Friday, September 29, 2006

Cross County MetroLink Part Deux: Observations on Each New Station

Cross County MetroLink Part Deux: Observations on Each New Station

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Cross County MetroLink: One Month Out

Cross County MetroLink: One Month Out

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

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

In practice, MetroLink now has two routes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 25, 2006

But, St. Louis IS a Rail Hub!

But, St. Louis IS a Rail Hub!

So I was doing some pretty esoteric, theoretical reading for school this weekend, and came across the following claim about counterfactuals as a tool in argumentation:

"Would Chicago have become the major city of the Midwest if St. Louis had become a major rail hub?" **

This is a lousy example of a counterfactual, because St. Louis was and is a major rail center. RCGA says we're the 3rd largest in the U.S. It's not unfathomable, given just how many darned railroad tracks we have in this metro area. The largest concentrations are, of course, along the Mill Creek Valley and the riverfronts in both Missouri and Illinois. Other large railyards are scattered around near East St. Louis, IL; and there's a pretty big BNSF yard near I-44 at Jamieson/Arsenal.

While Chicago obviously did overtake St. Louis as "the major city of the Midwest," I don't think rail traffic concentration is enough to explain that. Most historians would probably blame it on the Mississippi River; or more specifically, the reliance of St. Louis business interests on the river as a primary mode of commerce, ignoring that eventually we'd need to build a bridge across it so trains would not need to be unloaded in East St. Louis to cross the river by ferry boat.

Chicago business interests were more foresighted, perhaps, and funded building the first railroad bridge across the Mississippi, at Rock Island IL, which opened over 150 years ago, April 22, 1856.

It took almost 20 years for St. Louis to finish its bridge, what we call the Eads Bridge today.

So, yeah, eventually Chicago became #1 in rail traffic. And today, they have huge congestion problems they are trying to get federal funding to fix.

** = In case you're interested, this was on page 159 of Methods of Discovery: Heuristics for the Social Sciences, by Andrew Abbott; New York, WW Norton, 2004. It should be noted that Dr. Abbott is a professor at the University of Chicago. So maybe he just doesn't know how much rail traffic St. Louis has!

Friday, September 22, 2006

Heritage Day is Sunday (Monday)

Heritage Day is Sunday (Monday)

Six years ago today was the first and only time I've ever started "spring break" in September! So I had two spring breaks in 2000: March and September. That's because I was in the southern hemisphere from July to November 2000, as an exchange student from UMSL to the University of the Western Cape.

For spring break, myself and four other exchange student guys -- one from U of Montana but originally from Minneapolis; one from U of Oklahoma but I think from Anchorage, AK; one from Mizzou but from Kansas City; and the fourth from Germany -- went on a 10-day guided tour, a safari of sorts except that we traveled within the mercifully malaria-free zone of western South Africa and southern Namibia. That included hiking down (and then back up!) Fish River Canyon; several days in Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park; and whitewater rafting on the Orange River above Augrabies Falls.

Anyway, it was a pretty cool trip, but what I wanted to talk about mainly is the interesting way post-apartheid South Africa deals with public holidays.

The day we left for the trip was Heritage Day (observed). Technically it's September 24th each year, but since the 24th was a Sunday, then Monday the 25th was the legal holiday. I rode Cape Metrorail (3rd class, in fact), a very cheap but rather scary commuter rail service that serves most of the major townships and suburbs of Cape Town.

But what I didn't realize is that on a holiday, the stop adjacent to UWC (called Unibel), is unstaffed. So you can't buy tickets. Nevertheless, I had a full backpack on, and I had to get into the city. And it turned out the train on that leg was a holiday shuttle, so I had to get off at Bonteheuwel (a "coloured" township) to buy a ticket upstairs, then dash downstairs to the platform to catch the next train into Cape Town central station.

That train, of course, was packed with people! It was so crowded, and I had been running with a huge backpack on, so I just about collapsed. Which would have been ok, since people were packed like sardines, I wouldn't even fall over.

