Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Train Nut

Correction: Thanks be to Tom Shrout for pointing out the last transit tax election was in 1997, not 1998.


Most readers know that I'm a transit geek, despite that -- gasp! -- I've been driving to work for almost a year now.

I can console myself for this treachery against transit, only because:

  1. Since June, I've been carpooling, thanks in part to the handy-dandy RideFinders website operated by Madison County Transit (AKA the green buses).
  2. In my current gig, I gotta go to meetings in St. Charles and other places outside the reach of the transit system, so there's not much choice. I know it's a cop-out, but believe me, once you've tried walking to St. Charles across the very narrow, wind-blown shoulder on the Discovery Bridge (MO 370), you don't try it again! And the problem with the Page Ave (MO 364/Veterans Memorial) Bridge is that, although it has a separate bike route, there's no bus service anywhere near the St. Louis County end. At least 370 has the 34 Earth City bus stopping relatively close by, on Earth City Expressway at Corporate Woods Drive.

At least it does for now, anyway. I am dismayed at the proposition that Metro will have dramatic cuts in its service capacity without yet another sales tax increase.

For what it's worth (not much), I already said "yes" to this particular tax increase -- in 1997. At that time, I was living in St. Louis County, where that Prop M failed. It passed in St. Louis City, where I live now, so we don't have to worry about voting this one. If County voters ok it, the City will start collecting, apparently. Of course, that will make the total tax rate on some items (prepared food at Loughborough Commons, for example, where there's an extra Transportation Development District sales tax), approach or even pass ten percent. That's just crazy.

I wasn't contributing much to the financial health of the system anyway, since for most of the last few years I was literally a "free rider" thanks to the largess of Washington University.

And yes, the use of the word "literally" in the preceding paragraph was brought to you by Joe Biden. ;-)

Biden, I must inform you, is reputedly a daily Amtrak rider. That's just cool beyond words in my book -- although must be a tad expensive. I'm pleasantly surprised it only takes 1 hr 35 min to ride from Washington Union Station to Wilmington, Delaware.

In Missouri, sometimes it can take that long to get from Warrensburg to Sedalia (although the schedule says it should only take 30 minutes...).

We clearly need a stronger State and Federal commitment to bus, light rail, subway, commuter rail, and intercity rail transportation in this country.

Will it happen? I'm hopeful... yet skeptical.

After all, the next administration will have a few, somewhat bigger issues to address.

Anyway, if you are a train and/or transit nut like me, consider joining some like-minded groups. Online, there are several St Louis and Missouri oriented Yahoo! Groups about trains. In real life, there's two local associations I joined earlier this year:

St. Louis Chapter, National Railway Historical Society (NRHS) -- meets 1st Wednesday of each month, 7:00 PM, at Brooking Park retirement community, way way out on MO 141 across from St. Luke's Hospital in Chesterfield.

St. Louis Railway Enthusiasts -- meets 2nd Thursday of each month (so this month, it's this Thursday, Sept. 13th), 7:30 PM, also at Brooking Park. This is the streetcar-oriented group.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Patriotic Fervor -- Generations Ago

Back in 1918 -- ninety years ago -- about half a dozen streets in St. Louis were renamed from "German" names to "American" names due to anti-German sentiments during World War I.

The St. Louis Street Index compiled by the St. Louis Public Library lists these cases, and the history behind many other street names, in great detail.

It's been ninety years. Why can't we change some of these names back? I'm not saying that the WWI heroes aren't worth memorializing; but the previous names also reflect on a significant portion of our local heritage that's also worth remembering.

Cecil Place was originally Hapsburger Avenue, renamed in 1918 for Viscount Cecil of Chelwood, League of Nations co-founder.

Enright Avenue was, in part, originally named Von Versen Avenue, in honor of Alice Von Verson, a daughter of Eliza Clemens who laid out an early subdivision in that area. It was renamed in 1918 for Jack Enright, one of the first Americans killed in World War I.

Gresham Avenue was at first called Kaiser Street, but was renamed in 1918 for one of the first soldiers killed in World War I.

Pershing Avenue was named Berlin Avenue, but was renamed in 1918 for General John J. Pershing.

Providence Place was at first called Knapstein Place, but was renamed in 1918.

Many people know about the Pershing re-naming, but few know about the other streets, probably because (other than Enright, a pretty well-known street in its own right) they are fairly short, residential streets in South St. Louis.

Monday, August 04, 2008

August Primary: It Snuck Up on Me!

EDIT 8/05/08: I totally spaced on the AG Office race. I voted for Margaret Donnelly.

OK, so I admit I've been extremely busy lately, between my work duties, my home duties, and my dissertation toil, so it's been a bit difficult to keep up with the political scene.

But I do feel competent -- thanks in part to the great work by the Saint Louis Beacon-- to make a few endorsements of my own:

Metropolitan Sewer District Proposition Y

Vote YES. The Beacon sums it up well in their headline: "Pay now or pay more later." Basically, if you vote yes, you approve a bond issue to finance major needed sewer improvements. You'll still pay a higher sewer bill, but it would rise much faster without the bond issue. There's no tax increase; I'm pretty sure the last round of MSD bill increases included eliminating the small MSD property tax, anyway. So this is strictly about user charges. Granted, it's a charge you are pretty much compelled to pay, because if you don't, it becomes a lien against your property just like unpaid property taxes.

Democratic Primary

Governor -- Jay Nixon, of course.

