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Poll: What is Your Preferred Route For Streetcar Line West Out of Downtown St. Louis?

Plans were presented to the public last week to built a 7-mile modern streetcar line in St. Louis that would:

  • Circulate in the downtown central business district.
  • Head west on Olive/Lindell past Midtown to the Central West End.
  • A north-south segment would connect at 14th Street & Olive, initially going north Florissant Rd to St. Louis Ave. and south to the Civic Center MetroBus Center/MetroLink light rail.
  • Open in 2016/17.
ABOVE: Artist rendering of streetcar in downtown St. Louis
Artist rendering of streetcar in downtown St. Louis

Metro is part of the planning process and this would become part of our transit system. But I know some of you still question the effectiveness of the streetcar over the bus. To be fair, here is a skeptical view that I happen to agree with.

Streetcars that replace bus lines are not a mobility improvement. If you replace a bus with a streetcar on the same route, and make no other improvements, nobody will be able to get anywhere any faster than they could before. This makes streetcars quite different from most of the other transit investments being discussed today.

Where a streetcar is faster or more reliable than the bus route it replaced, this is because other improvements were made at the same time — improvements that could just as well have been made for the bus route. These improvements may have been politically packaged as part of the streetcar project, but they were logically independent, so their benefits are not really benefits of the streetcar as compared to the bus. (source – highly recommended)

He’s right that streetscape improvements are just as important as the mode of transit, but funding realities mean a complete makeover of 7 miles for a bus isn’t very likely. Even if it was, a streetcar is a better choice for other reasons:

Streetcar vs. Bus

Buses are excellent local and regional public transportation options, but they will do little to spur redevelopment and economic investment in Downtown LA. This is due to the inherent flexibility of bus service, as routes change regularly to accommodate varying needs; in addition, buses contribute to nerve-racking pedestrian experiences due to heavy street-level emissions and noise pollution that discourages active use of sidewalks. Streetcars do the exact opposite. They provide developers and business owners certainty that the routes will not change, and are considered preferable to buses by residents, visitors, and employees as they offer more amenities, highly reliable routes and timetables, and enhanced urban experiences.

Buses and streetcars do, however, work together to connect access points within regional transportation networks. For example, sidewalks can be designed to specifically accommodate both vehicle configurations; in return, a transit stop effectively doubles its value within a regional transportation network. (LA Streetcar)

And…

While it’s true that streetcars require a much larger initial capital investment than buses, that capital cost is offset by significant operational savings year to year. In the long term, streetcars are more affordable as long as they are used on high ridership routes.

Streetcars have higher passenger capacity than buses (even bendy ones), which means that if there are lots of riders on your route, you can move them with fewer vehicles. Fewer vehicles means more efficient use of fuel and fewer (unionized, pensioned) drivers to pay.

Streetcar vehicles themselves are much more sturdy than buses, and last many decades longer. While buses must generally be retired and replacements purchased about every 10 years, streetcars typically last 40 years or more. For example, Philadelphia’s SEPTA transit system is still using streetcar vehicles built in 1947. (Washington Post — recommended)

Even in Portland the value of streetcars have been debated, critics questioning claims of Mayor Hales:

So that brings us to the ruling. Hales said “streetcars carry more people than buses … you attract more riders who don’t ride transit now, and actually the operating costs are not any greater than the bus.” Whether these arguments make a persuasive case for the necessity and usefulness of a streetcar system is, of course, up for debate. The statement itself remains factual. While, there’s some missing context, it’s nothing significant. We rate this claim True. (PolitiFact Oregon)

For a detailed look at operating costs of streetcars vs bus click here. Labor tends to be a big factor why streetcars are cheaper to operate.

For the poll this week I want you to vote on your preferred route. I’ve included “don’t build” as an option as well as my idea of Olive to Vandeventer to Delmar: described here.

ABOVE: Blue was my original route idea, red is my variation, green is continuing on Lindell, purple is a north-south line on Vandeventer
ABOVE: Blue was my original route idea, red is my variation, green is continuing on Lindell, purple is a north-south line on Vandeventer. Click image to view post. Note: This image added to this post at 10:30am on 3/10/2013.

The poll also has the two options from the study (p17):

Option 1 includes double track on Taylor south to the CWE MetroLink
Option 1 includes double track on Taylor south to Children’s Place/CWE MetroLink
Option 2 continues to Euclid, to Forest Park Blvd to Taylor back to Lindell
Option 2 continues to Euclid, to Forest Park Blvd to Taylor back to Lindell

My views on a St. Louis streetcar are evolving, more on Wednesday March 20. The poll is in the right sidebar (mobile users need to switch to the desktop layout)

— Steve Patterson

 

Five Guys Adds ADA Accessible Route To Reach Former Blockbuster

Back in March I photographed the lack of an ADA accessible route from the public sidewalk to the Lindell Marketplace building that once contained a Blockbuster video rental store. For years pedestrians have had to walk in the auto driveway, risking getting hit.