It felt like the train creaked under that weight, and as we stopped at the next few townships, even more people got on! Finally, we reached the city, and then I had to walk 8-10 blocks to the travel agency "in Long Street" where we were to meet our tour guide and his kombi (what folks down there call Toyota or VW minibuses). Usually, these vehicles provide cheap public transport and are also packed like sardines; but of course this was an all-white crew heading on a tour, so it was plenty of space for five.

Anyway, Heritage Day is just one of the holidays created in the post-apartheid era. I believe it was created anew, as a celebration of all aspects of SA heritage and history.

But most of the other holidays were either unofficial events of the freedom struggle, or official white Afrikaner observations, or an awkward combination of the two.

They include:

March 21st: Human Rights Day -- originally commemorated the bloody Sharpeville Massacre of March 21, 1960;
April 27th: Freedom Day -- the anniversary of the first democratic elections, well within memory for most of us: April 27, 1994;
May 1st: Workers Day -- like most of the world outside the U.S., South Africa celebrates the contributions of workers and organized labor on May Day;
June 16th: Youth Day -- originally Soweto Day, in memory of the bloody Soweto Uprising of June 16, 1976 -- 30 years ago this year;
August 9th: Women's Day. Honors the women's march on the government buildings in Pretoria against apartheid laws, August 9th, 1956 -- 50 years ago;
September 24th: Heritage Day;
December 16th: Day of Reconciliation -- originally celebrated as the Day of the Vow by Afrikaners, remembering the day in 1838 when a group of Voortrekkers defeated a Zulu army at the Battle of Blood River. Now its goal is promoting national unity and reconciliation.

There are lots and lots of problems with public policy, public health, and economic development in the "new" South Africa, but the way they've dealt with public holidays is admirable and progressive.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

My Largest Political Campaign Contribution To Date

My Largest Political Campaign Contribution To Date

See Page 3 (PDF)


$325, of course, is the legal limit for an individual contrib. to a state rep campaign in MO for 2006-07.

That basically represents the time I spent developing and maintaining the JMO 4 Rep web site.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

No More Transit on DeMun in Clayton

No More Transit on DeMun in Clayton

WashU Transportation sent out this notice about a half-hour ago. It's not on the Metro Rider Alerts page yet.

#2 WUSTL Red Route Change October 9th
In the DeMun Neighborhood

Effective Monday, October 9, 2006, Metro will remove bus service provided
from the DeMun Avenue neighborhood streets including Northwood, Rosebury,
and DeMun operated on the #2 WUSTL Red. The revised route will operate on
Skinker to Clayton Rd in the southbound and northbound directions.
Alternative access to this bus route will be available at existing bus
stops on Skinker Blvd. (at Northwood, Rosebury, Southwood) and on Clayton
Rd. at DeMun.

This decision was made at the request of the City of Clayton in
collaboration with DeMun neighborhood residents.

For information call Metro at (314) 231-2345.

I believe part of the problem, at least according to one local discussion board, is that residents and/or customers of businesses park in the no-parking zones near corners along DeMun, resulting in too tight a squeeze for MetroBus.

I think this is crap. Clayton should, as somebody noted on that board, just enforce their parking regulations. Metro drivers are pretty skilled at this sort of thing. Just the other night, I was riding the #93 Midtown-South County southbound as it turned from Lemp Avenue onto Cherokee Street. At the same time, the northbound #93 made the turn in the opposite direction. There's a tavern on that corner, so there were cars parked on both sides of the street close to the corner. While it was tight, the bus operators both managed to negotiate the turn successfully, after a bit of maneuvering.

Just because DeMun happens to be a bit higher-end shopping district than Antique Row, doesn't mean it can't also deal with the issues surrounding public transit service.

Then again, it's not really that far to walk from DeMun to Skinker, right? However, crossing Skinker in that section is not particularly easy nor safe. And the #16 City Limits already services that section of Skinker, so this is just duplicative service.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Bus Service for St. Peters?

Bus Service for St. Peters?

Believe it or not, there's actually talk of creating a small bus system within the City of St. Peters, MO.