Lt. Governor -- Sam Page would be the sensible, traditional choice, although Michael Carter's robo-calls that note that he brought back the time-and-temperature phone service and offering a 'political do-not-call list' certainly are bemusing. Whoever wins will have a tough time unseating Peter Kinder.

State Treasurer -- Since she used to be the director of one of my major funding agencies, and seems to have done a good job there, I (along with Michael Eric Dyson, according to her radio ads) am supporting Andria Simckes (back then known as Danine Lard). However, Clint Zweifel seems likely to be the winner.

State Senate District 5 -- I'm going for Robin Wright Jones. She just seems like the more publicly-minded of the two candidates. This race, for various reasons, didn't seem to be getting much media attention as compared with the District 4 race that Jeff Smith won two years ago. But I think it's equally compelling to watch, especially in recent days as the mailings have piled up in my mailbox, trading barbs about whose education (teachers' unions vs. charter schools and pseudo-vouchers) and redevelopment (i.e. "Mr. McKee's Neighborhood") policies are better.

Obviously, I'm re-electing Jeanette Mott Oxford in House 59, along with Mark Rice and Lorraine Ura in the Ward 20 committee posts.

I will be curious to see what happens in House 67. I've seen numerous yard signs for all four major candidates (Landmann, Colona, Beffa, and Stelzer), although it seems like Colona and Stelzer have the most, generally. Again, I'm not sure how serious a gauge of popularity yard signs are, but without much media attention, what else is there to guess?

Also in the Tower Grove area, Ward 15 committee slots have an actual race occuring, with yard signs! There's apparently an old-line slate (Greg Thomas and Alice Nicolas) against the younger slate (Gregg Christian and Jan Clinite). This one should be interesting as well. (Note: Both Gregg and Jan have campaign blogs! That's very unusual, if not unprecedented, in St. Louis ward politics for committee slots.)

In the city races, of course the incumbents will probably win handily, but you have to give Dan Schesch credit for trying for the City Treasurer slot. I think I will vote for him, just because new ideas are probably worthwhile in that position; although I suspect Larry Williams will retire pretty soon anyway. Also, Dan Schesch's campaign has great attention for detail.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Where Is "Downtown"?

Whatever you think about the present and future state of (re)development in downtown St. Louis, it would help if the media and the general public -- particularly suburban and ex-urban residents -- would get the approximate location right!

I recall some years back there was much consternation because Mayor Bosley's staff counted the jobs at Anheuser-Busch (without the InBev part of course) as part of 'downtown' employment figures.

Of course, plenty of people are confused about where downtown St. Louis is. When I tell people I work at 100 N. Tucker, they say, "wow, that really IS downtown!" But then they may refer to, say, the National GeoSpatial Intelligence Agency complex at 2nd and Arsenal near the Brewery as "downtown."

And then we have The Washington Post, which I would not expect to have a real great grasp of St. Louis geography.

In discussing a certain Republican presidential candidate's recent visit to Ted Drewes Frozen Custard on Chippewa, the Post blogger wrote:

McCain chose to visit the original stand on historic Route 66; a second outpost exists downtown.

Uh, well actually, there's no location in downtown St. Louis and there never has been. In fact, according to the official Ted Drewes history, the first St. Louis location was on Natural Bridge in North St. Louis!

It all started when Ted Sr. opened his first ice cream store in Florida in 1929, followed the next year by an other store on Natural Bridge in St. Louis and the South Grand store in 1931. In 1941 the family opened a second south side stand which is the current Chippewa location, old route 66. By 1958, the south side stands were all that remained.

So, in fact, the South Grand store -- presumably what they were refering to as the 'downtown' store -- is ten years older than the Chippewa store.

And yet, I realize, the Chippewa store is the one that the general public -- i.e. suburbanites who somehow think it's a convenient stopover after a ballgame -- will most recognize.

Personally, I prefer the South Grand store. It's true, the surrounding neighborhood can appear a little dodgy, but no more so than my own neighborhood!

Anyway, it's not really that important I suppose, but just indicative of haphazard reporting. After all, a 5-second Wikipedia search turns up:

Downtown St. Louis is the central business district of St. Louis, Missouri, the hub of tourism and entertainment and the anchor of the St. Louis Metropolitan area. The downtown is bounded by Interstate 64 to the south, Jefferson Ave. to the west, the river front to the east, and Cole St. to the north. The downtown is the site of many corporate headquarters including A. G. Edwards, Edward Jones Investments, Energizer Holdings, Anheuser-Busch, and a host of other companies.

Uh oh, though -- the boundaries are fine, but the list of corporations could use a correction. A.G. Edwards is no more, A-B is in Soulard, Edward Jones is located out in Des Peres off I-270 and Manchester, and I think Energizer has moved their HQ to Maryville Centre area off I-64 and MO 141.

Actually, the boundary question becomes a little more complicated, although it still never takes in anything south of Chouteau. If you look at the Downtown St. Louis Partnership website, it says:

...the downtown boundaries of Cass Ave., Mississippi River, Chouteau Ave., and Jefferson Ave.

That definition has been used by DTSLP for a number of years, at least since the beginning of the Downtown Now! planning process, primarily to include substantial residential areas immediately north of Cole, most of which are (or were) public housing or subsidized housing of some type. To my mind, though, that area north of Cole is part of the Near North Side, not part of downtown.

