Thursday, December 21, 2006

Supporting An Incumbent Does Not Make Me A Conservative

Supporting An Incumbent Does Not Make Me A Conservative

You've probably noticed I'm a supporter of the re-election of Jim Shrewsbury, and of Craig Schmid. Of course I was also the website manager for Jeannette Mott Oxford's re-election campaign in November.

Also I always thought Pat Dougherty was and is a great public servant. No disrepect to Jeff Smith or the other candidates in that race, but I wish we could have kept Sen. Dougherty in the State Senate a little longer.

Experience does matter. I should know -- I'm still pretty young and relatively inexperienced myself. I make plenty of mistakes as a result. That's how we learn -- by making mistakes. It's true in politics, in your profession, in school -- and not to mention, in marriage! ;-)

Yes, I have personal relationships with most of the elected officials I just mentioned. Is that a bad thing? Politics may be about power, but it's also about people. If you want to get something done, whether it's for yourself or for a group or organization with which you are allied, you need to have productive, constructive relationships with the people in power.

Enough said.


I'll probably be off-line for most of the holiday break period from tomorrow onward. I may check email occasionally, but most likely won't post to the blog. So, Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year!

See ya' in 2007.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Danger Zones

Danger Zones

Much political hay has been made of both denouncing and promoting the recent report by Morgan Quitno that called St. Louis the most dangerous city in the U.S., using data submitted by the Police Department to the FBI for its Uniform Crime Report.

Mayor Slay, his chief of staff Jeff Rainford, and Police Chief Mokwa have made numerous statements decrying these sorts of reports, pointing out the major crime problems are confined to a few neighborhoods.

Unfortunately, most people assume they're talking about North St. Louis, which allows them to assure the suburban public that downtown is perfectly safe.

However, if you look at pure per capita statistics, downtown looks pretty dangerous. That's because, despite recent rapid growth, downtown's 24-hour resident population is still pretty low. Downtown is reasonably safe, though.

It's the Southside that's of special concern to me.

We clearly have a number of neighborhoods in South St. Louis that have high concentrations of criminal activity. Whether it's more or less than in sections of North St. Louis is not that important. Both areas have their hot spots.

And both North St. Louis and South St. Louis have some very nice, quiet blocks too!

Anyway, I started playing with some data. They are the 2006 Year-to-Date Crime by Neighborhood report downloadable on the Police Department website; and population by neighborhood (from 2000) available from the City website. I ranked the neighborhoods by various categories adjusted for population and for land area.

Some highlights:

Top 20: Total Index Crime Per 100 Population

Downtown = 254
Near North Riverfront = 60
Downtown West = 60
Riverview = 35
Cheltenham = 35
Mark Twain I-70 Industrial = 24
Covenant Blu-Grand Center = 23
Patch = 23
Fountain Park = 20
Fairground = 20
Gravois Park = 19
Old North St. Louis = 19
Kingsway East = 18
Lewis Place = 18
Kingsway West = 17
Penrose = 17
Jeff Vander Lou = 17
The Ville = 17
Central West End = 17
Vandeventer = 16

Top 20: Crimes Against Persons Per 100 Population

Downtown = 21
Downtown West = 7
Near North Riverfront = 7
Fairground = 6
Gravois Park = 5
Mark Twain I-70 Industrial = 5
Fountain Park = 5
Jeff Vander Lou = 5
Wells-Goodfellow = 4
Carr Square = 4
Walnut Park West = 4
Academy = 4
Lewis Place = 4
Covenant Blu-Grand Center = 4
Walnut Park East = 4
The Ville = 4
Old North St. Louis = 4
O'Fallon = 3
Hamilton Heights = 3
Kingsway East = 3

Of course, on per capita figures downtown, industrial areas, and heavily depopulated areas in North City score particularly badly. But you get different findings when instead of adjusting the crime figures for population, you adjust them for land area in square miles. You find that some areas on the Southside have crime rates comparable to, even in some cases higher than, those on the Northside.

Top 20: Total Index Crimes Per Square Mile

Gravois Park = 2,479
Downtown = 2,025
Tower Grove East = 1,954
Benton Park West = 1,735
O'Fallon = 1,716
Penrose = 1,652
Kingsway West = 1,621
Kingsway East = 1,610
Fairground = 1,594
Fountain Park = 1,513
Columbus Square = 1,505
Walnut Park West = 1,428
Dutchtown = 1,326
The Greater Ville = 1,308
Fox Park = 1,271
Walnut Park East = 1,236
Central West End = 1,234
DeBaliviere Place = 1,234
Hamilton Heights = 1,215

Top 20: Crimes Against Persons Per Square Mile

Gravois Park = 652
Fairground = 471
Benton Park West = 438
Walnut Park West = 426
O'Fallon = 424
Academy = 363
Fountain Park = 361
Columbus Square = 333
Dutchtown = 331
Walnut Park East = 306
Kingsway East = 302
Wells-Goodfellow = 297
The Greater Ville = 277
Hamilton Heights = 275
Tower Grove East = 255
Lewis Place = 252
Carr Square = 250
Kingsway West = 241
Jeff Vander Lou = 238
The Ville = 232

I focus here on crimes against persons including murder, rape, assault, and robbery. But if you look at property crime, you find that some very "safe" areas have comparable rates per square mile to those in "dangerous" areas. For example:

Property Crimes Per Square Mile

St. Louis Place (near Northside) = 412
Princeton Heights (far Southwest) = 410

Bottom line: Crime is a citywide problem, not one confined just to a few neighborhoods north of Delmar.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Riding the #17 Oakville Bus @ Rush Hour

Riding the #17 Oakville Bus @ Rush Hour

Last week I had the opportunity to ride the #17 Oakville, one of several new MetroBus routes opened in August along with Cross County MetroLink.

Back when I lived in South County, the area where I lived was served by numerous routes during the weekday rush hour. The #17x Oakville Express and #140x Broadway-Barracks Express provided direct peak hour service via I-55 to downtown St. Louis from Telegraph Road.

The #17 Clayton-Oakville provided direct, albeit very slow, peak hour service to downtown Clayton from Telegraph Road; and for a time, midday service to downtown Clayton via South County Mall and some backroads. The new #17 route reinstates service on portions of that route, as well as portions of the former #03 Morganford-Arsenal route.

Also, the #40 Broadway provided daily service along Telegraph; the #49 Lindbergh provided Mon-Sat service via Kinswood Lane; the #73x Lemay Express came pretty close to home, ending at Sylvan Springs Park-Ride Lot; and the Mehlville-St. Louis Express (forgot the route number), earlier the Forder-Union Rd Express, and for a while recently covered by the Tesson Ferry Express, provided service on Forder Road from Telegraph west.

Today, there is no direct express service to downtown from Telegraph Road in Oakville nor from Sylvan Springs Park-Ride lot. Instead, you can board the #40 Broadway on Telegraph north of I-255, or on Kinswood Lane, or on Forder Road, but not on Telegraph south of I-255. Or, you can take the #17 Oakville, then transfer to an express bus or to MetroLink.

I boarded the southbound #17 bus at 4:35 PM Wednesday at Shrewsbury MetroLink stop. This was a 30-seat bus. Total passengers boarding there = 7 (including me).

The bus headed south on River des Peres, and slowly down the Weil Ave ramp onto to Chippewa in rush-hour traffic, then west on Watson to turn into Mackenzie Pointe strip mall. Two passengers boarded in that shopping center. Total = 9.

The bus exited Mackenzie Pointe heading east on Watston, then south on Mackenzie. Nobody got on or off on Mackenzie until Reavis Road, several miles south. I don't recall historical service on Mackenzie north of Weber Road at all, which makes sense since this corridor is lined with cemeteries and fairly low-density subdivisions.

Traffic was heavy approaching the intersection with Gravois Road. Reavis Road is an activity center because there's a community center nearby and a few employment locations. So we gained one passenger there. Total = 10.

We continued south on Mackenzie, around the sharp curve into Reavis Barracks, and lost one passenger at Huntingdon Lane in the village of St. George. Total = 9.

Traffic got heavy again approaching the I-55 exit on Reavis Barracks, where there's also a park-ride lot off Spokane Drive that's also an ad hoc bus transfer location. When we got to the park-ride at 4:55 PM, also arriving or leaving were the #17 northbound to Shrewsbury; the #40x I-55 Express; the #10x South Grand Express; and the Harrah's Casino shuttle bus! There we lost one passenger, and gained another. Total = (still) 9.

It took a few minutes to get through the I-55 interchange, then we headed south on Union Road toward Lindbergh pretty quickly. Again we met massive congestion along Lindbergh, but eventually made it to Lemay Ferry, then South County Centerway to pull into the bus stop next to JC Penney at 5:12 PM. There we lost 5 passengers, and gained 1. Total = 5.

Coming around the back of the JC Penney catalog store, we then headed out of the mall property, back onto Lemay Ferry briefly, then east on Lindbergh. Another passenger disembarked in front of Dave Sinclair Ford, across from Home Depot. Total = 4.

We continued east on Barracksview and Sappington Barracks into Sheridan Drive to enter the Sylvan Springs Park-Ride Lot. One passenger exited there at 5:20 PM. Total remaining = 3.