Of course, it would be mainly geared toward senior citizens, just like the little-known and oddly-named SCAT: St. Charles Area Transit.

Recently, though, the St. Charles City Council considered eliminating that service, which consists of four looping routes that operate once hourly from 9 AM to 3 PM weekdays through different parts of the City of St. Charles, with the hub of operations being the O'Dell Senior Center located next to the Fairgrounds Road overpass along I-70.

There's also a very limited I-70 commuter route with four weekday AM runs eastbound to North Hanley MetroLink and four weekday PM runs westbound, serving St. Joseph's Hospital, Ameristar Casino, and then the Cave Springs, Zumbehl Road, and Fairgrounds/Veterans Memorial Pky commuter parking lots along I-70.

Currently, no bus service is provided to the Mid-Rivers commuter parking lot, at one time served by the former Bi-State routes 134 St. Charles Limited (traditional commuter service) and 34 Earth City (reverse commute; i.e., the westbound early AM bus and eastbound evening buses).

It would be great if St. Charles and St. Peters would get together to offer a more extensive commuter bus service along the I-70 corridor, or perhaps even other, less congested routes like MO 370 or MO 364 (Page Ave.)

While there is a legal entity called the St. Charles County Transit Authority, authorized by state law to levy up to one-cent sales tax for transit purposes, voters have repeatedly turned down requests to collect that tax. We can debate the reasons, but many said it was out of fear that MetroLink expansion westward would increase crime.

Also, a huge right-of-way opportunity was lost when the old MO 115 (St. Charles Rock Road) bridge into St. Charles was demolished several years ago. While it may have needed reinforcement, it was wide enough to accommodate MetroLink dual-track operation.

Now, if MetroLink is ever extended across the Missouri River, some kind of structure would need to be built, either an entirely new bridge or one hanging off an existing bridge complex like the I-70 (Blanchette), MO 370 (Discovery), MO 364 (Veterans Memorial), or I-64/US 40 (Daniel Boone). That's expensive.

It's not likely a St. Charles County-wide sales tax will pass anytime soon -- and realistically, residents of still semi-rural areas like Portage des Sioux, Orchard Farm, New Melle, Defiance, etc. could not be efficiently served by transit. So maybe the communities in the developed area of the county -- St. Charles, St. Peters, O'Fallon, Cottleville, Dardenne Prairie, Lake St. Louis, and Wentzville -- could get together on a joint application for federal funding to provide public transit to address some key needs:
  • Independence for senior citizens;
  • Congestion migitation by providing peak-hour commuter bus routes along I-70 westward to Bryan Road; and a demonstration route via MO 364 connecting the MO 94 corridor to West Port and MetroLink at Clayton. This would operate as an express along MO 364, then via Westline Industrial to serve West Port, and then continue with limited stop service via Page and I-170 to Clayton MetroLink station/MetroBus center. Stops on Page would be only at Lindbergh, Warson, Dielman/Records Center, and Woodson.
  • Reverse commute trips for St. Louis City and County residents to employment destinations such as Missouri Research Park in Weldon Spring and MasterCard / CitiMortgage at WingHaven, via an extension of the #58 Chesterfield-Ellisville MetroBus route across the Daniel Boone Bridge.
  • Demonstration service to St. Charles Community College on selected reverse commute weekday trips of the MO 364 route.
While it would cost some money, this would be a way to test whether MetroBus service via corridors other than congested I-70 could be feasible, at least for peak-hour commuting trips in both directions.

A survey would need to be done to identify both workers who live in St. Charles County and would like to take transit directly to Clayton and West Port; as well as workers in the Winghaven and Missouri Research Park areas who live east of the Missouri River who might take advantage of transit service.

There are plenty of other possible reverse commuter transit destinations, such as hospitals, nursing homes and retirement complexes, and the various retail complexes such as around Mid-Rivers Mall. It's not like there aren't places in St. Charles that could benefit from bus service. It's a question of political will and interest. Even if voters continue to reject MetroLink, at least some limited bus service across the Missouri River would be desireable.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Diana Bourisaw: Suburban Republican Superintendent?