ABOVE: In March 2012 the only access to the building was through the automobile driveway.
ABOVE: The metal fence prevented pedestrians from accessing the building at other points that would be safer than the auto driveway.

I was pleasantly surprised months later when Five Guys Burgers and Fries opened in the west end of the former Blockbuster — they’d added an ADA accessible route before opening!

ABOVE: New ADA accessible route to Five Guys Burgers and Fries in part of the former Blockbuster space
ABOVE: Opposite view looking out toward Lindell.

They had to modify the fence, pour concrete in two places and stripe the route. It was the right thing to do, it’s just refreshing to see it done without having to ask.

And yes, I stopped and had lunch there recently.

— Steve Patterson

 

Code Compliance Isn’t The Same As Best Practices

Last week on Tuesday July 17th the 197-unit apartment building at 3949 Lindell was destroyed by fire.

The Lindell Apartments at 3949 Lindell caught fire around 7 p.m. and quickly went to five-alarms.

Around 100 people were inside the building at the time. Everyone was evacuated safely. The 197 unit building housed around 250 people who are now homeless. (KSDK)

Less than an hour after firefighters arrived on the scene of a blaze at a Central West End apartment building Tuesday night, they were forced to evacuate as the top floor of the four-story structure began to collapse.

The flames spread so fast through the attic that firefighters thought something must be wrong with the building. (stltoday.com — see photo gallery)

The building was previously destroyed by arson in June 2007 during construction, but this time it was occupied.

ABOVE: The 3949 Lindell Apartments earlier this year.

Had a fire started in a kitchen, for example, the sprinkler system would have likely put it out.  But the fire is said to have started in an attic space though, above the units and the sprinkler system.  Apparently the building code allows the use of a drywall wall to be used as a firestop within the attic to slow the spread of the fire. But a wood framed wall with drywall can’t hold a fire for long. Between apartments it’s good enough to contain a fire until the sprinklers come on. But in an open attic space with so much wood a big fire can get going and pretty much blast through a drywall firestop.

ABOVE: The massive roof has no masonry walls to divide it. Image from Google Maps, click to view.

So while the building may well have been code-compliant, it wasn’t built with best practices. Such a large building, especially one of wood frame construction, should have had masonry walls to completely section off the building into parts.  A fire may have destroyed or heavily damaged a section of the building but the rest would have been unharmed. Such a wall exists between the parking garage and the building, likely required to keep a car fire from spreading from the garage to the building.

I’ve been photographing this building for years, but I never once visited inside. Here are images from 2007 & 2008:

ABOVE: The building was well underway on June 3, 2007
ABOVE: All wood framing was destroyed by arson on June 13, 2007
ABOVE: The front facade is taking shape again on August 1, 2008
ABOVE: The west end of the front facade not yet covered in brick on August 1, 2008. The old McDonald’s was being razed.

It’s important to note the property owner was not the original developer, from January 6, 2012:

Education Realty Trust, a Memphis-based developer, owner and manager of college housing, has purchased an apartment complex near Saint Louis University for nearly $28.5 million.

The four-story complex at 3949 Lindell Blvd. was bought with cash on hand, the company said. Education Realty Trust recently began doing business as EdR as part of a rebranding effort.

City of St. Louis records show the apartment building’s former owner as GB St. Louis 1 Temp LLC, a Dallas-based affiliate of Frank Howard’s Gulfstream Capital Partners. (St. Louis Business Journal)

The following images are from Thursday July 19, 2012:

ABOVE: Scene on July 19, 2012 passing by on the #10 MetroBus
ABOVE: West side as seen from the Arby’s parking lot
ABOVE: The American Red Cross on the adjacent shopping center parking lot
ABOVE: Residents being allowed back inside a north entrance off McPherson
ABOVE: Looking east along McPherson Ave, this side has no visible damage
ABOVE: Evidence of floor collapses can be seen on the east side near the garage
ABOVE: A sidewalk tribute for pets that died. The listing on forrent.com indicates pets weren’t allowed. Click image for listing.
ABOVE: The building is just west of the endangered AAA building
ABOVE: Lindell facade gives the impression just the roof was burned, but structural damage is clear in numerous areas.
ABOVE: Wall buckling above 2nd floor windows toward the west end of the Lindell facade

The existing frame construction will be razed with only the parking garage remaining. When apartments are built here again it needs to have several masonry firestops from the ground to above the roof. Ideally AAA and CVS will get together with EdR to include the west half of the AAA site into the new construction as well as a CVS pharmacy and renovation of the AAA for a restaurant space.