Then I got off about 5:25 PM on Telegraph Road south of I-255. The two remaining passengers couldn't go much further south, since the route ends at Baumgartner Road. The old #17 at peak hour did run as far south as Fine Road for a few years, anyway.

This is the challenge of transit service in the suburbs: very low ridership, mostly heading to major activity centers. So, you need to serve those activity centers directly, resulting in a lot of turning movements that slows service considerably.

However, the old #17 route did operate with a smaller, Call-a-Ride sized bus most of the time. With 10 or fewer passengers, this makes sense. Those van-style vehicles are more capable of making the tight turns.

If there's only 9 people riding during evening rush hour during holiday shopping time, though, I can't imagine there's more ridership during the mid-day or on Saturday.

It's hard to comprehend how these kinds of services can be maintained long-term, given Metro's current fiscal crisis. I suspect this route will, unfortunately, be one of the first proposed for cutback.

However, it does pass by Jeffleigh Lane in Reavis Gardens subdivision, where St. Louis County Councilman John Campisi resides. Do you suppose he's aware of its existence? Do you suppose he would ever ride it?

Friday, December 15, 2006

So Long to Two Big Lots and One B. Dalton

So Long to Two Big Lots and One B. Dalton

Despite the upswing in some aspects of St. Louis City retail, the Big Lots stores at 2321 McCausland @ Manchester and at 4330 S Broadway (both, I think, former Kroger stores) are closing in January 2007.

So is the B. Dalton Bookseller in Hampton Village.

This will leave one location of Big Lots -- the fairly new one at 4930 S. Kingshighway in part of the old Venture space -- and zero locations of Barnes & Noble / B. Dalton within the City of St. Louis.

Most would probably say the Big Lots' are no great loss, since we have plenty of Deals and Dollar Tree stores around. Still, I guess I like the bright orange signage at Big Lots better.

Word is that the Big Lots on McCausland is owned by nearby Michael's Restaurant, who plans to sell the property to QuikTrip. No news about the S Broadway Big Lots; but the B Dalton in Hampton Village is slated to become a Noodle Cafe.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Does Having TV and Film Set in a City Have Economic Impact?

Does Having TV and Film Set in a City Have Economic Impact?

Lately, I've noticed we've watched a bunch of movies (some ok, some crappy) set in Chicago. And there are certainly have been a number of major and minor TV shows set there.

Of course, as most savvy viewers know, lots of movies and TV shows that claim to be located in a particular place may use stock footage and/or 2nd unit footage to place themselves, but are actually filmed in, say, Vancouver, sometimes referred to as "Hollywood North."

We have a Missouri Film Commission that works to get movies and TV filmed in Missouri for the economic benefits.

But is there any significant benefit to having a movie or TV show set here, regardless of where it is shot?

A handful of shows have been set in Missouri; I only remember "The John Larroquette Show" (which was pretty funny) and "Day by Day" (quite bad) as shows that claimed to be set in St. Louis.

I don't have a good answer to my question; but maybe it's just that cities that people already think are cool are more likely to have movies and TV shows set there.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Names That Profess

Names That Profess

Here's something light-hearted for a Friday.

I noticed recently a contractor we hired had the last name Carpenter.

And I recalled our high school librarian had the last name Reading.

But would you believe there's a professor at UM-Kansas City named Dean who was, for a while anyway, Dean of Libraries there?

And if you search the Missouri "Blue Book" personnel directory you can find some other interesting job-name combinations for state employees, anyway:

  • A guy named Driver who works for MODOT.

  • A fella named Cash who is a tax auditor for Revenue.

  • A P.O. for Corrections named Justice.

    Sadly, while there are cooks in state facilities named Baker, and there are bakers too, there are no bakers named Baker nor cooks named Cook. But there's a guy named Butcher who works in food service for Mental Health. That's almost close.

    And I'll be on the lookout for somebody named Joe Candlestickmaker. ;-)

    I guess my occupation, then, should be as a hot dog.
  • Thursday, December 07, 2006

    In Memory: Susan Foulk

    In Memory: Susan Foulk

    Former CDA housing analyst and former Dutchtown South director Susan Foulk passed away on Tuesday morning.

    Services will be private.

    I interviewed at one point with Susan for a housing assistant job at Dutchtown; later, at the City, I recall her as an exuberant, funny colleague.

    She retired in March 2006; as did her husband Dan, after 23 years with the city, most recently at Lambert Airport.

    Following so closely on the heels of the unexpected, tragic passing of John Rataj in August (recognized among others by a moment of silence at the East-West Gateway luncheon last month), this represents another blow to the CDA/SLDC/PDA collegiality.

    Wednesday, December 06, 2006

    Back Again!

    Back Again!

    Hello! Well, after a busy Thanksgiving holiday and an even busier time last week when we had a catastrophic roof leak during the freezing rain/ice storm caused by faulty roofing installation, I'm going to try to get back on the blog again.

    Some things:

    1) I wholeheartedly support the reelection of my alderman, Craig Schmid. I think his opponent Galen Gondolfi is a great guy, but I don't see a compelling reason to boot out one of the hardest-working, most approachable elected officials around -- Craig Schmid.

    2) I also strongly support the reelection of aldermanic president Jim Shrewsbury. I've known Jim for a number of years, having worked directly with him as his computer tutor when I was in college in the late 1990s. Jim really cares about this city, and has dedicated his life to public service. He deserves another term.

    3) Over in the 6th Ward, incumbent Lewis Reed is running against Jim for board president, creating an opening that's quite competitive. While
    committeeman Cacchione could presumably have a lead, I'd like to see my former SLDC colleague Christian Saller take that one. He'd be a voice for responsible development citywide.

    4) In the wake of this storm, aside from my own roofer frustrations, why isn't there more serious discussion about requiring Ameren to develop a five-year plan to put all power lines underground. PSC has the power, if they just utilize it! It would cost money, yes, but it would save lives. It would also help Gov. Blunt show he's really not in the hip pocket of the utilities.

    5) As depressing as it is, state-takeover (or "overlay board" takeover) of St Louis Public Schools appears increasingly imminent. Losing local control seems to be an acceptable trade-off for... what exactly?

    Further thoughts to come on these and other issues, at a later time.

    Tuesday, November 21, 2006

    A Well-Managed Escrow Account is A Beautiful Thing

    A Well-Managed Escrow Account is A Beautiful Thing

    I got an email from CitiMortgage this morning notifying me that "On 11/20/2006, tax activity occurred on your mortgage escrow account."

    While we got our mortgage in 2003 from locally-owned Pulaski Bank, they sold it almost immediately to Principal Residential Mortgage. Then in 2004, Citigroup bought out PRMI. Ironically, that brought our loan servicing back to the metro St. Louis area, since of course CitiMortgage has a major processing facility in O'Fallon MO.

    Some people say you should just pay your real estate taxes and homeowners insurance on your own, and invest the money rather than giving the money to your bank to hold and pay those bills for you. Sorry, I'm just not that disciplined. And realistically, how much return-on-investment can you possibly make on $1,500 per year? If you forget and pay the taxes late, the penalty fees will eat that up immediately.

    Just as with payroll tax withholdiing, I think escrow accounts are a necessary inconvenience. But you also have to consider they can increase annually by a substantial amount. We have a 30-year fixed rate conventional loan (we paid 20% down), so our principal + interest will never increase and we don't pay PMI. But that escrow part is one that can increase substantially based on the projected costs of taxes and insurance.

    Our taxes went up about 15% between 2004 and 2005 due to reassessment, which I thought was fair. The increase was less than 1% (not even $5) this year, since there was no reassessment this year.

    Homeowners' insurance is another story. With no claims, it goes up 10% every year. I hate to think what would happen if we had a claim. And that payment is one that we sure couldn't handle on our own, since it's about double the tax payment, but also happens to be due about the same time as Federal and State income taxes. (We bought our house in April.)

    While I have some minor quibbles, the CitiMortgage online payment system works beautifully. Although I didn't choose to use CitiMortgage, I'm generally satisfied so far.

    Friday, November 17, 2006

    Congratulations to OLGA Winners!

    Congratulations to OLGA Winners!

    Today was the annual luncheon and meeting of the East-West Gateway Council of Governments. Mayor Slay is now chairman of the EWGCOG board, so he and Les Sterman (executive director) traded off the podium.

    Events like this are often interesting and useful for observers of the governance process like me.

    Just before the luncheon, the latest edition of EWGCOG's "Where We Stand" was unveiled and presented. I'll have to dig into that when I have some free time. ;-)

    My reason for being there was to support my former boss and longtime friend, Charles Kindleberger, who was receiving a well-deserved lifetime public service award.

    Anyway, here's the list of award recipients at this year's Outstanding Local Government Achievement (OLGA) Awards, an ever-popular program presided over by the awesome Julie Stone.

    Successful Intergovernmental Collaboration

    East Central Dispatch Center: (PDF) Cities of Clayton, Richmond Heights, Maplewood, Shrewsbury, Webster Groves and Olivette.

    St. Louis Metropolitan Heavy Rescue Task Force: St. Louis City Fire Department, City of St. Charles Fire Department, Creve Coeur Fire Protection District, Maryland Heights Fire Protection District, Monarch Fire Protection District, Mehlville Fire Protection District, Metro West Fire Protection District.

    Exemplary Accomplishment by a Local Government Individual or Agency

    Mayor Robert Lowery (City of Florissant).

