Thursday, July 27, 2006

SLPS Transportation Plan: No More MetroBus Passes, More Yellow Buses

SLPS Transportation Plan: No More MetroBus Passes, More Yellow Buses

This article buried deep inside yesterday's South City Journal about the plans for the start of the new school year in St. Louis Public Schools was quite illuminating.

Here's the second half of that story, which references newly promoted interim assistant superintendent for operations Deanna Anderson:

Deanna Anderson, interim assistant superintendent for operations, said the district will stop using Metro passes for high school students. The district will instead transport all eligible students with school buses. It contracts with Laidlaw Education Services.

Anderson said this would give students a designated time and place to be picked up and dropped off, save costs, and enable the district to be partially reimbursed by the state for the transportation cost. She said it costs $15 per student per week for a Metro pass, while it costs an average of $11 per month to transport a pupil on a school bus.

The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary education reimburses district between 40 percent and 50 percent for its cost to transport students on school buses. It does not reimburse the district for Metro passes.

The district has also changed its stipulation for who is eligible to ride the bus to school. Last year, students were required to live more than two miles from school to receive transportation. This year, they must only live a mile from school.

Anderson said staff hopes to mail bus schedules the week of Aug. 14.

So, it actually costs more than four times as much to give out bus passes purchased from Metro to students, than it does to put them on yellow buses? That's crazy!

Wow. Maybe that strange school bus routing software really does work!
I wonder, though, why DESE does not reimburse any of the cost of Metro bus passes?

I think the change from two-mile to one-mile minimum distance for transportation was a result of the outcry last school year when SLPS stopped giving out Metro passes to students who live within two miles of school.

This is probably a good decision both for discipline and fiscal reasons. It allows SLPS to have a little more control over student behavior in transit, since legally while on a school bus discipline is the district's responsibility so students are supposed to follow district rules.

That's not true on public transportation. I suspect the Police Department would be quite happy about this too, since they will have fewer calls/arrests for high school kids getting into fights on MetroBuses.

It also makes life a little easier for transit planners and passengers, as there are fewer "school trips" to be figured into routes like the #70 Grand, #30 Soulard, #04 Natural Bridge, etc. There still may need to be a few to accommodate students who live within one-mile of each high school, because that's a pretty long walk. But I guess they'll have to pay their own way now.

As of August 28th, bus fares will increase to $1.75 each way; or $2.00 total for the two-hour pass that includes unlimited transfers.

This might cut into Metro's revenues somewhat, although I'm not sure how much. If they eliminate school trips, though, it probably balances out.

Of course, back in my day, Metro High School had very unfair transportation policies:

County kids (like me), because of deseg, had free yellow buses and/or taxicabs. City kids had to pay $1 for a 10-ride student ticket booklet that normally cost $5 from Bi-State. So SLPS subsidized 80% of the cost. Occasionally, if the secretary was feeling particularly charitable and you didn't have any money, she might give you the ticket booklet for free.

Sometimes city kids had sports/activity buses after practices and games, but those didn't necessarily take them all the way home - just to the nearest elementary school. And I often did ride Bi-State buses during high school -- even though it took about an hour-and-a-half to get home that way.

Honestly, there's even some places in the city where it would take that long, with transfers and wait times included. On the other hand, some county kids who live in Maplewood-Richmond Heights(as a couple dozen did) could have gotten home pretty easily on Bi-State. But they had free yellow buses.

All a consequence of an arbitrary boundary line laid down in 1876... and similarly arbitrary decisions by Federal judges from 1972 until 1999.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Poor Bob Samples

Poor Bob Samples

Bob Samples is the long-time PR head at UMSL. If you're on one of their voicemail or email distribution lists, chances are you get plenty of messages from him. His official title is Director of Media, Marketing and Printing Services, and he has the honor of one of the easiest-to-remember email addresses around:

Today, he sent this out about 10:09 AM under the subject "Storm Update":

Power has been restored to all campus buildings. The offices and workout areas of the Mark Twain Building will open at noon, though the playing court will remain closed because of water damage.

