in Tel Aviv, Israel. The plant workers are members of ICWUC-UFCW Local 81.

    That's a different local, but the same umbrella union, as workers at Schnucks, Dierbergs, Shop N Save, and St. John's Mercy Medical Center nurses - UFCW Local 665. On the heels of their relatively successful strikes at the grocery stores in 2003 and St. John's about one year ago, that much larger local is sponsoring constant TV ads critical of Wal-Mart, targeted at the St. Louis market. I'm not quite sure the source of the money for all these ads, but it wouldn't be considered political so they probably don't have to report it.

    Tuesday, December 13, 2005

    Will Cross County Save WashU Money?

    Will Cross County Save WashU Money?

    Back when the now infamous Cross County MetroLink was being planned, some groused that one of the reasons the Forest Park Parkway route was chosen over the I-64/US 40 route was to save Washington University money on shuttle service.

    But I think that's doubtful. The four-route shuttle system operated by the university has a number of key differences from the MetroLink service expected to open sometime in October 2006:

  • It's free, at least for WashU students, faculty and staff, and community residents with a pass issued by the WashU Transportation office.

  • The center of its universe is Mallinckrodt Center, the student center on Forsyth where Edison Theatre is located. That's about a 10-minute walk from the locations of either MetroLink station being built, on Big Bend and on Skinker.

  • The Gold Line route primarily serves the apartment districts north of the existing MetroLink line in the Central West End, terminating at the Medical School. It already parallels MetroLink; and indeed, the volume of 'transfers' from the shuttle to MetroLink at Forest Park station currently isn't especially high. Since the shuttle rarely lays over at the bus stop on Pershing at DeBaliviere shared with the #93 Lindell, I often miss it anyway and just take the #58 Clayton-Ballas bus.

  • The Red Line route serves several functions. It connects the "South 40" residence hall district with the main Hilltop campus and it connects the DeMun neighborhood, Richmond Center Schnucks, and the Clayton/Hanley apartment district with Hilltop campus. After 1:35 PM or so, it also provides direct service from those student-residential areas to Saint Louis Galleria and the shopping centers in Brentwood and Maplewood south of I-64. While MetroLink will serve this area, it will not be as direct as the Red Line connection from the campus for resident students. The Galleria MetroLink stop will in fact be on the opposite side of I-170; and there will be no stop close to the Maplewood Commons Axis-of-Evil Shopping Center.

  • The Green Line connects the campus with The Delmar Loop and the Parkview Gardens apartment area to the north of Delmar.

  • The new Blue Line also serves The Loop and Parkview Gardens, as well as the North Campus on Rosedale, the University City Square Schnucks, residential areas in U City along Midland from Vernon to Delmar, and the West Campus in Clayton. Both the Green Line and the Blue Line serve the University City Children's Center on Vernon just east of Kingsland.

    So, although there's some overlap with the planned MetroLink route, it's probably not enough to cut the WashU shuttle system dramatically.
  • Monday, December 12, 2005

    MoDNR Urban Outreach Moves to South County

    MoDNR Urban Outreach Moves to South County

    Friday's Local Government Briefings reports that:

    "The Department of Natural Resources St. Louis Urban Outreach Office is moving to the St. Louis Regional Office. Nancy Morgan - Environmental Assistance, Pat Justis - Energy Center, Mary Donze - State Parks, and Kris Zapalac - Historic Preservation Office are in the process of moving. The move will be completed December 15, 2005. Their new address is: St. Louis Regional Office, 7545 S. Lindbergh, Suite 210, St. Louis, MO 63125. Phone: (314) 416-2960; fax: (314) 416-2970."

    The St. Louis Urban Outreach office had been located at 4030 Chouteau, 6th floor, in the heart of the City of St. Louis.

    While this is probably an unfortunate byproduct of budget cuts and the desire to consolidated offices, it seems kind of silly.

    After all, the Division of State Parks - which is part of DNR - just last year announced the opening of a St. Louis Area Office based at the Scott Joplin House State Historic Site and headed by Dr. Karla Frye. Admittedly, that was under the previous administration.

    So, now the "Urban Outreach" staff like the great Kris Zapalac will have to do a bit more commuting.

    The De-Industrialization of Suburbia

    The De-Industrialization of Suburbia

    The news that DaimlerChrysler will invest $1 billion at the Fenton plants (and get a significant tax break in return), contrasted with the continuing rumors of Ford closing down in Hazelwood, reminds us just how tenuous is the remaining heavy industry in U.S. urban areas.

    Major industry largely abandoned central cities decades ago in favor of cheaper land and lower taxes in the suburbs. But now, with labor being so much cheaper in the Southern U.S. where labor unions are weak or non-existent, but especially in the developing world (where environmental regulations are also considerably weaker), it makes sense from an (overpaid) CEO's point-of-view to move to those places.

