Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Intrastate Highways

Intrastate Highways

Over the last couple weeks, I've taken a couple short business trips within Missouri. For better or worse, those trips timing and locations required me to drive, so I rented a car from the Enterprise Rent-A-Car downtown St. Louis office inside the Hilton at the Ballpark, One South Broadway.

On Friday, August 10 we went to Columbia for a meeting. In the past, I've tried both MO-X airport shuttle service and Greyhound for getting to MU. But I have to admit, especially with the intense heat, driving was much easier! After all, neither the MO-X office nor the Greyhound depot are within walking distance of campus, so I took Columbia Transit to finish the trip, which not surprisingly extended the time it took by a good hour.

Then last Thursday and Friday I had a meeting at Lake of the Ozarks. This was my first trip to the Lake region, and I didn't really have time to see much other than the Osage Beach Premium Outlets, which has a really bizarre configuration that makes it difficult to walk between stores. I did drive across the top of Bagnell Dam on BR 54, and saw the older part of Lake Ozark MO that grew up after the dam was built. But most of the development these days is suburban-resort sprawl. While BR 54 feels a little more like a car-oriented small-town, US 54 through Osage Beach is like Lindbergh or Manchester or somewhere in St. Peters, with large retail stores, fast food places, and some better restaurants and condo developments, dominating the landscape.

I was not really sure how to get to the Lake; while the generally recommended route is I-70 to US 54, it just makes no sense to me to cross the Missouri River twice (at St. Charles and at Jefferson City). Plus the traffic can be horrendous around St. Charles and around Lambert Airport, even if you think you are going "against traffic."

Then again, the route I did choose -- I-44 -- crosses the Meramec River twice (at Fenton and then at Eureka), but you hardly even notice that.

So on the way to the Lake, I did get a bit directionally challenged -- shocking, I know. ;-)

Basically, I started out west on I-44 at Lafayette Ave. (having parked the rental car overnight at work, and taken the bus from home about 6 AM). I stopped for gas and breakfast at MO 141 near Valley Park, then continued west to the rest stop between St. Clair and Sullivan. I exited I-44 at St. James to take MO 68, then US 63. But then I turned too soon off US 63. I took MO 28 southwest toward Dixon, basically paralleling I-44 rather than diverging. I should have stayed on US 63 to Vienna, then picked up MO 42 west.

After realizing my mistake, I stopped in Dixon to visit the bathroom at the Country Mart, and to read my map. Somehow I decided to take MO secondary route C, a short connector to MO 133 west of Dixon. Then I took MO 133 to MO secondary route BB, where I saw my first sign like this.

MO BB was an unexpectedly narrow, winding, hilly stretch that I was glad to eventually exit! But it did get me back on track: MO 42, near Iberia. I stopped at the gas station in Iberia to figure out my next move; turns out I was almost there! I made it west on 42 to US 63, and wonder of wonders, at that junction in Osage Beach there was.... a Walgreens!

I did have some trouble finding the hotel where the meeting was, but that turned out OK eventually. On the return trip, I deliberately turned south from MO 42 at Iberia via MO 17, passing through the quaint-looking main street area of Crocker. But south of Crocker, MO 17 gets a bit tight, as it runs hard alongside (I think) the Osage Fork River. But after that twisty, narrow section alongside the water, you enter Waynesville along old Rt 66. I stopped for lunch at a Dairy Queen just down 66 in St. Robert, the town that is the gateway to Fort Leonard Wood. Then I entered I-44, quite a bit further southwest than where I had exited the day before in St. James. I stopped at another rest stop to eat my lunch, the one just west of Rolla. Then I stayed on I-44 all the way to Watson Rd., where I exited for a break at Borders Books & Music; and continued into the city via Watson/Chippewa and Gravois/Tucker.

OK, so not the most exciting trips, but interesting enough for me as my first rental car driving experiences.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Another Blog By Me: Government Contracting St. Louis

Another Blog By Me: Government Contracting St. Louis

Yes, I know I've been a bit lax in my postings on this blog lately.

