Friday, October 27, 2006

On Our Block

On Our Block

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 20, 2006

How I Voted on November 7, 2006

How I Voted on November 7, 2006

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    That fight was intense and perhaps unnecessary.

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

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

    There are HUGE fiscal and legal obstacles to this.

    Here are some ideas:

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

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

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

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

    5) Aggressively seek federal funds.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Friday, October 13, 2006

    My New Favorite Blog

    My New Favorite Blog

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

    Candy Blog

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

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


    Thursday, October 12, 2006

    Political Ethics

    Political Ethics

    I noticed has a current poll regarding politician ethics.

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

    In any event, the last question is curious:

    "Who is the worst behaved public official?"

    Choices are:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Yes, You Can Walk Right into Retail Hell!

    Yes, You Can Walk Right into Retail Hell!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Tuesday, October 10, 2006

    Even Elected Officials Are Not Immune...

    Even Elected Officials Are Not Immune...

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

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

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


    Saturday, October 07, 2006

    STL Transit: Highs and Lows

    STL Transit: Highs and Lows

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Wednesday, October 04, 2006

    Random Observations of Late

    Random Observations of Late

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

    1) The Teddy-Bear Shrine Thing

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

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

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

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

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

    2) Buzz Westfall Plaza on the Boulevard

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

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

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

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

    3) St. Charles Convention Center

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

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

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

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

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

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

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