Then, less than a half-hour later, came this message at 10:38 AM:

Pending further examination of the Mark Twain Building, the building will be closed to all activities.

For the uninitiated, Mark Twain is the 35-year-old box of a gymnasium, recreation and athletics complex located on the far north end of the UMSL North Campus just south of where the new Express Scripts headquarters is rapidly rising. January graduation ceremonies (such as mine in January 2001) used to be held there; nowadays most are held at the Touhill.

Even if folks don't always like what he has to say, at least Bob Samples says it with a smile. :-)

Monday, July 24, 2006

School Daze

School Daze

The recent storms and general craziness in their aftermath delayed me from blogging about the mess down at 801 N. 11th St., HQ of the St. Louis Public Schools.

(By the way, across the street from us the power is back on now, as it is at my mom's in South County and my mother-in-law's in North County. So, that's progress, right?)

I still believe Peter Downs and Donna Jones have good intentions and good ideas, even if they're not so adept at managing public relations. I even think Bill Purdy is basically a good guy, even if he does have a personal and familial direct interest in the operations of the district, as a retired principal whose wife is also a retired principal and who has children teaching in the district.

As for Veronica O'Brien - she's easy to demonize, because she is the board president, she seems like an elitist living in her big mansion on Lindell, and her kids do go to Clayton schools courtesy of deseg.

All that said, all parties to this mess have shed more heat than light in recent days. I include the mayor's 'damn shame' remarks in that vein; and even moreso, the ridiculous 'recall' campaign despite that there is no legal mechanism for recalling school board members. Even if there was, generally you cannot recall anybody within the first six months of their term.

I am dumbfounded that Mayor Slay would so publicly advocate for state takeover.

Just look at the two city institutions that are currently (and have been for decades) under state control: the Police Department and the Election Board.

Neither is particularly a model of efficiency nor responsiveness to local community needs. Both seem even more distant from the local community now that they are controlled by a Southwest Missouri-oriented Republican administration in Jefferson City.

As for the Floyd Irons situation: it's gotten ridiculous. Clearly, the man should not have been principal of Vashon. That's not his strong suit. He's a great coach, apparently. So let him be coach! Don't prevent him from doing that. But find somebody else to run the districtwide athletic operations. Seems pretty simple to me. Instead, the board decided to be punitive and vindictive, by preventing him from occupying any coaching position.

Creg Williams had some good ideas, and some bad ideas. As they say, "Pobody's Nerfect." My impression was that he was a great big-picture guy, but not necessarily the right guy for day-to-day administration of an entire district.

While it's probably true the new board majority had it out for him pretty early, he could have been less publicly confrontational. The relationship between the school board and the superintendent, like that between a city council and a city manager or even a nonprofit board and the executive director, does not have to be continually contentious. But it can easily get that way, if strong personalities are involved.

I have no doubt Diana Bourisaw and her administrative team will get the schools opened on time this August -- regardless of what the board itself does. After all, that's not the job of board members. They should not micromanage; they should set general policy.

What does concern me, however, is the projected $40 million deficit for the following fiscal year.

I don't think that gap can be closed without closing more schools.

On that note, I'm still conflicted about what to do with Cleveland High. I would love to see a public-private community-based partnership evolve out of these changes, that would eventually allow for the remodeling and reopening of that building as a school, even if the NJROTC program does not come back there.

That would require some serious financial commitments. I don't know what kind of financial resources the Cleveland alumni have; generally that was a pretty working-class area, but maybe some of the folks who have moved out of town have done well for themselves and would be willing to help out. If so, we need to know soon!

But, I wish there had been such outcry a few years back when Northside landmarks Central and DeAndreis (Ralph Bunche) schools were summarily closed and relocated to the former Southwest High complex.