Indeed, the official city neighborhoods map recognizes four separate neighborhoods as being within the area DTSLP counts as downtown:

  • Downtown: Bounded by Tucker, Cole (west of I-70), Carr (east of I-70), Mississippi River, and Chouteau
  • Downtown West: Bounded by Tucker, Cole, Jefferson, and Chouteau
  • Columbus Square: Bounded by I-70, Cass, Tucker, and Cole
  • Carr Square: Bounded by Tucker, Cass, Jefferson, and Cole

    Regardless of whether you use the city definition of downtown, the city definition plus downtown west, or the DTSLP definition, NONE of these include South Grand and Meramec, where Ted Drewes' oldest extant location is located.

    Anyway, I guess if I went with their definition though, I could advertise my house as located 'conveniently in the heart of downtown St. louis!'

  • Thursday, June 26, 2008

    The Gateway Geyser and Mississippi River Overlook

    Today, for the first time, I was driving across the Eads Bridge and actually saw the Gateway Geyser in full operation! It must have been about 1:10 pm, since it only operates twice daily (12:00 to 12:15 pm and 1:00 to 1:15 pm).

    Sadly, I was not able to get close enough to take a photograph until it had already stopped running.

    But I did manage to drive alongside of it -- it is fenced off with signs that say "No Trespassing." Also, I saw the construction workers still building the adjacent Mississippi River Overlook.

    Here's the official website. No photos there, either. ;-(

    Here's a map.

    And here's a YouTube video from Channel 9.

    The overlook and geyser combined make up what is known as Malcolm Martin Memorial Park (MMM Park), owned and operated by the Metro East Park and Recreation District -- the Illinois counterpart to Great Rivers Greenway, both created by the passage of a sales tax by voters in November 2000.

    At present, the overlook is still surrounded by construction vehicles, but hopefully by the end of summer you'll be able to visit. It promises to offer an impressive view of the St. Louis skyline.

    To get there...

    From MetroLink:
  • Exit at East Riverfront station. Take the elevator or stairs to ground level.
  • Walk south along Front Street, past the sprawling Casino Queen complex and the imposing Cargill grain terminal
  • Turn left onto W. Trendley Avenue. By now you should be able to see the overlook. The geyser is a few hundred yards further east.

    By bicycle:

    Take the Eads Bridge (south side of bridge only), then the ramp down to the MetroLink platform, and follow the pedestrian instructions above.

    By car:

  • Drive east across the Eads Bridge. As you go around a slight curve, downhill, on the Illinois approach ramps, turn left at the first traffic signal (River Park Drive).
  • Continue west along River Park, past both casino entrances, to the stop sign. This is Front Street.
  • Turn left on Front Street. Follow the pedestrian instructions from there.

    It's actually not as hard to find as I'd thought. After all, once you get off the Eads Bridge, Front and Trendley are pretty much the only streets that still exist. Not that that is a good thing, but it certainly makes navigating a bit easier.

    Unfortunately, the pavement on these streets can be treacherous. Aside from a portion of the Casino Queen frontage, there are no sidewalks. And there are huge potholes and occasional missing drainage grates in places, which I imagine could twist an ankle and/or break a bicycle wheel. Even in a car, it's pretty bumpy -- although not quite as bad, actually, as some other areas in EStL, where there are blocks and blocks of nearly empty property and decades of deferred maintenance.

    We think things are rough in North City. Well, take a look at the East Side. It's not that nobody cares. But who has the resources to fix all the problems?

    Maybe (just maybe) places like the Malcolm Martin park can get people to start thinking about the possibilities on the East Side, rather than always just focusing on the negative.
  • Monday, June 23, 2008

    Classmates.com May Need a Little Help Understanding St. Louis

    OK, so I checked my Yahoo! Mail this afternoon. Most of the mail I get on that account these days that is not spam, comes from one of the local railroad enthusiast email lists: [4staterailfancommunity], [stlouisrailfans], and [stlouisrailroadinfo].

    So, today I got a message from classmates.com. I rarely check my classmates.com account, so most of my communication from them borders on spam.

    And I guess they've jumped onto the localization bandwagon, with a feature called Classmates Neighborhoods. Here's part of the message they sent me:

    It's time to get local Joseph,

    Groundbreaking news! Classmates Neighborhoods is the new way to connect with people close to home. It's where you share news about your neighborhood, swap views on the coolest haunts, create a true kinship, and more.

    Which of these neighborhoods is closest to you?

    Hathaway Meadows


    Chatting Up Hathaway Meadows
    New! Like a favorite hangout, your Hathaway Meadows neighborhood message board is where you start a dialogue on cultural happenings, trendy hot-spots, civic goings-on, and more.


    Get local and make Hathaway Meadows a better place. Leave a message today.

    Of course, I live in the City of St. Louis. Not Sauget nor Cahokia, both in Illinois.

    OK, so I think Hathaway Meadows is the name of a subdivision in North St. Louis County, either part of or adjacent to the City of Moline Acres.

    However, Classmates seems to think it's somewhere near the corner of DeTonty and Thurman in what I would generally call the Shaw neighborhood.

    Even more curious, when I clicked on the link into classmates.com, I got a list of nearby neighborhoods that included:

    Cabanne Place
    Clifton Heights
    Richmond Heights
    Rock Springs
    St. Louis
    Tower Grove
    University City

    Some of those locations, of course, are well-known neighborhood identities. But some have been largely lost to history.

    Now you might think that location "Benton" was referencing Benton Park, which would be pretty darn close to my actual neighborhood, BP West.