And, so, you might ask, why would I start another one?

Mainly, it's because I want to stay focused on urban development, history, transit planning, and local politics issues on this blog.

But it's nice to have a place to just post some thoughts about what it is I do for a living these days.

So that's the function of Government Contracting St. Louis.

There, I plan to assemble timely information from various sources that should be useful to businesses considering government contracting.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Why Are There So Few Cell Phone Stores in the City?

Why Are There So Few Cell Phone Stores in the City?

Given the demise of the pay phone, cell phones are almost a necessity and very convenient as well. Except, of course, when something goes wrong. And even when they work just fine, they are expensive to keep up.

If you just want a pre-paid throw-away phone and/or a recharge of minutes, there are innumerable places you can find that across the urban core. Since a lot of folks don't have particularly good credit and would find it difficult to get a cell phone contract, but still want the convenience of a mobile phone, that's not surprising.

But what is frustrating is just how few actual stores operated by the cell phone carriers themselves that provide sales and service, are located within the City of St. Louis.

  • Sprint has zero stores in the city limits. The nearest is in Richmond Heights on Clayton Rd.

  • T-Mobile likewise owns zero stores in the city; but there is one in the U City Loop.

  • AT&T has one store (signage still says Cingular though), on Hampton Ave. near Pernod Ave. (When I was in elementary school at nearby Mallinckrodt ABI, I believe that was a produce market.) Curiously, it's on the same block as a Radio Shack, which also deals in cell phones but does not have the same services and access rights as a full AT&T store.

  • U.S. Cellular has one store, in Lindell Marketplace near Lindell at Sarah. Again, there's a Radio Shack just down the way, on the other side of Sarah in the same strip mall.

  • Verizon Wireless has one store, in Southtown Centre at Chippewa and Kingshighway.

  • Several years back there was an AT&T Wireless store at 7th and Olive downtown. It was open maybe two years, if that. I think there was also a Cingular store across the street; it too has closed.

    I just find it rather odd there are no retail cell phone company locations downtown, considering there are probably tens of thousands of cell phone users who work downtown, not to mention several thousand AT&T employees.

    Radio Shack, as already mentioned, has locations on Hampton and in Lindell Marketplace. Amazingly, they still have two other stores on the Southside: one in Gravois Plaza just down the way from the Shop N Save (about the only holdover store from the old K-Mart Gravois Plaza), and the other in the now half-empty Chariton Square strip mall on S. Broadway near Meramec St. Those two locations rely heavily on prepaid wireless sales though.

    Wednesday, August 08, 2007

    Functional Street Furniture: Pay Phones and Mail Boxes

    Functional Street Furniture: Pay Phones and Mail Boxes

    While crime, schools, traffic, pollution, and the like are constant concerns in the urban environments, sometimes it's the little things that make a difference.

    For example, traditionally blue mail boxes and pay phones marked street corners across American cities, places where private communications happened more-or-less publicly.

    Some months ago, Toby Weiss noted the on-street relationship between mail boxes and St. Louis Post-Dispatch vending boxes.

    But both mail boxes and pay phones are disappearing from city streets at a rapid pace, falling victim to cost-cutting measures in formerly government-sanctioned monopolies (in the case of the post office, a government-run monopoly) and the nearly-ubiquitous nature of alternative communications technologies like e-mail and cellular phones.

    Both are also victims of vandalism of various types, although that's always been the case. In recent years, pay phones have also come to be blamed for facilitating drug-dealing and prostitution activity, although the removal of incoming call acceptance capabilities has decreased that somewhat. In some places, pay phones are completely inactivated after midnight (much like many ATMs). I guess that's supposed to decrease illicit activity, although it makes them less useful in an emergency.

    I know of no official, publicly-available listings of all locations of pay phones and mail boxes.

    However, the Payphone Project and the Payphone Directory are interesting attempts at starting up a directory.

    Similarly, the Payphone Project folks have used Google Maps to create a Mailbox Locator. Another similar map is available from Mailbox Map; it seems slightly more accurate.