I'm not sure of the condition of the DeAndreis building (a former Catholic boys' high school acquired by SLPS some years ago), but I know Central had many maintenance problems over the years despite a multimillion-dollar 1980s renovation (like Cleveland). Now, as best I can tell, it's just sitting there empty. Maybe in ten or twenty years it could become apartments, if the housing market in that part of North City recovers, but not today.

Then again, I would have never dreamed the Bardenheier Winery on Skinker north of Olive could be renovated into apartments. Or for that matter, Homer G. Phillips Hospital. So I guess anything is possible.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Reflections on the Day in Our Partly-Paralyzed City

Reflections on the Day in Our Partly-Paralyzed City

Yes, I'm back! I thought I'd briefly remark on some of the dramatic storm damage I saw between Wednesday night and this morning.

We had family in town, so we were planning to take the day off yesterday anyway.

Wednesday night, we rode out the storm at Duff's restaurant on Euclid, although many trees were downed in the immediate vicinity.

As we drove east on Lindell/Olive and south on Jefferson, many many trees were downed and most traffic signals and street lights were out. Nobody had put out stop signs yet, so it was quite chaotic and rather scary.

We were quite lucky to still have power, although we have a very small room a/c unit that barely cools our bedroom, so it's not exactly luxurious. One disadvantage of the high ceilings in our 1890s two-family.

Across the street from us, and for blocks eastward, there is still no power. Last night we gave out some of our remaining freezer pops to kids across the street.

By the light of day, we saw along Cherokee many of the Bartlett Pear trees toppled. Some traffic lights were still working, thankfully, and the Walgreens @ Grand & Gravois was open. But trying to find a place to eat was not easy. We went west on Chippewa, but both the IHOP west of Hampton and BreadCo at Lansdowne were packed, no parking spaces left (and probably no seats inside either!). We even tried the McDonald's on Big Bend at Deer Creek Center, but that was out of power.

So we ended up spending most of the day at Saint Louis Galleria, where it was nice and cool inside. We were the first people to get in the door at California Pizza Kitchen at 11 am. Within 20 minutes, the place was full.

Later we saw the long lines at the Galleria BreadCo and all the food court outlets (except Ben & Jerry's) and felt quite fortunate indeed!

Eventually, we headed back towards our house, but getting gas was a chore. The BP at Clayton/Skinker was closed, as were all the stations at Manchester/McCausland and Southwest/McCausland, and the Phillips at Jamieson/Fyler and the BP on Chippewa just east of Watson. Finally, we found an open station at the Conoco JumpStop, on Chippewa near Lindenwood Place.

After getting to our house and checking on things, we headed north. Our family members visiting were staying with my mother-in-law and her husband in Dellwood, and they have no electricity. Most traffic signals were out of commission up that way, and most stores, gas stations, and restaurants closed. Traffic on all the main roads was a mess. Halls Ferry from Chambers to I-270 was very congested.

We ended up eating dinner way out at the Bob Evans next to Saint Louis Mills. We had a few minutes of waiting to be seated. Because of the boil order in North County, they didn't have water, soda, or juice to drink. I started off with chocolate milk ... and later changed to warm, strong iced tea. But by the end of our meal, they had run out of ice!

For some reason, we then spent several hours roaming the very cold, very huge, very brightly-colored Saint Louis Mills outlet mall. Not my favorite place, I admit. But it was plenty cooool inside.

Eventually, we headed back to their darkened house, and then back south to home. It's really bizarre how some blocks have power, and some sections of I-70 have street lights, but most don't.

As I said, we never lost power, but we did have branches laying on our power lines for a while. I called UE early in the morning, and by the evening the branches had been cut down (maybe not by then, but probably so). Also, across the alley on Nebraska, somebody's car parked in the backyard had two trees fall onto it, but it seemed to escape relatively unscathed.

Heading out early this morning to walk the dogs and try to beat the heat, I surveyed the neighborhood more.

The pocket park at Nebraska @ Utah has several trees down.

