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Nostalgia, Cities, Streetcars and the Daily Newspaper

May 4, 2009 History/Preservation, Media, Public Transit 36 Comments

Nostalgia is neither good or bad.  Often someone is labeled “nostalgic” as a means of dismissing their desire to return to a way or technology of the past.

1. a wistful desire to return in thought or in fact to a former time in one’s life, to one’s home or homeland, or to one’s family and friends; a sentimental yearning for the happiness of a former place or time: a nostalgia for his college days.(from Dictionary.com)

It has been said that the attraction of streetcars, for example, is more about nostalgia than good mass transit.  Perhaps.  I believe streetcars in a region’s core is a good part of a healthy mass transit system that also includes buses, light rail and heavy rail.  I was in my 30s before I rode a streetcar so how can this be nostalgia for me?

Old photos do transport me to well before my time when most U.S. towns & cities had streetcar systems.  I grew up not in a suburb but most certainly in suburbia. Oklahoma City, like most cities had at least one streetcar system.  It also had an “interurban” system connecting small towns outside the city to the downtown.  My part of Oklahoma City was a new 1960s subdivision of curving cul-de-sac streets lined not with sidewalks and trees but driveways and garage doors.  The streetcars & interurban system was long gone although the compact and walkable neighborhoods once served by these transit systems remained.  They remain today.

In St. Louis the intersection of Grand & Gravois was considered suburban when new.  That is, it was less urban than the older parts if the city.  But it was well served by transit and walkable.

Grand & Gravois, late 1950s.  Note the strretcar on the left.
Grand & Gravois, late 1950s. Note the streetcar on the left.

Is this nostalgia on my part or a recognition of elements for an earlier time that would work well today?  There are lots of things from earlier times I don’t care to return to:  water from a cistern and outhouses just to name a couple.

I live for the future.  But that doesn’t mean we have to toss aside lessons from the past.  I like gardening for your food, buying from a merchant where the clerk behind the counter is the owner, hanging clothes to dry, etc.  I don’t consider myself nostalgic.

Nor do I label those who see the future demise of the daily newspaper as nostalgic.  Or do I?  For decades my parents got the paper 7 days per week.  Both read it end to end. I remember looking through the classifieds for a car when I was 16.  That was BCL — before Craigslist.  Yeah, don’t miss it at all.  But for many I believe them when they say they don’t like reading on their computer, much less on their phone.  Some are indifferent.  I never liked the paper — it was too big.  I had to fold it to manage it.Got ink on my fingers.  I do have fond memories of using Silly Putty on comics.

The daily newspaper, like the local streetcar, is going away.  But the streetcar is staging a comeback:

Portland, OR March 2009
Portland, OR March 2009

Yes, the streetcar is back.  It looks different than it used to.  They not longer are built by private developers seeking buyers for housing lots on the edge of a metropolis. Today the streetcar makes circles through areas— connecting them in the process.  How people use streetcars have changed as well.  In the past passengers would board from the roadway — most of the lines in Toronto are still this way.  New systems allow passengers to remain safely on the sidewalk.  Wheelchair users have easy access without special ramps or lifts.  So after a long absence streetcars have returned.  They have keep the good parts and tossed away the bad.

Will the same be true of the daily newspaper?  Will we see it go away only to return bigger & better half a century later? Just maybe.  If it does don’t dismiss those that want a paper as just being nostalgic or luddites.


Currently there are "36 comments" on this Article:

  1. john says:

    Whether tomorrow or years from now, the debate for the StL region will most likely be “do we maintain what we have” (The New 64, 141, MetroLink, etc) OR “shall we begin to spend for new infrastructure” that supports streetcars and more sustainable-integrated-efficient transportation system? Finances will trump sustainable solutions.
    – –
    MoDOT, our department of transportation, has already designed our future. When Clayton asked for permission to introduce streetcars, MetroLink said “NO”.

  2. Jimmy Z says:

    Streetcars preceeded buses for many reasons, including better reliability, first with steam and cable power, then with steam and electric propulsion. But as both the internal combustion engine, specifically the diesel, and synthetic rubber improved (1935-1950), the transit bus became a much more viable alternative and one that requires much less investment in infrastructure. Streetcars remain attractive in limited applications, since they’re “different”, but for the daily commuter, the vehicle itself (transit bus, streetcar, rickshaw, etc.) diminishes in importance. For the daily commuter, it all boils down to cost, speed, schedule, frequency, number of stops, number of transfers required, cleanliness, comfort and safety. If it takes three times as long and costs $4 or $5 (or more) a day (like it does here on Metro), it won’t matter if the vehicle has leather seats or wi-fi. And if it only comes by every 15-20 minutes and/or runs from 11 am to 10 pm (Tampa) it won’t work for the 9-to-5’ers, either. But if it ends up like Portland, where their streetcar runs from 5:30 am to 11:30 pm and an annual pass only costs $100, then it becomes a LOT more attractive.