    But in fact it refers to a location lost in the history books, but somehow still evident in cyberspace, called Benton Station. See the St Louis Public Library St Louis Street Index (1994):

    BENTON TERRACE (N-S). In the 1908 Kreickenbaum's Subdivision, it was named for its vicinity, long known as Benton Station, which in the 1850s was the Pacific Railroad's second station west of its downtown St. Louis starting point. The station appellation honors Missouri Senator Thomas Hart Benton, a strong backer of the Pacific Railroad. (Oakland)

    To make matters even more confusing, the neighborhood name in parenthesis at the end of each street name entry in the Library's index is not based on the Schoemehl-era map that's still largely in use by city agencies today. Instead, it refers to the Poelker/Conway-era map that was used by Norbury Wayman and his team at CDA in writing the official histories of each neighborhood during the late 1970s.

    I guess Classmates is giving us a little history lesson, though. What high school did kids from Benton Station attend, I wonder? (Probably the answer is: none, given we're talking about a then-rural area in the mid 19th-century.)

    And who knew Senator Thomas Hart Benton (not to be confused with his grand-nephew, 20th Century painter Thomas Hart Benton) was so popular in mid 19th Century St. Louis?

    Tuesday, June 17, 2008

    Google Street View as a Solution to High Gas Prices?

    OK, so you probably know by now that Google Street View has arrived in St Louis.

    Not every street is completed yet, but large swaths of South City are done, as are pockets of North City, and most of Kirkwood and Webster Groves. In other areas, only major streets and roads have been photographed and uploaded.

    This seems like it could be a great tool for a lot of uses:

  • Prospective home-buyers could use Street View to compare what a house's front facade and surroundings look like, with what they get on Realtor.com

  • City planners could use it to supplement data they already have about real estate markets and building conditions

  • Neighborhood residents and leaders could use it to highlight problem locations, because of course city neighborhoods are not two-dimensional but three! For example, it could perhaps be used (along with other supporting evidence of course) to evict one tenant in a four- or six-family building that was engaged in criminal activity, rather than shutting the whole building down (wishful thinking I realize...)

  • Aldermen could use Street View to verify the locations of problem spots about which their constituents complain, again combined with other data

  • These are just some potential uses. I am a little uneasy about the potential privacy issues, but given that faces and license plate numbers are pretty much always rendered unidentifiable, you'd really have to know exactly what somebody's car looked like or exactly what clothes a particular person owns in order to identify them precisely. Besides which, how much of a privacy expectation is there really on a public street? Anonymity, yes, that I can understand we expect anonymity when in public. But complete privacy is unrealistic; after all, you never really know when you might just happen to run into somebody you know on the street.

    The other thing that is striking about Street View is just how few people you see walking on the sidewalks in downtown St. Louis. Maybe that's because the images were taken at off-peak hours to minimize the number of car license plates and human faces that would need to be distorted. Indeed, comparing downtown Chicago with downtown St. Louis on Street View, suggests that is exactly what they are doing. It's almost as dead-looking as downtown St. Louis is on Street View!

    Now midtown Manhattan seems filled with people on Street View.... but maybe, in fact, that was the slowest period they could find in Times Square! I guess a slow period in NYC (Sunday morning?) is about the same level of pedestrian activity as at a weekday lunchtime in downtown St. Louis!

    Anyway, it does help reduce my urge to drive around and look at trains. At least, for a few days anyway. ;-) I'm still not sure how they managed to photograph all along South Wharf Street alongside the flood wall between Chouteau and Victor like they did. I didn't even think that was a public street anymore!

    I did notice they have not photographed Arsenal Street east of Broadway, nor 2nd Street from Arsenal to Cherokee. I wondered whether that was at the request of our local intelligence agency, NGA. After all, while I'm sure they have access to many other tools more sophisticated than Google Maps and Google Earth, they are probably still a potential customer for such products.

    Then again, if I really want to see what the outside walls of NGA looks like, I could just drive right by, which I did last night and saw there was still a softball game going on across the street in Lyon Park, well after dark!

    Come to think of it, that's gotta be one of the most well-secured parks in the city, with NGA on one side and A-B on the other. And yet zero houses are located within a one-block radius, although there's a few dozen homes just uphill across Broadway around St. Agatha's in the Soulard neighborhood.

    Wednesday, June 11, 2008

    Funny Title, Serious Topic

    I'm no Jay Leno, but this headline from the usually not especially interesting catch-all MU Info e-mail sent out weekly to all University of Missouri-Columbia faculty, staff and students was a bit troubling:

    Adults Who as Children were Exposed to Their Mothers Being Battered by an Intimate Partner for Research Study

    If that headline doesn't send mixed messages, I don't know what does.

    I will not divulge the name of the investigator on this one, who most likely was not the author of that headline, but here's the other curious part.

    "Participants will receive a Wal-mart gift card."

    Of course, I probably shouldn't talk. Once I participated in a discussion about neighborhood quality-of-life in return for a Shop N Save gift card. At least I never had to donate (sell) my plasma -- yet! I have donated blood without remuneration, but only once so far in life. It was a bit frustrating experience, and then a few weeks later that blood collection agency I visited went out of business. I should probably give it a try again though.

    Tuesday, June 03, 2008

    Oh the Irony: STL Beacon Bash Same Night as Liquor License Town Hall

    OK, so yesterday I posted about a town hall on the 20th ward liquor license moratorium planned for Tuesday, June 17th.

    And now I've realized that the new online publication the Saint Louis Beacon, started several months back by a group of former Post-Dispatch journalists, is having a big kick-off event that same night at.... The Royale.

    Of course, Steve Smith's The Royale is often cited by backers of a relaxed liquor license policy on Cherokee Street, as an example of the kind of establishment that might do well on Cherokee.

