Thursday, August 31, 2006

Riverview Transit Center: Not Quite Ready Yet

Riverview Transit Center: Not Quite Ready Yet

OK, so my posting about Metro transit connectivity last week was not 100% accurate.

It turns out, the new Riverview-Hall MetroBus Center is not quite done yet.

All the buses that will serve the transit center are, for now, laying over at Riverview Plaza, a small strip mall with a large parking lot, across the road at the NE corner of N. Broadway (aka Bellefontaine Road) and Riverview Drive, right on the city-county line.

The temporary 'transit center' is just a parked bus where passengers may sit inside in the event of inclement weather, while the pool of operating buses waits a few feet away.

By the way, that Rider Alert is a bit inaccurate: the #240x Oakville Express does not serve the Riverview-Hall area. Indeed, the #240x Oakville Express no longer exists. As of Monday, it was replaced by MetroLink and the new #17 Oakville route, serving South County.

The #240x does serve Riverview-Hall -- but that's because that route number has been reassigned to the Bissell Hills Express (formerly the #241x).

This does beg the question, though: will any of the new developments in Jennings incorporate on-site transit stops? Both Northland and River Roads shopping malls were served by numerous buses that stopped near mall activity centers / anchors -- at Northland, the Famous-Barr store; and at River Roads, not too far from the Stix, Baer & Fuller store I believe.

While River Roads (currently under demolition) will be mostly residential, it sure would have been a nice gesture of Pyramid Construction -- who took over the development rights from McBride & Son for the site -- to incorporate a small bus transfer facility on an edge of the site, rather than forcing Metro to build a facility in a fairly remote corner of the far north riverfront.

As for the "Buzz Westfall Plaza on the Boulevard," as Sansone Group calls the new Target-Schnucks anchored center on the former Northland site, I doubt we'll see buses going there anytime soon. But I'm willing to be surprised.

Oddly, the brochure with site plan available online for potential tenants (PDF) does note "Four bus lines on site" and somehow proclaims this big-box monstrosity a "mixed-use development," but I see no indication of where an on-site transit stop could possibly be located.

Anyway, it's really only two bus lines now: the #64 Lucas Hunt and #74 Florissant. The #274x Paddock Hills never came on-site anyway, the #16 City Limits now terminates at Riverview-Hall, and the #96 Walnut Park that used to end at Northland, was eliminated back in 2001.

As for the "Jennings Crossings" development, located at Jennings Station and I-70 where a bunch of houses once stood, transit access will likely be limited to on-street stops on nearby Jennings Station. The #274x used to make a stopover in this interchange, but the I-70 reconstruction project quietly eliminated the bus ramps. Instead, a single trip in each direction now serves Lillian Ave (the I-70 south outer road) from Lucas Hunt to Jennings Station. Jennings Station is supposed to be widened to three lanes and straightened between I-70 and West Florissant, much like the never-ending Kienlen widening project further south.

By the way, I suspect that road along the city-county line must hold some kind of record for most name changes along a continuous roadway. From north to south:

1) Chain of Rocks Road (Riverview to Bellefontaine)
2) Jennings Station Road (Bellefontaine to Natural Bridge)
3) Kienlen Avenue (Natural Bridge to Page)
4) North Skinker Boulevard/Parkway (Page to Forsyth)
5) South Skinker Boulevard (Forsyth to Clayton Road)
6) McCausland Avenue (Clayton to Canterbury Avenue)
7) Ellendale Avenue (Canterbury to Wellington Court)
8) Wabash Avenue (via a very sharp turn at Wellington to Lansdowne)

South of Lansdowne, of course, Wabash blends back into McCausland, but those streets are all blocked off anyway, and probably will be for the foreseeable future.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

In Memory of John Rataj

In Memory of John Rataj
UPDATE 8/31/06 9:00 AM: Here's the funeral notice for John.

John Rataj, Acting Executive Director of the Community Development Administration, died last week while hiking in Colorado. John has been a long-time City employee for over 34 years. John leaves behind his wife of 34 years, Jennifer, three sons, Bill, Stephen and Daniel, and grandson, Caleb. Funeral arrangements are as follows:

Visitation will be Friday, September 1st, from 2:00 p.m.-9:00 p.m., at Colonial Hoffmeister-Kriegshauser Mortuary, 6464 Chippewa. The funeral mass will be Saturday, September 2nd, 10:00 a.m. from Epiphany of Our Lord Catholic Church, 6596 Smiley.

In lieu of flowers, the family is requesting donations be made to the search and rescue operation which recovered John's body:
Custer County Search and Rescue
c/o Arthur Nordyke
P.O. Box 29
Weste Cliffe, CO 81252
Please keep the Rataj family in your thoughts and prayers.
By now you've probably heard that longtime City of St. Louis Community Development Administration staffer and director John J. Rataj was killed late last week while mountain-climbing in Colorado.

It's still a pretty big shock, as John was one of those folks who always seemed to be in the picture with city government. Part of the original CDA staff in 1974, he stuck around after Schoemehl's slash-and-burn cuts in the early '80s, and served as CDA fiscal manager and/or deputy director for years, serving as acting director several times after mayoral appointees like Steve Acree, Gene Gorden, Joan Kelly Horn or Kathy Feil Brown departed.

Whenever another employee retired or left for another job, it seemed like John was always among the dedicated crew present at the send-off.

John was a committed, intelligent, affable, friendly guy, and a dedicated city employee. His son Bill also works for CDA.

Funeral arrangements are pending. His face will be sorely missed at 1015 Locust and throughout city government.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Cross County MetroLink: First Impressions

Cross County MetroLink: First Impressions

I didn't ride the new Cross County MetroLink on the free days -- Saturday and Sunday -- so I was eager to try it out today. I rode from downtown to Brentwood I-64 station and back to run a couple errands.

Generally, I was impressed. The two underground stations -- UCity-Big Bend and Skinker -- have a very "city" subway-style feeling, which might creep out some people but might also give WashU students the impression of being in a real big city after all!

I was impressed at how many WashU students already were using it today, particularly getting on and off at UCity-Big Bend station. Of course, there are residence halls in The Village just steps from that station, not to mention hundreds of off-campus apartments run by the university's Quadrangle Housing Company nearby. Even the South 40 isn't too far to walk, through campus. I suspect this will be the main station I use to access the western half of campus, including that rusty ol' hunk of concrete, Eliot Hall.

Although those two stations are underground, the trains pass by campus alongside Forest Park Parkway a little above grade, enough that they'll be visible to students, faculty and staff going to and from the parking garages, or in the law library, and some classrooms, offices, and laboratories. Anything that makes high-quality, high-speed public transit visible like that, is a very good thing.

I don't yet see the utility of the Forsyth station, though. I noticed WashU sent out a message informing folks they're putting up access gates at the West Campus parking lot, as well as the parking lot on the Danforth Campus closest to Forest Park and Skinker. That, of course, is to prevent park-ride usage.

Also, the availability of parking on campus is at a real premium due to the ongoing construction of the Sam Fox School expansion near Skinker, and now the construction of the new student center on the former site of Prince Hall (the replacement for Mallinckrodt Center). Within the past month, a temporary macadamized parking lot has been laid just south of there, on the formerly grassy informal playfield located west of Graham Chapel and south of McMillan Hall -- the very center of the campus. And starting September 1st, the parking lots just south of the Law School will be taken over by construction of the new Social Science and Law Building (supposedly the replacement for Eliot Hall).

Ironically, one of the things that is restricting traffic flow and parking at WashU is... building more parking garages! Along Snow Way just west of the Law School and south of The Village, a couple fraternity houses were torn down to make way for expanding an already large parking garage. The new student center on the Prince Hall site will include a new Central Underground Parking Facility in its basement. This underground parking will also extend under parts of the playfield.

