Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Alternate Routes

Alternate Routes

So, yesterday I drove to and from St. Peters to give a presentation to one of our FastTrac classes.

The class was held at the MU Extension St. Charles County office, which is located at 260 Brown Rd. in the part of St. Peters most people don't even realize exists -- north of I-70. Getting there, you pass along Main St. through the roughly eight-square block Old Town area, which was the entire town from 1815 until 1970, when massive annexations and development began.

I used the Veterans Memorial Bridge on MO 364 -- better known as the infamous Page Avenue Extension -- to get out there. Actually, I pretty much avoided the Interstate system during most of this trip. Sometimes I wonder why other folks can't understand that, yes, there are alternatives to taking I-64/US 40 and I-70 for east-west car travel in this region.

But you may also recall the Page Ave. Extension was, for a time, a cause celebre in the urban sprawl debate. Of course, I'm not sure how much it really has contributed to sprawl by itself, given that it just drops you off on MO 94 in the Harvester area, then you still have to take other roads to get to an Interstate. It does pass over the southernmost tip of Creve Coeur Lake, which is unfortunate to say the least.

I actually used the direct connection onto Muegge Road from MO 364, which eventually leads to the Cave Springs area along I-70 in St. Peters.

Coming back, I briefly hopped onto I-70 at Mid Rivers, then without changing lanes took the Discovery Bridge on MO 370 to re-enter St. Louis County.

I can remember a time, c. 1993, when MO 370 had its westernmost terminus at MO 94 in St. Charles. Now, of course, it connects to I-70 about halfway between Cave Springs and Mid Rivers.

370 seems like a much more likely culprit for promoting sprawl, as most of the area surrounding it has been developed into industrial parks and other businesses -- as well as New Town St. Charles -- that were previously inaccessible floodplain land. It may have also made it easier to access the northern reaches of uphill St. Charles, thereby promoting continued residential development there.

Also, at least MO 364 has a dedicated bicycling path. While MO 370 has share-the-road signage and MRT corridor designation, the amount of debris that accumulates in the non-standard width shoulders along the outer edge of each roadway makes walking or cycling across the Discovery Bridge rather harrowing.

By comparison, the Old Route 115 Bridge had a walkway along one side, with stairs leading down to Main Street.

There's now actually less non-car access to St. Charles proper than there was 100 years ago! From 1904 to 1932, the old bridge carried a streetcar line.

Anyway, once into St. Louis County I used the direct connection from MO 370 to Missouri Bottom Road, avoiding I-270 altogether. I cut through what used to be called the "Brown Campus" to access McDonnell Boulevard.

And eventually, I made my way to North Broadway (via Halls Ferry). Now that is a speedway! From Baden south to O'Fallon Park, it's six lanes, and almost nobody keeps to the 35 MPH speed limit. South of O'Fallon Park, most of the high-speed traffic has hopped onto I-70, but the many big rigs can be scary at times.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Murphy's Law

Murphy's Law

This morning was not even close to my worst ever, but it was still a bit frustrating.

First, I woke up about 45 minutes late - 6:00 instead of 5:15. This, alone, should be no big deal.

But then, I stumbled and stepped on things more than usual, and then finally after I got out of the shower, a screw came loose -- no, not from my head, but from my glasses. ;-)

After struggling and whining about that for a while, I managed to deal with it adequately for now, then made it to the bus stop about 7:30. But I guess I had just missed the express buses, and took the #30 Soulard instead. Of course, this was a mistake because 4th Street downtown this morning was totally gridlocked due to tour buses for the National Baptist Convention Congress of Christian Education, 102nd Annual Session.

I realize events like these bring hundreds of thousands of dollars into the local economy, and having all those folks walking the downtown streets can't hurt. But I wish the transportation arrangements were planned better. The traffic was so bad, the bus driver had to do some unorthodox movements in order to alight passengers.