    Alderman Jerry Daugherty (City of Portage des Sioux).

    Wayne Oldroyd (Director of Community Development, City of Maryland Heights -- but also an active member of the American Planning Association Missouri chapter and its St. Louis section, as well as the volunteer planner for the City of Greendale master plan).

    St. Clair County Health Department (Kevin Hutchison, director).

    Gateway Lifetime Public Service Award

    Charles Kindleberger (yay!).
    Mayor Glenn Van Leer (City of Union -- also, he brought his mother Viola, who is 101 years old! He's been married to his wife 50 years, and his speech was pretty heartwarming).

    Chairman's Award

    Joe Ortwerth (outgoing St. Charles County Executive -- and yes, he did mention God quite a bit in his speech. He also offered the "convocation" for the luncheon. Yep.).

    John Baricevic (IL 20th Circuit Court Judge -- formerly St. Clair County Board Chairman, absent because he was presiding over a trial).

    Anyway, congratulations to all the winners for the work they do -- but especially CPK.

    Tuesday, November 14, 2006

    Birthday Birthday Meow!

    Birthday Birthday Meow!

    So, yeah, my life has been busy the past several weeks.

    Highlights include:

    1) Back on Oct. 29th, my wife Kelly arranged for a trip to the Museum of Transportation where I was surprised to see friends and family there for my (early) birthday party. That was the last weekend when rides were available on their miniature train (similar to the Zooline railroad) and on their very cool historic trolley car (once owned and operated by the St. Louis City Water Division).

    To make it a truly multimodal experience, I rode MetroBus all the way out there (although not back home). I took the #30 Soulard to Sutton and Manchester, then walked one block down Manchester to Big Bend, catching the #56 Kirkwood Webster all the way to my destination, which is served on weekends only.

    This was probably my first trip in 15 years to the Museum of Transportation, and I thoroughly enjoyed it!

    2) I got a Build-A-Bear for my birthday, on Sunday November 5th. I picked a cute little brown puppy, and adorned him with a WashU t-shirt and a cute little orange kitten. My wife Kelly arranged the excursion, and my brother Andrew was in town and came along. (He works for Kroger in Troy MO.)
    3) On my birthday (Election Day November 7th), I worked at Monroe School as a technical specialist for the Election Board. But really, I did a lot of election specialist work as well, including finding voters' correct polling places in the book, looking up inactive voters, etc. We were short staffed with only one Republican judge most of the day, and that particular judge was unenthusiastic at best.

    The highlight of my day was when alderman Craig Schmid played the trumpet and Democratic committeewoman Lorraine Ura along with some others sang Happy Birthday to me! Now THAT was fun! They kept their distance from the voters; although it happens that was their polling place anyway so both of them got in line at various times.

    It was hilarious, because my wife Kelly saw Craig over at our regular polling place (Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer) and mentioned it was my birthday ... then only a half-hour later he showed up with trumpet in hand!

    Many other important events have happened in the past few weeks, some fun and others not so fun. But this year at least, my birthday was indeed memorable -- even if I did spend the actual day waking up at 3:15 AM, arriving at the polling place at 5 AM, and not leaving until 7:45 PM, with much work to do in the intervening hours.

    Thursday, November 02, 2006

    Just In Case You Were Wondering...

    Just In Case You Were Wondering...

    The honorable gentleman in this ad is not me!

    Nor is he an immediate family member of mine.

    Carry on.

    Friday, October 27, 2006

    On Our Block

    On Our Block

    I really don't understand house prices and how they are recorded.

    Sometimes, searching on CitiMortgage's free but login required Home Price Check service gets you very different results than what displays on either Geo St. Louis or the City Assessor's Database.

    For example, there's one two-family down the street from ours, that's 14-square-feet smaller than ours and has no garage. Here are some recent alleged sale prices for that property:

    10/2003: $98,500
    12/2004: $105,000
    02/2006: $89,811
    05/2006: $68,000

    The only building permit I can find for it is from 06/06/06 (hmmmm), completed 08/30/06. It says "Interior Alterations (Drywall) per plans." Estimated Cost: $100.00.

    This property (located, of course, in 63118) is owned by somebody with a 63116 ZIP code, the area generally west of Grand, east of Kingshighway, and south of Arsenal.

    But some of the property owners on our block are even more remote.

    Next door to our house, the owners live in Florissant. Up the other way on opposite sides of the street, you'll find several South County owners, and one from Kirkwood. Head back the other way, and you'll find owner addresses in Atlanta, and Orlando (VA, a sadly recent foreclosure). Ther are even a few property owners who live elsewhere in 63118, 63104, and (believe it or not) 63106.

    Throw in a church and a mid-block commercial complex, and our block consists of a couple dozen parcels with a couple dozen owners, less than half of whom actually live there. Still, that's better than some nearby blocks loaded with four-families with little to no owner-occupancy. And at least most of the buildings are occupied (right now, anyway).

    The best thing about our block really is how heavily two-family it is. There's only two four-families on the block. That keeps the density at a moderate level. And since several of the two-families are now effectively single-families, it offers an affordable way to get a little more square-footage.

    Some property owners, of course, do not provide legitimate addresses, simply claiming they reside at the property. If you just match up the owner address with the property address, it may appear there's a pretty high owner-occupancy rate. But that's not quite accurate.

    At the same time, you may miss some whose postal address and property record address do not match up 100%. Ours would fall in that category, as for a while I was insistent on putting "2nd Fl" on all mail, to make sure our mail was placed in the upstairs mailbox. Even if we used just "A" for the unit number though, that would make it appear (again, just doing a simple matching exercise) our house was not owner-occupied.

    In some ways, this represents a microcosm of the property ownership data problems that occur citywide. And these problems can stymie economic and community development, not to mention urban planning efforts.

    In relatively new suburbs, where the vast majority of homes are single-family, one-building-per-lot, and owner-occupied, these challenges are much less daunting.

    In a big, complex city, with many layers of historical development and even more layers of historical property ownership, these difficulties can seem insurmountable.

    Friday, October 20, 2006

    How I Voted on November 7, 2006

    How I Voted on November 7, 2006

    Yes, there's some cognitive dissonance in that headline!

    More accurately, I should say I voted absentee-in-person today in the 11/07/06 General Election. It was about 1:15 PM, so there's was nobody else in the Absentee Voting office (located on the 2nd floor at 300 N. Tucker).

    I noticed they had cheesy little ES&S pen/paperclip promotionals for folks to fill out their paper absentee ballot application forms. It's kinda funny, since they did not pick ES&S for their contract, but Diebold Election Systems instead.

    I voted absentee because I again plan to work for the Election Board as a Technical Specialist that day, hopefully at the same place I worked in August: Froebel Elementary School in the 20th ward. My usual polling place is Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, also in the 20th ward.

    Here's how I voted. Most of it is unsurprising, but a few deserve explanations:

  • US Senate: Claire McCaskill
  • State Auditor: Susan Montee
  • US Rep Dist 3: Russ Carnahan
  • MO Rep Dist 59: Jeanette Mott Oxford
  • Collector of Revenue: Gregg Daly
  • License Collector: Mike McMillan
  • Recorder of Deeds: Sharon Quigley Carpenter
  • Circuit Clerk: Mariano Favazza
  • Judges: YES to all (The only ones who might be marginal are Circuit Judge Joan Moriarty and Associate Circuit Judge Barbara Peebles, whose ratings by the lawyers groups are below 70% to retain. But, I noticed systematically lower ratings for women, so I'd take these ratings with a grain of salt.)
  • Amendment Two: YES
    (While it has problems, it seems like the best way to keep the rightwing religious zealots at bay on the stem cell issue. It's not creating a "constitutional right" to anything -- in fact, state constitutions are MUCH more detailed than the US Constitution, and are amended all the time with specific provisions like this. Some idiot compared it to Dred Scott, which makes no sense whatsoever. Dred Scott lost his case in Missouri, and there was never any state constitutional amendment made in his favor. Not even close!)
  • Amendment Three: YES
    (While it also has problems, and tobacco taxes can be seen as regressive, it does offer the potential for restoring the cuts made into Medicaid by the Blunt administration.)
  • Amendment Six: YES
    (Why not exempt the VFW and American Legion from property taxes? I thought they already were.)
  • Amendment Seven: YES
    (Again, I assumed it was already usually the case that when you got convicted of a crime related to your office, you lost your pension. I guess not.)
  • Prop B: YES
    (I wholeheartedly support a higher minimum wage for Missouri, in line with that already in place in Illinois.)
  • Prop P: NO
    (Sales taxes are a fundamentally flawed, regressive way to fund anything. Don't get me wrong -- I'd love to see renovation and repairs made to the existing city recreation centers and swimming pools. But building a new suburban-style facility that costs a lot to use in Carondelet Park would not really service the low-income communities that need such facilities, and would undermine the viability of the historic Carondelet YMCA. Indeed, the Carondelet YWCA on S. Kingshighway has already closed their swimming pool.)
  • Prop R: YES
    (Of course, this proposition is too little, too late, because: 1) the cops and the civilian employees have already gotten their residency rule changed, and 2) it's a non-binding referendum just like the one done in the mid 1990s. Still, I'm happy to register my voice that yes indeed, I want City police to live in the City!)
  • Prop 1: YES
    (It comes up every few years, yet people keep voting it down. However, increasing the maximum fines the city can levy is one way to crack down on problem properties and the absentee landlords that manipulate the system ad infinitum.)
  • Prop 2: NO
    (I just don't see why we should expand the number of jobs available for mayoral patronage. What's wrong with having the mayor's secretarial staff being civil service? Even with this change, outgoing mayors will still find ways to 'slide' their 'excepted' position staff and department heads into civil service positions before the next mayor is inaugurated. It's a time-honored tradition that no rule can break.)
  • Prop 3: YES
  • Prop 4: YES
    (Both Props 3 and 4 will retain the civil service selection system, but provide a little more flexibility in selecting from among the applicant pool. Prop 3 broadens the traditional "rule of three" to the "rule of six" -- meaning the person who gets the job can come from among the top 6 candidates, not just the rather narrowly defined top 3.