Back to MetroLink: the ride through the tunnel was quite fast. The trains slow a bit west of Clayton station, because of the very wide curve they make on elevated structure, above both the eastbound lanes of Forest Park Parkway and the Clayton city maintenance garage. Then it's onto a pre-existing right-of-way berm adjacent to I-170. There are sound walls galore protecting all the adjacent single-families, although no such barriers on the side facing the Clayton business district even near high-rise condo buildings and hotels. The Richmond Heights station looks and feels pretty isolated. All the gates between the Tropicana Lanes parking lot and the right-of-way appeared to be locked, probably to discourage unofficial park-ride usage. The similarly adjacent parking lots for the BSKI synagogue were similarly empty. I realize they're both private property, but it seems like some sort of shared usage arrangement could have been considered given both those parking lots probably get very little usage on weekdays.

When I alighted the train at Brentwood-I-64, there are several quite unfriendly signs indicating no parking at the Dierbergs Brentwood Pointe shopping center. Indeed, they claim the City of Brentwood will issue a fine of up to $250 for anybody who parks more than three hours in the shopping center parking lot!

Not that the shopping center parking lot is particularly convenient to access from the adjacent MetroLink stop. Indeed, they seem to have made it as hard as possible. There's a walkway that's clearly an afterthought, leading from the westbound platform several hundred yards parallel and adjacent to the tracks, then turning so you are dropped right into heavy truck traffic across Hanley Industrial Court from the docks behind Dierbergs. There's no sidewalk on either side of that road, so you either walk in the grass/plantings or on the road itself, backtracking pretty far to get to the shopping center's covered walkway in front of the stores.

I visited my bank inside Dierbergs, then crossed over again using the MetroLink platform itself as a shortcut, to check out the new bus transfer/waiting area, which does not yet have any real seating. Also the parking garage is still under construction right at the top of the access ramp for the eastbound platform. Eventually that will be very convenient for park-ride users, but provides a visual and physical obstacle to accessing the Home Depot and McDonald's along Hanley. There's no evident plan for a pedestrian walkway to Hanley; you just have to walk through the limited surface parking (owned?) by Metro that's currently available for park-ride.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Cities of the Dead

Cities of the Dead

I can't explain why, but cemeteries fascinate me.

Maybe it's because the ones in St. Louis seem to stand out so much. Most are pretty large pieces of real estate, surrounded by urban or suburban development -- but it's obvious they weren't always so confined.

Indeed, the St. Louis Genealogical Society web site explains that:
As the city expanded, it was necessary to establish regulations for
the cemeteries. On 12 February 1879, the city fathers passed ordinance number 10990, apparently still in effect today, to “regulate cemeteries and the interment of the dead within the limits of the city of St. Louis.”

The ordinance lists thirteen cemeteries: Bellefontaine, Old Picker’s or Holy Ghost, Rock Spring, Wesleyan, The Western, alias Western Evangelical Lutheran, Bremen-Saxon, Calvary, Holy Trinity, St. Paul’s Evangelical, St. Peter’s and Paul’s[sic], Episcopal, Public Cemetery at City Poorhouse, and St. Matthew’s and all other cemeteries established and now in use within the present city limits of not less than two acres in extant.

A search of the St. Louis City Revised Code turns up Chapter 11.62 Part IV. The following section was last amended by Ord. #57313 in 1977:
11.62.280 Legal cemeteries named.
The following named cemeteries are recognized as legal and proper places of interment of persons who may die in the city or who may be brought to the city for burial: Bellefontaine, Calvary, First Evangelical, New Picker’s, St. Marcus (New), St. Matthews, St. Peter and St. Paul.

Obviously, a lot of things changed in the 98 years from 1879 (some of those cemeteries had just been added to the city three years before in 1876) to 1977.

  • Bellefontaine Cemetery, of course, still exists and it is enormous! 327 acres, 86,000+ burials, including a number of locally and nationally famous people, non-denominational. Why there's no official web site, I don't know. It was originally called simply the Rural Cemetery, established in 1849 around the time of the cholera epidemic. It has accepted reinterments from dozens of cemeteries formerly located in and around the downtown area.

  • Old Picker's or Holy Ghost Cemetery has a complicated history. It was originally established in 1845 on a site bounded by Kansas (now Compton), Wyoming, Louisiana, and Arsenal. It was affiliated with Holy Ghost Evangelical & Reformed Church, whose pastor was Frederick Picker. (hat congregation has moved many times, but still exists as Holy Ghost UCC near Kingshighway and Chippewa.)

    Another cemetery, Independent Evangelical Protestant Cemetery, was established in 1862 at 7133 Gravois near Hampton, and eventually came to be called New Picker's Cemetery. To make it even more confusing, this cemetery later was renamed Old Picker's, because the original Old Picker's was closed, with the bodies disinterred about 1916 to make way for the construction of Roosevelt High School. And, New Picker's became the name for the newly-purchased section across Gravois, at 7212 Gravois, about that same time.

    Today, both the "new" Picker's are called Gatewood Gardens Cemetery. They are owned by the City of St. Louis Land Reutilization Authority, because the last private owner (Solomon Rooks) failed to pay back taxes. For a few years they were known as St. Louis Memorial Gardens. But in the 1977 legislation, they're still New Picker's. Some sources say Old Picotte or New Picotte instead.

  • Rock Spring Cemetery was a Roman Catholic Cemetery bounded by Sarah-Duncan-Boyle-Clayton in the area once known as Rock Spring, the source of Mill Creek. This closed, curiously, the same year of the legislation -- 1879. Reinterment at Calvary, and a vault beneath St. Bridget of Erin Catholic Church.

  • Wesleyan Cemetery moved several times, moving about the time of the 1879 legislation outside city limits, to the southeast corner of Olive and Hanley in University City. Eventually, in 1952, that too closed; with most reinterred at Memorial Park Cemetery in Jennings, and a group of early Chinese-American immigrant graves mostly reinterred in China.

  • The Western, alias Western Evangelical Lutheran Cemetery, still exists in the city limits but has not taken new burials since the 1960s. It takes up most of the block bounded by Marcus, Cora, Lexington, and Ashland, just south of Natural Bridge. Immanuel Lutheran Church located on a corner of the site in 1928, but I think it has closed and/or merged with another church. So it's not clear to me the future of that property.

  • Bremen-Saxon Cemetery was located "e of Broadway between Thatcher & Calvary" according to the St. Louis Public Library listings. Around 1925, it closed, with reinterment at Friedens Cemetery, located at 8941 N. Broadway / Bellefontaine Road, mostly in St. Louis County but partly inside the city limits. But, although it opened c. 1865, it appears on neither list of 'approved' cemeteries. Admittedly, only a tiny sliver is inside the city limits. It was originally affiliated (and may still be?) with what is now known as Friedens UCC in Hyde Park, better known these days as the sponsor of Friedens Haus.

  • Calvary Cemetery, of course, is Bellefontaine's neighbor to the north, and the largest Catholic cemetery in St. Louis. Several smaller Catholic cemeteries were reinterred there over the years. 477 acres, at least 316,254 burials, including a number of locally and nationally famous people. It is, I think, the largest single parcel of ground in the city limits that's not a public park.

  • Holy Trinity Cemetery was a small Catholic cemetery for the poor, also known as "Poor Man’s Catholic Cemetery" adjacent to O'Fallon Park at N. Broadway and Taylor. About 1908, those buried there were moved to Calvary.

  • First Evangelical Cemetery is the Lutheran cemetery known better as Concordia Cemetery, along the north side of Bates Street (4031 Bates) near Leona in the Bevo neighborhood. Its records are online, like those of the Catholic cemeteries.

  • St. Paul's Evangelical Cemetery was located at 6417 and 6424 Gravois, along both sides of Gravois near Holly Hills. Nearly 10,000 burials were disinterred and relocated to the St. Paul's "Churchyard" along Rock Hill Road near Laclede Station Road in Affton, in 1924. Both were affiliated with what's now St. Paul's UCC on Giles near Grand and Gravois.

