Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Frustration Station

Frustration Station

This morning, my westbound MetroLink train was delayed by about 15 minutes. 10 minutes waiting at Grand station; and another few minutes waiting just east of Taylor Avenue. MetroLink is the middle leg of my three vehicle AM reverse commuter; so naturally I was about 15 minutes late getting to class.

And now I haven't gotten paid for a handful of hours I worked at WashU in the computer lab. Apparently, the grad school dean's office is sitting on these pay requests; I guess they think 8 hours/week is too much time for grad students to be working in addition to their TA duties. Uh-huh.

Monday, February 27, 2006



I noticed the new AT&T white pages have arrived at various locations in downtown St. Louis.

How long, do you suppose, it will take for it to arrive at my house?'

Admittedly, it's dated March 2006, so I'd be just fine if I got the new one by the end of March.

Given that the sub-contractor appeared last week to still be hiring delivery drivers via the classifieds, it might just take that long.

Some would say the White Pages are outdated, since you can get much more info on the Internet. But when you're at home and don't have high-speed Internet access, it's much more convenient. After all, getting online via dial-up requires tying up the phone line, and taking 5 to 10 minutes total to look up a single name.

Sometimes, printed resources are actually more convenient.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Local Celebrity Sightings

Local Celebrity Sightings

Today I saw KMOV Channel 4 reporter Mike O'Connell - at the Hampton Village McDonald's.

It was almost 11 AM, and he was frustrated that they had stopped serving breakfast. He was in line right behind me; I recognized his voice (but not his face) when I reached over to get my Diet Coke. He got a Big N Tasty burger - just like I did!

I guess this ranks right up there with the time I saw Stan Kann in the waiting room at a doctor's office.

Yes, I am a dork.

Friday, February 24, 2006

The Geography of Economic Impact

The Geography of Economic Impact

When we buy stuff, we make some kind of an impact on the economy in the places where we buy them. Granted, the positive economic impact of chain stores is arguably less than that of independent businesses.

But at least the locality does get sales tax revenues which can be quite substantial. And the rate of sales tax varies substantially, depending on what you are buying and where you are buying it.

For example, in the City of St. Louis, sales tax rates are as follows:

Prescription drugs: 0.000% (tax-exempt)

College textbooks sold at a college bookstore: 3.391%

Grocery items: 4.516%

General merchandise: 7.616%
(including motor vehicles purchased by city residents anywhere in Missouri)

Prepared food and non-alcoholic beverages sold at a restaurant: 9.116%
(Total of the general sales tax rate plus the 1.5% gross receipts tax on restaurants levied by the Central Business Index).

Anyway, I also thought it would be fun to tally up my purchases for the past couple months (since right after Christmas), and see where I bought stuff. I started by downloaded a tab-delimited file from my bank account online.

I won't get into specifics about how much I spent or at what particular stores, but I can show it at the ZIP code level.

ZIP Codes in the City of St. Louis where I spent money, and what percentage of my total purchases were in that ZIP code:
63116 35%
63118 25%
63110 9%
63109 6%
63108 5%
63101 5%
63104 2%
63139 less than 1%

ZIP Codes in St. Louis County where I spent money, and what percentage of my total purchases were in that ZIP code:
63121 3%
63136 3%
63130 2%
63124 2%
63144 1%
63105 less than 1%
63117 less than 1%
63134 less than 1%

So, not surprisingly, I spent a large percentage of my money in South St. Louis City. 60%, in fact, between 63118 (where I live) and 63116 (where several grocery stores, pharmacies, and a pet supply store are located). Some spending happened in Southwest City and the central corridor, but not as much as I'd thought.

Very little money went outside the city limits, and all of it went to inner-ring suburbs in St. Louis County. Of that, most was in North County and University City. Very little was in the massive retailing complexes near I-170 and Highway 40.

Unfortunately, during this time period I have not spent a single dime in North St. Louis City nor the Metro East.

Somehow I don't think my spending patterns and habits are very representative of purchasing power in the St. Louis region. More likely, they reflect that I just don't have much reason to go out past I-170 for anything; and my heavy reliance on public transit.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Blagojevich Means Opportunity...

Blagojevich Means Opportunity...

This topic may seem more appropriate to ArchPundit, but I couldn't resist:

Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich never heard of "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart"?

Shoot, I don't even have cable or dish, and I've watched The Daily Show - at other people's houses or at other venues.

I guess the guv has a la carte cable service - so he only gets CNN. And HGTV.

Sure, it's only been running for 10 years, and Stewart's only hosted it for seven.

Perhaps the guv only knows about TV "news" programs that have been on the air since before he was born.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Defining "Family" For Zoning Purposes

Defining "Family" For Zoning Purposes

Recently, as reported by the Post-Dispatch, the City of Black Jack in north county has ruled against an unmarried couple with children in their application for an occupancy permit.

It appears such ordinances do comply with existing state laws in Missouri. As the article notes, "In 1985, the city of Ladue sued a couple for violating a city ordinance prohibiting an unmarried man and woman from living together if they were not 'related by blood, marriage or adoption.' A year later, the Missouri Court of Appeals upheld the ruling against the couple, who had lived in the home since 1981."