    Prop 4 says that city employees do not get automatic promotions to other positions in a different job classification; they have to compete with outside applicants when the position is posted publicly. Right now, some folks work for years in the street department because they really want to become firefighters. Then when firefighter applications time opens up, they move to the top of the list. This seems unfair to qualified outside applicants. So, both proposals seem like wise steps.)
  • Wednesday, October 18, 2006

    Could the Future of MetroLink be on Jefferson and on River des Peres?

    Could the Future of MetroLink be on Jefferson and on River des Peres?

    A couple years back, East-West Gateway finished the Metro South Study, basically the study to lay groundwork for a plan for extending the now-open Cross County line southward into deep South St. Louis County. It came out with several ideas, but no final Locally Preferred Alternative (LPA).

    Now, the Northside-Southside Study is underway, to plan for major transit investments in the City of St. Louis, including a possible (mostly) on-street, at-grade crosstown MetroLink route through downtown St. Louis.

    While I love the new MetroLink line service to WashU, Clayton, Galleria, Brentwood, Maplewood, and Shrewsbury, I am concerned this places the inner-ring suburbs and the central corridor at a bit of an advantage relative to the traditional residential parts of the City: the northside and the southside.

    At the same time, both the proposed BNSF corridor for Metro South and the UP ("Route of the Eagle") corridor for Southside, have a problem: they are both active heavy-rail corridors. As such, both freight carriers would require a minimum distance between their active trackage, and any light-rail trackage. This might require demolition of many houses and businesses.

    While a few houses and businesses have been lost to the construction of MetroLink to-date, that's been kept to a minimum by relying mostly on existing, abandoned railroad right-of-way. Even Forest Park Parkway is, itself, built on the former Rock Island r-o-w; but after 60+ years, people forgot about that. So we got this strange, up-and-down route where part of the tracks are in a fenced-off open cut, sometimes only a few feet below grade (i.e., where passing over the River des Peres tunnel under Des Peres Avenue) and the stations (along with the entire segment of track between Big Bend and Forsyth stations) are underground.

    That fight was intense and perhaps unnecessary.

    I would like to see our next several iterations of MetroLink extension -- whenever that will actually happen -- be a bit less contentious.

    Also, I would like to see downtown St. Louis become the focal point of the system.

    There are HUGE fiscal and legal obstacles to this.

    Here are some ideas:

    1) Convince St. Louis County voters to support the Prop. M sales tax they voted down almost 10 years ago. City voters already passed it, but we cannot collect the tax until the County passes it.

    2) Get St. Louis County to allocate an additional $10 million per year to Metro from its existing transportation sales tax. This should be do-able, if some planned road and bridge fund projects are either deferred or funded out of county general revenue.

    3) Fast-track City Street Department/BPS and MODOT approvals for right-of-way assignment to Metro within city streets and state 'highways' like Natural Bridge.

    4) Given the railroads' reservations and their inevitable importance to our regional economy, abandon any thoughts of private right-of-way operation parallel to heavy freight operations. After all, it's not particularly pleasant, clean, or safe down at the Grand station, although I think watching the trains go by is cool.

    5) Aggressively seek federal funds.

    While these are certainly easier said than done, any one of these would help represent a stronger regional commitment to quality public transit.

    As far as routing, this is what I'd love to see happen:

    1) By 2012, begin construction on the Northside-Southside on-street line, using the only Northside alternative being seriously considered (I-70@Goodfellow - Goodfellow - Natural Bridge - North Florissant), then the Downtown couplet (along N. 14th - Convention Plaza - 10th (SB) and 9th (NB) - Clark - S. 14th), and finally the Southside alternative via Chouteau - S. Jefferson - S. Broadway.

    I would deviate from the proposal to enter I-55 at Gasconade/Piedmont (behind Walgreens), and instead stay on-street within S. Broadway as far south as Bellerive Boulevard, then swing up onto a replacement for the existing Bellerive Boulevard structure over S. Broadway (taking a chunk of the hillside in Bellerive Park), and use the overly-wide Bellerive to enter the I-55 berm.

    This may or may not be a cheaper alternative, but would maximize the use of on-street in the city rather than Interstate highway r-o-w. From there, it would run alongside I-55, probably on the eastern side, to a temporary terminus around the Loughborough Avenue exit.

    I think it's important the Northside-Southside line be constructed as a single unit, a crosstown operation. And except for a few miles alongside I-55 on the south end, it would be an on-street operation. You couldn't go further south than Bellerive on S. Broadway, because you enter the 500-year flood plain. It would have to be on structure south of there. Similarly, south of Loughborough along I-55, it would have to be on structure, so I think that's a sensible interim terminus for the 'on-street' operations component. This is particularly a concern since those would need to be low-floor vehicles more like those used in Portland, OR and very different from the current MetroLink LRVs.

    2) Around 2015, begin construction on the Metro South extension, which would operate along the River des Peres corridor south from the Shrewsbury-Lansdowne I-44 station. Yeah, probably a few houses would be lost on this corridor, as well as the Steak N Shake on Gravois and Germania; but most of the corridor would be in city parkland. Alternatively, perhaps the transit center could be relocated to the corner of Gravois and River des Peres. This would probably be on a dedicated right-of-way, possibly elevated due to flooding concerns, and using the same LRVs as the current Cross County line.

    Once construction commenced on this line, making the connection to the Southside line would be critical and challenging. It would happen somewhere around the I-55 exits at Germania / Carondelet Blvd. Also by this time, Carondelet Blvd. may be carrying much more traffic, because it will be extended into a new road serving the new casino complex in Lemay. There may even be outer roads crossing River des Peres connecting Carondelet and Germania on- and off-ramps adjacent to I-55: something that should have been included in the original construction of the interstate anyway.

    2a) The segment of the Metro South line south of the City limits is still very much up in the air to my way of thinking. It would be great, but probably unrealistic, for it to serve the new Lemay casino. More likely, it will operate using the same LRVs as the now-existing system, along I-55 r-o-w south from Weber Road exit to Butler Hill Road exit, maybe with a slight deviation for the South County Mall area.

    But here's another option: instead of continuing the Cross County route south, requiring city patrons to transfer at (say), Germania Station, you could extend the Southside line southward on-street deep into South County. My thought is that you'd terminate the Metro South traditional LRV elevated line at Morganford Road instead of at I-55. That would save some money.

    Further savings could be realized by, instead of running Southside alongside I-55, continuing it on-street west along Bellerive Blvd. It would tunnel under the I-55 berm, continue west in the super-wide Bellerive Blvd. median (yeah, this might be a really unpopular idea, but no houses would be taken!), all the way to Grand. West of Grand, Bellerive is much narrower, so the line would turn south onto S. Grand Blvd. OK, that turn might cost a few houses.

    S. Grand is a bit narrower here, but the traffic is also much less than segments further north. At Carondelet Park, the route would either 1) go west on Holly Hills, or 2) south through the park then west on Loughborough. I think there's enough room for either option.

    Then, you'd enter the really wide Morganford Road. Is there really enough traffic here to justify its width? The beauty of Morganford is it's a wide street, surrounded by residences, all the way south until it turns into Union Road in South County. And Union Road continues south as a really (unnecessarily) wide road, roughly parallel to I-55, as far as S. Lindbergh Blvd. and South County Mall. If ever there was a suburban candidate for on-street operation, this is one.

    It's a county arterial road, not a state highway, so getting the County approval would be essential (and maybe difficult). Also, I think the segment of Union near Grant's Trail is in the Gravois Creek floodway, so an elevated structure would be necessary, maybe just adjacent to I-55, from (south of) Reavis Barracks to (about) Will Avenue. Then maybe the on-street would not work. And obviously you couldn't have on-street operation on Lindbergh, so there would need to be dedicated right-of-way somewhere around South County Mall.

    I'm a bit skeptical of the value of the leg to Butler Hill Road. I would just terminate the route at South County Mall, but I guess the idea is to build a big park-ride lot to attract Jefferson County riders. But I figure if they're willing to drive across the Meramec, they'll come up as far as I-270. Building out those extra few miles would be costly, and only necessary if a future line to Jeffco is part of the motivation.

    3) The so-called Daniel Boone corridor would be great to have in place, as it would provide a direct link from transit-dependent North City to tons of jobs in far West County. But, here again the proposal calls for using part of an (active?) heavy rail corridor. If it turns out this rail corridor (the old Rock Island line roughly parallel to Page Avenue) is out-of-service, it would be ideal. Otherwise, perhaps this is another candidate for partial on-street operation.