  • St. Peter & Paul Cemetery is only the Roman Catholic cemetery still located in South St. Louis City. It's at 7030 Gravois, with an annex across Gravois at 7139 Gravois, adjacent to the main part of Gatewood Gardens. As I've mentioned, many of my ancestors are buried in that annex part.

  • Episcopal Cemetery seems to have been located near 18th and Park, and affiliated with Christ Church Cathedral. It's not clear when it closed, but I suspect reinterment at Bellefontaine was likely, probably not long after the law was written.

  • The "Public Cemetery at City Poorhouse" no longer exists, although St. Louis Crematory and Mausoleum at 3211 Sublette seems to be the last remaining section of that property. The rest was developed in the 1950s with single-family houses along the north side of Fyler, and the Hampton Gardens Apartments at Hampton and Fyler. The land under those apartments is still owned by the city, under a long-term lease negotiated back when Joseph Darst was mayor.

  • St. Matthew's Cemetery still exists. It's along the west side of Morganford from Bates to Holly Hills. It is associated with St. Matthew UCC on Jefferson and Potomac. A small section of the property (6101 Morganford) is actually known as St. Nicholas Greek Cemetery.

  • Finally, there's the story of the two St. Marcus Cemeteries, neither mentioned in 1879. Both were affiliated with St. Marcus UCC on Russell Blvd. Old St. Marcus was abandoned and neglected for many years, and became a city park in the 1970s. It is located between the former site of St. Paul's Cemetery and the current SS Peter & Paul, at 6600 Gravois. New St. Marcus, 7901 Gravois, is mostly in the county, but a little strip alongside River des Peres Blvd. is inside the city limits.

    So today we have only a handful of cemeteries inside the city limits.
  • Thursday, August 24, 2006

    Gangs, Crime, and The Recreation Tax

    Gangs, Crime, and The Recreation Tax

    So, yesterday the RFT again (re)discovered that, yes, the City of St. Louis does have a gang problem.

    This week's article focuses on the murder of 17-year-old Robert L. Walker after getting off the Lee bus in Walnut Park. As I noted after it happened in May, something similar happened back in 1992 at about the same location.

    Five years ago, the RFT's story was about white kids from Arnold getting shot after a drug deal gone bad at Illinois and Potomac in the Marine Villa neighborhood.

    That article came out about one week before I closed on my first house -- on the 3800 block of Indiana in Marine Villa.

    And this week's article, while it starts in Walnut Park, follows the police gang unit south, visiting the 3200 block of Ohio (the 3200 OCG gang, whose markings I know well since that's only three blocks away from my house. Of course, I think some other gang "controls" the problem blocks of 3200 and 3300 Nebraska -- directly behind my house. Lovely.

    Everybody grieves in their own way, I understand that. But I don't quite get attaching teddy bears to street light poles. I guess it's an attempt to reclaim lost innocence, because really, I don't think these guys who get shot in gang-related activities had played with teddy bears for a very long time.

    I saw such a memorial appear back in January on the 3200 block of Nebraska near Wyoming. That was after a young man was shot and killed at that location while allegedly trying to rob a cab driver -- who himself got in some hot water because he was on probation for a Federal crime.

    The other perplexing thing is: unlike Walnut Park, Benton Park West is a neighborhood on a strong rebound after decades of disinvestment. While the 3200 OCG's may still hang out at Wyoming and Ohio getting high off codeine and Nyquil, that same corner is now the site of a major gut rehab by Millennium Restoration and Development at 2647 Wyoming, converting a former multi-family + corner commercial building into two townhouses. Sale prices are $300,000 and $350,000 -- far beyond what I'll ever be able to afford, that's for sure!

    Millennium a few years ago completed a similar project across Ohio, converting the large building at 2701 Wyoming into two townhouses. They won a 2003 Homer Award for that development.

    With such high-end redevelopment occurring, and less expensive but equally important moderate rehabs being undertaken by homeowners and investors across Benton Park West (and to some extent, Marine Villa and Gravois Park), eventually these neighborhoods will resemble Tower Grove East, Benton Park, or even Tower Grove South, way more than they do Walnut Park.

    But at what cost? Will we simply displace low-income families to points further south?

    Redevelopment is great, but gang activity doesn't stop just because of a gut rehab or two. Even in Walnut Park, heavily subsidized new construction of houses -- including a wacky plan that moved a handful of 1950s ranch houses from the Bridgeton airport expansion area onto new sites in Walnut Park -- has not really changed the fundamental dynamics of gangs and drug activity.

    But what are the solutions? Jobs -- more of 'em and better paying ones. Better schools. More recreation programs. These are not simple nor easy to achieve.

    And, I hate to say it, but I really am skeptical about the mayor's proposal for a new 1/8-cent sales tax to fund recreation programs. There's already been active NIMBYish opposition to the proposal to build a new rec center in Carondelet Park. And that location is not ideal to serve the sections of the Southside that really need it. Also, it would cost money to get in -- although they claim scholarships would be available.

    A similar center planned for Fairgrounds Park would be better situated, but what about the Walnut Park neighborhood (and for that matter, Baden)? There's really not much up there -- sure, Walbridge is a Community Education Center, but there's no pool there. Maybe Northwest High School has some facilities, but are they open to the neighborhood kids? I think Wohl Recreation Center is the closest one for all of Northwest and Far North City -- no wonder it's so busy all the time!

    Also, Fairgrounds Park already has a swimming pool, as it has for many decades. If a recreation center is built, plus the long-discussed football stadium for St. Louis Public Schools / Public High League, how much park land will be left? Sure, it's better than putting a Walgreens inside the park, as Ald. Bosley once proposed, and it's not exactly a nature preserve (the historic bear pits are cool though), but every neighborhood needs some public open spaces. And, no, overgrown LRA lots don't count.

    We're actually a little better served on the Southside, with the facilities at Cherokee Recreation Center (now run, oddly, by one-time Board of Aldermen President Tom Zych) and the Marquette Park swimming pool. But, those places really need a lot of reinvestment and catching up on deferred maintenance.

    I just don't like the idea of a sales tax for the rec centers and programs. Sure, it's easy to administer, but aren't there other options? Sales taxes are regressive -- the poor pay more, proportionally, than the rich. If that passes, and the talked-about statewide sales tax for rebuilding I-44 and I-70 passes, the total sales tax rate in the city will be well over 8%. On restaurant food, it'll be about 10%.

    That's too high. I agree we need better recreation programs and facilities. But, trying to build something in Carondelet Park that somehow is on a par with places like The Heights in Richmond Heights or Centennial Commons in University City, seems unrealistic.

    Let's find another way to fund improved recreation programs, and focus first and foremost on improving our existing underfunded, underappreciated facilities. I suggest a small property tax increase, which would also be earmarked and not just go into general revenue.

    In 2004, city voters passed Proposition K, a 19-cents per $100 assessed valuation property tax earmarked for children's mental health services. A slightly higher tax, maybe 30-cents per $100 assessed valuation, would probably provide enough money for improved recreation programs and services.

    A separate bond issue could be tried later, if they still were insistent on building all-new facilities.

    At this point, I just cannot support a sales tax for recreation.

    Tuesday, August 22, 2006

    New Connectivity in Metro Transit System

    New Connectivity in Metro Transit System

    If you have not yet picked up your free new Metro System Guide, you really should. I believe they're still giving them out today at Civic Center MetroBus Center, tomorrow at Convention Center MetroLink station, and Thursday at Clayton MetroBus Center.

    Starting Monday, they're $3 each at MetroRide downtown and the new MetroRide branch in Clayton.