    One bizarre thing I've noticed about mailboxes in my neighborhood -- and there are not many -- is that they seem concentrated closer to the post office.

    Indeed, there's only one mail box anywhere within the interior of Benton Park West: at the NW corner of Arsenal and California. But within a three block radius of the Benton Park Post Office on Jefferson near Gravois, there are four! Likewise, it looks like there are five mailboxes within three blocks of the Maryville Gardens Post Office, but very few in the rest of Dutchtown.

    Our mail service is rather unreliable, including frequently torn, damaged or opened mail; indeed at one point we had complained so many times to the 1-800 number that the operator told us "our system cannot accept another complaint from you; maybe you should call your Congressman!"

    So we do not even try to give outgoing mail to the carrier or put in our mailbox; usually, I just take it to work, where there's a post office one block away, or if I'm feeling really lazy (that is, most of the time) I just drop it in the drop box in the lobby.

    I guess that's one of those "hidden costs" of urban life. My mom's mail carrier was always pretty reliable, but that was a rural route (although not in a rural area at all) in South County where mailboxes are along the roadside next to the driveways, rather than attached to the house.

    Actually, perhaps because of the high mail volume that comes from the center of banking, government and litigation that is downtown St. Louis, the City of St. Louis has a pretty high density of post office locations. There just aren't that many blue mail boxes in the residential neighborhoods. Come to think of it, I only know of a handful of mail boxes on the downtown streets; mostly you have drop slots inside office building lobbies instead, many of which are still connected to the mail chute systems emanating from many stories above. (At least, I know that's the case at both 1015 Locust and 100 N. Tucker.)

    For a long time, I didn't realize there's a post office in the ground floor of the Kiener Plaza West parking garage. It's called the Jefferson Memorial Station, at 111 N. 6th St. (There's also a Christian Science Reading Room next door at 115 N 6th St, another surprise. Pretty much the whole rest of the block is restaurants.)

    But 63101 -- downtown -- actually has two post offices; besides Jefferson Memorial, there's also Henry W. Wheeler at 1140 Olive, the one I frequent (and where I had a P.O. box for a couple years). There used to be a third location, inside (not surprisingly) the Old Post Office -- but that relocated to Broadway @ Olive, and now seems to have closed entirely. 63102 has no post offices located within it; it is served by the two downtown branches. Then 63103 is home to the Main Post Office/Carrier Square, at 1720 Market (which I also used to frequent, when I had an account at the former St. Louis Postal Credit Union).

    But it's surprising just how many post offices there are located in City neighborhoods. Maybe there are too many, given our population decline over 50+ years. But there's still a high volume of bulk mail and business mail, so perhaps it makes sense.

    List of Post Offices in the City of St. Louis

    ** = Does Passport Applications

  • Jefferson Memorial, 111 N. 6th, 63101.

  • Henry W. Wheeler**, 1140 Olive, 63101.

  • Main Post Office**, 1720 Market, 63103.

  • Soulard, 1914 S. Broadway, 63104 (I wonder who goes to this location? It's kind of hidden, unless you frequent the shops on S. Broadway east of S. 7th St. in the Kosciusko area).

  • Benton Park, 2700 S. Jefferson, 63104.

  • Jordan W. Chambers, 901 N. Garrison, 63106 (Garrison @ Franklin in JeffVanderLou).

  • Fairgrounds, 4323 N. Grand, 63107 (inside National City Bank, the former N. St. Louis Trust).

  • Marian Oldham**, 4021 Laclede, 63108 (This was where I originally registered for Selective Service, on 12/18/1996, while in my senior year of high school nearby at Metro).

  • Chouteau, 4120 Manchester, 63110.

  • Tower Grove, 3198 S. Grand, 63118 (This is a very small, storefront post office that I think is very cool; used to stop and mail packages there a lot).

  • Maryville Gardens, 2920 Meramec, 63111 (A large facility, it delivers to all of 63111 and 63118. It was built in 1978 to replace two smaller, 1950s facilities, one on S. Broadway near Holly Hills and another on Meramec close to S. Grand now occupied by Vogel Heating & Cooling).