Diana Bourisaw: Suburban Republican Superintendent?

OK, so the St. Louis Board of Education's decision to make Dr. Diana Bourisaw permanent superintendent was a bit of a shock. Sure, it's justifiable as a way to make grantseeking and hiring easier. Nevertheless, it does seem rather strange.

You may already know Dr. Bourisaw had troubles in the Fox district several years ago, culminating in her filing discrimination complaints and receiving a severance package of over $350,000. In 2001, she was appointed to a slot on the Missouri Coordinating Board for Higher Education (CBHE).

Her nomination from Gov. Holden to the Missouri Senate on September 5, 2001 read:

I have the honor to transmit to you herewith for your advice and consent the following appointment, made and commissioned by me on July 9, 2001, while the Senate was not in session.

Diana M. Bourisaw, Ph.D., Republican, 3597 Kneff Farm Crossing, Imperial, Jefferson County, Missouri 63052, as a member of the Coordinating Board for Higher Education, for a term ending June 27, 2006, and until her successor is duly appointed and qualified; vice, Bailey Ray Henry, term expired.
Sure, this may have been just another Democrat posing as a Republican; but also around this time, she was involved starting up the St. Louis (Charter) Academies, two private schools sponsored by the Church of God in Christ that, after realizing they could not use federal child-care subsidy funds to run schools, eventually became charter schools located in former Catholic school buildings (Our Lady of Perpetual Help and St. Boniface). After many well-publicized problems, their charter was revoked by DESE; now the North 20th Street location is known as Paideia Academy charter school.

In January 2002, Dr. Bourisaw and her husband, a traffic-law attorney and former traffic-ticket prosecutor for the City of Charlack, moved from Imperial to a new $400,000+ 10-room McMansion in Sunset Hills near St. Anthony's Medical Center, where they reside currently. I guess they do ok. At least one biography says they have two school-age children; but I don't know whether they attend Lindbergh schools or private/parochial schools. I guess it doesn't really matter.

While I know there's no residency requirement for SLPS employees, it would send a nice message if the superintendent lived in the city limits. Or, even if she didn't live in the city, she could still send her children to city magnet schools, at least as long as Lindbergh still participates in the program. I'm sure several past supe's also were suburbanites; but I believe Creg Williams did have an apartment downtown, ironically in the former school board building at 911 Locust.

I wouldn't presume to tell anybody where they should live. Nevertheless, it would be a nice message to parents, students, and teachers if the superintendent seemed to be more 'one of us' than an outsider. While surface appearances are not everything, Dr. Bourisaw still seems like as much an outsider as Creg Williams and Bill Roberti were.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Wanna Know Why I'm Voting for McCaskill?

Wanna Know Why I'm Voting for McCaskill?

So, today, Sept. 11th of all days, I finally got a response to an email message I sent to Jim Talent several months ago. Admittedly, it wasn't on the top of my priority list, since I probably just made a few changes to an action alert from one of the many distro lists on which my name is filed. Most likely, in this case it was via the American Diabetes Association.

This message was about embryonic stem cell research (yes, you can also guess how I'm voting on Amendment 2 in November!), and probably was a reply to a message I sent back in May or June, given the subject line: "Re: One Year is Too Long; Pass H.R.810 NOW." (more on HR 810, which the Senate did finally pass July 18th but of course Pres. Bush vetoed it).

The text of the reply from Talent's office was surprisingly lengthy, and included an attached PDF of a speech he made back in February 2005 (identical to this one posted on National Review's web site), explaining why he so strongly opposed federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.

Out of fairness, I've copied the full text of the Senator's email response below. This is a very complex, emotionally charged issue, no doubt. Nevertheless, I feel something missing in Senator Talent's response. While Claire McCaskill sure ain't perfect, I still think she'd represent my views better on many issues, including this one.