    Under the new scheme, almost every route connects to MetroLink! The only ones not connected to at least one MetroLink station are:

    #16x Workhouse Shuttle (a very short route -- but it does hook into the new Riverview-Hall MetroBus Center)
    #36 Spanish Lake (also serves the Riverview-Hall MetroBus Center)
    Hospital Connector (pretty short, too -- and via Ballas MetroBus Center, transfers to only a 10-minute ride on the #58 Chesterfield Ellisville to Brentwood I-64 MetroLink)

    So on August 28th, there will be in total:

    37 MetroLink stations (MO and IL)

    8 MetroBus transfer centers located at:
    Ballas @ I-64
    Central West End MetroLink (Taylor @ Children's Place)
    Civic Center MetroLink (14th @ Spruce)
    Clayton MetroLink (Shaw Park Drive @ Meramec)
    Gravois @ Hampton
    North Broadway @ East Taylor
    Riverview @ Hall
    Shaw @ Vandeventer (well, sort of)

    MCT Bus Stations in:
    Collinsville (Clay @ Clinton)
    Edwardsville (Main @ Hillsboro)
    Granite City (19th @ Edison)

    Many commuters will now need to transfer to MetroLink in order to reach downtown St. Louis. But the following 10 local routes will still offer direct service into the downtown core (east of Tucker):

    #04 Natural Bridge clockwise loop via Tucker-Washington-Broadway-Market.
    #10 Gravois counterclockwise loop via Market-4th-Washington-Tucker.
    #30 Soulard crosstown northbound via 4th-Washington-11th-Convention-9th and southbound via 10th-Washington-Broadway.
    #32 Wellston-MLK inbound via 10th-Washington-8th-Clark and outbound via Clark-7th-Locust-9th (until 9th St garage completion).
    #40 Broadway crosstown northbound via 4th-Market-7th-Washington-4th and southbound via Broadway-Washington-8th-Market-Broadway.
    #41 Lee counterclockwise loop via 14th-Market-4th-Washington.
    #74 Florissant inbound via 13th-Tucker-Washington-8th-Clark and outbound via Clark-7th-Locust-9th-Washington-Tucker-13th (until 9th St garage completion).
    #93 Midtown - South County crosstown northbound via 4th-Washington-Tucker-Olive and southbound via Olive-Tucker-Washington-Broadway.
    #94 Page inbound via MLK-Tucker-Washington-8th-Clark and outbound via Clark-7th-Locust-9th-Washington-Tucker-MLK (until 9th St garage completion).
    #97 Delmar bidirectionally via Washington to eastern terminal loop clockwise via 7th-Convention-Broadway-Washington.

    Also, at rush hour 8 Missouri expresses and 5 MCT expresses (plus the Tri-City MetroBus) operate into the downtown core. The routing as of Monday, August 28th is:

    #10x South Grand and #11x Shrewsbury (Gravois "express" routes); #40x I-55 Mehlville (only remaining I-55 express route); #58x Twin Oaks and #410x Eureka (both I-44 express routes): inbound via 14th-Market-7th-Washington-Broadway, ending Broadway @ Market (will change from 7th to 9th after garage construction completion); outbound via 4th (starting @ Market)-Washington-8th-Market-Tucker-Spruce-14th.
    #174x Halls Ferry, #240x Bissell Hills, and #274x Paddock Hills (all I-70 express routes): inbound via Broadway-Washington-8th-Market-Tucker-Spruce-14th; outbound via 14th-Market-7th-Washington-4th (will change from 7th to 9th after garage construction completion).

    Most of the time, the MCT routes already follow the same route as the I-70 Missouri express routes, inbound via 8th and outbound via 7th, with service to 14th and Spruce area.

    As of August 28th, 2006, no buses will operate on Olive Street east of Tucker. And, except for the temporary detour segment on Locust from 7th to 9th, no buses will operate on Locust Street.

    Also, express buses will no longer operate on Tucker north of Market. The only buses still operating on Tucker between Washington and Market will be the #04 Natural Bridge (northbound only), #10 Gravois (southbound only), and #93 Midtown-South County (bidirectionally from Washington to Olive only).

    Another change worth noting is the #97 Delmar will now be the only MetroBus route serving Delmar Blvd. through the Delmar Loop area in University City.

    The #91 Olive will operate directly via Olive-Skinker-Enright to Delmar MetroLink, and east on Delmar to DeBaliviere garage. The #60 Midland will operate directly via Midland-Delmar-Big Bend to UCity-Big Bend MetroLink, and southeast via Big Bend and Forsyth to end at the new WashU bus loop outside Mallinckrodt Center. And the new #02 WUSTL Red operated by Metro will service Vernon, a clockwise loop in Parkview Gardens via Eastgate, Enright, Westgate, and Clemens, then back to Vernon and via Skinker-Enright to Delmar MetroLink, then south on Skinker, but will not service any segment of Delmar Blvd.

    No MetroBus will operate on Leland, North Loop, or Kingsland Avenues. WashU will still operate its own shuttle bus service (the Green Line) to Lewis Center on Kingsland and the Delmar Loop/Parkview Gardens area.

    Other highlights include new all day service across South County on the #17 Oakville (reinstating most of the old #17 Clayton-Oakville service eliminated in the 1990s), and in far south City on the #08 Bates -- both serving the new Shrewsbury Lansdowne I-44 MetroLink terminus. The #08 serves what were the southernmost parts of the #90 Hampton, which now will terminate at Hampton-Gravois MetroBus Center in the south, but will be extended north from Baden via Halls Ferry and Riverview to terminate at the new Riverview Hall MetroBus Center. As previously mentioned, the former #90 service to the City Workhouse has been spun off into its own little route (#16x Workhouse Shuttle), operating exclusively from the Riverview Hall MetroBus Center to the Workhouse on Hall Street.

    Anyway, don't delay -- get your new Missouri Metro System Guide today, while it's still free!

    Monday, August 21, 2006

    MetroLink Parties

    MetroLink Parties

    Cross County MetroLink will finally start running Saturday, August 26th. Rides will be free on Saturday and Sunday, with "revenue service" starting Monday, August 28th.

    At least two big parties are planned:

    WashU hosts "Opening Doors" community festival from 9:30 AM to 11:30 AM on Saturday, on the parking lot in front of Brookings Hall.

    LinkFest will be held on River des Peres Boulevard at Lansdowne Avenue, across from the Shrewsbury-Lansdowne-I-44 station, from 2 PM to 8 PM on Saturday.

    There will also be a "sequential ribbon-cutting" at each station between 11 AM and 2 PM Saturday.

    Free rides for all on the new route should run from about 12:15 PM to 10 PM Saturday, and 10 AM to 4 PM on Sunday.


    Friday, August 18, 2006

    Regional Travels

    Regional Travels

    Over the past week or so, my wife and I (along with her mother, and our goddaughter in town for the week most of that time, and with a friend from our high-school days who is back in town from Boston during part of that time) traveled seemingly all over the St. Louis metropolitan area.

    Cemetery Day

    Back on Sun. Aug. 6th, we spent several hours visiting cemeteries where some of my ancestors are buried. As I mentioned yesterday, the Goeke family plots are located in the section of SS Peter & Paul Cemetery located west of Gravois, just south of Sunshine Drive, and north of the main part of Gatewood Gardens Cemetery. But we didn't realize that at first, so we drove and walked all over the main part of Peter & Paul east of Gravois, which is huge.

    Earlier, we had visited the grave of my great-grandfather Henry Kremer and other family members in Mount Olive Cemetery, nestled on the edge of Lemay along Mount Olive Road. This cemetery is one of three adjacent to each other. Mt. Olive is for Catholics. Mt. Hope, along Lemay Ferry, is for Protestants. Oakdale, in the rear with the only access route being through Mt. Olive, reputedly has the graves of numerous slaves. These cemeteries would have been quite remote from the city when founded in 1849, as a burial site for victims of the cholera epidemic that struck St. Louis that year. 1849 was also the year of the great fire that wiped out much of the riverfront.

    Around the World in a Ballwin Strip Mall

    Our goddaughter arrived on Monday, and Tuesday of course was election day. But Wednesday night involved a bit more travel, to North County for several hours (I rode the #274x Paddock Hills Express to get out there); and Thursday lots of car-riding, as we headed out west, to Worldways Children's Museum.

    Worldways was reasonably fun, but a bit disappointing. Somehow I had hoped it to be bigger, and easier to find. It's located in a strip mall called Claymont Plaza, off Clayton Road just west of Kehrs Mill. Even with my GPS, we got a little turned around coming from lunch near Chesterfield Mall.