  • Eugene Field, 625 N. Euclid, 63108 (Another small, neighborhood commerical district branch where I used to walk frequently from the old Metro location at 5017 Washington).

  • Frederick N. Weathers, 3415 N. Kingshighway, 63115.

  • Gravois**, 4455 Ridgewood, 63116 (Kind of hard to find, but very busy).

  • Southwest**, 3232 Clifton, 63109 (Also, kind of hard to find, but serves two huge ZIP codes: 63109 and 63139).

  • Gwen B. Giles, 1409 Hamilton, 63112.

  • Baden, 8390 N. Broadway, 63147 (Probably the newest postal facility in the city.)

  • There are also mini-post offices at the Federal Center (4300 Goodfellow) and Washington University School of Medicine (4580 Scott), not to mention several post offices in St. Louis County that service portions of the city, such as the Maplewood Post Office at 2800 Marshall just south of Manchester.

    But good luck finding direct phone numbers for your local post office. That is difficult, at best.

    Friday, August 03, 2007

    Downtown in 30 Minutes or Less Via MetroBus

    Downtown in 30 Minutes or Less Via MetroBus

    Yes, I have started driving. But that does not mean I have abandoned public transit. I just recognize that one needs to adopt a multimodal lifestyle.

    That means, when it's convenient and feasible, to consider other options besides driving a single-occupancy vehicle. Sometimes, that's walking or bicycling, although I do rarely bicycle just because I'm very much out of practice and, well, kind of lazy.

    But I still walk a lot of places, although that has to be tempered by weather conditions, the perception of safety both from crime and from traffic hazards, and time constraints.

    Many areas of the City of St. Louis are, in fact, 30 minutes or less from Downtown St. Louis via MetroBus. Of course, MetroLink gets you even farther in that time.

    MetroLink Estimated Travel Time:

    Civic Center to Sunnen Station: 29 minutes.
    Civic Center to Airport East Terminal Station: 29 minutes.
    Convention Center to Belleville Station (Illinois): 28 minutes.

    Selected MetroBus Routes Estimated Travel Times:

    #04 Natural Bridge:
    Convention Center MetroLink to Vandeventer @ Natural Bridge: 30 minutes.

    #10 Gravois:
    Civic Center MetroBus Center to Gravois @ Holly Hills: 30 minutes.

    #11 Chippewa:
    Civic Center MetroBus Center to Chippewa @ Louisiana: 29 minutes.

    #30 Soulard:
    Convention Center MetroLink to St. Louis Ave. @ N. Kingshighway: 29 minutes.
    Convention Center MetroLink to Arsenal @ Spring: 29 minutes.

    #32 Wellston-MLK:
    Civic Center MetroBus Center to Martin Luther King @ Sarah: 30 minutes.

    #40 Broadway:
    Convention Center MetroLink to S. Broadway @ Courtois: 30 minutes.
    Convention Center MetroLink to Riverview MetroBus Center: 27 minutes.

    #57 Manchester:
    Civic Center MetroBus Center to Manchester @ Sutton, Maplewood: 30 minutes.

    #74 Florissant:
    Civic Center MetroBus Center to W Florissant @ Union: 30 minutes.

    #93 Midtown South County:
    Convention Center MetroLink to Grand @ Chippewa: 30 minutes.
    Convention Center MetroLink to Forest Park @ Euclid: 30 minutes.

    #94 Page:
    Civic Center MetroBus Center to Page @ Walton Ave.: 29 minutes.

    You get the idea. The general intention here is to illustrate just how quickly you can get to downtown St. Louis from most of the City of St. Louis. Of course, there are significant areas that are not within a convenient walking distance of a bus route that provides direct downtown access. In those cases, a transfer to another route is necessary, which slows the trip considerably.

    So I'm not saying transit is always the best option; just that it is an option to be considered, especially if you both live and work in the City of St. Louis or the closest inner-ring suburbs.