Dear Mr. Frank:

Thank you for contacting me to discuss stem cell research. I appreciate the time you have taken to share your views with me, and I welcome the opportunity to respond.

In the Senate, I have supported more than $2 billion in funding for stem cell research, including adult, umbilical cord, and embryonic stem cell research. I believe this research is important and that it is too early to say that there is no value to pluripotent stem cell research in general.

I've spent the better part of a year researching this issue, meeting with people on all sides: groups who oppose cloning embryos to get stem cells, scientists who support it, parents who don't know who or what to believe but who are desperate for a cure for their children. Many to whom I've spoken have strong opinions about the underlying moral issues. In every case, I respected the sincerity and passion of those whom I spoke with. I have strong opinions of my own.

I believe human beings are precious. I am concerned about the tendency of our society to devalue people because they are too old, too young, or too inconvenient to have around. At the same time, I understand the desperation of parents whose children are sick or dying and who are desperate for treatments that will make them well. I want to help find cures for these children-but I also want them to grow up in a society that values them for their inherent dignity-for who they are, regardless of their age, infirmity, level of success or achievement.

The reason this issue is difficult is that there is an area of overlap between cloning and stem cells. Some scientists believe that stem cells from a cloned human embryo may have unique advantages for medical research. I think it is too early to say that there is no value to pluripotent stem cell research in general, so long as it does not harm or clone human embryos. As a result, I have been investigating new scientific developments to see whether we can strike a balance that allows both stem cell research to relieve human suffering and the protection against human cloning. The newest medical research shows that alternatives are available which make such a balanced position possible. These alternative methods could make it possible in the near future to get every type of stem cell, including those that are patient specific and pluripotent, without cloning, creating, or harming a human embryo.

One of the alternative approaches is called Altered Nuclear Transfer (ANT). The author and most vocal champion of ANT is Dr. William Hurlbut of Stanford. Dr. Hurlbut assured me months ago that ANT was technologically feasible and would soon be validated through animal models. And, indeed, late last year stem cell biologists, Alexander Meissner and Rudolf Jaenisch of the Whitehead Institute at MIT, used ANT to produce fully functional pluripotent stem cells from a laboratory-construct without creating an embryo.

In a speech to the Senate, I also proposed a competition, to be managed by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which would create incentives for our great research institutions to get patient specific pluripotent stem cells without risking the cloning or harming of an embryo. Simply put, the NIH would take applications from research institutions with plans to accomplish the goal. For example, the NIH could allocate $70 million dollars in total to the project, $10 million each for five institutions to conduct their comprehensive plans and then a prize of $20 million to the first institution to successfully produce patient specific pluripotent stem cells without cloning or harming a human embryo.

For all of these reasons, I voted enthusiastically for the alternative approaches and the prohibition against fetus farms in the Senate. I voted against H.R. 810, which uses tax dollars to fund research that requires the destruction of human embryos. The Federal Government has never funded such research before, and that is not a line I wish to cross-especially since, as the alternatives show, it is possible to fund every type of stem cell research without cloning or destroying human embryos.

As you know, one of the difficulties with this issue is that much depends on understanding at least the basics of the science involved, and the science is complicated. Attached, please find a complete copy of my speech on this issue. I encourage you to take the time to read it. I would be interested in your further comments on this issue.

Again, thank you for contacting me. If I may be of further assistance, please don't hesitate to call or write

Thursday, September 07, 2006

The Central Corridor: Cosmopolitan, Yet Parochial

The Central Corridor: Cosmopolitan, Yet Parochial

Most people casually divide the City of St. Louis into three areas: North St. Louis, South St. Louis, and the central corridor. Of course, those boundaries are very much unofficial, and hard to determine precisely.

Some just say the central corridor extends from downtown west to Forest Park, and maybe even to Clayton. Others mark it as the territory generally along Highway 40 (I-64). Sometimes the northern boundary is Delmar; sometimes it's Page/Cass. Sometimes 40 is the southern boundary; sometimes it's Chouteau; sometimes even I-44.