    I also wish they had representations of more than just four countries -- China, Mexico, the Philippines, and Senegal. There's also some Russian dolls in the back room. But then, the fact the place exists at all, in such an insular place as West St. Louis County, is itself impressive. Originally, they were located in West County Mall, but had to relocate before the mall was demolished and rebuilt (using Tax Increment Financing) several years ago.

    The drive back was across miles and miles of ugly, new-ish suburbia: west on Clayton, south on Clarkson, into Kiefer Creek south and east, then north on New Ballwin, east on Big Bend, south on Sulphur Springs, east on Vance, and south on MO 141 to finally reach I-44 eastbound towards home!

    Airport Pickup (No Liquids, Please)

    On Saturday, we really did a lot of riding around the 'burbs -- mostly North County. I think we logged over 100 miles just in St. Louis City and County! That's partly 'cause we were waiting for our friend from Boston's flight to arrive, and I felt weird about parking our suspicious-looking white cargo van at Lambert. Kelly was driving though ... I haven't done much student driving lately.

    We started out in South City, on our usual Utah-Gravois-Chippewa route, then headed out Watson Road to lunch at Red Lobster in Crestwood, where we actually got really great service. Then we headed back east on Watson, and eventually north on Laclede Station/Hanley clear up to Natural Bridge.

    We wound our way through the suburbs just south of Lambert Airport, eventually stopping to make some fun purchases at Unique Thrift Store on St. Charles Rock Road in Breckenridge Hills. It's a huge thrift store (a former A&P, near the recently-closed Schnucks), and they actually hang their pants sideways, so you can read the tags! Then we headed still further west, eventually discovering the gravel plant at end of the Rock Road where the MO 115 bridge into St. Charles used to be.

    It's a dead-end, so we turned around and headed northeast along a course that I had not previously realized was a single continuous road: Earth City Expressway, turns into Missouri Bottom Road north of MO 370 in Bridgeton, which turns into Aubuchon Road in Hazelwood, and then into Charbonier Road, twists and winds its way up the Missouri River bluffs, and eventually that turns into Washington St in Florissant, which then becomes (at I-270) Elizabeth Ave in Ferguson.

    Aubuchon/Charbonier is still a very rural two-lane road, with several sod farms and a generally country feel -- considering its located in the City of Hazelwood. I'm sure the city has development plans for that area, too, despite its being floodplain. Eventually, we ended up getting dinner at Clock Tower Plaza (I-270 and West Florissant Dierbergs) -- the same place we'd been shopping just three nights earlier! By the way, there's not really a clock tower at Clock Tower -- just a big outdoor wall clock atop the TJ Maxx store.

    And, then we headed out for a circuitous route to the airport: West Florissant to New Halls Ferry to Lindbergh, through the tunnel under the new runway, to the Natural Bridge exit, got a little turned around thanks to my utter confusion about the airport approach and access roads, but eventually (after I roamed around in the baggage claim area for a few minutes) we picked up our friend. (It turned out he had arrived at East Terminal, not Main Terminal, anyway.)

    We probably made it home about 11 PM Saturday, after dropping off our friend at his parents' house in Lafayette Square.

    "It's Cool When It's Hot!"

    The most fun day was Tuesday of this week. We headed way out to Raging Rivers Water Park near Grafton, IL. Although I am certainly very afraid of water, I actually had a great time! The only problem was the final ride we did, called the Swirlpool. It's a rapid twisting drop down into a 7-foot deep pool -- and I did have to be rescued from the water there, because I freaked out pretty badly. But I made it!

    The Endless River (very relaxing) and the Breaker Beach wave pool (not so relaxing, but fun) were probably my favorites. Some of the water slides were ok, others anti-climactic.

    And, since we planned ahead a little bit, we got my mother-in-law to do about half the driving (we met her at her house in North County and changed cars), and took the Grafton Ferry to get there (operating since 2002).

    That was undoubtedly the best, most fun way to get to Grafton. Why mess with the construction along MO 367, and then go through Alton to the Great River Road, when this route is so much faster? It's probably about the same distance, give or take a mile.

    All you do is take MO 370 west to MO 94 in St. Charles, head north about 9 miles on 94 through Boschertown and Orchard Farm, then follow the (rather small) sign to turn left onto Grafton Ferry Road. Take the road straight ahead about 4 miles. You'll be confused by passing at least two "No Outlet" road signs, but don't worry, you're going the right way. You turn left and then right onto a gravel area along the riverbank, to approach the ferry landing.

    Once your car is on board and the ferry leaves, the fare is collected. It's not real cheap - $13 per car round trip - but there's a summer Internet coupon for $1 off.

    After the 10 to 12 minute ride across the Mississippi, you just exit the Grafton landing, head north two blocks to IL 100, then east about two miles to Raging Rivers on the left.

    Raging Rivers, of course, is not as big or impressive as Six Flags, but I still thought it was fun. It's also not quite as 'corporate' as Six Flags -- sure, it has plenty of ads and merchandise, but it's owned locally, by the same Alton-based Adams Development Co. that developed it in 1990 and has owned the property (also known as The Palisades) since the mid 1960s. Homer Adams Parkway in Alton is named for the late family patriarch.

    While I realize they had their problems with environmental compliance in the early days, and the wave pool area was inundated in the flood of '93, I still thought it was a fun place -- and, especially on a Tuesday, not nearly as crowded as Six Flags, with no traffic getting there either.

    We left Raging Rivers a little before closing time, took the Grafton Ferry back into Missouri, and had dinner at, yes, another Red Lobster, this one in Bridgeton. The service was ok, but not as good as the other one.

    Thursday, August 17, 2006

    Family History

    Family History

    Lately, my wife Kelly and I have gotten pretty deeply into genealogical research. Sometimes, what you find is quite interesting, and sometimes, it's very surprising.

    My full name is Joseph Goeke Frank. I am named after my great-grandfather Joseph Goeke (1874-1963). His story is rather sad: his first wife Ella McDaniel (1882-1912), whom he probably met in Galena KS, passed away from tuberculosis at the age of 30. They had only one child, born 1911 -- my grandfather, John Taylor Goeke. Joseph was soon remarried, to Elizabeth Winkeler (1887-1966). They had a huge family.

    Ella is buried in the Goeke family plots at SS Peter & Paul Cemetery west of Gravois Avenue. But Joseph is with his 2nd wife at Immaculate Conception in Arnold. And her son John (1911-1962) is of course buried with his wife, my grandmother Hilda (1914-2001), at Resurrection Cemetery in Affton.

    I already knew my family had many truck (vegetable) farms in the Gardenville area of South St. Louis City and County. I didn't realize just how deeply into the city, and how many decades they were farmers!

    It turns out Ella passed away at the old St. Anthony's Hospital on Grand and Chippewa in 1912. As it happens, her grand-daughter (my mother, that is) worked there -- 60 years later! It was demolished in 1975 to make way for the now-closed National supermarket on that corner.

    But she probably spent some time on the Goeke family farm located at -- believe it or not -- 3860 Bingham Ave. in Dutchtown (basically, at the SW corner of Bingham and Spring). As late as 1924, the Goekes were active members of St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church and continued to run the farm at that location.

    That location is now a factory, built in 1947. I don't know for sure, but the fact the property is today zoned K - Unrestricted and the legal description states...

    O. L. 41 BINGHAM AVE
    6.64 ACRES

    ...I'm thinking the property went directly from farmland to industrial use in the 1940s.

    My grandmother Hilda's maiden name was Kremer. She was among the first few confirmation (1923) and 8th grade (1928) classes at St. George Catholic Church, founded 1915 with its school opening in 1916. She was baptized in 1914 at St. Boniface in Carondelet (now closed). Both my parents attended St. George school as well -- in the 1950s, part of that time in a then-new building that closed a few years ago and is now leased to Edgewood Children's Center as a special school.