The article fails to mention that couple's identities: Terry Jones and Joan Kelly Horn. The appellate case was City of Ladue v. Horn, 720 S.W.2d 745 (Mo. App. E.D. 1986).

These days, neither UMSL Professor Jones nor former Congresswoman Horn (who also was director of the City of St. Louis Community Development Administration for a couple years) live in Ladue.

But perhaps their efforts did accomplish something in posh Ladue nevertheless. The current City of Ladue Zoning Ordinance defines "family" for their purposes as:

"Family. (a) One or more persons related by blood, marriage or legal adoption, or (b) any number of persons so related plus one unrelated person, or, (c) two unrelated persons, occupying a dwelling unit as an individual housekeeping organization."

Perhaps Black Jack should consider a similarly modern definition of family for occupancy permit and zoning purposes.

Also not mentioned in this P-D article is the history of exclusionary zoning practices by the City of Black Jack in the 1970s (Hint: Look up "U.S. v. City of Black Jack" or "Park View Heights Corp. v. City of Black Jack" (1974)). The context is quite different today, of course, since Black Jack is now a racially mixed, majority African-American municipality.

As far as I know, the City of St. Louis Housing Conservation Districts ordinance simply limits the number of individuals who may reside in any given dwelling unit, based on square-footage and number of bedrooms. Although it sure ain't perfect, it also seems like a pretty reasonable approach, which doesn't required defining what a "family" is.

Ultimately, is it really the job of local government to define what is and is not a "family"? Such morality-based ordinances seem incredibly outdated.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Baerveldt Park

Baerveldt Park

Baerveldt Park is a small park located at 1398 Ferguson Avenue in the City of Pagedale, Missouri, an inner-ring suburb in near north St. Louis County whose problems I have already described in a previous post.

Today, I noticed this huge sign at the main entrance to Baerveldt Park:


Sheesh - talk about unwelcoming! I'm used to seeing signs in public parks stating "Animals must be on leashes" or things like that. But no pets at all? And no bicycles too?

I guess they're just trying to keep the place looking nice for folks who come by car, with no dogs in tow. After all, it's about a two-block walk from this park to the nearest residences, on Ferguson to the north near St. Charles Rock Road; or to the south across the railroad tracks.

I'm sure this is not the only park in the region with such signage; I think I may have even seen a "No Bicycles" sign near the Piper Palm House in Tower Grove Park. Nevertheless, it does suggest a rather unwelcoming attitude on the part of whoever manages these parks (in the case of Baerveldt, the City of Pagedale itself).

I also figured out, after that last post on the topic of Pagedale, that the "large church" on Page at Ferguson is the former St. Catherine of Siena Roman Catholic Church, closed in 2001 and now occupied by a Baptist church.



The new temporary MetroLink schedule is a real pain both for passengers and for light-rail operators.

Posted signs indicate the westbound schedule was not supposed to change. In reality, both eastbound and westbound are all goofed up. Sometimes, eastbound trains come within about 2 minutes of each other; including last night.

This morning, I boarded a westbound train at 9:05 at Civic Center. It arrived at Forest Park at 9:24. The schedule indicates this trip should only take 11 minutes, not 19!

It's all because the trains haven't been sequenced very well, I guess. So despite the operators' best efforts, central control doesn't seem to have set this up very well. That westbound train waited a little while at Grand; and then even longer in the middle of the block between Newstead and Taylor, waiting for the eastbound to leave CWE station.

Eventually, we passed through CWE station, but even then, they have to operate at a significantly lower speed than normally. The section from CWE to Forest Park has a number of blind curves, so they have to be especially careful when operating single-track.

Anyway, I just have to make sure I leave 15 minutes earlier for the next couple weeks.

Safety comes first, of course; but this is increasingly inconvenient. I hope the connection to Cross County is completed ASAP!

Monday, February 20, 2006

Auditing the Auditors?

Auditing the Auditors?

Recently, the City of St. Louis Budget Director issued two Requests for Proposals (RFPs) for auditing services.
  1. St. Louis Public Schools audit RFP
  2. City of St. Louis audit RFP

Remarkably, the two RFPs are virtually identical. Both RFPs are for auditing of each entity for three fiscal years, beginning with the current fiscal year (thus, FYs 2006, 2007, and 2008).

But most interesting is that the selection and maintenance of these contracts are "subject to satisfactory performance and at the sole discretion of the Mayor" (emphasis added).

Very interesting.

So the question is: just what do they expect to find? And, further, will the results of these audits be promulgated to the public?

After all, they seem to be quite parallel to the annual Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports (CAFR) issued by the Comptroller's Office and a similar CAFR issued by the SLPS.

Will these audits be financed by the Mayor's Office? If so, isn't this a major stepping on the toes of the fiscal due diligence duties of the Comptroller, the Board of Estimate and Apportionment (E&A), and the Board of Education?

Recall that the Budget Director reports to all three member of E&A - the Mayor, the Comptroller, and the President of the Board of Aldermen. So, wouldn't E&A have to approve these contracts eventually?