    Portland just received a stimulus grant to expand their streetcar system (http://www.oregonlive.com/politics/index.ssf/2009/04/feds_approve_75_million_for_st.html). The basic article echoes Steve’s sentiments, while the comments that follow echo the diversity of opinion that is typical when there’s discussion of expanding any public transit. Could it work here? Especially on the line that’s closest to reality (Delmar Loop to Forest Park)? Probably. And it’s going to take a big success on the/any first effort to grow the system beyond just a tourist attraction. Personally, I’m more concerned about Metro’s long-term survival than I am about any new projects. The real challenge here, versus Portland, is much bigger than streetcar versus bus conversation, it’s all about density and land use decisions and patterns. Transit works best with higher densities, and the St. Louis region continues to become less dense . . .

  3. Chris says:

    I still think a Walgreens would have looked better on that corner.

  4. john says:

    Freeways should not longer be free. According to a report released by the Urban Land Institute and Ernst & Young called Infrastructure 2009: Pivot Point, those who drive the furthest to work should bear the biggest responsibility for paying for roads. The study targets sprawl as a major contributor to road congestion; it suggests “urbanizing suburbs” with densely developed downtowns, served by rail and bus, as a solution.
    – –
    The beneficiary of these policies? Developers and those who want cheaper homes. More than half of the developers surveyed in E&Y’s report said that less than 10% of development costs go for infrastructure. Until we end subsidizing motorized vehicles (via freeways, low valuations for tax purposes on parking lots, higher speed limits that are rarely enforced, etc), the chances for change are small. To get density, we need to change the way our road infrastructure is priced.

  5. theotherguy says:


    The people who drive the most already pay more, in gas taxes. While it is not perfect, the fuel efficient driver pays less than the gas guzzler and the fuel tax doesn’t pay for ALL of the road improvements either. Electric cars pay, presumably, no gas tax, and do not pay to upkeep the roads.

    The best way to do it, in my opinion, would to have toll ‘stations’ that charge you for driving. The EZ Pass technology could do it relatively inexpensively. Having a bunch of stations around the area, sometimes turned on, sometimes not. Carpooling could be discounted. It could be more expensive to drive at rush hour vs. 2am. Regressiveness of the tax code does come into play, as it does now, but that could worked out via rebates.

    Let people live where want to, work where they can find it, but tax them accordingly.

  6. Jimmy Z says:

    How would the EZ Pass transponder know how many people are in a car?!

    As you alluded to, there are two parts to the highway funding equation, maintenance and the need for more capacity. An 80,000 lb. semi does a LOT more damage than either a 6,000 lb. Hummer or a 3,500 lb. Prius does on each trip, and should be charged accordingly (but isn’t). Unfortunately, being a border city cuts both ways – right now fuel taxes are higher in Illinois than in Missouri, so those that can fill up on the Missouri side; raise taxes on the heavy trucks, to where they “should” be, and you’ll see a lot of ’em filling up and/or registering across the river.

    Congestion pricing is a more logical solution to the capacity issue, but so is just building more lanes and/or creating a viable public transit system. Yes, I know, “we can’t build our way out of congestion”, but we can also make commuting into congested, typically urban, areas so expensive and/or time-consuming, that the Law of Unintended Consequences kicks in, and more and more people will choose to live and work outside whatever congestion zone is defined, exacerbating our existing sprawl problem! Alternately, you do the whole Big Brother thing, track everybody’s movements 24/7, create some sort of “fairness” algorhythm, then bill everyone at the end of the month. But since I’m a big believer in KISS, just raise the gas tax to whatever level it needs to be to both discourage “wasteful” or “unneeded” driving and use the additional revenues to fund both more highway lanes and a much bigger subsidy for public transit!

  7. john says:

    The people who drive more do pay more but is it enough? Congress established user fees in the ’50s and since the last time this fee ($0.18/gallon) was raised (1993) the cost to maintain these roads has more than doubled.
    – –
    Gas taxes alone are insufficient and too often poorly allocated thus the push for VMT, electronic tolls, congestion pricing, etc. But even these charges are insufficient in reducing some of the greatest risks from auto-centrism, especially pollution. According to researchers at the Keck School of Medicine (USC) found that children who lived within 500 meters of a freeway, or approximately a third of a mile, since age 10 had substantial deficits in lung function by the age of 18 years, compared to children living at least 1500 meters, or approximately one mile, away.

    “Someone suffering a pollution-related deficit in lung function as a child will probably have less than healthy lungs all of his or her life,” says lead author J. Gauderman, Ph.D., “And poor lung function in later adult life is known to be a major risk factor for respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.”
    – –
    So tell me theotherguy and others, how much are you paying in your gas taxes to address these expenses? Bottom line: every freeway should no longer be free, especially to polluters.

  8. Jimmy Z says:

    It’s that old chicken-and-egg conundrum – we “need” freeways and single-occupant vehicles because we’ve accepted a relatively low-density, “suburban” development model for at least 90% of all new construction, in both the St. Louis region and much of the rest of the country, for at least the last 75 years. Without first increasing the density of our region, ANY attempt to get people out of their SOV’s will meet significant resistance, even if it’s the “right” thing for all of us to do. I’m a good example – I’ve lived here for 5 years, in two different locations, and have worked at 3 different places. I’ve always tried to figure out how to make Metro work for my daily commutes, but it’s always worked out taking, at best, 3 times as long as driving myself and costing me more money, even with gas, depreciation, insurance and maintenance! I like transit, but not that much.