    3a) I'm less clear on the specifics, but I recall some thought of a link-up via the Terminal Railroad tracks between the Northside line and the existing Airport line. That link would only be a few miles long, from about 5600 Natural Bridge through Hillsdale and Wellston, to a very isolated transfer point behind Bethany Cemetery. Or, via an existing connector r-o-w, you could integrate the two lines, having some trains depart Wellston station and end up at Goodfellow and I-70. Maybe that would work. I guess a station at Kienlen and St. Louis Avenue would be possible on this connector.

    A much-longer on-street alternative would be via Goodfellow and MLK Drive, ending at Rock Road station. That would reconnect the Wellston Loop to transit, which could help development in that area.

    Friday, October 13, 2006

    My New Favorite Blog

    My New Favorite Blog

    Besides my own, this is my favorite blog for today, as we get close to the Halloween "candy season":

    Candy Blog

    Featuring photos of all kinds of candies and their packaging, including an array of fair trade items.

    The blogger seems to be a conoisseur of dollar-store candy, and the bizarre internationality of their variety.


    Thursday, October 12, 2006

    Political Ethics

    Political Ethics

    I noticed has a current poll regarding politician ethics.

    Of course, nowhere does the poll ask about what we think of the ethics of St. Louis city politicians....

    In any event, the last question is curious:

    "Who is the worst behaved public official?"

    Choices are:

  • John Ashcroft
  • George W. Bush
  • Dick Cheney
  • Mark Foley
  • I'm sending you an angry email because you named only Republicans again

    Somehow, the current results have Pres. Bush at #1 with 34%, Mark Foley #2 with 24%, and VP Cheney #3 with 20%.

    Hmmm. While I'm certainly no fan of Bush, has he ever shot anybody or sent a teenage boy explicit messages?

    If he has, surely somebody would have dug that up by now. Yeah, he did cocaine, but somehow that doesn't seem as bad if we're talking about personal ethics.

    I still feel like Bush is just a pretty-boy puppet anyway, and that Cheney and his coterie pull the strings most of the time. So in my view, the order should be reversed, with Cheney #1, Foley #2, and Bush #3.

    But I guess when you're president you get to be the favored whipping boy.

    I do wonder why Dennis Hastert wasn't on the list. After all, John Ashcroft ain't been in office for a year and a half now. Or how about Trent Lott?
  • Wednesday, October 11, 2006

    Yes, You Can Walk Right into Retail Hell!

    Yes, You Can Walk Right into Retail Hell!

    I discovered yesterday there is indeed a pedestrian route to access the infamous Maplewood Commons Shopping Center (aka Lowe's, Wal-Mart, Sam's, etc. where several hundred houses and a contaminated industrial site used to be) from the Manchester-Maplewood MetroLink station.

    (Side Note: despite the urban legend / email rumors that may circulate within the progressive community, there's no evidence that Lowe's is owned by Wal-Mart. They are separate firms on the NYSE [Lowe's main shareholders | Wal-Mart main shareholders]. Also, Lowe's was not started by the angry ex-wife of the owner of Home Depot. Geez, where do people get this stuff?)

    I spent far too much time in that area yesterday about 11:30 AM, because the (nearly empty) Shrewsbury-bound train had to wait for easily 10 minutes (!) because a construction project necessitated single-track operations between Maplewood-Manchester and Shrewsbury-Lansdowne I-44 stations.

    The interlock is located just south of the overpass at the nearly completed Strassner Drive extension in Brentwood, which bisects the Hanley Station development whose construction is also well underway. So that's where we sat, waiting for the eastbound train to breeze past.

    This section of the MetroLink tracks is on a very long structure, much more than I'd think was needed to create an underpass for Strassner. However, it probably was cheaper than trucking in a bunch of new fill dirt given that adequate clearances over new Strassner and existing South Hanley Road itself were needed. I think also the Hanley overpass had to be extended a bit, to accommodate the intersection of Hanley Industrial / Corcoran Drives.

    The Strassner Drive extension will probably be used by the #01 WUSTL-Gold and #02 WUSTL-Red MetroBus routes once it opens. It will shorten their route noticeably. So bus stop bays adjacent to the Hanley Station condos have been included in the Strassner extension, along with sidewalks on both sides of the street. This project is financed by a Transportation Development District that involves an additional sales tax levy on purchases at the various stores along Eager Road in Brentwood. Of course, Maplewood Commons shoppers don't pay for it, although they'll probably benefit from this new shortcut route too.

    The odd angle at which the two parts of Hanley Industrial intersect on the western end of the Strassner extension will need to be changed to make traffic flow better. And at the eastern end, while it does arrive at the now signalized intersection at Bruno Avenue, if through-traffic is to be permitted, the current right-turn-only configuration for westbound Bruno at Hanley will need to be changed. Indeed, the concrete barrier there looks sort of temporary.

    I was struck by the rolling topography of the area; you can see the signs for Whole Foods and Borders in Brentwood Square way over on Brentwood Blvd. while sitting on a stopped train over the Strassner extension near Hanley Rd.

    But other than the Hanley Station development, this area is still just utter crap big-box sprawl development in the midst of otherwise pretty attractive, somewhat historic inner-ring suburban housing stock.

    However, it does provide jobs. The folks who work at Maplewood Commons don't make much and so they need transit access. So there is a completely unmarked, hard-to-find pedestrian path to/from the Manchester-Maplewood station.

    Upon exiting the platform, ordinarily you'd go south, taking the stairs down towards Manchester. Instead, head northwest, where there's a long walkway on the elevated structure adjacent to the tracks high above a small creek, eventually ending in a parking lot/dock area behind an industrial-office park building. This building is occupied by Sunnen Products (the owner), Enterprise Rent-A-Car, and various other tenants. Its other side is behind the AmerenUE substation along Hanley.

    Believe it or not, if you continue northwest through this endless dock / parking area, you'll find a newly-built concrete walkway crossing the MetroLink tracks at-grade! It's similar to the one at the foot of S. 11th Street downtown, immediately south of the elevated I-64/US 40, that provides a connection from the Cupples Station / Robert A. Young Building area to that huge surface parking lot eventually slated to become Chouteau's Pond (again).

    After you make it across the MetroLink tracks, you're on... another parking lot! Aerial photos suggest this parking lot existed prior to MetroLink construction, and supported that Sunnen, et al office complex (across the tracks). There was a driveway connecting the two, now gone. So the main purpose of the walkway is to connect the parking to the buildings it serves.

    But it also provides an indirect access route (albeit across private property) north into Maplewood Commons. Maplewood Commons Drive was extended south to end in this parking lot, although the parcel address for this lot (owned, of course, by Sunnen) on county records is 7820 Maplewood Industrial Court.

    Continuing north from this parking lot you see an old warehouse building -- the only one left in this area. It's now the City of Maplewood Department of Public Works. It has a new address placard proclaiming it's located on Maplewood Commons Drive.

    This section of the drive has no sidewalks at all and is a bit tight to navigate around the Maplewood city trucks, but eventually you'll come over a little knoll and see the massive Lowe's store and its parking lot on the right, and the outparcels with Red Lobster and Olive Garden off to the left, immediately adjacent to the MetroLink tracks.

    If you are so inclined, at some point Maplewood Commons Drive gains an actual sidewalk (on the western side only), or you can continue north walking across the parking lanes. Crossing Folk Avenue is a bit tricky, as it is not only a shopping center access route but also a neighborhood collector street, and it has a bit of a ridge on it that's hard to see over.

    I still did not go inside the Lowe's, Sam's, or Wal-Mart. I just wanted to see if it was possible to get there without going all the way . As I said, the route is completely unmarked; I happened to be lucky enough to trail behind somebody who already knew the route.

    While I think the Wal-Mart location is a little closer to the Brentwood I-64 station, the walking route is more hazardous given the high-speed, high-volume traffic on Hanley. While there are sidewalks along Hanley and signalized intersections at West Bruno (entirely too wide an intersection to cross safely) and at Elinor Avenue (east side)/ Brentwood Home Depot entrance (west side), it's still not anything close to a pedestrian-oriented environment.

    And to access the Brentwood stop from this angle, you have to use the 'street' behind The Meridian development, which is really more of a driveway to access the docks for Best Buy and Sports Authority. It's not a real street. At one point you're directed to "use sidewalk on other side of street" to avoid the construction zone for the new Metro park-ride garage; but crossing there actually dumps you into the docks.

    So if I ever do need to visit that shopping center (mmmm.... Red Lobster.....) I will at least know how to get there from the MetroLink platform near Manchester Road.

    Tuesday, October 10, 2006

    Even Elected Officials Are Not Immune...

    Even Elected Officials Are Not Immune...

    Spotted parked at an (expired) meter on a downtown street this afternoon:

    A red Ford Taurus wagon with Missouri license plate "R-65"... had a parking ticket under its left windshield wiper.

    This of course would be the vehicle of one State Representative Fred Kratky.


    Saturday, October 07, 2006

    STL Transit: Highs and Lows

    STL Transit: Highs and Lows

    As regular readers already know all too well, I'm a public transit aficionado. Perhaps you might even call me a "bus freak."