I think independent audits of both SLPS and the City might be smart - but I would want them to be an operational audits rather than fiscal audits. Finding problems with money management is fine and dandy, but the real issues are about how well the school district and city government are being managed on a day-to-day basis. Sure, CityView covers some of that, but its resources are pretty limited.

But of course that's exactly the point. An in-depth operational audit would cost a lot more than just reviewing the books. And even a fiscal audit is itself a pretty complex undertaking.

So, the idea of an independent audit is a good one; I'm just not so sure about the way it's being bid.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Transit Confusion

Transit Confusion

I must confess, I am confused. Metro has been messing with the schedules for MetroLink a lot lately. It's all related to the construction in the vicinity of Forest Park station associated with the tie-in to the new Cross County MetroLink line.

On Monday, February 20th (Presidents' Day), a newly adjusted schedule starts. Service will still operate at 12-minute intervals, as it has since mid-January, but eastbound trips will be a few minutes earlier than now.

This latest schedule is supposed to last through March 3rd. I think it has something to do with the single-track operations being shifted a little east.

Right now, MetroLink runs single-track from about Etzel Ave. south of Wellston station, to just east of Forest Park station. The new schedule will accommodate single-track operation from about Waterman Blvd. just west of Forest Park station, to Taylor Ave. just east of Central West End station. At least, I think that's right. MetroLink has track crossovers every couple miles for just this purpose.

Anyway, the especially confusing part is the holiday schedule. On Veterans' Day and Dr. Martin Luther King Day, both MetroLink and Missouri MetroBus service operated on an "supplemented" Saturday schedule, as they did on both those holidays.

That just means that selected trips on four of the express routes will be operated to serve areas of North, West, and Southwest St. Louis County that don't have nearby local bus service into downtown. Ordinarily, express routes don't run on the weekend.

It still leaves a lot of areas and routes without service on those days though; after all, there are a few local routes like the #15 Hodiamont and the #60 Midland that do not run on Saturdays or Sundays. And a bunch of routes stop operation on Saturday schedules around 7:00 PM. Still others that do operate on the weekend are truncated in odd places; for example, on Saturdays and Sundays the #64 Lucas Hunt only goes as far south as the Delmar Loop. Access to the Clayton CBD requires a transfer to the #97 Delmar.

So in summary, on Presidents' Day MetroLink will operate on the newly revised temporary weekday schedule. Missouri MetroBus service, however, will operate on a "supplemented" Saturday schedule.

Anyway, to top it all off, Metro has posted a tantalizingly detailed proposed schedule for the Cross County MetroLink in combination with the existing line.

Proposed service will operate at 5-minute intervals during peak-hour between Emerson Park station in East St. Louis and Forest Park-DeBaliviere station, and 7-to-8-minute intervals at mid-day. Alternating trains will either: 1) Operate straight from Shiloh-Scott in Illinois to Lambert Airport Main Terminal; or 2) Operate from the new I-44-Lansdowne-Shrewsbury station to Emerson Park only.

Thus service on the branch from Forest Park to Lambert Airport will be every 10 minutes at peak-hour, every 15 minutes mid-day. Likewise, service on the branch from Forest Park to Shrewsbury will be every 10 minutes at peak-hour, every 15 minutes mid-day. Service east of Emerson Park to Shiloh-Scott will also be every 10 minutes at peak-hour, every 15 minutes mid-day.

So, this would actually be a reduction in mid-day service frequency along the northwest corridor of the existing line; currently, service from Lambert to Emerson Park (or sometimes JJK or sometimes Washington Park) operates every 12 minutes; before the construction-related revision, that service operated every 10 minutes.

But the proposal does improve frequency in the busiest portion of the line, the central corridor of the City of St. Louis plus a couple stops into East St. Louis. This would return service on this stretch to the former 7-to-8-minute peak-hour intervals MetroLink had operated for the entire Missouri portion of the existing line prior to 2003.

Anyway, it's not clear to me just how much more it will cost Metro to operate the new Cross County MetroLink; or for that matter, some of the proposed new bus routes that may not really service that many people at first. I'm sure it is a significant amount, even though they're probably trying to do some load-balancing.

So, it will be interesting to see what Larry Salci proposes: another go at a sales tax increase, perhaps? Private funding in the form of subsidies from major employers in remote locations served by transit like Delmar Gardens, St. Luke's Hospital, St. John's Mercy and Missouri Baptist Medical Centers, Saint Louis Mills, Chesterfield Commons, Chesterfield Mall, and Riverport? We'll see.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Golden Arches Not So Golden?

Golden Arches Not So Golden?

Over at Urban Review - St. Louis, Steve Patterson has been doing some impressive research regarding the planned replacement for the Grand and Chippewa McDonald's. His earlier post has some pictures.

In short, the plan is for McDonald's to move across the street to Grand at Winnebago, on part of the old Sears site now owned by Pyramid construction. Also, a senior-citizen housing development *may* be built on the corner site currently occupied by McDonald's - but it will also require some adjacent property on Chippewa they may not be able to get so easily.