    As I noted previously, for public transit to be effective, and thus used, it requires frequent, preferably direct, service. And for that to happen, you need a lot more riders than you can collect along a typical suburban collector or arterial atreet, much less along any suburban cul-de-sac. The best answers are simply much higher densities and greater subsidies of individual passes. Look at the cities where transit is an integral part of the landscape (NYC, Toronto, Portland, Vancouver, etc.) – they all have embraced higher densities and mixed-use developments, through a mix of limited land availability/high demand (simple economics, many times combined with geography) and government direction and guidance. Here, we continue to build new city-funded parking structures in the CBD and we have multiple suburban cities willing to bend over for any developer who promises “more”/”new” taxes, while we continue to watch Metro shrink their operations! Toll lanes, HOV lanes, toll roads, congestion pricing, VMT’s and public-private participation are all buzzwords that only work when there are no other “free” options. Heck, we can’t even make the new Mississippi River bridge be a toll bridge (even though it should be for multiple reasons)! So, john, while I appreciate your perspective, it looks like you’re very much a “voice in the wilderness” when it comes to the St. Louis region . . .

  9. Jim says:

    It’s not a question of whether computers are better than newspaper. Certainly, without newspapers we’d save a lot of trees without newspapers, which would be a lot better for the environment.

    It’s a question of whether the Internet will support the tens of thousands of editors, reporters, designers and others who have always brought us the news. Newspapers are the workhorses of the media. They provide the people to staff the public meetings, follow around the mayors and congressmen, write about the triumphs and tragedies of ordinary people and expose corruption. Especially expose corruption. Would Internet outlets be able to support a Woodward and Bernstein, who worked on nothing else for months and brought down a president?

    I don’t know whether there’s enough ad revenue to support that in an Internet outlet. I fear for our society if we loses all those journalists. Who will be our eyes?

  10. GMichaud says:

    Once Chrysler closes its plant, GM probably won’t be far behind. Then St. Louis will rid itself of any reason to support automobiles in a destructive manner, as is the case now. These plants should be converted to the building of trolley cars, rail cars, double decker buses and whatever is going to be the shape of the next transport system. It requires coordination and support on the national level. Not to mention policy changes on the local level (get rid of Pete Rahn for starters)
    Irregardless we will be forced into alternate modes of transport eventually, the oil crisis has just begun.
    We can either creatively adapt now, or struggle even more later. Capitalism has failed to adapt because it has been taken over by corporate cartels who purchase government policy to shore up their declining positions. To the degree government policy can escape the grip of the corporate rulers will determine the success of the next generation.
    The trolley is far from nostalgia, rather they should have never been submarined by GM, Firestone and Standard Oil in the 30’s to the 1950’s. In fact GM is now getting its karma returned on a platter.
    The people of this country have been duped and manipulated into an unsustainable urban planning system so that, like wall street, a few could profit tremendously. That has happened over the last 50 years. The result is the St. Louis region.

    Automobile drivers pay a small portion of the costs for maintaining the road system. Excessive infrastructure costs from far flung suburbs (including sewer, gas and other utilities, as well as roads), first responders, traffic cops and street departments (cleaning, snow removal etc) and on and on are part of a myriad complex of hidden costs the automobile enthusiast does not cover with the fuel tax.
    And as mentioned above this does not even account for pollution, including contributions to global warming, which in the end could radically alter the world by itself.

  11. GMichaud says:

    Even wikipedia has an entry on the streetcar buyout and shutdown across the nation. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_Motors_streetcar_conspiracy.
    There are many streetcar lines around the world that have lasted for decades and and are successful today. Just not in the United States.

  12. Tready says:

    Supply and demand folks. There is less of a demand for public transit, so, therefore, less supply of public transit. As much as you may want to control someone’s choices, or tax them enough to make the “right” decision, the bottom line is that this is a free nation. The people have the freedom to drive their own car on public roadways if desired. The people have the freedom to ride a train if they desire. There’s a good chance that those folks who do commute from the outskirts make more money than those inside surburbia. Therefore, they already do pay more taxes than the rest of us for infrastructure and the like. The more you make, the higher your taxes. It’s un-American, but, unfortunately, it’s reality. Of course, some of you on here will argue “that they don’t pay taxes, they have corporate loopholes”; that may be the case for some, but not the majority.

    The great thing about this nation is efficiency. When people don’t buy from a business or use a service, the business goes under. What is the point of keeping that business up and running? There is none. When you try and tax people and good businesses, you lose those businesses. Why do you think so many businesses have left the city limits? It’s cheaper, therefore, more profitable and sustainable to set up shop elsewhere. Efficiency and profits folks. It’s what drives this country.