    So, munis like Hazelwood and Fenton - once quite flush with the $$$ generated by their major industrial operations - struggle to retain the factories they have. And they try to supplement their revenues (and employment base) with (ugly) mega-retail centers like St. Louis Mills and Gravois Bluffs.

    Those big factories, of course, used to be located in places like Forest Park Parkway at Sarah (in the case of Ford) in the City of St. Louis. While some major industry - most notably, locally-owned firms like Anheuser-Busch and Mallinckrodt - still has city operations, the scale of industrial abandonment over the past 50 years arguably rivals the scale of residential abandonment. Think about all the buildings that are vastly under-utilized in the North Broadway industrial area.

    Now, and for the past 20+ years really, the suburbs are feeling the impacts of such de-industrialization. Which begs the question: what kind of jobs will remain that provide an income sufficient to pay for and maintain a four-bedroom, two-car garage vinyl-sided box?

    Banking and financial services, maybe? There's been plenty of cuts there, too. Medical care? Except for MDs and RNs, most of those jobs - LPNs, CNAs, etc. - pay considerably less than union manufacturing jobs; and only a little more than retail/restaurant jobs. And the highly-paid jobs do require some college education.

    I don't have good answers to these questions - but in terms of industrial decline, the suburbs of the Midwest and Northeast are starting to resemble more and more their nearby central cities.

    Friday, December 09, 2005

    Fatal Fire Last Night on California Ave.

    Fatal Fire Last Night on California Ave.

    UPDATE 1:20 PM: Channel 5 now reports police are investigating "two men running from the house shortly before the fire started." The victim is now identified as Maxine Gassmann, the homeowner. If this was indeed arson, it just makes me sick.

    As reported by the Post-Dispatch and by Channel 5, an 83-year-old woman was killed in a fire last night, about 8:00 PM in her home at 3176 California. Reportedly, firefighters had to be evacuated because of fear the building would collapse. This is a six-family, two-story rowhouse building (c. 1890) located at the corner of California and the alley just north of the 2700 block of Wyoming. That's about two blocks from my house.

    I came through the area on my way home from teaching a class at WashU (via a detour for some groceries) about a block away, at Oregon and Wyoming, just before 10:00 PM. Police had Wyoming eastbound blocked off at Oregon. Another police car was sitting at the corner of California and Wyoming, presumably to keep traffic from coming through.

    A few minutes after I got home, I saw the TV news report about what had happened.

    Although I never met the woman, who lived alone for at least 20 years and had no tenants according to the news reports, I walked past that home many times. I just assumed it was vacant and owned by a speculator, because the rear porches were literally falling off, much moreso than I'm accustomed to seeing even on fairly neglected homes.

    Public records indicate the building was inspected in 2002 with 20 violations evident, and again in April 2005 with 12 violations evident. These code violations were apparently not resolved. As recently as October 6, 2005, somebody had complained about high weeds and raw garbage there; but somebody must have taken care of that, because the high weeds service request is marked as "abated" by 11/18/05, and the raw garbage complaint is marked "No evidence" as of 10/07/05.

    3176 California is located in the 9th ward portion of Benton Park West, only a couple hundred feet away from the offices of EnergyCare, located at the SE corner of California and Wyoming since 1993 in a beautiful historic three-story corner commercial building.

    EnergyCare is an organization that does good work; although many remember it most because its founder, and sister of the current director, Sister Patricia Kelley, was brutally raped and murdered in September 1987 by Jerry Lee Little. Sr Kelley was attacked at the original offices of EnergyCare, in the ground-floor of the Saum Apartments at 1919 S. Grand and Castleman. She also lived in the building, as did her killer and another of his victims - Imogene Jackson, who was a receptionist at the Fox Theatre.

    Sr Pat Kelley was killed only a few days after the infamous National Supermarket murders, in which five employees of the National store at Natural Bridge and Newstead were killed in a robbery.

    If last night's fire was caused by use of space heaters, this was a neighborhood resource nearby that perhaps could have helped. But, it's really not fair to speculate. Understandably, the elderly woman killed was probably too proud to accept help from such an organization. I would be, too.

    Sadly, I'm sure we will hear about a lot more fires this winter across the country, as natural gas prices skyrocket.

    Each month, I dread the arrival of my Laclede Gas bills via email. The latest was just under $200 for the upstairs unit where we live, and about $30 for the downstairs unit that houses the latest stray kitten I brought in.

    I'm sure the next bills will be higher. And, since I'm not low-income nor elderly, the cold weather rule only provides minimal protection. Maybe I should sign up for budget billing - but then won't I get soaked next summer by fairly high gas bills, combined with high electric bills?