Meanwhile, so-called "affordable" townhomes would be built (I guess) on Arkansas Ave. behind the new McDonald's. This, somehow, would use up some of the ground and make the rest of the site more feasible to develop the nearly $200,000 single-family houses initially planned for the whole site called Keystone Place.

This is probably better than nothing, but this still doesn't guarantee that Pyramid will actually finish building those overpriced new houses!

I still think Pyramid should be required to build the houses and then try and sell them. Not the other way around. It's not like these are truly custom houses, are they? They have built some houses on spec; why not fill out more of the site that way? Once the houses are actually built, it's easier to attract buyers than when all you have to show are vacant lots and plans on paper.

I can see a market for townhouses priced in the $100,000 to $150,000 range in this area, but let's not kid ourselves: those are not really affordable housing.

Granted, I guess my standard is "if I can't afford it, it's not affordable."

Using really rough numbers, the mortgage payment on a $100,000 house (for 30 years at 7% interest) would be somewhere around $600 per month, possibly more depending on the cost of insurance. Anyway, if you figure affordability as the house payment being 30% or less of your monthly income, that means you'd have to make $2,000 per month for that to be affordable. That's $24,000 per year.

Yeah, I make a little more than that. But most people don't. $24,000 per year is not much money, true. But let's call this what it is - housing for lower-middle-class/working-class households. That's fine. It's not for low-income people, not really.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

WashU continues plans for overhaul of student housing

From WashU's Student Life:

University continues plans for overhaul of student housing - News

This quote at the end is telling:

"These dorms were built in late '50s, and they really have been well maintained, and students become very attached to where they live regardless of whether it's new or old," said [Dean of Students Justin] Carroll. "But the point is that some of the behind-the-scenes things are really antiquated....They were built at a time when campuses were building what they could afford, but they've served us well. We looked at them to see if we could use existing buildings and rearrange them, but found there wasn't really any way to go about it."

So, I guess now they're building more than they can afford? That's a rhetorical question, of course.

The bottom line is that pretty much all the dorms built in the 1950s on the "South 40" at WashU will have been replaced by 2011 with new construction. This process started in the mid-1990s.

Sure, the new buildings are more attractive and more functional than the ones built in the 1950s. I don't question that. But it certainly contributes to the constant rises in tuition rates.

In 2006-2007, undergraduate tuition at WashU is projected to be $32,800.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Liquor Licentiousness

Liquor Licentiousness

Poor Alderman Craig Schmid (D-20th ward) can't get a break from the Riverfront Times.

Just over five years ago, the RFT called him the city's best alderman.

But now, last week's RFT had two articles mentioning him in a critical light: the one, a satire piece about the car stereo restriction legislation. And the other, is a more serious piece about the ward's liquor license moratorium.

That article has prompted a lively debate on the Marine Villa Neighborhood Yahoo! Group about the merits of new bars and restaurants, as well as complaints about The Brick of St. Louis, a 3:00 am bar located on the edge of the industrial area at 3550 S Broadway at President.

Anyway, I'm waiting to see if Craig weighs in on the discussion on the Marine Villa e-list.

Meanwhile, a couple days ago the Post-Dispatch had an article entitled "Has the bar scene on Main Street gotten out of control?" about Main Street in St Charles.

Also, it's not as if Craig Schmid is the only alderman who proposed and enacted a liquor license moratorium in his ward. Similar restrictions are also in place in ward 1, ward 2, ward 3, ward 4, ward 10, ward 18, ward 22, ward 24, and ward 27.

This page lists all those ordinances and a few related ones.

In other words, most of the Northside and a chunk of the city south of Forest Park, along with the 20th ward, is subject to new liquor license moratoria.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Five Years of City Living!

Five Years of City Living!

On Friday morning, February 9, 2001, I closed on my first house. It was at 3822 Indiana in the Marine Villa neighborhood.

Ironically, the closing itself was in Clayton at First American Title Co. I bought this c. 1884 "flounder" house for $9,900 cash out of foreclosure from an Orange County, CA firm called Option One Mortgage.

It took the weekend to get myself actually living there, because the front door didn't have a proper lock, but only a padlock. Of course, you can't lock a padlocked door from the inside, so I wasn't comfortable staying there overnight. My brother put new locks on the rather battered front door, and then I started living there probably on Sunday or Monday night.

Previously, I had lived in my parents' house in South County; my mom has lived there continuously since 1970. During the school year, I lived in the honors college dorm (a former convent) at UMSL from 1997 to 2000. And I lived in the Eduardo dos Santos Residence Hall at the University of the Western Cape, near Cape Town, South Africa, from July to November 2000.

Also, there was no electricity or heat in my 'new' abode. The garage had burned down several months earlier - with a stolen car inside - so the electric and phone lines came down with it. Newspapers stuck to the floor inside the house and a slightly charred odor suggested homeless folks had built a fire there.

AmerenUE wouldn't come out to put up a new line to the house unless the city electrical inspector signed off on the pre-existing electrical service. So, I paid for the inspector to come out, but he said it was too far gone. I had to get a new service installed.