    The way to get folks out of their cars and into trains or buses is through density. As an above poster pointed out, why should I take the metro when it takes 3 times as long, is more expensive, and might not even get me directly where I want to go? If the city did bulk up on population, and in turn, the traffic time went through the roof, people would be more willing to take that pubic transit or even live closer to their place of employment. Being that the businesses in the St. Louis region are so spread out, there is not a mass group of people all going to the same place. It is still fairly easy and cheap to drive to and from your destination. Bring in more business to the CBD, and people will follow. That is the real dilemma, how to get business back into the city, not how do I make the people on the outskirts pay more for their freedoms?

    The notion that capitalism doesn’t work is absurd. Capitalism has brought this country everything we have. The freedom to do what you want and sell it how you want is what fuels innovation and competition. The freedom of the buyer to choose what they want does the same and keeps costs down. The fact that some blame capitalism for things that they don’t like is very naive.

    Our world is run on oil because it is the best value: more power from a small amount of easily attainable fuel. Point blank. That’s the reality. Oil is what revolutionized our industries. When oil runs out, believe me, something will show up. That is the power and the superiority of capitalism There is still too much oil in the world to cost-effectively develop and sustain new energy sources in mass quantities.

    I don’t like the idea of playing the people as victims as so many do. Saying that the people were manipulated and duped is completely inaccurate. The American people are very wise. If they did not want their cars, they wouldn’t have bought them and urban planning would have went a different direction. If they wanted their streetcar, they would have demanded it and someone would have capitalized on the business opportunity. The majority of people wanted a car and an urban environment to suit that car. Don’t blame business for the people’s choices.

  13. john says:

    Free market supporters like myself believe that products should be priced in line with costs and when demand exceeds supply, prices should be allowed fluctuate to correct the imbalances. Trouble is our freeways, EMC services, pollution, congestion, etc. expenses are largely excluded. Just one example: TxDOT estimates that the current level of user fees collected at the pump are dramatically inadequate to maintain existing roadways. Estimates range from $0.30 to $1.18 per gallon. Of course these fees are not mileage based.
    – –
    At the municipal level the problems and lack of funding for maintenance is even worse. Only if you cashed in on sprawl do you have streets (because they’re new!) that are in fairly good condition. If you believe in free markets then you must be a strong advocate for higher user fees, mileage taxes, tolls, congestion pricing, pollution taxes, direct EMC fees, etc. But in truth most drivers prefer to have their services, such as freeways, to remain free and highly subsidized. Only when a product is fairly priced will we know what the public prefers.

  14. Tready says:

    I don’t think roads are something that could or should be taxed by mile. If these roads were private, then the owner could tax them how he pleases. But, they’re not. These are public roads paid for by the public. Why charge some even more? Doesn’t it make sense that the folks who drive more are already paying more?

    This discussion should have been had decades ago. I do think an urban growth boundary should be put in place and if you decide to build out there, that you foot a lot of the expense that comes along with that. If one had been put in place years back, your argument would be stronger, john.

    What you want to do, john, is put a retroactive ugb in place. You would like to charge those that live further from they’re destination to drive on a public road that is already paid for by their tax dollars. If the current taxes aren’t enough to cover the costs, that should be addressed. But, with the new 64 coming in, it appears that there is enough money allocated for roads. Not to mention the damn “stimulus” money)

    I just think that you want to apply free market solutions by the government after the fact. Do you also want people to pay taxes to fund the sidewalks based on how far they walk? No, it’s ridiculous to fathom such a “use” tax after the fact. Public right of ways should not be use taxed.

  15. john says:

    Gee Tready goes wild! Building a road and maintaining a road are two distinct and different types of expenditures. Your argument would have some value if you addressed maintenance not capital expenditures. I never brought up sidewalks but since you have what is the price per mile to maintain a sidewalk versus a road or highway
    – –
    Bottom Line: those who have learned to live by subsidies want more subsidies. You’ve made it clear that you don’t believe or support free markets.

  16. john says:

    Gee Tready goes wild! Building a road and maintaining a road are two distinct and different types of expenditures. Your argument would have some value if you addressed maintenance not capital expenditures. Definitely mileage taxes are insufficient and why as you suggest that someone in Springfield should be taxed to build 64 when they never plan (or will) to use it? People who use roads should pay for them. I never brought up sidewalks but since you have what is the price per mile to maintain a sidewalk versus a road or highway?
    – –
    Bottom Line: those who have learned to live by subsidies want more subsidies. You’ve made it clear that you don’t believe or support free markets. Whether you realize or understand it, the fees to use roads will be raised as current funding is inadequate. The key question: should everyone be taxed for a road only a minority of the population uses or should the people who use it be taxed? I guess that question is hard to answer for those who prefer to be free-riders…

  17. Tready says:

    Not wild, I just like debating. I don’t really comment too much on this site as I don’t live in Stl right now, but did spend a majority of my life there.

    It’s not about the price per mile, it’s about the principle. You want to tax people to use public right of way that they already pay for. Now, if you build a road, such as an expressway, fund it with private capital, then feel free to charge what you want for people to use your road. Not with the taxpayer’s dollars. What if everyone built their own unsubsidized road and you weren’t permitted to drive on them? Would that satisfy your “people who use the roads should pay for them” argument? Doubt it. There would be an outcry from people who want to use their roads; probably even you at some point.