    Thursday, December 08, 2005

    Let It Snow!

    Let It Snow!

    While it did interfere somewhat with my mid-morning commute - although I still got to school in about the same amount of time as usual - this is a really pretty snowfall we're having this morning.

    It was so tranquil walking along the alley behind Wyoming, west from Oregon to Gravois where I unexpectedly saw the #10 bus heading northeast towards downtown, and grabbed it. I was a little frustrated that Gravois didn't seem to have been treated with melting chemicals; the bus did slide a little bit several times after pulling out of a bus stop, on the less-traveled shoulder of the road. On the way toward downtown I did notice MoDOT salt trucks both on I-44 westbound at I-55, and on Chouteau eastbound at 14th St. But not on Gravois.

    I was doubly and triply lucky, because MetroLink came more-or-less on time at Civic Center, and then I caught the #58 at Forest Park station, only about 4 minutes behind schedule. It travels through Forest Park via Lagoon Drive, which afforded quite a beautiful view this morning.

    And by the way, just after midnight this morning, the last piece of "old" Busch Stadium fell. How surreal.

    Wednesday, December 07, 2005

    Pearl Harbor: 64 Years Out

    Pearl Harbor: 64 Years Out

    Today is the day of remembrance for the attacks on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941 - 64 years ago.

    There seems to be a tendency to equate Pearl Harbor with 9/11. However, they ain't quite the same. As the official history of Pearl Harbor states, "A single carefully-planned and well-executed stroke removed the United States Navy's battleship force as a possible threat to the Japanese Empire's southward expansion. America, unprepared and now considerably weakened, was abruptly brought into the Second World War as a full combatant."

    This was a deliberate attack on a domestic military base by a foreign military power that led to the U.S. finally entering the long, bloody war that had started in Europe more than two years earlier, when Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939.

    9/11, meanwhile, was also a deliberate attack -- but not by a foreign country. It has much in common with large-scale terrorist attacks over the years, particularly since the 1970s, in Europe and the Middle East, as well as the U.S.

    Whatever you want to argue about 9/11 and its implicit sponsorship by various states, it was not explicitly an attack by any particular nation-state. It was an action by a non-state actor, al-Qaeda.

    Clearly 9/11 was a defining moment for this decade, and maybe (although it seems unlikely) for the entire 21st Century. But you can think about today - 2005 - as being like 1945 in relation to Pearl Harbor. It's only been a few years since 9/11, so our collective judgment is still clouded. Our view of Pearl Harbor is clouded, too, but because of the passage of time the actions taken by individuals that day somehow seem more heroic.

    Anyway, as we know, nearly 2,500 people were killed at Pearl Harbor. Nearly 3,000 were killed on 9/11. These numbers, though, do not even begin to fully account for the scale of human suffering that both events engendered -- not just on that day, but in the years following.

    For the most part, the U.S. has long ago reconciled its differences with Germany, Japan, Italy and the other Axis powers. Even Finland!

    Let's hope that, someday, the U.S. government can normalize relations with the countries whose regimes are identified under the simplistic rubric "Axis of Evil."

    Tuesday, December 06, 2005

    Highway Hazards

    Highway Hazards

    UPDATE 11:55 AM: Post-Dispatch has more details. Driver, a 28-year-old woman from Highland IL killed apparently while sitting in line to exit at Vandeventer/Kingshighway. I know this is a common back-up point, and that it can really be scary when 18-wheelers whiz by going southwest. Quite tragic.

    We've got a real traffic accident clusterfuck this morning, caused perhaps by drivers going too fast for the slightly snowy conditions.

    On my way to work on Gravois, I noticed traffic backed up on both northbound I-55 and southbound I-55 in the approach ramps to westbound I-44.

    Channel 5 reports two tractor-trailers and a car collided on WB 44 near Vandeventer. Channel 2 is reporting the driver of the car was killed, but nobody else is saying that online, yet.

    Checking Gateway Guide, we see that WB I-44 on-ramps at Grand and Jefferson are closed, and traffic is (somehow) being diverted to Jefferson.

    Compounding matters further, Gateway Guide is now also reporting an injury accident on SB I-55 at Park Ave. - no doubt partially related to the traffic back-up from the accident several miles west.

    Reported 10:10 AM:

    All I can say is - be careful out there! And, if you're driving you should probably take Arsenal or some other alternative route for right now instead of I-44.

    Monday, December 05, 2005

    Weekend Follow-up

    Weekend Follow-up

    Our craft show - out at the huge, sprawling Pattonville High School - went reasonably well, although most of the other crafters said the attendance was down from past years. Possibly a combination of economic uncertainty and weather uncertainty.