    See the Beacon's Facebook page for more details.

    Anyway, I just thought the timing was ironical (if that's even a word). ;-)

    And I must note that my professor emeritus from UMSL, Lana Stein, recently penned a piece for the Beacon.

    Monday, June 02, 2008

    This Could Get Interesting: 20th Ward Liquor License Town Hall

    Town Hall Meeting on Liquor License Moratorium
    20th Ward, City of St. Louis
    Tuesday June 17
    6:00 PM
    Cherokee Place Business Incubator
    2715 Cherokee St., 63118
    (#93 Midtown-South County bus stops nearby, at the corner of Cherokee and Ohio)

    More information from Bill Byrd, Benton Park West Neighborhood Association president:
    You may or may not have heard about a change to the current liquor license control ordinance.
    The following information concerning specifically Cherokee Street
    affects Cherokee Street from Iowa to Nebraska.
    I would invite anyone who is interested in what is happening on Cherokee Street and how Cherokee Street affects the residential neighborhood areas.
    If you're concerned about parking, trash, noise as the commercial area of Cherokee continues to come alive, come and voice your opinion.
    If you're concerned about having a plan for business that will have alcohol as part of its business, yet protect the neighborhoods...being equal to both sides...then come and listen, evaluate, and voice your opinion.
    I am open to any BPW resident who would like to talk with me about this issue.
    Thanks to Pam Lanning from Marine Villa for putting together this information.
    Bill Byrd
    Benton Park West Neighborhood Association
    A town hall meeting to discuss and obtain broader input for a revision of the bill (to be revised in 90 days) is scheduled for Tuesday June 17 @ 6pm in the Cherokee Incubator (2715 Cherokee).
    All residents, business owners, property owners, and interested parties are encouraged to attend.
    This bill is for the 20th ward of St. Louis.
    To see the boundaries of the 20th Ward, click on the following link:

    Map of 20th Ward
    South Side Journal article
    Riverfront Times article

    Monday, May 05, 2008

    Converter Box Coupons Finally Came!

    On March 4th, I ordered two coupons from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) for $40 each towards the purchase of two digital converter boxes to pick-up broadcast signals.

    In case you've been living under a rock (or just don't have a TV, in which case, you wouldn't care anyway), on February 17, 2009, all the full-power broadcast channels will have to switch to digital-only transmissions. Currently, most are broadcasting in both analog and digital, but the portion of the analog spectrum they use has been deemed by Congress necessary for other uses, among them communications systems for police and fire services. The National Association of Broadcasters has a website they have promoted on-air like crazy at www.dtvanswers.com, but the official government website where you must request the coupons is www.dtv2009.gov.

    Now, there is currently controversy regarding the availability of low-power and translator stations, which are not being required to transition to digital quite as fast. Indeed, their trade association, the Community Broadcasters Association, has filed a lawsuit against the FCC arguing that manufacturers and sellers of converter boxes that do not pass through the analog signal, are violating a 1962 statute called the All-Channel Receiver Act.

    I must admit I am not very familiar with the Low-Power TV community; it seems like most of the ones in the St. Louis area are affiliated with religious broadcasting networks. Within Missouri there are 100+ LPTV or translator stations, according to the FCC lookup site.

    So if you do want to make sure you can receive all the stations, regardless of how they broadcast, it seems like the best option is to buy one of the converter boxes listed on another CBA website, KeepUsOn.com.

    Anyway, we finally got our coupons (really they look like credit cards) on Saturday, almost two months after making an online request. And of course, they must have been mailed a couple weeks ago from the processing center in Oregon, because they expire in less than the 90 days they are supposed to be good for (on July 16th).

    NTIA is an obscure, yet powerful agency. I was mainly familiar with them in the past for their administration of a Clinton-era grant program my old employer considered applying for called the Technology Opportunities Program (TOP). We never got that grant, but our friends at The Youth and Family Center on N. 20th did, and developed an interesting and innovative initiative called St Louis WizKids.

    Tuesday, April 22, 2008


    Today I stopped by SLU Pius library to quickly return a few books, as I had only put 15 cents in the parking meter on Olive in a shady spot behind what I still call the Midtown State Office Building (now the SLU School for Professional Studies). Not that many years ago (1999 I guess), part of my job as a new intern with the City was working with DFS people in that building on a public-access computer project. Getting an analog line for hooking up a modem to provide public internet access turned out to be impossible given their PBX system. Ah, those were the days.

    But as I drove across Grand on Olive, I reminisced further back, to the days when F.W. Woolworth Co. was still in business throughout St. Louis and her leafy suburbs.

    I suppose in some ways the place of Woolworth's in American society was not that different from the Wal-Mart of today. In fact, in 1997 as Woolworth's declined, it was replaced by Wal-Mart on the Dow Jones.

    Woolworth's stores, as well as S.S. Kresge stores (the precursor to K-Mart), however, were located in city neighborhoods and suburban strip malls. They were much more of a human-scaled store. Think about where Woolworths stores were located:

    Grand and Olive
    6th and Locust
    South Grand near Hartford
    Cherokee and California
    Concord Village Shopping Center on S. Lindbergh (that is the one I remember best, from my days as a little 'un in South County).
    and I'm sure there were dozens of others that either closed well before I came along, or were just outside my sphere of activity. I vaguely recall an S.S. Kresge store in Hampton Village about where the Great Clips is now.