    Anyway, here's some general observations (brief, I promise, this time) on the state of transit in StL:


    1) A few weeks ago, I missed the "northbound" (really heading east on Manchester) #30 Soulard from Maplewood-Manchester MetroLink station on a Monday evening at 7:52 PM. The "westbound" (really heading south towards Shrewsbury) MetroLink arrived simulataneously with the #30. But since the bus did not layover on Manchester, I saw it roll uphill toward the electric signal at Laclede Station. I then trudged over the walkway and downstairs to the south side of Manchester... to wait 40 minutes for the next bus, at 8:32 PM!

    That was a pretty darn long wait. At least the weather was ok.

    I really hope the bus loop at the Maplewood-Manchester station is finished soon!

    2) Why does that same #30 route still end at Sutton Loop in Maplewood on the weekends? I mean, really, if it's gonna go as far as Sutton Loop, it may as well connect with MetroLink, either at Maplewood-Manchester or Sunnen station. I checked, and there's not a good timed transfer to either the #16 City Limits or the #57 Manchester, both of which serve the Manchester corridor west to Brentwood Blvd. on the weekend. So unless you want to wait 20-25 minutes for the next bus, you probably end up walking the nearly 3/4-mile distance from Manchester and Sutton to the Manchester station; or the roughly equivalent distance (via Flora Ave) from Sutton Loop to Sunnen station. I'd recommend the Flora route; it's much prettier than all the fast-food and car lot curb-cuts along Manchester. That stretch of Flora also happens to be part of the historic route of the Manchester streetcar to Webster Groves and Kirkwood, which ran across a trestle over Deer Creek Park that was demolished sometime in the 1970s.

    I really hope the bus loop at the Maplewood-Manchester station is finished soon!

    3) And, finally, why did the #10 Gravois eastbound peak-hour 15-minute service interval get quietly cut back? I had memorized that danged schedule from 8 AM to 9 AM. The bus was to arrive at Gravois and Jefferson at 8:05, 8:20, 8:35, 8:50.

    Now, it still runs about every 15 minutes before 8 AM, but from 8 to 9 it's the regular midday 20-minute interval. Hence Gravois and Jefferson at 8:03 (?), 8:25 (notice that's a 22-minute gap), 8:45.

    A 5-minute shift may not seem like much, but that route was not extended in length at all -- in fact, several trips that used to cover the old Watson Road Express peak-hour only corridor from Sunset Hills and Crestwood via Watson and Heege Road were truncated to start/end at Laclede Station and Heege/Watson. Hence, you'll see a handful of PM peak-hour westbound trips with the headsign "10 VIA HEEGE" which means they end at Laclede Station and Heege, no longer serving Crestwood. Most Gravois westbound headsigns say "10 TO HAMPTON," but once each hour there's a "10 TO FENTON" trip. That part has not changed, so why has the 8 AM to 9 AM weekday eastbound headway changed?


    Any time you have a major restructuring of any kind of system, you'll experience trade-offs.

    1) One huge benefit to the MetroLink expansion is the extremely high frequency of service at peak hour in the central corridor of St. Louis and East St. Louis. Yes, East St. Louis is now part of the central corridor -- at least for MetroLink purposes! On weekdays, from about 6:30 AM to about 8:30 AM, and from about 3:30 PM to about 6:30 PM, anywhere between Forest Park-DeBaliviere and Emerson Park, there are trains in either direction every five (5) minutes!

    2) Also, we're close to 24-hour weekday transit service, or as close as I think we'll ever get in St. Louis.

    First eastbound MetroLink (departing Fairview Heights): 3:38 AM.
    First westbound MetroLink (departing Grand): 3:38 AM.
    Last eastbound MetroLink (arriving Grand): 1:23 AM
    Last westbound MetroLink (arriving Fairview Heights): 12:49 AM.

    First northbound #70 Grand (departing Jefferson and Chippewa): 4:15 AM.
    First southbound #70 Grand (departing Water Tower): 4:32 AM.
    Last northbound #70 Grand (arriving Water Tower): 1:54 AM.
    Last southbound #70 Grand (arriving Grand and Iron): 2:04 AM.

    While I can and do express my frustrations with our transit system, given the size and relatively low density of the St. Louis area, and extreme funding limitations, it's actually pretty decent.

    However, I am worried what might happen in the next 18-to-24 months, if additional operating funds cannot be obtained. I would like to see St. Louis County and the State of Missouri kick in some more; I'd rather not see yet another additional sales tax levy.

    And I sure wouldn't want to see another 25-cent or 50-cent fare increase! While I ride free for right now thanks to the benevolence of WashU, it ain't always gonna be that way.

    Wednesday, October 04, 2006

    Random Observations of Late

    Random Observations of Late

    Here's a few quick thoughts I've had lately on things I've observed in the St. Louis region:

    1) The Teddy-Bear Shrine Thing

    Last Thursday night around 8 PM, 18-year-old Jerome Wilson, of the 3100 block of Sidney, was shot several times and killed while riding a bicycle in the 2800 block of Wyoming. This happened less than two blocks from my house; we heard about it from a neighbor Saturday morning; and the Post-Dispatch provided the name and details. As of Sunday, police had no strong leads or suspects.

    As of this morning, at least a dozen teddy bears and other stuffed animals are strapped onto a no-parking signpost in front of 2804 Wyoming, adjacent to the Benton Park West Neighborhood Garden at California and Wyoming. Also on the street or the curb are a number of notes in glass bottles. On the back of the no-parking sign, "R.I.P." graffiti is scrawled in black marker, similar to the kind of stuff you'll find on street-corner trash can lids around the neighborhood.

    I guess the teddy bears represent lost innocence, as I've previously noticed with a smaller memorial on Nebraska near Wyoming in January for a 16-year-old killed while allegedly robbing a cab driver.

    Still, this corner is one that is surrounded by reinvestment on many levels. I already mentioned the well-established and beautiful community garden. Across California, EnergyCare has invested their limited funds into their offices, with a new secured parking lot in back and some facade repairs. Across Wyoming, Millennium Restoration and Development is planning to convert the long-abandoned three-story J&R Tavern building into two $250,000-plus condominiums; and on the fourth (NE) corner of the intersection, Blue Brick Construction plans to rehab another abandoned commercial building for their offices. Also work is well underway on their nearby single-family rehab at 2817 Wyoming.

    Yet despite all the good things happening in BPW, this violent crime persists. It can be quite discouraging, to say the least.

    2) Buzz Westfall Plaza on the Boulevard

    Yesterday's Post-Dispatch notes the opening of the new Buzz Westfall Plaza on the Boulevard, located on the former site of Northland Shopping Center, mostly obliterated (except the outparcels of Blockbuster and US Bank) to make way for the new big-box strip center anchored on the east by Target (now open) and on the west by Schnucks (opening next week).

    With the opening of the new Westfall Plaza Schnucks, two pre-existing stores will close:

    *The Jennings store at West Florissant and Jennings Station, a 50,000-square foot stand-alone structure built in 1985 (probably as a National) on a site located mostly in Jennings but with the West Florissant frontage actually in the village of Flordell Hills. Hopefully, the two municipalities can cooperate to redevelop the site.

    *The Dellwood store at 10148 West Florissant, about a 1/4 mile north of Chambers Road, in a mid-sized strip mall built in 1974. Hopefully, the City of Dellwood will implement a redevelopment plan for this site, along with numerous unoccupied or partly occupied surrounding commercial properties along West Florissant and at the intersection with Chambers Road. Next to the entrance to this center, called Springwood Plaza, a former Steak N Shake has been converted to, of all things, a payday loan office. Bizarrely, they kept the trademark black-and-white awnings!

    3) St. Charles Convention Center

    Yesterday was my first visit to the St. Charles Convention Center, located just off the 5th Street exit from I-70, actually at Veterans Memorial Drive (I-70 south outer road) and Fairgrounds Road (overpass). The facility is nice enough, with a dramatic mural in the lobby depicting George Caleb Bingham's The Jolly Flatboatmen.

    What's really odd, though, is how the upper-level entrance that's visible from I-70 and adjacent to the attached Embassy Suites Hotel, is actually the Ballroom entrance. The main exposition hall entrance is on the lower-level, accessed from a large entryway totally invisible from I-70 or its outer road. You go down what appears to be a dead-end road (Fairgrounds Road), then turn right at the dead-end to enter the massive parking lot.

    Eventually you curve around and see the main entrance. Across a wide sea of surface parking, there's still a subdivision of 1960s/70s ranch houses just to the west of the Convention Center. One wonders, though, whether future plans include converting that into commercial use at some point.

    It's a decent facility I suppose, but of course only accessible by car. The SCAT bus (Blue Route) may stop there, but that's only a shuttle route looping within the southern part of the city of St. Charles to and from the senior center. There's no connection across the Missouri River, unless you could schedule your arrival on one of the afternoon-only westbound I-70 commuter SCAT trips like the 1:30 PM trip; but then you'd still need to get a ride across the Missouri River to get back into the city in the evening. At the very least, you'd have to take a cab from the SCCC to, say, Riverport, where you could catch the #34 Earth City bus to North Hanley MetroLink station. Obviously, walking across the Blanchette Bridge is not only impossibly dangerous, but also illegal.

    So, naturally I got a ride from a colleague both ways to/from inner-ring North County.