    I don’t think of road maintenance as subsidies. Road maintenance is one of the very few things that the government should tax and pay for. It is a public service to build and maintain the roads so that everyone can use them. This fuels commerce and keeps the economy moving.

    I can see your point, john. Just not retroactively. For example, if they wanted to charge to drive on the new 64, then they should have put a pay to drive proposition on the ballot and the people should have voted on it. The roads are already laid/being laid. Taxes are/have been charged for their maintenance. You can’t come in after the fact and say “Oh, now we’re going to charge you even more to use your roads”.

    Also, I guarantee more people use the roads than not. Therefore, it is not everyone paying for a service only the minority uses. As most of the folks complain about on this blog, it’s people driving their own cars and not using public transit or walking.

  18. GMichaud says:

    Nobody is complaining about cars, only the urban planning that surrounds them. Automobiles are heavily subsidized, and in cities around the world with an equal emphasis on mass transit, a majority of people use mass transit.
    The failure of capitalism and free markets is simple. Capitalism works great on the small scale level of say choosing one restaurant over another because of price, quality, ambiance and so on. But lets say Doe Enterprises makes donations and lobbies and uses influence to get policies passed into law so that their company (and maybe a few other corporate powerhouses) are the only ones that can serve beer and wine at meals. Well otherwise competent restaurants will not be able to keep up, and after 20 or 40 years, Doe Enterprises (and other qualifying corporations) will have pretty well beaten the competition so badly no one will remember what variety of restaurants there used to be.
    Capitalism fails on the free market aspects that allow government policy to be purchased for the benefit of a few. If there was any previous doubt about the missing regulatory apparatus it should be more than obvious now.
    Urban planning and mass transit are complex, although the wikipedia entry mentioned above should give an idea of how the trashing of Americas transit system along with urban planning occurred.
    In cities I have looked at closely where the transit system wasn’t gutted, the central cities survived in much better condition than the typical American city. The close connection between transit and the urban environment being the major factor in maintaining a desirable environment.
    Nor does this even address the larger ecological issues, even without global warming, the current planning regiment is unsustainable in the long run. The real problem is not that we may leave our children with debt, but that we are leaving them with unsolved, monumental physical problems brought on by greed and shortsighted policies.

    It is time to move towards a more balanced transportation system that includes not only the automobile, but also other means of transit. It is really that simple.

  19. Jimmy Z says:

    “. . . in cities around the world with an equal emphasis on mass transit, a majority of people use mass transit.” Name just one and define “use”. And are you including taxis as “mass transit”? (I don’t.) I support public transit, but I “use” Metro maybe only once every month or two. That statistical trick may pump up the number of “users” to something approaching a majority, but the reality is that 98%+ of my trips, like most other people’s, are made by other means, primarily by driving one of my SOV’s (or 2OV’s), but also by walking and biking. The ONLY places that I’m aware of where “a majority of people [might] use mass transit” are the old communist countries, in cities like Havana and Stalingrad, where the government has made a conscious and heavy-handed decision to keep private vehicles out of the hands of the proletariat. It’s only when the SOV, be it a bicycle, scooter, mule, horse, Trabant or Tata, is completely out of the question, and the distance is beyond walking, will most people choose mass transit over their own means, and/or in third-world/”developing” countries, there’s little need to travel beyond one’s village.

    Travel statistics can be spun multiple ways, including number of boardings, number of users, VMT’s, peak-hour trips, passenger miles, trip distance, distribution among alternatives, etc. etc. And travel statistics, like any other statistical analysis, can and are presented in the best light possible to make any argument, so I’m more than a little leery of any unsupported statement. All I know is that, in the United States, the vast majority of all trips are NOT made on mass transit. Are there certain urban pockets where transit is used more? Especially for commuting to work? Certainly, especially in places like the Loop or Manhattan. But even in those areas, if you look outside the CBD, transit use falls off drastically, and its use falls off outside of rush hours, both because service is reduced and because recreational users are much less inclined to be constrained (or left high and dry) by a fixed schedule. Plus, not unlike St. Louis, every American metropolitan area is made up of wide swaths of suburban sprawl that is NOT conducive to the success of mass transit!

    Bottom line, mass transit is a good tool for moving large numbers of people, at the same time, in and out of dense areas for work, education or recreation. Mass transit is also the only option, short of walking, that some people have for mobility, due to age, choice, poverty or disability. But the opposite also holds true. The single- or dual-occupant vehicle is a good tool for moving one or several people, at different, random times, to and from less-dense areas and for transporting their bulkier purchases. Progressive transit districts realize this and accept this and are providing services that help bridge the gap. This is one article that shows how: http://www.metro-magazine.com/Article/Story/2009/05/Specialized-Services-Expand-Mobility-to-Communities.aspx

  20. john says:

    Principle? When my great grandparents moved to the USA to avoid excessive taxation and more freedom only to have income taxes implemented decades later in order to pay for war efforts (which ended but not the taxes), that’s principle? The point is government, the tool we use to stay organized as a society, can change the rules based on what is interpreted to be the best choice.
    – –
    How did we become so unbalanced and why? It starts with another “war” mentality. After WWII, our government designed what was thought to be a “superior” defense posture. It has been determined as a matter of Federal policy,” reports the President’s Advisory Committee on a National Highway Program, “that at least 70 million people would have to be evacuated from target areas in case of a threatened or actual nuclear attack. No urban area in the country today has highway facilities equal to this task.”