    Grandma's mother's maiden name was Grosskettler. Based on 1895 probate records, it seems that family had a 7-acre farm at the NE corner of Kingshighway and Eichelberger. Of course, they must have sold earlier than the Goekes, because that area now consists of houses built mostly in the 1920s, adjacent to Christy Park.

    And of course my great-grandfather, Hilda's dad, was Henry Kremer. He had a farm at 825 Union Road in the county. Most of the property was taken - I think by eminent domain - in the mid-1950s to build Interstate Highway 55. The rest I believe he donated to the Archdiocese to build St. Timothy Catholic Church (1958-2003). Now, of course, that church complex has been sold -- to the Salvation Army.

    Now, when we start talking about distant cousins, we're pretty sure I'm related in one way or another to the proprietors of J. Goeke Produce located in old town Florissant, and probably to now retired Judge Joseph J. Goeke III (currently Republican director of the St. Louis County Board of Election Commissioners).

    And, by marriage of a cousin, I have a very distant connection to Aloys P. Kaufmann - the last Republican mayor of the City of St. Louis.

    Geez - for such a progressive guy, I sure do have a lot of Republican connections!


    Friday, August 11, 2006

    MO Senate 4th District Post-Election Analysis

    MO Senate 4th District Post-Election Analysis

    Predicting election results is a most dangerous game. Endorsements are even scarier -- particularly in close races.

    The Arch City Chronicle, StL Diatriber, St Louis Oracle, and others have already done excellent work analyzing the results of the complex four-way race in the 4th District MO Senate Democratic primary that Jeff Smith won.

    All in all, it's probably not surprising Jeff won. He ran the best campaign. Nevertheless, it's clear from the election results that he has some work to do in order to reach out beyond his support base of middle-class progressive whites in the neighborhoods around Forest Park (Wards 24 and 28) and Tower Grove Park (Wards 8 and 15).

    For all the talk about splitting the North Side African-American vote two (or even three) ways, it still appears Yaphett El-Amin solidly carried the North Side with a safe 55% majority. Ignoring Ward 19, where only one precinct is in the 4th Senate District (it went 73% with El-Amin), she won a majority of the votes in Wards 1, 4, 22, 26, and 27. Most of that area (generally north of Delmar and west of Kingshighway except that ward 4 includes the Ville neighborhood) is in her current State Rep district, although not entirely. It seemed like a pretty strong base - but not strong enough to win overall.

    El-Amin won, but did not attain a majority, in Ward 17 (by one vote over Jeff Smith, but keep in mind this is only four precincts - basically FPSE and McRee Town/Botanical Heights), and Ward 18, which is mostly north of Delmar but stretches into the CWE somewhat, accounting for Jeff Smith's 13.8% showing there.

    Amber Boykins did not attain a majority anywhere, and won only Ward 21 (Penrose/O'Fallon Park neighborhoods). That's her base of course.

    Kenny Jones did not win anywhere, of course. He managed to break 10% in his home base of Ward 22 (Wells/Goodfellow and Hamilton Heights), but El-Amin solidly took it.

    Derio Gambaro won a majority in only Ward 10 (which includes The Hill) and Ward 16 (St. Louis Hills and the western half of Southampton). Those constituted his base. Everybody thought he would win there. He did not win any other wards.

    Naturally, Jeff won huge majorities in Ward 8 (Shaw and SW Garden) and Ward 15 (TG South). It wasn't even close.

    Also he won with a majority in Ward 24 (Dogtown and Clifton Heights mostly), and picked up with a sizeable majority the progressive Ward 28 (Skinker-DeBaliviere and parts of the CWE). Ward 28 did not have the opportunity to vote for him in the 3rd Congressional district race, but clearly that bastion of white progressive power backed him this time.

    Jeff also won the one precinct in Ward 12 and the two precincts in Ward 14, but that's very few votes.

    What's most amazing is that Jeff won in Ward 23 -- albeit by only 33 votes over Gambaro. That's the Lindenwood Park and Tilles Park neighborhoods, where Mayor Slay lives and where Slay's father / committeeman / powerbroker / St. Raymond's proprietor Francis R. Slay is a significant benefactor of Jeff's. Does this indicate that part of SW City leans more left than we think? Or does it just speak to the enduring power of the sample ballot in a close race?

    Or perhaps neither. After all, the Democratic organizations in wards 8 and 24 endorsed Gambaro. Jeff Smith won solidly in both wards. Meanwhile, Jim Murphy in ward 12 endorsed Boykins. She only got seven votes (out of 82 total votes cast) down there.

    Come to think of it, I did see more than a few Jeff Smith yard signs in Ward 23.

    Still, Jeff only picked up about 10% of the North Side vote. His massive winning margin -- 36% in an effectively four-way race -- came mainly from strong turnout in his South-Central base of wards 8, 15, 24, and 28, plus decent showings in regions futher south, particularly the Slay-engineered upset in the 23rd.

    So, Jeff has some work to do to really get the political elites and the voters north of Delmar on board. He has less work to do on the South Side, but even there his winning margins could perhaps be overturned by somebody more like Pat Dougherty, Mike Daus, or Jim Shrewsbury: progressive on most economic and social justice issues, but a pro-Life Catholic South Side Democrat.

    I'm not predicting that will happen, though. If Jeff is smart, he'll start building those bridges early, both north and south.

    Wednesday, August 09, 2006

    Election Day Review

    Election Day Review

    OK, yeah, Jeff Smith won. And won big. I was shocked. Best of luck to him in the next four years (2007-2010) in the MO Senate. If the voters think he can do it, then so be it.

    I hope he's able to reconcile the variety of interests in the district like Pat Dougherty has -- particularly the racial divide -- by focusing on things all families and communities need to make the City of St. Louis and all of Missouri a better place to live. Of course, he'll have a hard road in trying to push an agenda in a Republican-controlled and -dominated state legislature.

    I am hopeful, though, for Democratic gains on 07/07/06. That would be a nice present for my 28th birthday. ;-)

    Some of Jeff's points "On The Issues" seem a bit naive upon a closer read. I didn't want to say this earlier, but the term "Urban Renewal" should have gone by the wayside in the 1970s. And while Monsanto is no longer the same firm it once was, it is still headquartered in Creve Coeur; and AT&T (nee SBC nee SWBT) still has a huge worker presence in downtown St. Louis. The high unemployment in the City of St. Louis is a result of WAY more than just CEOs who couldn't get into Old Warson or St. Louis Country Club.

    I also have trouble with Jeff's claim that "Republicans like to throw millions of taxpayer dollars at corporations in order to bribe them to relocate to their state." That same claim can also be made about many prominent Democrats. I'll leave it at that.

    Anyway, onward and upward: Yesterday, I was the Technical Specialist at the Froebel Elementary School (on Nebraska near Chippewa) polling place - Ward 20 Precincts 1 and 3.

    I was the 'expert' on how to use, troubleshoot, and fix minor problems on the new Diebold voting machines: two "AccuVote TSX" touch screen terminals; and one "AccuVote-OS" ballot box. It was fun -- but it was a very long day!

    I got up at 3 AM, took care of chores and showered, then walked the five blocks to Froebel just before 5. After getting acquainted with the other poll workers (eight of 'em -- 4 Democrats and 4 Republicans, all 50+, great to work with, and happy to see somebody young and familiar with the new voting machines), I made my morning calls to downtown on the assigned cell phone to report I was there on time, made sure the machines were ready to go, and we were pretty much ready when the polls opened at 6 AM. Alderman Schmid delivered coffee and donuts about 8 AM.

    Turnout was light most of the day, although we had a bit of a run between 5:30 and 6:00 PM. I got acquainted with several of my fellow workers, and had a number of interesting conversations about the election process, living in the 20th ward, etc. Most of our voters were seniors, but certainly not all. Actually, despite the low turnout, I think the range of diversity in the 20th ward was represented: voters were young and old, black and white, male and female. There just weren't a whole lot of them, period.