    Eventually, St. Charles County will realize it needs an effective public transit system serving the most populous parts of the county. Eventually, St. Charles County's population may surpass that of the City of St. Louis. The 2006 Census Bureau estimates suggest about 347,300 population in St. Louis City; 324,600 in St. Charles County.

    While I live in the City and really appreciate many of the great things we have available to us, I don't so much appreciate the level of criminal and delinquent activity that sits so close to my doorstep. Some of it is exacerbated by public policy decisions, which infuriates me further. So, yeah, sometimes it is just more fun to go out, visit and critique the surrounding suburbs.

    Friday, September 29, 2006

    Cross County MetroLink Part Deux: Observations on Each New Station

    Cross County MetroLink Part Deux: Observations on Each New Station

    I have used each station on the new alignment of MetroLink from Forest Park - DeBaliviere to Shrewsbury Lansdowne I-44 at least once in the month or so it has been operating. Here are some thoughts:

    1) Forest Park - DeBaliviere (existing two-platforms replaced with new center platform). This is a very busy station; even busier than it was before. It opened over the summer. I've rarely used the new walkway under DeBaliviere. It would probably make sense if I was a park-and-ride user; and does include a second elevator. Transfers from train-to-train are a major activity here; so a center platform was needed. The red glowing LED (or is it LCD?) clocks are a nice touch, found also on the new line.

    I no longer need to use the stairs though; mostly I'm just transferring between trains. Also, I wonder if and when they will demolish the sad looking former elevator tower and stairs to the old westbound platform.

    Bus connections: #01 WUSTL-Gold (on Pershing), #03 Forest Park Circulator (summer only, on DeBaliviere), #90 Hampton (on DeBaliviere).

    2) Skinker. Obviously I use this station a lot. It has a real urban, subway feel. I even spotted Chancellor Mark Wrighton using it last week. The mezzanine-level bridge connecting the two platforms (only one bridge here, over the western end of the platforms) is quite convenient, as is the long rampway to the WashU campus. Only thing is -- once you get onto campus, you're walking across a sea of surface parking! This is student parking, not park-ride. Not so urban.

    It's a longer walk (across the parking lots) to academic buildings, library, etc. than it was from the shuttle stop at Brookings @ Hoyt Drives, so I have to plan for that. Still, it provides a much faster connection from downtown (Civic Center to Skinker takes only 13-14 minutes) than waiting at Pershing and DeBaliviere for a shuttle bus.

    Bus connections (on Skinker): #01 WUSTL-Gold, #02 WUSTL-Red, #16 City Limits.

    3) University City - Big Bend. I use this station slightly more than Skinker, since some of my classes and office are on the northwest side of campus. I rarely go to Mallinckrodt student center anymore. At Big Bend, you find two mezzanine-level bridges; one over each end of the two platforms. Otherwise, it's like Skinker, an urban subway-style space.

    But again, poor WashU planning at ground level: the SE stairs exit onto the sidewalk along busy Forest Park Parkway adjacent to a gate into The Village dormitory complex that is always locked. You can walk around it, through a parking lot driveway and path adjacent to the Millbrook Apartments, but that involves walking around a big dumpster!

    One morning, I had to wait for a trash truck (itself waiting for an opening in traffic to turn left) to exit the parking lot driveway -- and then walked through disgusting trash water that had been streaming out the back of the trash truck. Yuck! Cutting through the Millbrook Apartments' courtyard is a fast way to get to academic buildings; I hope they don't decide to fence that off, too.

    Bus connections (on Big Bend): #60 Midland, WashU Green line (operated by Huntleigh ShuttlePort).

    4) Forsyth. I've used this station once, returning from an errand to Clayton. It makes sense, sometimes, to head west to Clayton station, then come back walking east on Forsyth to this station. Eventually I'll probably use it to get to West Campus Library. It's an interesting subterreanean, yet open-air two-platform configuration. It's not a subway station like Skinker or Big Bend. The station and its lengthy ramps are on the northeast side of Forsyth under the elevated section of Forest Park Parkway; but each platform includes a walkway with stairway access to the southwest side of Forsyth.

    Bus connection: #01 WUSTL-Gold (on Forsyth, only when operating via Forsyth to/from Brentwood I-64).

    5) Clayton. I've used this station both to access destinations in the Clayton business district, and to transfer to/from buses at the Clayton MetroBus Center. Sure, it's a little weird you have to walk upstairs (two different sets of stairs to choose from for some reason), across a bridge, then downstairs, to get to the buses, but it could be worse. The center-platform is located in the middle of the tracks, which are themselves in the middle of Forest Park Parkway. But at least the car traffic is pretty far away, separated by barricades, and slightly below you, on both sides.

    It is funny, though, how nervous Clayton seems to be about bus passengers: the old transfer/layover point, at Forsyth and Central, was adjacent to County Police Headquarters. The new transfer center and MetroLink stop is adjacent to Clayton Police Headquarters, and you have to walk past the police station to get into Clayton from MetroLink. No access is provided to neighborhoods south of Forest Park Parkway.

    Bus connections (all at transfer center): #01 WUSTL-Gold (when operating to/from Brentwood I-64), #47 North Hanley, #66 Clayton-Airport, #97 Delmar, #66x Ladue Road Shuttle (very limited service), "C" Clayton Road Connector.

    6) Richmond Heights. This at-grade center platform stop is on the wrong side of I-170 from Saint Louis Galleria and The Boulevard-St. Louis, a so-called traditional urban development that is certainly not transit-oriented. Access under I-170 along Galleria Parkway is via narrow sidewalks, pressed close to the busy roadway with no margin for error. Also you have to get past on and off ramps (one on the north side and two on the south side), plus the parking garage ramps for The Boulevard. Then, there's crossing Brentwood Boulevard!

    If your destination happens to be a little further south, a more pleasant option may be the pedestrian bridge over I-170, a bit south along McMorrow across from the Residence Inn. Driving north on I-170, you might notice it right behind the "Galleria Parkway - EXIT ONLY" sign. Finding its western approach is tricky, but it's near the dead-end of Antler Drive off Francis Place, behind 3-Day Window Treatments, across from one of the few remaining houses on Francis Place.

    Given its structural decay and lack of ADA compliance, I have a feeling the bridge may disappear in the I-64 reconstruction. It looks like I-170 will be relocated slightly east in that section, according to the study maps online (which are probably outdated). By then, maybe a better walkway along Galleria Parkway will be built. Ideally, both a walkway under I-170 at Galleria Parkway and an upgraded pedestrian overpass at Antler Drive could be built; but that seems unlikely, especially since The Boulevard "Phase II" is planned for the area extending south from Darst Court to Antler Drive.

    Bus connections (at adjacent bus turnaround loop): #01 WUSTL-Gold (when operating to/from Brentwood I-64), #02 WUSTL-Red.

    7) Brentwood I-64. I gave some impressions about this area on the first day of revenue service. Nothing has really changed about this two-platform stop located open air but below grade with no direct access to Eager Road, but walkways to the end of Hanley Industrial on the west and to the bus transfer loop/parking garage site on the east, except the rapid progress on the park-ride garage which Metro will lease from the private developers of the adjacent The Meridian retail/office complex. Last week I needed to go to Kinko's at the south end of Brentwood Square shopping center, and since walking on Eager Road is not something I'm eager to undertake, I tried walking through Hanley Industrial Court. Not much better (bizzare sharp turns, no sidewalks at all, best to cut through the incongruous strips of grass between the road and the parking lots), but much less traffic.

    Almost as ridiculous is the pedestrian access along Strassner Avenue, which currently connects Hanley Industrial directly to Brentwood Blvd., and will eventually be extended through Hanley Industrial onto a segment of pavement now being built under MetroLink currently, through the Hanley Station development, and connecting to Hanley Road lined up with Bruno Avenue (hopefully). This will provide a local traffic alternative to Eager for getting from one massive strip mall to the next.

    The part of Strassner I walked is the existing segment from Hanley Industrial west to Brentwood Blvd. There's no sidewalk on the north side of the street at first; to cross over a small creek bridge you must cross over to the south side of the street, where there's a walkway to connect two parts of a park together. But a short distance after crossing the creek, within that park itself, the sidewalk ends, you eventually run into the monument signage for the park, and must cross Strassner again to continue on the sidewalk on the north side, alongside the Mid-County YMCA. Eventually you cross Urban Drive, then curve north a little to cross Brentwood Blvd. at the thankfully signalized intersection with crosswalks at Strassner/Wrenwood (entry to Brentwood Forest condos).

    Bus connections at Brentwood I-64 (eventually a transfer center will be built, near the garage and The Meridian development): #01 WUSTL-Gold, #02 WUSTL-Red, #58 Chesterfield Ellisville (express all day every 30 minutes to Ballas Road MetroBus Center in only 10 minutes!), #59 Shaw Kirkwood, #158x Highway 40 Clayton Road Express (peak hour only).

    8) Maplewood - Manchester. This is a strange location in some ways, but one with tremendous future potential. The center-platform sits high above the flood-prone land nearby; evident is the large area to the northeast bought out in the mid 1990s where houses used to be. The main access route will ultimately be from the east, where a MetroBus transfer station/loop is under construction. For the time being, buses loop at the Brentwood Garage, and just stop on Manchester by the Maplewood station to board passengers. The Sutton Loop in central Maplewood is no longer used.