I got a pretty good deal on a new circuit breaker box and weatherhead from Southwestern Electric just around the corner on South Broadway. But it still wasn't until May that I got the juice turned on. Eventually, I replaced both the front and back doors of the house; the replacement four-panel insulated steel doors I bought at the now-closed Hill-Behan Lumber. Admittedly, they weren't historically correct replacement doors, but neither were the previous doors probably dating from the 1950s or 60s.

Anyway, I wasn't a very good nor efficient rehabber. I don't really know how to do much of anything, and I was too hesitant about getting and hiring contractors. I learned some lessons from that project, I think. Living in a house while trying to rehab it is pretty difficult. So, I tried moving into a tiny little 1950s four-family "ranchette" apartment nearby, at 3912-B Illinois. But that didn't really help. I still was too hesitant to do anything with the place. Sometimes being careful with your money is not the best thing.

Most of the houses on the 3800 block of Indiana and the nearby 2200 block of Chippewa date to the 1880s. However, this section of Marine Villa is not located in any historic district - neither the long-standing Benton Park national historic district whose southern boundary is Broadway between I-55 and Jefferson; nor the new Gravois-Jefferson streetcar suburb national historic district. So I wouldn't be eligible for historic tax credits for any work I did.

Anyway, I eventually sold that house in July 2004 for $12,000; and it's since been flipped again. For our current house, a c. 1898 two-family, we paid $54,000 from an older South Asian fellow who was selling off a bunch of his rental properties across South St. Louis and I think even his own house.

We paid 20% down to avoid PMI, and then promptly spent at least that much on a new roof and new central waste stack. It seems to have been worth it.

For all the problems we've had with this house, it has a bit more historic charm because it hasn't been quite as badly battered as the one on Indiana. Details like an art glass window, pocket doors, and decorative brickwork near the cornice line are part of what make 1890s houses really special. Hopefully we will eventually convert the place to single-family, unless we get fed up with rehabbing and decide to move to a single-family instead once we have more income. At least this one is eligible for state historic tax credits.

Historic preservation is incredibly important; but really hard to do on the ground-level. And when you have four left thumbs like I do, it costs a lot of money. I can try to do some things myself; but if it gets too complicated I'm likely to screw it up badly and spend even more to pay someone else to finish the job right.

The culture of newness and of constantly moving on is just so strong in this country. In Europe, 500-year-old buildings can still be found in many cities. Here, 100-year-old buildings are routinely demolished.

Anyway, I don't know what the future will hold for my family, but I hope we continue to reside in an historic home - at least pre-1940. While it can be costly in some ways, the benefits are well worth it.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Visualizing the City

Visualizing the City

Google Earth has to be one of the coolest things going for map freaks like me. It works best on a broadband connection and a newer computer though. The really cool part is the 3D buildings layer which includes the downtown areas of most major US cities, including St. Louis. Although it's not 100% accurate, it gives a nice general idea of the form of the urbanscape.

Another, albeit rather buggy tool, is UMSL's Virtual St. Louis City Project, spearheaded by history professors Louis Gerteis and Andrew Hurley. It aims to place historical photos of downtown St. Louis buildings in their proper context, by decade from 1850 to 1950. Some decades work better than others; but the idea is really nifty.

is less impressive, but has a few ok video tours of downtown and other places.

Apparently MoHist next month will unveil a "virtual tour of St. Louis cultural communities" next month, but I don't know the details. Meanwhile, St Louis Community College at Meramec has a virtual tour of its campus that can be downloaded onto Google Earth.

So even if you can't or don't want to go out and see the city, you can get an idea of what the world looks like from your seat. That's not a substitute for real life experience, of course, but it can be a fun way to spend a few minutes.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Who Knew Julius Hunter was a Catholic Republican?

Who Knew Julius Hunter was a Republican?

Former Channel 4 anchor (and now SLU PR guy) Julius Hunter has been nominated to the St. Louis City Police Board.

Although I don't believe they're related, this and the awarding of the North Kingshighway license office to Yvonne Hunter, wife of connected attorney Jerry Hunter, suggests that people named Hunter are doing pretty well under this administration.

At least, they're doing better than people with names similarly evocative of rural life like Farmer and Wheat. ;-)

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Up in the Pasadena Hills

Up in the Pasadena Hills

Yesterday afternoon -- when it was cold, but not snowing like it is right now -- I ate supper at the ridiculously slow McDonald's at 3860 Lucas Hunt, on the corner of Pasadena Boulevard at North Oaks Plaza. Then, I let myself get kinda lost walking along the meandering drives of the City of Pasadena Hills.

This little suburb was developed in the 1920s, and is now one of the few national historic districts in North St Louis County.

I entered the town via Pasadena Boulevard, an oddly wide street that originally hosted a streetcar right-of-way through Pine Lawn, Northwoods, Normandy and Pasadena Hills. Then I turned onto the main entry road, Roland Boulevard. The main entry gate is just south of here, near Roland and Natural Bridge.