Do we really need half a dozen (or more) gigantic tour buses queueing up in front of the Adam's Mark Hotel, just to shuttle conventioneers the eight blocks to America's Center? For that matter, folks staying at airport hotels don't necessarily need to be transported directly downtown either, when they could easily be dropped off by a shuttle at North Hanley or UMSL, then ride MetroLink the rest of the way. I believe that's what they used to do for the gigantic Primerica Financial Services convention. Their shuttle queueing area took up the entire parking lot near UMSL North MetroLink.

But I think that was 10 years ago.

Incidentally, I don't think the unions are the problem (RFT article from May 16, which the Post finally picked up yesterday) with our attractiveness for major conventions downtown. However, they may an issue for costs of smaller-scale locally-oriented events like the Working Women's Survival Show, the golf show and various trade shows like the St. Louis Small Business Expo, and the Minority Business Council's Business Opportunity Fair, all of which are held at the St. Charles Convention Center.

Events like those, which are ultimately geared primarily to a suburban, highway-oriented local population, typically head for the St. Charles facility where parking is free and management of the facility is totally outsourced by the City of St. Charles to Global Spectrum.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Joe Frank: Still Unsafe at Any Speed

Joe Frank: Still Unsafe at Any Speed

Almost a year ago, I got my learner's permit. Of course, those are only good for one year, and even my non-driver's license I got in 2001 was set to expire in November, after six years; and, my passport expired in March after 10 years of service, but I haven't wanted to spend the money on renewing it. So I had a pretty firm deadline to get a real grown-up driver's license, if nothing else to have a legally valid photo identification!

Yesterday, I passed the road test and got my license just before 5:00 PM!

I was very lucky. I arrived at the Deer Creek Shopping Center office (via walking from the MetroLink Sunnen stop) about 3 PM, checked in for the test, then waited until about 4:30 to actually take the test. I was probably the last one done that day.

My score was only 70 because I had some trouble quickly identifying and using the controls (!) like the defroster. I also left my brights on the whole time. It was mostly because I was nervous. But my driving was ok; my parallel parking between the posts/cones was horrendous.

But I passed!

Of course, it was raining when I took the test, so I took it extra slow through the residential streets of southeast Maplewood, the only streets on which the test goes.

After I finished the test, the rain stopped! Fortunately, we were able to follow the dotted line down the walkway and get into the License Office just before their 5 PM closing.

So now I don't have to worry about renewing my driver's license... until my 35th birthday!

Of course, now there's that pesky car registration due next month.

Still, I plan to continue using public transit as much as possible. Driving is especially convenient on weekends for shopping and errands. But for commuting, I'll stick with my 15-minute bus ride up Gravois/Tucker, at least for the time being.

And I'm still not quite ready for highway driving. Instead, for cross-town trips when I'm driving we take routes like Jefferson-to-Natural Bridge, or the Jennings Station/Kienlen/ Skinker/McCausland corridor. I also seem to really like driving on Delmar east of Skinker, and just the other day took Hodiamont as a shortcut from Skinker to Delmar. It's a little annoying that Delmar ends at Vandeventer, but you can just jog one block south to Washington, so it's not that bad.

But can somebody tell me why, on southbound Skinker, there's still a left-turn lane that disappears into nothing, where Rosedale Ave used to end? I suppose now it's just for that funky car wash; or a testament to the power of WashU.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Transitional School Board: Let's Wait And See

Transitional School Board: Let's Wait And See

I really am torn on the issue of the transitional school board overseeing St. Louis Public Schools.

They're meeting right now for the first time -- officially. But their taking power has been a fait accompli for a while, so something tells me this board has been in the works for a few weeks now. But given the lawsuit and everything else going on, the political leaders of our city decided to wait until the last minute to make the announcements. You'll notice the St. Louis American had the story ready to go to press on Thursday morning, before Mayor Slay and President Reed held their press conferences.

And really, they could have done worse. While non-City resident Blunt appointee Rick Sullivan has the top position on the three-member panel, the other two members -- Mayor Slay's appointee Melanie Adams, and Lewis Reed's appointee Richard Gaines -- are City residents with some experience in education and some knowledge of how SLPS works.