    Also dominant at this stop are the offices of Sunnen Products and Enterprise Rent-a-Car. There's a direct walkway to their complex just to the northwest; you drive past the other side of that building along Hanley just north of Manchester, by the electric substation. I cannot identify any direct connection to the Maplewood Commons shopping center, although that would make so much sense; the train passes right by Red Lobster! There's another walkway that crosses over Manchester, both accessing directly the Sunnen headquarters campus, and featuring a staircase down to the south side of Manchester, where currently you have to go to catch an eastbound bus.

    Bus connections (for the time being on either side of Manchester; eventually at a bus loop downstairs from the platform): #16 City Limits, #30 Soulard, #57 Manchester.

    9) Sunnen. I've used this station once, and I can't imagine I'll use it very often. This is not the stop for Sunnen's headquarters; that's Maplewood station, and they wouldn't really name it after a corporation, right? No, this is the stop for Sunnen Drive, the main corridor of the Sunnen Business Park whose tenants include the St. Louis County Board of Election Commissioners. In a sign that this area is planned for transformation -- into a bigger industrial park perhaps, or hopefully a significant transit-oriented development -- Laclede Station Road was permanently closed just north of Sunnen Drive. This station has almost a rural feel in its landscaping, and since Sunnen Drive could not be closed to traffic, there's actually a grade crossing there, which adds to the rural feeling.

    Also very odd is there's still one house, formerly on Laclede Station, located really close to the platform, just past the cul-de-sac where the one bus route serving this stop receives passengers. I can't imagine 3025 S. Laclede Station Road will be around much longer. Like most of the neighborhood, it is owned by Sunnen. The Sunnen station has walkways serving the neighborhood in several directions, both north and south along Laclede Station, and east on Sunnen Drive.

    An informal, unofficial, rather hazardous walkway does exist to get from Deer Creek Shopping Center via a steep climb up the side of the nearby railroad berm (from the parking lot behind the post office in the former Colonel Day's space), across the UP double tracks, through the parking lot of the Maplewood Village apartments (built during the Maplewood apartment craze of the 1970s and now owned by Sunnen), then through the rocky area underneath where the MetroLink tracks start their ascent high above grade level, into the business park adjacent to the station. It's probably a remnant of the days when Deer Creek housed Venture, a discount department store which Maplewood Village residents likely frequented.

    Bus connection (at the cul-de-sac on Laclede Station): #56 Kirkwood Webster (now the only bus serving the Old Orchard area of Webster Groves and Webster University; the Shrewsbury station, strangely, does not offer a bus that will take you into the heart of Webster).

    10) Shrewsbury Lansdowne I-44. The segment of mostly elevated track from Sunnen to Shrewsbury is truly surreal. After the incongruous grade crossing at Sunnen Drive, a simultaneously curve and ascent begins. The tracks cross above the double-track UP freight train corridor (most of us have probably gotten stuck waiting for a train on Sutton Avenue in Maplewood at one time or another, so this high-line crossing is a good idea), but then appears to hang out over Deer Creek shopping center. In reality, the elevated tracks are elevated over a rocky outcropping, a (natural?) bluffline rendered invisible to most of us because it's behind the docks of those stores and below the railroad tracks. But now MetroLink has sunken its deep piers into that rock, and in places into the pavement behind the still operating stores in Deer Creek. Despite its loss of an anchor, the center is still probably half-full; but yeah, a lot of that is State of Missouri offices. A tall retaining wall built to support fill dirt on which MetroLink was built near the eastern end of the center makes for a rather narrow exit to the dock areas behind those stores, which would seemingly make it impossible for a tractor-trailer to service them. By this time, the elevation of the tracks is somewhat lower, but still elevated due to flooding concerns. The elevated tracks pass above S. Big Bend Boulevard, then Oxford Avenue, and then for a time are pretty much at-grade passing adjacent to the Big Bend Industrial Park and several houses on Manhattan and Sussex Avenues. This Oxford Ave. area seems like it could have been a potential location for a stop, too, because it's a pretty established neighborhood most of which is not flood-prone. Maybe someday.

    Then the ascent begins again, high above Deer Creek, the BNSF tracks, and of course I-44. After passing over the interstate, the trains slows down, heads downhill a little, for its approach to the terminal station off Lansdowne Avenue on the boundary between St. Louis and Shrewsbury.

    The pedestrian access to this station is actually better than I expected. If you walk north from the platform, yes, that's all a sea of parking. But if you walk south, downstairs to the bus transfer center, you're pretty close to the street. You can easily walk across the new Lansdowne bridge into the Lindenwood Park neighborhood.

    The problem comes in getting further east. Wabash Avenue, though there seems to be plenty of room in front of the houses, does not have sidewalks in most sections. So before you get to Wabash's extra-wide intersection with Lansdowne, turn left onto the alley behind the houses on the west side of Lansdowne. This alley extends northward to Bancroft Avenue. But trying to cross Wabash is tough, too. I tried walking in the grass next to the road, alongside a vacant lot and a couple houses, until Lindenwood Place. At Lindenwood, the divider in the middle of Wabash starts, which can provide a brief respite, long enough to get across the wide road.

    Wabash and Ellendale Avenues, as a link between River des Peres Boulevard south of Lansdowne, and McCausland Avenue north of Canterbury, are necessarily high-speed, high-volume corridors that are part of the regional transportation network. They're also an important intermodal freight link, as the main truck gate to the BNSF Lindenwood yard is located off Wabash near the River des Peres bridge.

    But from a neighborhood and safety perspective, they're horribly designed. Perhaps the city should consider seeking federal funds for upgrading this relatively short, but not insignificant, stretch of pseudo-highway. At the least, it would be nice to see continuous sidewalks along at least one side of Wabash/Ellendale, and a much less sharp turn at the River des Peres bridge/Wellington Court. Several other curves along Ellendale could also use improvement, if possible. Also, potentially a signalized intersection at Lindenwood Place would provide safer left turns and pedestrian crossings in this vicinity. (I'd also advocate for signals on Jamieson Avenue at Fyler Avenue and at Lindenwood Place; the current four-way stop configurations are inadequate for the traffic counts and speeds on that section. South of Chippewa, Jamieson is much less busy, but between Chippewa and I-44 it's a speedway.)

    Bus connections at Shrewsbury Lansdowne I-44 (at the bus bays immediately south of and downstairs from the platform): #8 Bates, #11 Chippewa, #17 Oakville, #46 Tesson Ferry, #93 Midtown South County, #11x Shrewsbury Express (peak hour only), #210 I-44 Fenton Shuttle.

    Thursday, September 28, 2006

    Cross County MetroLink: One Month Out

    Cross County MetroLink: One Month Out

    I guess I should stop referring to the eight-mile leg of new MetroLink track from Forest Park to Shrewsbury Lansdowne I-44 as Cross County. Nobody really calls it that in practice; that was just the name for planning purposes.

    And despite the student-created signage on bus shelters near WashU, nobody calls it the Green Line, either.

    In practice, MetroLink now has two routes:

    1) Shiloh-Scott to Lambert Main and back;
    2) Emerson Park to Shrewsbury I-44 and back.

    After one month of revenue service, I can say this routing is working out pretty well. Sure, some folks have gotten confused and backwards; but the trains usually run often enough that's not a big deal.

    The best part is if you miss a train at rush hour between Forest Park and Emerson Park, it's only five minutes until the next one. On the other hand, waiting 15 minutes for the next train at mid-day on the Shrewsbury leg or the Airport leg can be tedious.

    Also at mid-day, if you want to go truly 'cross-county' (that is, Airport to Shrewsbury), you can wait up to 8 minutes at Forest Park station. Not an unreasonable wait time, but I've found you can cut that down to 90 seconds or so, if you just keep riding eastbound to Central West End, then cross the platform to get the westbound Shrewsbury train. But at rush hour, waiting at Forest Park is best.

    Another frustration is that right after rush hour ends, a few trains end at Grand, as was the previous practice. I find waiting at Central West End better in these cases too.

    I think confusion about new MetroBus routes is more problematic and pervasive. That's particularly the case in the areas around WashU -- I guess I just didn't realize it because, as a WashU student already familiar with their shuttle system, the shuttle route changeover seemed to make sense to me. But for older folks used to riding the #93 Lindell along Pershing for years, the change to the #01 WUSTL-Gold is strange.

    As for me, I thought I'd miss the direct routing of the #93 Lindell from WashU to SLU's library; but now whenever I need to go to that segment of Lindell, I can quickly and easily take MetroLink to Central West End, take the walkway to the transfer center, then catch the #93 Midtown South County.

    It's interesting the WashU sphere of influence seems to extend into Pagedale and a sliver of Wellston. The Green Line shuttle (still operated by Huntleigh ShuttlePort under contract to the University) ends at the Loop Lofts, 1019 Skinker Parkway, where many WashU undergrad students are now housed as a result of overflow on campus. This complex straddles the St. Louis City-Wellston boundary.

    Meanwhile the #02 WUSTL-Red line serves the section of Ferguson Ave in North U City and Pagedale, up to Rock Road MetroLink, formerly part of the #64 Lucas Hunt. WashU leaves this segment off their map entirely. Still, this "WashU shuttle" route will take you only one MetroLink stop south of UMSL.

    In another post, I'll summarize my experiences with usage and the pedestrian environment around each new station.