    The big store at Cherokee and California is today a Mexican grocery store, but if you look closely, you can still see the "no soliciting" decals in the windows next to the front doors, not to mention the holes in the stucco where the lettered signage was once mounted. Similarly, you can tell there used to be a Woolworth's in the former "Comp and Soft" space on S. Grand because of the distinctive red metal signage.

    When I was an exchange student in South Africa, I discovered their Woolworths chain, which was and is a very high-end operation owned by the similarly high-end British retailer Marks & Spencer -- and apparently not even affiliated with the Woolworths in the UK, which was part of F.W. Woolworth until 1982.

    I guess I was disappointed at the time to see just how high-end, and heavily grocery-oriented, the African version was. Seemed rather counter-intuitive, with so much poverty just a few miles away. I was more likely myself to buy groceries at a Shoprite store, or at one of the little ramshackle trailers and ISO containers housing independently-owned walk-up stores located amidst the dormitories or near the Metrorail stop on the UWC campus.

    Monday, April 21, 2008

    Now Officially ABD

    OK, so I think I can now call myself a "PhD candidate" as on Friday I completed the defense of my secondary field paper, which nobody will ever read again (I hope), entitled "Politicizing Ethnicity: How Ethnic Identity Aligns with Patronage and Partisanship."

    Perhaps it helped that the 10:15 am aftershock from Friday's 4:30 am earthquake occurred during the middle of my defense.

    Now that that badboy is out of the way, the dissertation will be my main focus for... well, whatever free time I can conjure up!

    Meanwhile, I am hopeful that despite the downturn (read liquification) in the real estate market, some of the plans for downtown will continue to proceed. It would be just too depressing to see the Jefferson Arms sit vacant and boarded up for another couple years. For that matter, I still haven't seen much progress on the new construction side of the Park Pacific development just across the street from my work.

    Tuesday, April 15, 2008

    Lexington KY

    I spent most of last week in Lexington, Kentucky at a professional conference held at the Radisson hotel in the downtown. (My entire profession has only about 300 members nationwide, so we're not talking about a huge event.)

    Unlike many cities, no interstate highways penetrate the downtown area of Lexington. However, I-64 and I-75 are just a few miles north.

    Lexington-Fayette County is a consolidated city-county government, as is the much larger Louisville-Jefferson County (where we got stuck in terrible Sunday afternoon traffic on I-64 for nearly an hour!).

    Yes, we drove all the way. But we did carpool; indeed, myself and a colleague from Columbia MO both drove over to the Swansea IL MetroLink station long-term parking area, leaving our vehicles there while a third colleague drove the rest of the way.

    That's really the only efficient way to get there, as according to my research, no Amtrak train services Lexington, and the Greyhound service available requires changing buses first in Indianapolis and then again in Cincinnati. Lexington does have a small airport, but there are no direct flights from St. Louis; you have to change planes in Chicago, or Cincinnati, or Memphis, or even Atlanta.

    Besides which, flying these days is an experience I'd like to avoid if possible. Two conference participants from Louisiana were stranded at the Houston airport for two days because of the problems with American Airlines. But driving I-64 takes you directly to the northern edge of town.

    Indeed, Lexington has its own little outer-belt (perhaps more of an inner-belt as sprawl continues outside it, especially to the south), but it's not an interstate. It is called New Circle Road; that, in fact, is where the Greyhound station is located. But local transit in Lexington is limited to city buses, a system called LexTran.

    Downtown Lexington has some interesting historic buildings, and an impressive public library with a huge pendulum clock that must be seen to be believed... although the local schoolkids don't even seem to notice it.

    But it also is beset with many of the failed 1970s and '80s remedies that St. Louis has in our downtown:
    One-way streets clogged with traffic at rush hour, but empty most other times.
    A downtown indoor shopping mall attached to an arena and convention center, and connected by funky-smelling skywalks to adjacent hotels and office towers.

    Technically, there are two downtown malls, both attached to each other by a skywalk above Main Street: The Shops at Lexington Center, where the ground floor food court is the real draw, the shops above seemingly an afterthought largely peddling UK blue sports memorabilia. I was not the only person who remarked it was actually faster to just walk across the street to the mall from the hotel, rather than navigating the skywalk maze! The 2nd mall I did not explore inside, but walked around the perimeter (both closed at 6 PM), although it looked a bit more interesting: Victorian Square, an adaptive reuse of several historic buildings combined into a shopping mall, attached by skywalk both to Lexington Center and to a parking garage.

    I will say, though, Triangle Park and its fountains were impressive.

    I explored quite a bit around the downtown area, and discovered several nice historic districts immediately north of downtown, and in their midst, a very nice, old college campus called Transylvania University (or just "Transy" for the locals). And of course you can't miss the University of Kentucky campus which sprawls forever and ever southward from downtown. Between downtown and the UK campus are many taverns, restaurants, and off-campus housing complexes. I get the sense the professors and their families mostly live in the historic districts just north of downtown, where homes range from modest to magnificent, are generally well-kept, and populated with many "End this War" lawn signs and bumper stickers, something I didn't really expect to see in Kentucky. Of course, that may just be where the liberal profs from the East coast live. ;-)

    I walked a bit outside the downtown area, through Thoroughbred Park (also impressive but smaller than I'd expected), and kinda stumbled onto the 'wrong' side of town along US 60, through an industrial area where the massive Jif peanut butter factory is located, and ultimately to the rather sad-looking Eastland Shopping Center, which reminded me a lot of Northland before it was knocked down a few years ago (and not just because of the similar name!).