Interestingly, both are African-American professionals residing in South St. Louis (Shaw and Compton Heights, respectively). They are active in the Black Leadership Roundtable, like several past school board members: Jim Buford, Darnetta Clinkscale, and Hattie and Ron Jackson. Of course, Richard Gaines, a long-time local insurance and securities broker, was also on the school board himself during most of the 1980s, when controversial Dr. Jerome B. Jones, the SLPS' first African-American superintendent, was in charge.

I am cautious and skeptical, but willing to give them a chance. I think it's smart to keep Dr. Diana Bourisaw in place as superintendent, rather than putting another new chief in the same position as Bourisaw was last summer: scrambling to get ready for a new school year.

At the same time, I hope the transitional board realizes that it is not an elected body. There is understandably a lot of skepticism from the elected school board members, teachers, students, and the community as a whole about this new board.

While the board is different from our already state-run Police Board and Election Board because only one of the three members is appointed by the Governor, it still feels very much like a state takeover of yet another major City institution.

Thursday, June 14, 2007



OK, so this is not St. Louis-related, but for some reason the confusing and tragically recent Falkland Islands War fascinates me.

Today is Liberation Day in the Falklands, the 25th anniversary of the Argentine surrender to soft-serve ice cream co-inventor Margaret Thatcher's Royal Navy on June 14, 1982.

I'm disappointed Al-Jazeera English has no coverage, as a counterpoint to the unabashedly biased view of the BBC. I do like, though, the overall approach of A-JE in "flipping the script" in telling stories from a non-US, non-European point-of-view. That is to say, the view of most of the world.

Today is also Flag Day in the US, Mother's Day in Afghanistan (!), and believe it or not, International Weblogger's Day!

Not to mention Donald Trump's, Will Patton's and Boy George's birthdays.

Imagine trying to set up an event commemorating all these events at the same time.... chaos!

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Lots of MetroBus Changes Coming Monday June 11th!

Lots of MetroBus Changes Coming Monday June 11th!

I felt kind of guilty this morning, because I gave a novice bus rider bad instructions. She got off the #11 Chippewa on Jefferson at Market, and needed to continue northward to Gateway Elementary School. I said to catch the #04 Natural Bridge at the next stop north on Jefferson, near Pine Street.

Trouble is, since August 2006, the #04 Natural Bridge has been routed via Market west of Jefferson, to serve Harris-Stowe State University's campus -- initially, via Ewing, then after complaints from the University, via Compton. Only the Madison County Transit express routes (the green-and-white low-floor buses) service the bus stop at N. Jefferson and Pine.

I hope she figured it out despite my bad advice, but it reminds me that I need to do a better job keeping up with the frequent restructuring and rerouting of MetroBus service, even though I'm driving more now (although never, so far, for the work commute -- and I hope it stays that way!).

Anyway, Metro has a decent summary online of the routing changes coming up next Monday (in PDF, of course).

And check the MetroBus Maps and Routes page for links to all the updated schedules and route maps. Here's some highlights by location:

Shaw, Lafayette Square, and vicinity

Last month, I discussed ad nauseum the upcoming changes in the Shaw and Lafayette Square neighborhoods involving the rerouting of the #13 Union, #59 Shaw Kirkwood, and #92 Macklind; along with the elimination of the #80 Lafayette Square circulator. Those changes are reflected in the new schedules posted on the MetroBus web page.

Hwy 40 at Kingshighway Long-Term Construction Detour

A number of routes are already on re-route as a result of the construction at Highway 40 and Kingshighway, in an effort to alleviate the traffic congestion there. These re-routes are incorporated into the new schedules and routes effective Monday, June 11th, and apply to the following routes:

#13 Union and #59 Shaw Kirkwood, again; #90 Hampton when operating as a shuttle to Forest Park Community College; and #95 Kingshighway. Most of these routes will operate north via S. Taylor Ave. and south via Taylor, Chouteau, Tower Grove between Forest Park and Manchester, avoiding Kingshighway entirely between Oakland and Forest Park Parkway.

Meanwhile, a number of other routes will have some changes worthy of note, unrelated to either situation.