    We shopped at the Antique Row Cookie Spree on Sunday. Also, attendance was down from the previous year. Admittedly, Sunday is less busy there than Saturday, but most of the shop owners we talked to said Saturday was not nearly as busy as it had been last year.

    Too bad. I don't know whether people just stayed home, or whether last year's weather on this weekend was unusually pleasant, or perhaps this year there were a lot more choices in events.

    For example, I noticed South Grand had a "Cookie Crawl." I hate to say this, but it seems like the folks running the South Grand CID could be a little more creative - rather than copying other districts' long-time promotions like cookies for Christmas or their rather sad attempt at a Mardi Gras party a couple years back.

    No doubt, South Grand in the summertime has two of the biggest events in town: the Pride Parade and the Parade of Nations. But I can understand the CID would want to make their own mark, since they have little to do with either of those mega-events that celebrate the diversity of the area.

    Also, I noticed that KaBloom at Grand and Arsenal is supposed to re-open in about two weeks. What's up with that?

    Friday, December 02, 2005

    Lots To Do This Weekend!

    Lots To Do This Weekend!

    The holiday season in St Louis is in full swing, as a variety of events this weekend can attest.

    Saturday, December 3rd
    9 AM to 4 PM
    Pattonville Arts & Craft Fair
    Pattonville High School
    2497 Creve Coeur Mill Rd.
    Maryland Heights MO 63043
    (This is where you'll find me all day tomorrow! My wife has a booth there.)

    Saturday 12/3 and Sunday 12/4
    Cherokee Street Antique Row Cookie Spree
    Cherokee Street from Jefferson to Lemp
    (I plan to be there at least for a while on Sunday. Free cookies are good! Also wine and cheese at Hammond's Books - although I'm worried they may not be open on Sunday. Also, you gotta check out Sally's Floral.)

    Find many more events listed on the St. Louis CIN Calendar of Events and 52nd City.

    Thursday, December 01, 2005

    Rosa Parks Day

    Rosa Parks Day

    Today is the 50th anniversary of the day the late Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat in the front of a Montgomery, Alabama city bus.

    Despite the popular mythology, Ms. Parks wasn't just physically tired. As Marian Wright Edelman noted, in her autobiography Ms. Parks stated "the only tired I was, was tired of giving in."

    Symbolically, Rosa Parks started the civil rights movement. More concretely, she was arrested for sitting in the "whites only" front seats of the bus, and thus started a nearly year-long bus boycott, culminating in a November 1956 Supreme Court ruling that segregation on public buses violated the 14th amendment.

    Now, of course, anybody can sit on a bus anywhere they want, with the important exception that senior citizens and persons with disabilities do get priority for the front seats.

    However, starting even before 1955 and continuing in the 50 years since, the percentage of urban bus riders who are white has precipitously declined. The dismantling of streetcar systems and replacement with buses that are perceived as less appealing probably didn't help.

    According to the American Public Transit Association (1992 statistics) in places with less than 50,000 people, 82% of transit riders are white.

    However, in places of 500,000 or more people, that drops to 45% white - which is also the national average. Nationally, then, the majority of transit riders are minorities: 31% African-American, 18% Hispanic, 6% other groups.

    So, even though the vehicles may be de-segregated, the system is segregated.

    Further, white transit users in places like St. Louis are overwhelmingly concentrated on MetroLink light rail and a handful of suburb-to-downtown peak-hour only express buses.

    Within the cities, and on reverse commute trips to suburban jobs, the vast majority of bus riders are minorities. In St. Louis, bus riders are still predominantly African-American.

    And there's a pretty strong class overlay as well. Public policy, social norms, and convenience keep most people of means - of all races - in their cars for commuting, shopping and running errands. They don't necessarily mix with transit riders very much. Many of them wouldn't know how to ride a bus if they had to do so.

    Just as many racist and classist whites abandoned public schools as de-segregation happened, and abandoned urban neighborhoods as they became de-segregated, they also abandoned public transportation when they could get cars. Obviously, I'm over-simplifying the situation dramatically. But, there is something of a parallel.

    As a young white guy who rides the bus daily in the city and on reverse commute trips, I'm an anomaly. Indeed, although most grad students like me earn very little money, most still manage to afford cars. There's just a presumption that you must have a car in order to live a "normal" life in St. Louis. Even the Coro Fellows program requires participants in St. Louis to have their own cars. Likewise in Los Angeles; but not so in New York or San Francisco.

    Usually, I sit in the back half of the bus - sometimes all the way in the back. Today, I sat on the very back bench seat, right in the middle on the #70 Grand. Even on the WashU shuttle, for some reason, I usually insist on going all the way to the back - which can be rather painful, given that many drivers seem to have a penchant for going over the many large on-campus speed bumps at fairly high speeds!