    It’s no secret that the post-WW2 highway building boom was motivated considerably by the strategic concerns engendered by nuclear weapons and hence the original name for the project, “the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways.”
    – –
    Look in your old issues of Life magazine and you’ll find ads by Caterpillar which shows a nuclear blast and titled “Reason for More Roads”. Can all these highways save us in case of a nuclear attack?
    Just look at Florida highways when a hurricane warning is issued… no amount of roads will solve the problem contrary to what was thought to be the “wise solution”. “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” Albert Einstein

  21. GMichaud says:

    JZ, I guess you have never been out of America, or even to North American cities like New York or Toronto. Many cities around the world have car ownership levels in the 60% range, and that is just ownership, not regular use.
    As far as spin and unsupported statements, I can document all, it is difficult to write a large piece on a blog, and in fact I have supported many comments. Including with the Wikipedia reference above.

    But above all I feel I am an artist. I take the intellectual, factual and logical and mix it with creation, feeling and intuition.
    I know you are factual and any factual information you want to back up my comments I will be happy to send to you. I have also posted quite a few references or links in the past several years on this Urban Review site also.

    Johns example above of nuclear highways is more evidence of an out of balance planning process, but I guess there should be a bibliography to back that up also?

    Taxis are mass transit, it is a functioning part of a reliable system, especially if the suburbs are to be included taxis become ultra important. I remember being in Toronto with my ex-wife, who lived there. We traveled quickly by mass transit, especially in the central area, but using a taxi (which were everywhere), supplied the last needed quick drop in some areas.
    In the more scattered suburban areas, they became even more critical as a means to bridge the last leg of a journey.

    Talking about mass transit without including the role of the taxi and the auto would be pure foolishness in my estimation. The lack of an integrated understanding of transportation is exactly the problem. Thus we are left with a half ass transportation system, worthless in its operation and execution, expecting to pay for itself.

  22. Jimmy Z says:

    GM – I’ve been to Toronto and NYC, as well as Athens, Greece, LA, Portland, Hotlanta, Chicago and San Juan. I’ve lived in Denver and helped grow their transit system, so I get it, transit is a good thing. But I’m also a pragmatist, so I’ve learned to take any assertion with a grain of salt, and when it comes to transit, there are limits to what it can accomplish in an autocentric environment, especially one like St. Louis. In my mind, cities are more than whatever core city and what’s inside its political boundaries, they’re regions. St. Louis city (excluding both the county and Illinois) actually has a pretty good transit system. The problem is that the city, at 350,000, is a small part of a region with 2.5 million residents, and the regional system sucks. This holds true in every other SMSA region around the US – some areas have great systems serving the CBD, and some regions even have decent service to satellite employment centers. But the reality remains that transit only is able to capture 10% or 15% of all trips made – the other 85%+ are made in private vehicles. This isn’t all bad, because that private trip at 3 am or a trip at rush hour between Ballwin and Ellisville has minimal impact on the existing highway system or rush-hour congestion and would cost a bunch to provide with a publicly-funded system. Transit really shines when a lot of workers are all trying to get to the same place at the same time.

    The two reasons I exclude taxis from my definition of transit are that they are a separate, for profit, business and their presence does little to diminish congestion on the streets and highway (since they typically carry only one or two passengers and take up as much space as an SUV). They do help reduce the need for parking and they do give transit users an alternative to walking, so yes, they’re a part of the overall urban vision. But they only work well (as in always being there) when a) parking is expensive, b) poor people need to bring their groceries home, c) the bars are closing, and/or d) there is no public transit alternative. But they are also much more expensive than the bus, and even your own SOV, so you choose them for many of the same reasons you choose to own your own vehicle – direct service, no schedule, privacy and comfort. So I guess we’ll continue to have different visions of what transit is and what it should be . . .

  23. GMichaud says:

    Taxis are an essential component of a well run transit system. Take New York for instance, a city were many don’t own cars and even fewer drive the taxi meets the needs of people going from point A to B if time is a factor and for many other reasons, the taxi becomes an essential tool when the personal automobile is not used.

    The creation of this multi layered system of transit choice along with comprehensive coverage is essential for the success of transit.

    The fact a taxi takes up as much room or use as much energy as an auto, or that they are for profit, or don’t eliminate congestion has nothing to do with creating a viable mass transit system. The point is to meet the needs of the ridership who desire to move around the urban area without a personal car.

    If you study transit systems that are successful, you will find that taxi’s are an integral part of transit planning in those cities and that the role of taxis are carefully considered. It is not a matter of differing vision as you suggest, but rather applying planning principles already in use in other cities.