Richmond Heights and Maplewood

The #16 City Limits will be changed significantly on its southern end, to cope with the demolition of the Bellevue Ave overpass as part of the Highway 40 project. The detour is via Big Bend, and so to keep to a decent schedule the southernmost end is truncated at Sutton Loop, rather than continuing to Maplewood MetroLink and Brentwood garage.

The #16 will still connect with MetroLink at Skinker (Shrewsbury leg) and Delmar (Airport leg), or you could walk six blocks or so west via Flora Ave. from the Sutton Loop to the Sunnen MetroLink station.

Penrose and O'Fallon

Remember the #195 Carter Shuttle? Probably not -- it was a very short shuttle to serve the part of the Penrose and O'Fallon neighborhoods near I-70 that's a long, uphill, and potentially dangerous walk from Lee Avenue, to address concerns of riders in that area when the #96 Walnut Park was eliminated.

For the past couple years, the #195 was replaced by limited service runs on the #74 Florissant. Now, that service via Bircher, Shreve, Carter, and Pope, is being removed from the extremely long #74 route, and placed on a shorter, City-only route: the #18 Taylor. Only southbound trips of the #18 will make this loop, but will go clockwise, causing the southbound #18 to take about twice as long as the northbound #18 to get from the northern terminus (North Broadway MetroBus Center) to the timepoint at Natural Bridge and Newstead.

The current service on the #74 via this loop runs counterclockwise in the mornings, and clockwise in the afternoons; this routing will eliminate the bus stops on the "outer" side of those streets. As confusing as that may be, at least some semblance of service is being retained, although I'm not sure it gets much use.

Far West County

Service to far West County is being changed again; as you might expect, having a single route to Chesterfield (via Hwy 40 outer roads) and to Ellisville (via Manchester Rd.) hasn't worked well, because there's just too much demand for these routes from reverse commuters. Given that, the route will be split back into two routes:

#58 Chesterfield. This route will serve Clayton MetroBus Center instead of Brentwood MetroLink, and will serve Clayton Rd. east of Ballas, instead of those tiny little Connector vans. West of Ballas MetroBus Center, it's still pretty much the same as the current Chesterfield leg.

#258 Ellisville. This new route will cover far west Manchester Road, all the way to Wildwood Town Center, and still provide express service from Brentwood MetroLink to Ballas MetroBus Center.

Other changes in this vicinity include truncating the Clayton Road Connector's eastern end at Ballas MetroBus Center, since the eastern leg is now put back onto the #58 route; eliminating weekend service and service to Town & Country Commons on the Hospital Connector and some minor changes on the two remaining West County express routes: #58x Twin Oaks Express and #158x Hwy 40-Clayton Rd Express.

University City and Washington University

It turns out the Connector vans won't go to waste, however: Metro is now taking over the WashU Green Line shuttle route, which connects the Danforth campus with a small area, mostly of WashU student housing, in University City and (believe it or not) a tiny corner of Wellston to access the Loop Lofts complex (old Bardenheier Winery) on Skinker Parkway along the Wellston/St. Louis City boundary. WashU got out of the shuttle business several years ago, contracting it to Huntleigh Transportation. Now Huntleigh's contract will be limited only to the Campus Circulator route that operates on-campus only at WashU -- which, really, is all that most college campuses in St. Louis have anyway, an on-campus circulator route that serves very few areas off-campus.


Both the #66 Clayton Airport and #45 Hazelwood Ferguson routes will offer limited direct service to Valley Industries, a sheltered workshop off McDonnell Blvd. in Hazelwood.


The #274x Paddock Hills Express will run via Lillian Ave. in Northwoods and Pine Lawn, the south outer road of I-70 between Jennings Station and Lucas Hunt, on all trips. Currently, only one afternoon trip makes that run. I actually ride this bus several times a week, and while it may add a few minutes to the trip, it's made up for by the fact the adjacent section of I-70 is often congested at peak hour.

It also conveniently provides transit service just a little bit closer to Charlie Dooley's house. ;-)

Schedule Changes Only

The #42 Sarah and #91 Olive will only have schedule changes.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Sno-Cones Downtown!

Sno-Cones Downtown!

I was so very excited today to discover a sno-cone stand on the street in downtown St. Louis!