After that, it gets a little hazy, but somehow I ended up over by Ravinia and Marlboro Court, a little out-of-the-way if I was trying to get to UMSL.

But by following the sounds of I-70 traffic and the view of the back of the Norwood Court Apartments, I was able to make my way northwestwardly toward Bermuda Road.

Around Overbrook and Country Club, I at last exited Pasadena Hills and entered adjacent Pasadena Park, where the houses are similarly charming but much, much smaller.

Apparently, most of the streets in the city were resurfaced recently thanks to a bond issue. On Google Maps aerial photos, the streets appear as concrete slabs with sealant holding them together; now most are paved with smooth asphalt.

There are a number of little planter islands scattered about the curvilinear streets; they are maintained by a group called "Flowers in the Hills." It's odd, though, that some of the streets have nice sidewalks on both sides, while others have a sidewalk on only one side of the street, and a few cul-de-sacs have no sidewalks at all.

After exiting Pasadena Park onto Bermuda, I took Springdale Drive in Normandy to access the 'Ted' Jones Trail.

This access point is not as prettied-up as the access point from the UMSL Fine Arts Building; in fact, it's just a gravel path at the end of the Springdale cul-de-sac with a gate across it and a large "Road Closed" sign. The trail took me the rest of the way onto the UMSL campus. So far, I've yet to see a cyclist on this trail; only a few other pedestrians going to and from UMSL or MetroLink.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Forest Park Parkway: Partially Open Again!

Forest Park Parkway: Partially Open Again!

This Post-Dispatch article confirms what I thought was just my imagination:

Forest Park Parkway has opened to traffic again! (See P-D Graphic) Or, at least, one lane in each direction on the section from Euclid to DeBaliviere (the City BPS portion of the project about which I posted back in December '05).

I noticed on Saturday a few cars going down that stretch of road parallel to the existing MetroLink line through Forest Park. I thought maybe they were just lost. Then I noticed the orange barrels, suggesting that one lane was open in fact.

Metro had already reopened one lane of the short stretch from DeBaliviere to Des Peres to partially placate Skinker-DeBaliviere residents who lost direct access to Lindell when Des Peres Ave. was permanently closed to car traffic along the south side of the parkway, as a result of the slightly-below-grade new Cross County MetroLink tracks crossing there.

It can't be buried because of the massive River des Peres drainage works tunnel built under that section of Des Peres in the 1920s.

Hopefully, this means we're getting closer and closer to the day when the Cross County MetroLink route will actually open for use! That'll be nice.

Although by then, I'll be almost done with my PhD coursework at WashU.

Which takes longer - completing a PhD or building a mass transit line? Hmmm...

Monday, February 06, 2006

Thoughts on the Value of Historic Buildings

Thoughts on the Value of Historic Buildings

A recent discussion thread on Urban St. Louis got me to thinking a bit more about the value of historic buildings.

The topic was the new development in the Hyde Park neighborhood called Salisbury Park, guided by an ecumenical housing organization called Better Living Communities.

Better Living was founded by and is closely affiliated with Bethlehem Lutheran Church, located at the NW corner of Salisbury and N. Florissant, a part of the (rather conservative) Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS).

Bethlehem appears to be a fairly active, albeit small congregation. Its history goes back all the way to 1849, as Bethlehem Evangelical Lutheran Church. In the early 1990s the congregation basically abandoned their landmark historic sanctuary, built initially in 1893 and rededicated in 1895 after a fire largely destroyed it. In the big 1927 tornado, the spires were felled. Nevertheless, it clearly was a magnificent structure, enough that the congregation redecorated the interior in 1949 for the church's centennial.

Today's Bethlehem congregation meets in the c. 1930 school building next door; meanwhile, vandalism and the elements have taken their toll on the landmark corner church.

I just don't understand such a decision to abandon a structure just because it is too costly to maintain. While the community work and the Christian community itself at such a church is intrinsically valuable, it does seem like abandoning such a structure represents turning one's back on the history of the place, and the many members who gave of their time and money over the years to keep the place going.

If it came back after a fire and a tornado, why did it have to be abandoned now?

Admittedly, the early German congregants started moving out of the neighborhood within a few years after that 1949 centennial celebration. Construction of I-70, closure of meat packing plants and other factories, and the endless push to the North County suburbs all took their toll on congegrations such as Bethlehem.

If we don't know where we've been, how can we know where we're going?

Hence, I greatly appreciate the efforts of congregations across the city to keep themselves going in their historic sanctuaries. Even in economically distressed Hyde Park, other churches like Holy Trinity Roman Catholic and Friedens UCC remain in their historic structures and maintain active community outreach programs.

I've noticed that some other LCMS churches, like Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer located down the block from my house, have been gradually vacating their historic sanctuaries. There, signs on the replacement red steel doors indicate that the congregation of about 20 now meets in the church hall next door. A while back, a Baptist group put out some flyers in the neighborhood indicating they'd be using the place as well.