On the 3200 block of Michigan, a 100-year-old street tree lies totally uprooted against two houses, both of which lost a lot of bricks from the cornice line area. One was vacant, the other occupied -- and the occupied one sustained more damage, including a broken window or two.

Most dramatic is the building at the NW corner of Gravois @ Nebraska, near QuikTrip (which remains closed). There, a large rooftop billboard and its support structure was toppled, knocking many bricks off the cornices of the building, and digging several deep holes in the roof.

That's a ten-unit apartment building, sort of renovated in 2004 I think, and until then fully occupied. It has now been condemned.

Compared to many folks, particularly the elderly and those with disabilites, our storm-related problems have been very, very minor.

We have been fortunate, indeed!

Others - many of whom have lesser financial and family resources than us - were not so lucky.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006



Typos... we all make them. Even in this age of spell check and grammar check, typographical errors run rampant.

But spell check cannot catch everything.

Of course, my favorites are when I see something like "pubic policy" or "pubic speaking" in a brochure or job advertisement.

Even the Canadian Government is not immune.

I'm really curious about "High-Technology Pubic Policy."

OK, enough of my dirty mind. ;-)

More common are things like this:

"No Parking Anying Time" (emphasis mine)
(scrawled on the wall near the Spruce Street dock at the Sheraton St. Louis City Center Hotel)

"St. Louis Metropolitian Police Department
a $34,000 PLUS Career" (emphasis mine)
(see in a high-quality graphic ad on the back of at least two MetroBuses in the past week)

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Joe Frank: Unsafe at Any Speed

Joe Frank: Unsafe at Any Speed

(Portions of this post were in an email from me on Friday..)

At 8 AM Friday, June 30, 2006 I went out to Deer Creek Shopping Center and got a learner's permit. I have never had a driver's license before; so this is a pretty big deal I suppose.

So, maybe sometime in the next year, I'll actually become a licensed driver in the state of Missouri? Assuming I don't really screw up....

Anyway, I hope this doesn't diminish my pro-transit, pro-urbanity street cred.

At least I did take the 'early bus' out there. (Took the #310 I-44
at 7:15 AM, to Murdoch and Shrewsbury Aves. about 7:40, walking up Shrewsbury Ave. and Big Bend Blvd. with a stop at the McDonald's next to Deer Creek for my not-so-secret addiction: a McGriddle sandwich!)

I arrived in the Highway Patrol testing station about 8, got out before 8:30 and had to wait outside in a long line (last day of the month, ya know) at Garrett Lott's fee office down the way. So, yes, I did put $2.50 into his pocket, plus $1.00 to DOR.

My score was only 83 on the 'written' test (actually, its on a computer touch-screen), and I had trouble pressing my forehead on the eye-chart/road-sign device. But, it worked out ok.

Still, I was happy to get out of there by 9:00.

Then I walked northeast to Sutton Loop, caught the #16 City Limits to Delmar station, then MetroLink downtown by 10.

So, even to take my driving test (the written/vision/road sign part
anyway) I used public transit and my feet!

On Saturday, I practiced (with my wife Kelly bravely in the passenger seat) in the most convenient, mostly empty parking lot we could find: St. Louis Marketplace!

The western end (formerly Pace/Sam's and Builders Square) is particularly empty. Indeed, several other new drivers were practicing there, too!

On Sunday, we tried on-street driving for a few minutes anyway, starting at a (yet another) largely empty parking lot: Kenrick Plaza! That 1980s strip mall has connections to the streets behind, including several bizarre little condominium developments. Most of these streets were little-traveled, so a good place to practice, but there were some harrowing moments.

It seems that folks who cut through from Watson to Laclede Station via little Kenrick Manor Drive, didn't really appreciate it when I was driving 15 MPH in a 20 MPH zone; and actually making a full stop at (most of) the stop signs. So at least one driver did speed up and swerve around me at about Kenrick Manor and Knights of Columbus Drives.

I guess I need to go a little faster, eh?