    I was glad I volunteered for this job, although the pay rate ($225) may be less than competitive -- it required about a seven-hour training session a couple weeks ago plus 14 1/2 hours on election day (Thanks to some help from the 20th ward roving crew that came to Froebel first, I was all packed up and ready to go by 7:30 PM - not bad!).

    I kept an approximate running tally of votes on all three machines through the day. But Mike and Joyce (the rovers) were so on top of things at 7:00 PM, I didn't have time to write down the final tally. But we were at 148 votes at 6:15 PM, so I don't we got over 200 votes in the entire day. Each of the precincts has about 1,100 registered voters, so we were probably in the 7-8% turnout range. That's actually better than the approximately 6% turnout for those precincts in the April school board election.

    But it's still dreadfully depressing turnout. To be fair, our precincts are not in the 4th Senate district, so we didn't have anything to really bring out the voters. Although several folks did want to vote for Jeff Smith, I had to explain to them we live in a different district!

    I shudder to think about how these new voting machines will perform in a more heavily attended election. TSX #1 never jammed up, but TSX #2 (the less busy machine!) had several printer jams during the day. The only problems I had with the OS machine were with ballots that had torn or frayed edges. Even so, between 5:30 and 6 PM we did have three or four voters in line waiting for a TSX.

    The rovers (Joyce, Mike, and Frank for tech stuff) were helpful, but not surprisingly downtown was frustrating. Several voters' registrations did not match their names, although they said they had turned in updates weeks and months ago. Most voters did NOT provide photo ID, so I'm concerned this may be a huge problem in our low-income elderly population come November. Most of these folks live on their own, not in nursing homes, so the little DOR vans won't reach them. South St. Louisans are a stubborn lot, we are.

    Monday, August 07, 2006

    Countdown: 21 Days 'Til Cross County!

    Countdown: 21 Days 'Til Cross County!

    It's official: Cross County MetroLink Grand Opening is Monday, August 28th!

    This coincides, of course, with the start of many new and reconfigured MetroBus routes under the plan called Metro Redefined.

    According to today's press release issued in conjunction with a press conference that probably just ended, there will also be free rides offered on Cross County MetroLink line only, the weekend before grand opening:

    Welcome Aboard Weekend

    Sat., August 26 – 12:15 p.m. –10:00 p.m. – Free rides on the Cross County Extension only

    Sun., August 27 – 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. - Free rides on the Cross County Extension only

    Grand Opening - Monday, August 28

    Grand Opening Celebration – 1:00 p.m. at the Shrewsbury Lansdowne I-44 MetroLink Station

    Linkfest Community Celebration – 2:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m. (Free rides on Cross County Extension until 9 p.m.)

    And to help us learn the new system, there's help. The below info is copied from the press release, but I've seen it posted inside several buses today as well.

    Metro officials will be helping customers learn how to use the system, and handing out MetroBus and MetroLink schedules at the following stations, MetroBus Centers, and MetroBus stops:
    August 7 – Central West End Station
    August 8 – North Hanley Station
    August 9 – St. Charles Rock Road Station
    August 9 – Ballas MetroBus Center
    August 10 – South County Mall Bus Stop
    August 10 – Wellston Station
    August 14 – Delmar Station
    August 16 – Grand Station (on Scott Drive)
    August 17 – Jennings & Halls Ferry Bus Stop
    August 22 – Civic Center Station
    August 23 – Convention Center Station (on 6th Street)
    August 24 – Clayton Station

    Less than three weeks away. I can hardly wait!

    Friday, August 04, 2006

    Missouri Sales Tax Holiday: A Public Policy Gimmick

    Missouri Sales Tax Holiday: A Public Policy Gimmick

    Today, tomorrow, and Sunday, is the Missouri Sales Tax Holiday on so-called "Back to School" items.

    On these three days, the following items are exempt from state sales tax and local sales taxes in most communities (except those opting out):

  • Clothing – any article having a taxable value of $100 or less
  • School supplies – not to exceed $50 per purchase
  • Computer software – taxable value of $350 or less
  • Personal computers – not to exceed $3,500
  • Computer peripheral devices – not to exceed $3,500

    (More details here.)

    The sales tax holiday was first proposed in 2003 by Governor Bob Holden as a sweetener to a package of 'revenue enhancers'... trouble is, most of his proposals for increasing revenues did not pass. Yet the sales tax holiday, estimated then to cost the state $5 million, did pass. It first was held in 2004, and was so popular the newly Republican-controlled state legislature made it permanent for 2005 and onward.

    Sure, personally, I probably will take advantage of the no/low sales tax days.

    But wouldn't it be better just to have a lower sales tax rate overall? Instead, we have this silly three-day 'sale'. Also, during the 1990s partial sales tax exemptions were instituted on groceries and, to placate the college student lobby, college textbooks (when purchased in a college bookstore). That was back when the state government was flush with cash. You may remember they were even mailing state income taxpayers tiny little refund checks for several years. This is because of a thing most people call the Hancock Amendment (PDF info here) but officially called "Article X Distributions."

    The thing is, sales taxes are often considered regressive. They place more of a burden on the poor than on the rich. Maybe the back-to-school exemptions alleviate that slightly -- but then, how many really poor folks can afford to spend $100 on a single piece of clothing, or $3,500 on a new computer?

    I am skeptical retailers benefit much from the sales tax holiday. Consumers, particular low-income folks, may have a few more cents in their pockets. I guess the stores count on people spending more than they otherwise would, because they're getting such 'great deals' due to the sales tax holiday.

    Also the sales tax holiday results in slightly higher administrative costs both for the retailers' accounting/bookkeeping functions, as well as for MO Department of Revenue. They have to track three days worth of sales, on selected items up to selected dollar amounts, differently than other items. Sure, it's easier to do with computerized inventory and financial management systems, but it still costs something to set that up accurately. I suspect the additional profits are marginal at best.

    The municipalities, many of whom opposed the sales tax holiday and hence opt out by continuing to charge sales taxes, may be the smartest of all. Those who opted out still get to collect their local sales taxes. But the State of Missouri gets zero sales tax revenue from those selected items on those three days.

    Ultimately, it's just a gimmick to keep us from realizing that, actually, Missouri has a very low, inequitably distributed tax burden. Our state income tax system is almost as regressive as sales tax, simply because the tax table established in 1931 has never been changed! Up to $9,000 per year (after deductions), it's a progressive scale. But after that, it's a flat 6%.

    As a result, according to Missourians for Tax Justice, the poorest 80% of Missourians pay over 9% of their income in taxes. The richest 20% pay only 5% to 7%, and the richest 1% pay only 5.1% in taxes.

    Maybe we should consider giving everybody who makes less than $6,000 per year after deductions, an income tax holiday in 2007!

    Or just get some of 'em back on Medicaid and increase the minimum wage to $6.50/hour. Yeah, that might be better. ;-)
  • Thursday, August 03, 2006

    Wellston Neighborhood Park

    Wellston Neighborhood Park

    Yesterday morning, I had the opportunity to attend the groundbreaking for the new Wellston Neighborhood Park, at the NW corner of Stephen Jones and Plymouth Aves., about two blocks outside the St. Louis City limits and adjacent to Engelholm Creek, and about two blocks east of the Wellston MetroLink station.

    Habitat for Humanity and others have helped finance construction of numerous new, modest homes on the blocks just to the east of this former gas station site. Just west is the MET Center, then the MetroLink stop, and across the tracks is the new business incubator (St. Louis Enterprise Centers - Wellston).

    County Exec. Charlie Dooley was hilarious at the helm of the backhoe! Rather than a traditional shovel ceremony, this was a quick dump of gravel onto the future site of a ballfield, playground, picnic shelter/concession stand and basketball court.

    This project is a great example of numerous regional players coming together over the course of several years. They include:

    The City of Wellston
    St. Louis County Economic Council
    Greater St. Louis Regional Empowerment Zone
    Great Rivers Greenway
    Gateway Foundation
    Cardinals Care

    See this PDF
    for more info on the ongoing revitalization of the southern half of Wellston.