I realize that, when you don't have a whole lot of money or resources, keeping up with the maintenance on a 100-year-old building is tough. I don't exactly have a great track-record in this regard myself. Churches, as tax-exempt entities, cannot benefit directly from historic tax credits, and many big donors and grant awarders will not fund capital campaigns. Nevertheless, honoring the memory of those who came before us is important enough in itself to make the effort.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

The Absent-Minded Not-Yet-Professor

The Absent-Minded Not-Yet-Professor

I seem to have a penchant for leaving things behind that I actually need and use.

So, today, I was feeling proud of myself because I was running early on my commute. I had to be at WashU by 12 today for my "Saturday rotation" shift in the computer lab. I left the house about 10:50, and just made the 11:05 northbound #70 Grand, at Grand and Connecticut.

The bus arrived at the Grand MetroLink station about 11:15, and I spent a blustery 7 minutes or so down there. It's pretty cold today, so the 'wind-tunnel' effect is really not fun under that viaduct.

I got on the MetroLink about 11:23, and got off at Forest Park station about 11:29. That's when I left my pair of nice, warm, blue Thinsulate gloves in my seat, or possibly on the floor! I had even looked around when I got up from my seat, but didn't see anything. Somehow, it didn't register that I wasn't carrying them, and they weren't in my pockets either.

About 90 seconds later, after I got off the train, walked up the new steps to DeBaliviere, and crossed DeBaliviere to catch the westbound #58 Clayton-Ballas around 11:33, it hit me: dang, my hands are cold! Where's my gloves? Oh, CRAP! Damn it, damn it, damn it!

See, about a year ago, a similar thing happened in almost the same location. I lost one of my previous pair of gloves, leaving it behind on the eastbound WashU Shuttle Gold Line as I got off the shuttle to catch MetroLink at the Forest Park station. In the ensuing days, I called the various lost-and-found offices at WashU, to no avail.

I suppose I could call Metro lost-and-found (314.982.1406), but I'm not holding out much hope.

I believe that the Forest Park MetroLink station must have a glove-sucking vortex under it, similar to that which sucks up my favorite socks into the dryer. ;-)


Friday, February 03, 2006

St. Charles Convening

St. Charles Convening

The City of St. Charles and St. Charles County governments have invested a great deal of time and money into building and operating the Family Arena and St. Charles Convention Center (SCCC) in recent years.

But a lot of the major events they've lured have come at the expense of downtown St. Louis, such as the Working Women's Survival Show formerly held at America's Center for almost twenty years, or the Moolah Shrine Circus formerly held at the old Busch Memorial Stadium for more than twenty years.

I have in the past attended both these events at their downtown St. Louis locations. I don't intend to attend either at the St. Charles locations.

It's hard enough to attract out-of-town conventions to downtown. Now, with these venues (the Family Arena opened in 1999 and the SCCC in 2005), even local-crowd oriented events are shifting out of downtown.

Sure, other municipalities have their own small convention halls, like the Gateway Center in Collinsville IL, the Belle-Claire Expo Hall in Belleville IL, and the Wentzville Crossing Expo Center (fka Belz Factory Outlet Mall) in Wentzville MO. The SCCC has also taken some business from the Wentzville place. But none of these are as large as the SCCC, which is itself significantly smaller than the behemoth America's Center.

We're fighting over declining tourist and day-event revenues. While the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission does represent some level of regional collaboration by the City of St. Louis and St. Louis County governments, there's still a separate Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) for St. Charles County, another for the Alton IL region, and the Tourism Bureau of Southwestern Illinois based in Fairview Heights IL which serves an eight-county region (excluding the Alton area of course). Washington MO in Franklin County also has its own CVB.

Collinsville used to have its own CVB but that closed last year, and the operation of the Gateway Center was taken over by the local Chamber of Commerce. Even though it's located inside St. Louis County, there's a small Maryland Heights CVB.

It's such a ridiculously fragmented strategy. Perhaps if the St. Louis CVC can develop a better reputation for itself by attracting more large conventions and promoting the development of existing and new tourist attractions, as a recent South Side Journal article mentions, then maybe someday we can envision a coordinated convention and tourism strategy for the entire metropolitan St. Louis region.

Maybe. But, more likely, we'll just keep moving stuff around, kind of like the way munis compete over a declining or static retail base using TIF and eminent domain.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

When the System Breaks Down

When the System Breaks Down

Ya know, I have a lot of respect for the work the City of St. Louis Citizens Service Bureau does. I helped developed the first online version of their complaint submission system; and I'm even using their data as part of the basis for my dissertation.

Anyway, back on January 25th during the morning rush hour, the traffic signal at McCausland and Southwest was on flash. This caused a substantial backup in northbound traffic coming from I-44 at Jamieson.

After I arrived at my destination, I used the online form to submit a complaint about that problem.

Today I got a message about the CSB Survey which included a text summary of the resolution to the problem. The resolution was:

"refer to modot/signals belong to them"

This is frustrating to me, because when I emailed MODOT directly, in October 2005, this was the response I got to my query about which streets in the City of St. Louis were now maintained by MODOT.

Joseph Frank, thank you for your e-mail request for an official highway map
and questions about MoDOT maintenance of City streets and/or signals.