    Eastland had a bus stop right in front of the Big Lots though, so I was able to hop on and ride back into downtown, through some even rougher blocks of Northeast Lexington than where I had walked, to the c. 1990 combination transit center/parking garage. It is rather ugly, as you might expect, and takes up a full two city blocks along Vine Street. But it is functional.

    Clearly, though, the UK campus is a major center of activity. There's even reversible lanes -- marked only by yellow paint on the road and giant red glowing "X" signs above the lanes heading south from town/campus, all the way to the new shiny shopping malls along New Circle, along Nicholasville Road (US 27). It's hard to picture how the reversible lanes actually improve rush-hour traffic flow, but it probably works similarly to how Gravois used to be before I-44 was completed. Fascinating to see a place that still has reversible lanes on a surface road with no dividers at all; but also a bit scary!

    Anyway, Lexington clearly has its challenges, but was fun and interesting place to visit and explore nonetheless. Hey, the mayor even stopped by to kick-off our conference; somehow, last year in Detroit I don't think we rated high enough for such a visit.

    Wednesday, April 02, 2008

    We Own the Post Office!

    We Own the Post Office!

    OK, I must confess, this story on NPR's Marketplace last night had me totally snowed until the very end. Hilarious.

    The two best quotes:

    From Beverly Jaworsky, "Debt-To-Purchase Ratio Assessor" for the IRS:

    Well, we own the Post Office and they'll do as we say.

    From Clinton administration Secretary of Labor Dr. Robert Reich:

    [I]f the government ships a toaster oven to my neighbor and ships Viagra to me -- and by the way, I don't use Viagra -- that's not going to be terribly efficient


    Monday, March 31, 2008

    Potemkin City

    Potemkin City

    Note: For some reason I thought "Potemkin village" was a slur against native Americans; turns out, it dates to 18th Century Russia.

    Lately, I've spent a lot of my weekend time visiting model train shows and searching out places to watch real trains pass.

    Something that strikes me is that our railroad corridors, historically central to the development of industry, are not just marginalized today -- they are decimated. Sure, the trains still run, and almost constantly past places such as Grand Avenue Interlocking immediately south of the Grand MetroLink station, where Amtrak, TRRA, BNSF, UP, and Respondek (overnight only) pass by almost constantly.

    But the industrial areas adjacent to the rails are almost dead, especially on weekends. Some buildings are still active, to be sure, but many of the side streets through the industrial areas have so many potholes they are almost impassable. One particularly bad stretch is behind the old National Guard Armory -- an amazing building where my 6th grade classes went to play softball inside about 1990-91 or so. Anyway, Bernard Street and "lower" Spring Avenue behind and alongside the Armory are in atrocious condition, and it seems like nobody cares about that area despite its location right next to the SLU campus. (Then again, maybe it's best that SLU not get its hands on that property!)

    And for that matter, some of the streets east of North Broadway are similarly depressing. Up there, it seems like more buildings may be partially occupied than it looks like, but still there are vast areas of vacant ground.

    Sure, we still have massive railroad yards, but even those don't necessarily serve that much active local industry. They are instead remnants of an earlier era. Since 1978, Kansas City has been the 2nd-largest railway center in the US, surpassing St. Louis. KC has placed itself as a logistics center both in rail (as headquarters of "the NAFTA railroad, Kansas City Southern) and in underground storage (Subtropolis).

    Indeed, many of the trains you see pass through St. Louis are either coal trains heading from the Powder River Basin in Montana, or container trains stacked with ISO containers mostly from China and elsewhere in East Asia.

    Thursday, March 06, 2008

    Megabus to Columbia MO!

    Megabus to Columbia MO!

    Starting March 13, 2008, the Megabus express intercity bus service route between St. Louis and Kansas City adds a stop at the newly renovated historic Wabash depot (now the hub of Columbia Transit service) in downtown Columbia, MO.

    This location is considerably more convenient to the Columbia College, Stephens College and University of Missouri-Columbia campuses than either the Greyhound station or the MO-X office.

    The Greyhound station in Columbia is really funky; it's in an industrial park north of I-70, a bit of a hike up to Range Line, where you then catch the Orange Line bus, to make a huge loop through town before eventually getting to the Wabash terminal.

    MO-X is a shuttle service between Columbia and Lambert Airport. The office is located on the I-70 Business Loop in the Parkade Center, a strange combination of strip mall and offices, including a large USDA office. You can pay extra for MO-X to take you directly to your destination in Columbia, but it's definitely more of a premium service geared specifically toward airport passengers.

    Anyway, the Wabash terminal is an eminently sensible place for an intercity bus stop.

    Meanwhile, in St. Louis the Megabus stop is still on 20th Street alongside Union Station. It would make sense to me for this stop to be located at the new Gateway Transportation Center once it opens, although Greyhound may not approve of that.

    Amtrak, of course, does not serve Columbia MO. Megabus does compete against Amtrak on some routes, and its Midwest hub is -- like Amtrak -- Chicago Union Station.

    Megabus directly competes against Greyhound, although it caters to a very different market inasmuch as you can only book Megabus online, and pricing varies considerably depending on when you book. I think it's a fascinating concept, and makes perfect sense for college towns. Bloomington-Normal IL (home of ISU and Illinois Wesleyan) has already been added to the Megabus route between St Louis and Chicago.

    Of course, I have mixed feelings about that service and the service to Champaign-Urbana (on the Chicago-Memphis route) also being added by Megabus, as those directly compete against State of Illinois subsidized Amtrak service on those corridors.