Sure, you'll find them (along with funnel cakes and other carnival treats) at festivals like Strassenfest.

But this summer, the Women of AT&T is sponsoring a sno-cone stand provider, presumably as a fundraiser:

Tuesdays now through Labor Day
10 AM to 2 PM
900 block of Chestnut Street
In front of One AT&T Center

Sno-cones are a great summertime treat, especially for lactose intolerant folks like me who love ice cream but know that the consequences of eating dairy products are not fun.

Spread the word!

Friday, June 01, 2007

The Amtrak Shuffle

The Amtrak Shuffle

I've been pretty busy with work-related travel the past few weeks.

I have had the chance to compare, however, two very different college towns: Columbia MO and Warrensburg MO.

I spent a couple days last week in Columbia for the University of Missouri Extension Annual Conference, held in various locations on campus at UM-Columbia.

Then I spent a couple days this week in Warrensburg for Congressman Ike Skelton's Procurement Conference, held in the student union at University of Central Missouri.

Of course, Columbia is a much bigger city than Warrensburg, and MU is a much bigger school than UCM (formerly CMSU). MU has 28,000 students; UCM has 11,000. Columbia has almost 100,000 residents; Warrensburg about 16,000.

But Warrensburg does have direct Amtrak service from St. Louis.

The ride took about 4 1/2 hours each way, running about a 1/2 behind schedule both ways. Of course, the train was very quiet both directions -- we are talking about mid-week service during the early summer when neither colleges nor the state legislature are in session. Only one other passenger disembarked at Warrensburg on Tuesday morning; I was the only one boarding at Warrensburg on Wednesday night.

Outside St. Louis and Kansas City, Amtrak depots are unstaffed waiting rooms with limited open hours. You must purchase tickets in advance online, or you can pay cash to the conductor upon boarding. There is no checked baggage service, not even for a college town like Warrensburg nor for the state capital, Jefferson City.

At least on the return trip, we did what the very pleasant conductor Joanne called the "Amtrak Shuffle" -- where our eastbound train pulled onto a siding, waits for the westbound Amtrak to pass, then backs up so it can return to the mainline.

We did this twice -- once at River Jct just west of Jefferson City depot; and again in Webster Groves alongside the Algonquin Golf Club.

During the trip, I contemplated the potential for commuter rail along the corridor from St. Louis to Washington MO. Of course, Washington and Kirkwood already have depots; but you'd also want to install stops at a few other locations. Perhaps one in the vicinity of Six Flags St. Louis would be nice; it could have commuter parking as well as weekend shuttle service to the theme park. Another great spot for a stop would be roughly at Deer Creek Shopping Center in Maplewood. There, you could have a walkway to the nearby Sunnen MetroLink stop, then a massive park-ride lot down below, by the long-vacant former Venture (and briefly K-Mart) store.

However, any commuter rail service would be very slow, unless the freight conflicts (and, I suppose conflicts with Amtrak) could be resolved.

East of Kingshighway, the Amtrak run was very, very slow indeed. Going west, we crawled along from the depot at 16th Street, slowly passing Grand MetroLink station, and eventually sped up after going under Vandeventer/Tower Grove. Similarly, we slowed to a crawl eastbound around Vandeventer, in fact stopping for several minutes near the former Spring Avenue viaduct. Even once we got going again, we were moving at less than half the speed of passing MetroLink trains between Grand and Jefferson!

These are still major Union Pacific switching yards, so I guess that low-speed operation makes sense. But it certainly would not be beneficial to marketing commuter rail service on this corridor.

The same is true when coming/going to Chicago. Coming through the remnants of the East St. Louis and Granite City/Madison area switching yards, Amtrak operates at very low speeds. Only after you pass I-270 north of Granite City does it speed up for a few minutes, until making the first stop north, at Alton.

Any attempt at high-speed intercity rail service or commuter rail service in the St. Louis area would require significant trackage upgrades and, ultimately, priority for passenger service.

Neither seems likely in the near future, considering that each year, the Missouri state legislature proposes eliminating the subsidy Amtrak does receive for the two trains daily each way that operate from St. Louis to Kansas City.