First of all, let me say that your state highway map was mailed to you
today and South Broadway is not a state road. However, to answer your
question about Gravois & Grand, the state road is Gravois (Rte 30) and the
street, as well as the signal, are both maintained by the state.
Approximately seven(7)city streets are maintained by MoDOT at this time.

Rte H Riverview from I-270 to Hall St 3.63 miles
Hall St from Riverview to Adelaide 3.47 miles
Adelaide from Hall St to I-70 .46 mile

Rte 367 Halls Ferry Circle from 367 to Riverview .09 mile
Riverview from Halls Ferry Circle to I-70 2.10 miles

Rte 100 Manchester/Chouteau from City Lmt. to I-55 6.15 miles

Rte 115 Natural Bridge/Salisbury from City Lmt. to I-70 4.88 miles

Rte D Page/MLK/Tucker/Cole from City Lmt. to I-70 5.71 miles

Rte 180 MLK to City Lmt. to Rte D (temp. surface only) 3.8 miles

Rte 366 Watson/Chippewa from City Lmt. to Broadway 5.25 miles
(surface only *NO SIGNALS)

Hopefully this information answers your questions about state maintained
city streets. Should you have any questions, please do not hesitate to
contact us.

We appreciate your questions/comments and encourage you to contact MoDOT in
the future with reference to maintaining our state roads.

This was a thorough and complete response. However, it did not indicate that either McCausland nor Southwest was a state road.

So I'm wondering: Just how many signals in the city that are not on designated state routes are now controlled by MODOT?

If I had known this, perhaps I would have just used the MODOT online repair report form.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

I-70 at Florissant Road/University Boulevard

I-70 at Florissant Road/University Boulevard

Yesterday I walked around and through the new interchange of I-70 at Florissant Road/University Boulevard, the somewhat new ceremonial entrance to UMSL.

Not surprisingly, this interchange is anything but pedestrian-friendly. Sure, the new flyover ramps, on- and off-ramps, and underpass are much more attractive and safer for drivers than the old tight-diamond interchange. Merging is much safer now that two exits are essentially combined, with extended outer ramp roads running most of the way from Bermuda to North Hanley. It is a dramatic improvement for drivers' safety.

Nevertheless, the interchange still forms a substantial physical and psychological barrier between the north end of the UMSL campus and the housing and retail areas to the north along Florissant Road. Further, the "re-branding" of the section of road from I-70 south a few blocks as "University Boulevard" highlights this distinction.

A short distance south of the interchange is the signalized intersection of two roads whose names didn't exist just a few years ago: University Boulevard at University Place Drive. This "University Place Drive" is actually just a short little connector between the new road (University Boulevard) and the remaining orphaned section of Florissant Road just a few hundred feet west.

This surreal orphaned road is a dead-end at both ends. At the north end, about where Geiger Road used to come in, is the entrance to the construction zone for the new corporate headquarters of Express Scripts. They broke ground Nov. 2.

The huge site bounded roughly by the new I-70 to the north, University Boulevard to the east, the Mark Twain athletic complex to the south, and the MetroLink line to the west, used to include a dozen or so homes that had been bought out over the years by UMSL, the University Park Apartments, a small strip-mall with apartments on top, and a large nursery complex of probably 6 or 7 large greenhouses. Over the years they have been demolished, and the site has mostly been graded.

The southern end of the orphaned former Florissant Road provides access to the former northern entrance to the campus, at Mark Twain Drive. Most curiously, the former MedNorth medical office building a few years ago was re-branded by UMSL as the "St. Louis Regional Education Park" housing a number of university-affiliated education initiatives such as the Regional Center for Education and Work.

The building is sandwiched in a wedge between the new and old roadways, with a retaining wall for the new road just a few feet from the building. I keep wondering just how much longer that building will stand; after all, it's clearly in the path of access to the new road from pre-existing Mark Twain Drive, and the College of Education is primarily housed way down on South Campus.

I'm excited by the prospect of a major corporation like Express Scripts moving to inner-ring North County from the Riverport area in Maryland Heights. I just wish they would consider developing something with more pedestrian connections to its surroundings. After all, the North Hanley and UMSL North MetroLink stations are not far away, but the development seems to be planned as a highway-oriented office park rather than transit-oriented.

Admittedly, it doesn't help that North Hanley MetroLink station is far from pedestrian-friendly. The relocation of the platform access ramp eastward, away from the apartments across Hanley but adjacent to the new park-n-ride garage, is very telling. This garage is set back the equivalent of two blocks from Hanley. Admittedly, there is still surface parking closer to Hanley which could perhaps be used for a transit-oriented development; UMSL has talked of building a hotel and conference center there, but I'm not sure if that project still has legs.

But for now, it's clear that at the North Hanley station, Metro prioritizes park-n-ride customers 1st, bus transfer customers 2nd (half a dozen bus routes converge there), and neighborhood residents a distant 3rd. There is a stairway leading from Hanley to the parking lot at least; that was built a few years ago. So that's an improvement on the mud path that used to lead to the station from Hanley itself.