    And even for inter-city travel, flying and driving are not always the only options; although for most smaller towns in Missouri, driving is almost the only option aside from costly airport shuttle services.

    Amtrak, Greyhound, Jefferson Lines, and Burlington Trailways operate various routes throughout Missouri, but they don't go everywhere and they don't operate all that often nor (at least in the case of Amtrak and Greyhound) necessarily on-time or even close to on-time. Megabus offers direct express service to both Chicago and Kansas City from the Market Street side of Union Station downtown. I haven't tried it yet to see what their comfort level and on-time performance is like, but I do see the buses plying Market Street several times daily.

    My main point is that, while sometimes driving is the only option, it's not always the case. Alternatives can be considered; and even if you still chose to drive, at least you'd know you had other options.

    Wednesday, August 01, 2007

    Shifting Winds of Independent Media

    Shifting Winds of Independent Media

    So, I've noticed some changing in the St. Louis City-based blogging and independent political publications scene in recent months:

  • Sadly, Marti Frumhoff passed away two months ago, just as her long-awaited Main Street St. Louis initiative was getting underway.

  • Dave Drebes' Arch City Chronicle ceases publication, and ACC blogging shifts to largely cover Missouri state politics, as Dave focuses more on his new project, Missouri Scout, a fee-based online information service. It's understandable, given the publication has never made a profit, according to the note Dave posted on the blog.

  • Brian Marston and Amanda Doyle continue to periodically update The Commonspace Blog, but the e-zine is pretty sporadic at this point and the physical space closed up some time ago. It's understandable, given they both have lives and jobs, Brian having recently taken up a position that I'm sure keeps him quite busy, program director of the North St. Louis YouthBuild at the Friedens Neighborhood Foundation in historic Hyde Park.

  • Antonio French's Public Defender (bka "Pub Def") has, arguably, picked up some of the ACC market, although it, too, seems to have a lot of coverage of State politics as well as City politics, and probably less school-board coverage than it used to have. Of course, Antonio has to pay the bills too, so he is the political director for President of the Board of Alderman Lewis Reed, on the campaign payroll as Mr. French will openly proclaim.

  • Brian Horton, one of my long-time fellow travelers in aspiring to be an urban planner, announced his relocation to Charlotte, NC to pursue a new career opportunity. While I have enormous respect for Les Sterman, Steve Nagle, and the whole staff at East-West Gateway Council of Governments, I'm sure Brian realized (as I did when I was offered a position there in 2002) that the structure of this region largely ties the hands of EWG in making meaningful, long-term plans for the growth and development of St. Louis. While EWGCOG has a lot of authority in allocating Federal transportation dollars, the priorities still are mostly determined in Springfield IL and Jefferson City MO. And land-use planning is, realistically, locked up within local governments who are loathe to give up that authority.

  • Steve Wilke-Shapiro, instigator of the 15thWardSTL.org blog, announced his family is moving to Des Moines IA for a career opportunity. Again, perfectly smart decision, and I hope the new contributors to that blog can keep the momentum going.

  • Not that it is as dramatic nor significant as the other shifts mentioned above, but it's true my new job and other important matters have cut into my available time and topics for blogging. Just like the others (no, no not like THE Others...), I gotta pay the bills!

  • So, where does that leave the local urban political "blogosphere"? (I hate that made up word, but I guess it fits here.)

    There's still lots of folks plugging away, including Michael Allen and Claire Nowak-Boyd (OK, mostly Michael these days...) at Ecology of Absence, which has garnered considerably more attention lately; and of course Steve Patterson at Urban Review.

    And I'm sure I am leaving others out; if you know of any local interest blogs not featured on my blogroll at the left side of this page, particularly St. Louis City-oriented political and/or urban design issues, please let me know.

    Anyway, even as the folks who were involved in the early days of Metropolis Saint Louis, the Rehabbers Club, and the growth of the local political/urban planning blogs, move on to bigger and better things, I'm sure something will fill the gap.

    The Urban St. Louis message boards sure are hopping these days!