No doubt that wired smoke alarms helped in alerting all the residents so no human life was loft. But understand that building codes are the very minimum that must be met to obtain an occupancy permit.

— Steve Patterson

 

Duncan Ave Sidewalk A Challenge Because Of Solae’s 2008 Construction

When Solae built their new headquarters at 4300 Duncan Ave at S. Boyle Ave. (map) in 2008 they created a pedestrian problem.

ABOVE: Solae’s contractor left a wide gap between old and new sidewalk on Duncan

The contractor dug out the old sidewalk at the west edge of their properly to create an auto driveway. The driveway works great for autos but they left a gap in the sidewalk that’s hard to navigate in a wheelchair.  Solae and/or their contractor need to fix the situation. I’ve had to pass through here on numerous visits to Solae.

I’m emailing a link to this post to Solae’s facilities manager, hopefully they’ll see fit to fill in this gap. It won’t be perfect until the adjacent sidewalk is replaced but it can be made significantly better.

— Steve Patterson

 

So Long Ruth Porter Mall

Tearing down a mall? What stores did it have? No, not that kind of mall. A pedestrian mall.

Ruth Porter Park (officially named Ruth Porter Mall), is a linear park spanning nine blocks north from Delmar Blvd. to Etzel Ave., and one block west from Debaliviere to Goodfellow Ave. (source)

Most pedestrian malls were created by closing off a roadway but Ruth Porter Mall was created by razing buildings along a linear path. A 1971 aerial on historicaerials.com shows the clearing of buildings present in a 1958 aerial. By the time I first walked it in the 1990s it was looking very tired. View in Google Maps here.

ABOVE: Porter Park was also known as Ruth Porter Mall, June 2010
ABOVE: Looking west with Delmar on the left and the park on the right, June 2010

Who was Ruth Porter anyway? She was an African-American born in 1915 who died just 52 years later in 1967:

Ruth Porter was a founder and first executive secretary of the Greater St. Louis Committee for Freedom of Residence, a group organized in 1961 to break down housing restrictions and integrate housing in St. Louis. In 1958, she won an award from the National Conference for Christians and Jews for promoting racial understanding. She was named outstanding woman of the year in 1965 by the NAACP. Her tireless efforts to secure fair housing eventually led to the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Jones vs. Mayer case, which was won by residents she helped to support.

At one time Porter was also director of the Kinloch YMCA and a leader in the West End Community Conference. The Ruth Porter Mall at Delmar Boulevard and DeBaliviere Avenue is named in her honor. (Source

The Supreme Court decision came a year after her passing.

ABOVE: A derelict play area, May 2011
ABOVE: Walking expert Dan Burden leads a group through Ruth Porter Mall with standing water on the path, May 2011. Burden will be in town later this week for six free events. Click image for info & registration.

So what will become of the space? It’ll be incorporated into a larger trail network:

St. Vincent Greenway will extend for more than seven miles from NorthPark, near I-70 and Hanley Road, to Forest Park. The greenway route includes the completed sections through University of Missouri-St. Louis campus and the adjoining St. Vincent (County) Park.

The primary trail will continue to the Rock Road MetroLink station area, the MET Center in Wellston, and the West End and Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhoods. The greenway will follow Engelholm Creek as much as possible.

The remainder of the primary greenway trail from the North Hanley MetroLink station to Forest Park is being designed.

The next segment slated for construction lies within the City of St. Louis. Construction through Porter Park (Ruth Porter Mall), and along Etzel Avenue from the park west to Skinker, will begin in October. Finishing touches will be applied in the spring.

At Forest Park, St. Vincent Greenway eventually will connect to other greenways, such as Centennial, Chouteau, and River des Peres. In the NorthPark business development, the greenway will meet the Maline Creek Greenway now being planned. (Great Rivers Greenway)

That’s a nice connection.

ABOVE: Old park structures cleared away in March 2012
ABOVE: Workers building the new improvements, June 2012

More from Great Rivers Greenway’s website:

This extension of the St. Vincent Greenway will change the usage of public right-of-way along Etzel Avenue from Skinker Boulevard eastward to Porter Park, allowing a physical separation of the greenway route from vehicles. The existing sidewalk in Porter Park will be re-surfaced as a trail. Both segments will contain many delightful upgrades and surprises.

When the Loop Trolley is constructed, the greenway will continue within the eastern half of the right-of-way of DeBaliviere Avenue south to Forest Park. (source)

 

The Ruth Porter Mall wasn’t accesible at all. It was built pre-ADA and it was never retrofitted with wheelchair ramps. I’m glad to see it change and become part of something bigger but I hope Ruth Porter is somehow remembered.

— Steve Patterson

 

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