    In your visits to these other cities did you use mass transit? If so I’m surprised you don’t understand the role taxis play in a transit system and that it is more than just the drunks and the poor that use taxis. Even in areas blanketed with transit, taxis are used for various reasons.
    Ultimately you can be pragmatic as you wish. But from a practical point of view St. Louis will never be able to develop a successful transit system in St. Louis until all the components are in place, including city planning that complements the transit system.

    The fact St. Louis is auto centric is immaterial and only illustrates how policy has been shoved down peoples throats for the benefit of a few. The media and the corporate/government partnership no longer control the debate as they did in the past.
    The necessity of change is evident, and if events end up dictating that change then the people of St. Louis will suffer, as they have already with the current Metro cuts.
    Ultimately it is a failure in leadership that has gotten us to this point we are at now.
    It is people like Pete Rahn of MoDot who will make the argument for more and more roads, but never for a comprehensive, multi layered transit system. Getting rid of people like him up and down the political spectrum is the only way to broaden the debate so citizens can face the future challenges which are sure to come.

  24. GMichaud says:

    More Taxis: here is an interesting quote about a new Home Depot in urban New York city. It illustrates well the role of the taxi.
    “Home Depot’s first Manhattan store, which opens to the public on Friday, will have a doorman for help in hailing cabs and a concierge to offer information and schedule appointments with designers. It promises same-day delivery of most merchandise, a boon for public transportation-bound urbanites.”

    I especially liked the next response.
    “Cool; anyone got any photos? Being from the Midwest, I’m naturally amazed by large stores with no parking lots”
    From the Wired New York Forum http://wirednewyork.com/forum/showthread.php?t=5255
    via Streetsblog

  25. Tready says:

    GM, who are these “few” that you always claim to benefit? Don’t you think the majority of the public benefited from the past planning. As stated before, the majority of people use their private vehicle for transportation. Therefore, the planning and building of roads and the system currently in place benefited way more than a “few”. People were able to move things efficiently.

    People make their decisions with their feet and their money. Their money and their feet are not making their way to the metro trains or buses. If metro was as desired as you say, they would be expanding, not cutting. But, the majority of people in the region are not metro users. Why should the city expand metro if no one is going to use it? How is that cost-effective? That would just created another you paid for it segment on channel 2.

    Personally, I like mass transit. I live in DC and have to take the metro because of the density of the city. Downtown is always packed with people and there is little parking. Is that the same in St. Louis? No. Why would people change their ways if they don’t have to? Their car works great, they get directly to their destination, and it’s cheaper.

    Also, it is this notion that corporations and businesses drive policy for the benefit of a few that will continue to kill business within St. Louis city. I hear it every day. “I want to go where the money is”. So, is continuing to blame businesses the way to get them to come back, bring their workers with them, and help revive the city? Rather than blaming the people who provide the jobs and the wealth, why not address the people who don’t take the public transit? That is the real reason it is not expanding. Or, instead of always being negative, as so many leftists tend to do, why not talk positive? Why don’t you start expressing your love for mass transit and why it could benefit everyone? You should be screaming that at the top of your lungs every chance you get. That would provide substantially more benefit than all the negativity and blame you so frequently express.

  26. john says:

    Simple, supply and demand works and influence behavior. Government subsidizes freeways, parking lots, road travel and therefore you get more roads and auto dependencies. If someone believes in free markets-personal freedom, than they should be acting positively to get government out of the business of subsidizing greater dependencies.
    – –
    Ladd explains in Autophobia the bigger picture and path dependencies by illustrating the new experience of “speed and dissociation” introduced by the automobile. This is not an anti-car book but a social history of how and why we got where we are now. The car, beyond symbolic power, is usually the fastest (but far from the healthiest) way to get around. But this itself contains a point that the car’s boosters, Ladd argues, often ignore — a so-called path dependence. Once you started to make room for the car in the landscape — doing things that made the car “an easy, convenient, even necessary, but not always wise choice” — it was hard to turn back. “It’s cheaper”… only as long as it is highly subsidized.
    – –
    “The democratization of driving has meant that we can all aspire to be petty tyrants of the road,” as Ladd explains. Other cities around the world have changed, they are prospering, people are enjoying everyday life and the costs of travel have been significantly reduced. In the USA our reliance on mountains of debt, personal laziness, disrespect for the environment, conveniences of civility, etc. are our MO. “As GM goes so does the country” should be our reality or does auto-centrism lead to narrow vision-lost opportunities?

  27. john says:

    Propaganda works in America:SUPERTRAIN! EXPRESS TO TERROR!!
    – –
    Super? Taking 36 hours to travel across the USA is the best Supertrain can do? Yes in the USA, train travel above 80 mph is TERRORISM! Quick get back in your gas guzzling 6000 lb SUV, drive the “National System of Interstate and Defense Highways” and save us from the terrorists.

  28. SillyLocals says:

    “The International Parking Institute provides leadership, information and education. Whether you’re a big-city parking administrator or a two-lot manager, what you do provides a crucial service to the public. You’re an integral part of a multi-level profession that administers, operates, enforces, designs and builds what universities, hospitals, theme parks, airports and even whole cities couldn’t function without: Parking. The IPI is a trade organization that was founded in 1962 to represent the marketing, economical and political concerns of its members,…”

    The media provides free PR and we should be proud to spend more money for things we really don’t need? “Couldn’t function without”? Advocacy often trumps democracy and common sense.