Politically, we usually call Ward 6, Ward 7, Ward 17, and Ward 28 central corridor wards. After redistricting, Ward 19 also is largely within the central corridor.

The neighborhoods within the corridor for sure are Downtown and Downtown West, Midtown and Grand Center, the Central West End, and DeBaliviere Place and Skinker-DeBaliviere. Forest Park, SLU, Harris-Stowe, (part of) WashU and all of WashU Med School, Barnes-Jewish and Children's Hospitals, maybe even SLU and Cardinal Glennon Hospitals, are in the central corridor.

The conventional belief is the central corridor is more cosmopolitan, higher income, better educated, and more ethnically and racially diverse than the rest of the city.

OK, then, why does it seem like so many central corridor people are parochial? They love their own neighborhoods -- and often, don't know much about the rest of the city, it seems.

For example, a generally positive front-page article from the August 30 West End Word about the opening of the new MetroLink line to Shrewsbury via Clayton included several oddly narrow-minded comments:
The final destination is Shrewsbury, a South County suburb that at least some locals would have found hard to place prior to this project.
Really? They must never go into Webster Groves, then. You pretty much have to go through Shrewsbury to get to Webster, except from the west. Also, I think many South Countians would not count Shrewsbury residents among their number. The unofficial northern boundary of South County is Watson Road -- which happens to be the southern boundary of both Shrewsbury and Webster Groves.
Andrew St. Johnston of the Central West End said the new line was impressive and worth the inconveniences endured by neighbors during the construction, such as the three-year closure of Forest Park Parkway. But he questioned whether taking the line beyond Maplewood to Shrewsbury was a good use of public money. “There’s nothing there,” he said.

Sheesh. Don't tell that to Kurt Odenwald. Besides which, there are two very good reasons the line ends at Shrewsbury Lansdowne I-44, straddling the city-county line. #1 is the location is the best available for a major terminal park-ride lot along I-44. #2 is, obvious to the casual observer standing on Lansdowne south of the terminal station, there are future plans for extending the line even further south. While funding and routing (either on the BNSF corridor or the River des Peres corridor) are uncertain, it will happen eventually.

Anyway, I realize almost everybody in St. Louis for any length of time, can be downright parochial about their own neighborhood and/or section of the region. It's still the case that few Southsiders go to the Northside, and vice versa. Most suburbanites don't venture downtown. Many Illinois residents rarely come into St. Louis; and vice versa. And most St. Charles Countians rarely come inside the I-270 beltway. I guess that's just how some people prefer to live.

As for me, I spend a great deal of time not only in my own neighborhood and others on the Southside, but also in the central corridor and in North County. We've also ventured a fair bit into Illinois, and occasionally head out to St. Charles, South County, and further afield locations. While I am proud to live in South St. Louis, as many of my ancestors did, I recognize the value of all the different parts of the immediate St. Louis region.

Friday, September 01, 2006

School & Home

School & Home

St. Louis Schools Watch online reports the return of School & Home, the award-winning newspaper published for many years by the St. Louis Public Schools.

Download the latest issue in PDF format. It features a list of all the schools for 2006-07, including principals and grade levels.

School & Home was, I think, the first place I was ever quoted in print! It was summer 1991, and I was in the district-wide gifted summer school at Enright CJA at 5351 Enright Ave.

Every couple weeks, we had an assembly where parents were invited to see what their kids had learned. These assemblies were held in the fourth floor auditorium: a big, long, open room with folding chairs, no stage, no elevator access, and certainly no a/c. Indeed, only two of the four stairways in the building could access that part of the 4th floor.

I was taking a summer class on the US Constitution. A lady from School & Home asked me about term limits. And I said:

"I'm against term limits because I think we need our more experienced Congressmen to stay."

Or something like that.

My first publication came somewhat earlier though.

I used to love drawing mazes. I made one with Snoopy on it. For some reason, we sent it to the Channel 9 Kids Club magazine.

And they printed it! I was seven years old -- 7 1/2, to be precise. That was 1986.

So, you might say I've been a published author for twenty years now! ;-)