    While there's still a long way to go, Wellston is indeed on the road to revitalization.

    Wednesday, August 02, 2006

    Election Predictions and My Votes

    Election Predictions and My Votes

    The August 8th primary is only six days away.

    Because I will be working for the Board of Elections as a "Technical Specialist" that day, I voted absentee in-person at the Board on Friday, during the lunch break for the one-day training session for the tech specs.

    I voted in the Democratic primary, thusly:

    US Senate: Claire McCaskill
    State Auditor: Susan Montee
    US Rep - Dist 3: Russ Carnahan
    State 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

    Amendment 1 (Conservation Tax Renewal): YES (emphatically!)
    Prop G (License Fee Increase): NO
    (Two questions:
    1) Back so soon? I voted yes in April, but most voters were opposed.
    2) If the mayor's plan to spend the dough on more cops and prosecutors is so great, why didn't they write that into the ballot text in the first place? Hopefully, if it fails again and goes on the November ballot, they will. Otherwise, we have no guarantee this fee increase will go anywhere but general revenue and Mike McMillan's office operations slush fund.)

    In the races for which I cannot vote, here's what I predict (besides the obvious wins by unopposed candidates):

    Democratic primary:
    State Senate - Dist 4: Yaphett El-Amin
    (admittedly, this one could easily go to Jeff Smith, and even Amber Boykins has a long-shot chance. In a true four-way race (plus Kenny Jones under 10%), it will only take about 25% of the vote to win. We'll find out Tuesday night...)
    State Rep - Dist 57: Talibdin (TD) El-Amin
    (Others may say Joe Palm, but I kind of think El-Amin has better name recognition districtwide because of his wife.)
    State Rep - Dist 58: Rodney Hubbard
    (Won't even be close -- although I disagreed with him strongly on the school voucher-lite tax credit bill this past session. Sorry, Bill Haas.)
    State Rep - Dist 60: Jamilah Nasheed
    (Sorry, Shaun Simms -- you should've changed your last name to Boykins. ;-)

    Republican primary:
    US Senate: Jim Talent
    (Ugh. But remind me, why is Isaiah Hair running?)
    State Auditor: 'Colonel' Jack Jackson
    (Although who knows what might happen outstate. John Loudon seemed to have a lot of big signs down in Poplar Bluff back in June - but he's so cocky...)
    US Rep - Dist 1: Leslie Farr
    (But R's should be happy if he hits 35% in November against Lacy Clay)
    US Rep - Dist 2: Todd Akin
    (Sorry, Sherman Parker, I just don't think it's going to happen this time.)

    By the way, what's the point of encoding a primary 'ballot' for the Libertarian and Green parties, when none of the offices are contested. Indeed, the Greens are fielding candidates only for Collector of Revenue and Recorder of Deeds.

    I voted for Green candidates in the general election in the past, especially when they were still trying to get ballot status in the city - which they have now done. But even folks whose inclinations are Green and live in MO Senate Dist 4, would be foolish to not vote in such a high-profile Democratic primary.

    Tuesday, August 01, 2006

    Comparative Political Geography and the 4th District Senate Race

    Comparative Political Geography and the 4th District Senate Race

    You probably know the City of St. Louis has 28 wards and 79 neighborhoods.

    You might know we have 10 state representative districts (plus part of an 11th), and 2 state senate districts (plus part of a 3rd). And of course we have parts of 2 U.S. House districts.

    But you may not realize how rarely those boundaries match up neatly. As a result, we have 208 precincts. 5 of them have no voters.

    Obviously, the hot topic right now is the 4th district state senate race, to determine who will succeed term-limited Senator Pat Dougherty.

    That huge district covers 96 precincts in roughly the western half of the City, including parts of 9 state rep districts and 18 wards, not to mention parts of both Congressional districts and both junior college subdistricts. (See PDF Map)

    Senate candidate Yaphett El-Amin's state house district (#57) contains 20 precincts, all located within the 4th senate district. Opponent Amber Boykins' district (#60) contains 22 precincts, but only 13 are located in the 4th district; the NE parts of her district are in the 5th senate district. El-Amin's district covers a larger geography but given the population declines of the past several decades and the generally decayed condition of much of that NW part of the city, seems likely to have lower voter turnout. (See PDF map)

    Housing statistics (PDF) suggest a slight edge for Boykins, because district 60 has a higher number and percentage of owner-occupied housing than district 57. District 60 also has a slightly older, higher income, less impoverished population than district 57.
    House DistrictNumber Owner-Occupied% Owner-OccupiedAge 65 and Up% 65 and UpMed Household Income% Poverty
    57 (El-Amin)5,67934.6%5,04915%$19,71036%
    60 (Boykins)6,93540.5%6,27218.3%$22,85527%

    While some of those senior homeowners in the 60th may not be in the 4th Senate district (particularly those cute little bungalows on streets like Dryden and Korte near I-70 between Shreve and West Florissant), it seems Boykins might have a larger potential voter base given the slightly older, more homeowning, somewhat higher economic status population of her district.

    So, between the two, I'm thinking Boykins has the edge over El-Amin based on home district demographics. But she has fewer precincts in both districts, so who knows?

    But is either one enough to top Jeff Smith's range of supporters, who are much harder to peg demographically? That I can't say for sure. Of course, Smith won the city in the high-profile 10-candidate 2004 primary for the 3rd district Congressional seat, with about 90,000 votes.

    How many of those supporters live in the 4th Senate district, though? Within the city, there are 105 precincts in the 3rd Congressional. But only 45 of those are also in the 4th Senate district. Of those, 19 are also located in the 65th state rep district, formerly represented by Derio Gambaro, the fourth candidate in this race. The district was smaller when Gambaro was the rep prior to redistricting. Nevertheless, it includes Gambaro's likely support base on The Hill (10th Ward).

    Complicating the picture is that longtime ward 23 committeeman and the mayor's father Francis R. Slay, endorsed Jeff Smith in this race. Single-issue pro-Life voters (and for that matter, Italian-Americans who don't care about abortion one way or the other) will probably ignore that endorsement and stick with Gambaro, just as they probably voted Favazza in '04.

    I don't have access to precinct-level returns, but it seems likely much of Jeff Smith's 2004 support came from east of Kingshighway and the edges of the central corridor. So that makes about 26 precincts, that are both within the 3rd Congressional AND the 4th State Senate districts, but NOT in the 65th State Rep district. Gambaro is likely to win in two of those as well, on the edges of the 12th and 14th wards and in the 66th State Rep district of conservative South County Democrat Michael Vogt. Somehow I doubt Jim Murphy's endorsement of Boykins will carry much weight in the 12th around St. Raphael's.

    So Jeff Smith's likely 'carryover' support base consists of 24 precincts concentrated in the 8th (Shaw), 15th (Tower Grove South), and maybe 24th (Dogtown) wards. The most interesting potential 'pickup' area would be the 28th ward, a high-turnout ward including the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood and part of Central West End which leans progressive, but is located in the 1st Congressional district so did not participate in the 2004 primary in the 3rd.

    So, in summary, I estimate the following number of precincts as the base of support for each candidate:
    CandidateNo. of PrecinctsHouse District(s)Parts of Wards
    El-Amin20 pctsH 57W 1, 4, 18, 22*, 26, 27, 28
    Boykins13 pctsH 60 (portion)W 1, 4, 18, 21, 22*
    Gambaro21 pctsH 65, 66 (portion)W 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, 23, 24
    Smith24 pcts3rd Congress, H 63, 64, 67W 8, 10, 14, 17, 23, 24, 28
    Unclear18 pcts1st Congress, H 58, 61, 64W 1, 18, 19, 24, 26, 27, 28

    * = Kenny Jones' 22nd ward 'base' overlaps with El-Amin's and Boykins' entirely. Of the 7 precincts in the 22nd Ward, 6 are also in the 57th State Rep and 1 is in the 60th. His chances seem pretty slim.