  29. Jimmy Z says:

    “Trucking industry group wants bigger, heavier rigs

    “To the alarm of some safety advocates, the trucking industry is asking Congress to allow heavier tractor-trailers to ply the nation’s highways.

    “The industry contends that an increase of the federal maximum weight from the current 80,000 pounds to 97,000 pounds would promote efficiency and reduce congestion and pollution without compromising safety.”

    It’ll also make the highways wear out at an accelerated rate – increase the maximum weight weight by 20%+ and you damn well better increase the fees collected on these behemoths by at least 25%, otherwise we’ll just end up even further and further behind . . .

  30. GMichaud says:

    Tready you seem to miss the point. Far too many have wealth because of the corruption of the system. (Did you miss the last 6 months?) These self serving individuals are full of greed are not going to help the city.
    Actually decentralization of zoning, vendors and democratization of the economic system will go a long way to improving the city and the region. If you were truly individualistic and self reliant you wouldn’t be waiting for some wealthy sugar daddy to improve the city.
    Right now too much is controlled by a few insiders. (Donations=bribes, lobbyists etc). A level playing field that includes political representation of peoples interest would help immensely
    If you like labels, (I detest them), I am not on the left but rather a Libertarian/Socialist. I hope that does not fry your brain trying to figure out how that is possible.

    There was an interesting article in the New York Times today about a car free city in Vauban, Germany.
    In the article efforts to manage the automobile were cited. ” In Europe, some governments are thinking on a national scale. In 2000, Great Britain began a comprehensive effort to reform planning, to discourage car use by requiring that new development be accessible by public transit.”

    That is what it is going to take for transit to be successful. The half ass, poorly designed system of St. Louis will never attract riders much beyond those of necessity.
    I find it funny how people say people vote with their feet, sure they do, the automobile motoring system is complete, comprehensive and functional while mass transit has been ignored, is piecemeal and barely functional. It does not take a genius to predict that transit will not work under those conditions.

    The Denver Post article was interesting. And yes parking lots can enhance economic development. I believe the new Portland streetcar system encouraged somewhere around a billion dollars of development. When something is well done it can be successful.
    It becomes a question of where to make the investments. It is a critical time for America. Solutions cannot be dragged out for another 3 or 4 generations. The lack of balance in transportation and urban planning is beginning to take its toll on America.

    The truth is there is nothing nostalgic about streetcars at all. It seems to me it is an important tool in the attempt to create sensible, sustainable environments.

  31. john says:

    Many issues carheads prefer to ignore like death, property destruction, noise, pollution, incivility, and the one that we are reminded of every month is the balance of payment problems created by auto dependencies. The increase in the nominal trade deficit, to $27.6 billion in March, was the first climb since July. The value of crude oil imports increased in March to $12.0 billion, from $10.0 billion in February. Is sending close to $400 million/day for oil sustainable? Will the Chinese continue to finance this high level of outflows? The U.S. deficit with China widened during March, to $15.6 from $14.2 billion in February. Will we have a choice on these issues or will economic realities dictate our future? StL is a region designed for carheads.

  32. Jimmy Z says:

    To be successful, transit simply needs density. Downtown St. Louis, downtown Clayton, the Barnes/Wash U Med School complex, and to a lesser degree, Wash U and UMSL are the only truly dense employment/education centers in the region. 40 west of 270, all the way out to Chesterfield, West Port, Earth City, etc., etc., all have mid-rise office buildings, but are neither truly dense nor walkable. Until that changes, substantially, a viable* transit system will remain a dream. Without density, the ability to provide “free” parking will remain the norm and a huge disincentive to using transit. And the only two ways density will increase are through an Urban Growth Boundary and/or a huge influx of new residents and businesses, and I don’t see either one happening anytime soon . . .

    *What is a viable system? One that runs frequently, starts early and ends late. One that offers direct trips and good (quick, easy) connections. One that doesn’t scare potential riders with regular crime reports from various stations. One that grows as the region grows, and doesn’t just serve the core city and the inner-ring suburbs. And one that doesn’t become too focused on any one technology – streetcars and light rail are the right answers in certain situations, but so are regular buses, express buses, bus rapid transit (BRT) and demand-responsive smaller vehicles. One size will never fit all, and that has been one big hurdle for Metro to overcome – running local buses on suburban routes usually ends up being a double negative – they’re too slow (too many stops) and they appear to be little-used (which rubs voters the wrong way). But the bottom line remains the bottom line – without a LOT more public funding, Metro will continue to struggle and will likely continue to whither. Is that fair, smart or right? No. But until the majority “gets it”, through much stronger leadership at many levels, the status quo will remain unchanged . . .

  33. GMichaud says:

    Good car free America discussion in the New York Times today.

  34. Jimmy Z says:

    Probably well worth watching on Wednesdy, 5/21: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/blueprintamerica/


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