    But Amtrak could not realistically serve Columbia, anyway; that same Wabash depot there closed for passenger service in 1964. Columbia is not on a main-line like Jefferson City; the only freight rail service into Columbia is COLT, a short-line owned and operated by the City of Columbia that hooks into the Norfolk Southern at Centralia, MO, about 25 miles northeast of Columbia.

    Friday, February 29, 2008

    Social Butterflies

    Social Butterflies

    OK, so I admit I am no social butterfly. In point of fact, social situations often give me butterflies in my tummy.

    However, I have started to take a liking to some of the "social" networking websites.

    I now have a profile on Facebook, and one on LinkedIn.

    It's kinda neat to be able to connect with current and past colleagues, classmates, etc. and just see what it is they are doing or thinking about these days.

    Then again, sometimes it's more than I want to know.

    Facebook is, of course, much more quirky and personalized... and often just ridiculous. So far I've tried to keep my pretty sane (so far, anyway). Most LinkedIn profiles, given their focus on professional networkings, are pretty standardized.

    While just being on LinkedIn may not necessarily lead you to a better job, it's still not a bad idea to keep track of people you have known in some way in "real life." You never know when it might come in handy.

    I've also started joining real-life groups of train nuts... er, I mean, rail fans. I've even attended several model trains shows. Those are a lot of fun... and a lot different than just being on the Facebook group "I Love Trains" ... although I'm on that, too!

    I'm still not quite sure where I fit in that world, although the idea of becoming a volunteer trolley operator at the Museum of Transportation is alluring, I'm not sure I'm quite ready for it, just yet.

    Thursday, January 24, 2008

    "4Give Yo-self"

    "4Give Yo-self"

    "4Give Yo-self"

    That was the message scrawled across two separate buildings at Tucker and Chouteau this morning. Somebody else (more important than me, perhaps) must have noticed it, because about 8 am today there was a NestlePurina PetCare security truck parked alongside Tucker with its lights flashing.

    The security officer was standing on the sidewalk photographing the graffiti, scrawled easily 10' tall (maybe taller) along one blank brick face of a Purina office building, and the rest of the graffiti on a rusty corrugated metal building behind the security officer.

    I wonder what the message is here? It could be directed at anybody and everybody, from Mayor Slay to Purina itself (given its minimal role in the tainted pet food scandal last year), to all the capitalists on their way to work.


    Thursday, January 03, 2008



    On Monday, January 24, 2000, I was in Burlington, Iowa for the caucuses. At that time, I was a lowly student intern working for free for Joyce Aboussie and her crew at the Gephardt-in-Congress committee office in Kenrick Plaza (a shopping center that has certainly taken a downward slide in eight short years).

    I started that day early, probably about 5 AM, holding an "Al Gore" sign while standing in frigid cold weather on a traffic island outside the Case Corporation factory gates along the Mississippi on the northern edge of town. Later, I did my first ever bit of driving -- about twenty feet, attempting to move one of the rented vans along the curb line. (It could have been worse!) I screeched the brakes, and nobody asked me to do that again! ;-)

    Throughout that Monday evening, we rode around town, the mostly volunteer St. Louis canvassing crew (I do believe Chuck Banks was my driver that night), visting and observing various caucus locations. Of course, this being the 2000 election, Al had a pretty decent lock on the Democratic side over Bill Bradley, but the Republican caucuses were where a lot more horse-trading appeared to be happening.

    The Gephardt/Aboussie crew had also taken me up to Ft. Madison and Keokuk, Iowa in December 1999, to do some canvassing and generally provide support to the Gore campaign in its earliest days. I remember there was a woman named Summer who was the on-the-ground Gore staffer there... ironic, given the weather was far from summery. We also ran across at least one die-hard Steve Forbes flat-tax backer on those snowy streets, which was kind of curious given that Southeast Iowa has a pretty strongly manufacturing-based labor-union-oriented economy.

    Anyway, I predict that tonight, Mike Huckabee and Barack Obama will come out on top of their respective caucuses in Iowa tonight.

    I'm sure Hillary C. will place a close 2nd on the Democratic side, and it's even possible they will be nearly tied.

    But on the Republican side, I think there will be a pretty wide gap between Huckabee and George...er, I mean, Mitt Romney.

    I do think it is worth noting Huckabee and Obama are the only two presidential candidates with sponsored links on Google (click below for larger version).

    Lookin' at '07

    Lookin' at '07

    OK, so I have been AWOL for the past month or so. What can I say... the holidays are a busy time.

    And for that matter, 2007 was a busy year.

    On February 1st, I started a new job.

    In March, my alderman Craig Schmid was re-elected... but my even longer-time associate, Jim Shrewsbury, was defeated during the Democratic primary on 3/6.

    Later that month, my mother-in-law was injured, which ultimately led her to retire from SLPS.

    Then, in April, our latest stray from the neighborhood who suckered me into taking her in, had three beautiful bouncing baby boys.

    In May, Marti Frumhoff passed away suddenly.

    And by July 4th, I had a full-fledged driver's license for the first time.

    Most bizarrely and tragically, a different Joe Frank, about my age, was killed in a car accident not far from my neighborhood in September.

    And a few weeks after that, because my wife got a new car that's considerably more efficient, attractive and actually has four doors unlike our '96 cargo van, I started driving to work regularly... just in time for the traffic to get worse!

    Over the holidays, we had a number of major events, including the famous Antique Row Cookie Spree, visits to St. Charles, South County, and North County, and of course shopping trips.

    So, yes, it has been quite a year.

    But 2008 should be just as great!