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Readers Want the Impossible: Amtrak Trains at St. Louis Union Station

November 21, 2018 Featured, History/Preservation, Planning & Design, Transportation, Travel Comments Off on Readers Want the Impossible: Amtrak Trains at St. Louis Union Station
Grand Hall in St. Louis Union Station

In the recent non-scientific Sunday Poll readers overwhelmingly indicated they’d consider using Amtrak if trains departed/arrived at St. Louis Union Station.

Q: Agree or disagree: I’d consider taking Amtrak if trains arrived/departed at St. Louis Union Station

  • Strongly agree: 22 [53.66%]
  • Agree: 6 [14.63%]
  • Somewhat agree: 2 [4.88%]
  • Neither agree or disagree: 5 [12.2%]
  • Somewhat disagree: 0 [0%]
  • Disagree: 3 [7.32%]
  • Strongly disagree: 3 [7.32%]
  • Unsure/No Answer: 0 [0%]

Well, to the nearly 75% who agreed I have some bad news for you. Amtrak trains will never use Union Station again. Ever.

For more than 28 years I’ve lived in St. Louis I’ve heard people suggesting the return of Amtrak to Union Station and for 28 years I’ve just been struck by a complete lack of understanding about rail service and station design.

The decline of trail [rail] travel began following World War II, as traffic dropped significantly, even while railroads began to update their passenger fleets with new equipment in the 1950s hoping to retain passengers and ward off ever increasing competition from the automobile and airplane (the development of jet propulsion only worsened the situation).  Technically, passenger rail travel peaked in this country during the first two decades of the 20th century and slowly declined thereafter, particularly with the onset of the Great Depression.  However, it also did not help that President Dwight Eisenhower enacted the Interstate Highway System in 1956 (also known as the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act).  By that time railroads were beginning to see the writing on the wall and cutback their services, with most giving it up altogether by the start of Amtrak in 1971. (American-Rail.com)

By the time the stock market crashed in 1929 St. Louis Union Station had been open for 35 years. This was a poor time to be the largest U.S. railroad station. The last train pulled out from the huge train shed 49 years later.  The main building (from “Headhouse”) hadn’t been used for nearly a decade. With only a few trains per day having such a huge facility made no sense. It would’ve happened sooner if another option existed.

Under the big shed in 2012

You might point out the Kansas City still uses their Union Station for Amtrak service. Yes, yes they do.  It’s a through-station, not an end-station.

Through-stations and end-stations are completely different design and planning problems.  They generate completely different kinds of space and completely different sensations of arrival and departure.  It’s pointless, for example, to compare New York’s dreary Penn Station, a through-station, with magnificent Grand Central, an end-station.  They are apples and radishes. (Human Transit)

In the 19th century when 22 railroads built Union Station they correctly saw St. Louis’ population computing to grow. They wanted a facility they wouldn’t outgrow like the original St. Louis Union Station on 12th (Tucker).  They decided their station would be an end-station, not a through-station.  Half a century later the decline of rail passengers, the failure of passenger rail companies, and the fact Chicago beat St. Louis as the midwest end city meant St. Louis Union Station, a beautiful design, was incredibly obsolete for rail travel.

Kansas City’s Union Station has been able to reutilize most of the building to other uses, with Amtrak using a small part for ticketing and waiting, It’s a short distance out to the platform at the through tracks. From the back of the shed at St. Louis Union Station it’s still a very long distance to the tracks — plus office buildings and the closed movie theater block the path.

In the 70s Amshack was built at the tracks. I recall using this in the 90s. Then a slightly nicer Amshack 2 was built, I used this in the aughts. The station I’ve used the most opened a decade ago…today. Yes, it took until November 21, 2008 to open a proper station. I was there for the ribbon cutting ten years ago, and I’ve been back many times since as a traveling customer.

Comptroller Darlene Green speaking at the opening ten years ago

Over the last decade the maintenance was allowed to get behind, prompting me to label it Amshack 3 in 2017.  Thankfully it was improved on my last train trip, in February 2018.

Please understand Union Station is a magnificent asset to St. Louis — but it was last useful as a train station about 75 years ago.  Embrace the current station, or use the new Alton Station if you’re headed North on Amtrak. The rail improvements started during the Obama administration have greatly improved the St. Louis to Chicago experience.  Stop waiting for trains at Union Station — use the station we’ve had for the last decade.

— Steve Patterson

 

Goodbye City Block 1404

November 19, 2018 Featured, History/Preservation, North City Comments Off on Goodbye City Block 1404

When I decided to move to St. Louis in August 1990 the street grid was a big factor in that decision. In fact, it’s better to say street grids — plural. Rather than a monotonous grid for miles we get many grids at odd angles to each other. The resulting odd-shaped parcels means we have some very unique building shapes — built to fill the lot up to the sidewalk.

One such group made the top of my April 2015 Buildings I’d Like To See Rehabbed post.

Collection of buildings on North Florissant at Ferry/Gore/Carter. Click image to view in Google Maps.

Every time I’d pass by on the #74 MetroBus, or drive past, I’d admire the fine proportions. I’d usually take a pic or two.

August 2017
September 2018
September 2018

And then a couple of weeks ago…

November 11, 2018

This has been unbelievably depressing. I’m not shocked, I’ve watched it deteriorate and in September I could see one building had a fire. Others hadn’t had a decent roof in years.

Aerial from Google Maps shows poor roof conditions

These all appear on the October 1909 Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps:

Sheet 088, volume three

These buildings were all built in 1900-01, with the last in 1908:

  • 4301 Grove Street: 1901
  • 4303 Grove Street/4305-09 N. Florissant Ave: 1900
  • 4311-13 N. Florissant Ave: 1908
  • 4315-17 N. Florissant Ave: 1901

In 2015 I thought there were owned by the City’s Land Reutilization Authority (LRA), but that was incorrect. The owner is Citibrook II, L.L.C., formed in January 1998.   It’s not clear how long this limited liability corporation has owned these buildings. I still fail to see how tearing down buildings improves neighborhoods.

Hopefully the former Eliot School, across Grove St, will get rehabbed.

Eliot School, built in 1898, at 4242 Grove St

At least this property is for sale:

One of W.B. Ittner’s original designs, this building is listed on the National Register and would be ideal for housing, assisted living or a medical facility. The school was named for William Greenleaf Eliot, founder of Washington University. (Saint Louis Public Schools)

Asking price is $256,000. Maybe with the nearby group gone a developer will be interested? For more on Eliot School see St. Louis Patina.

— Steve Patterson

 

Sunday Poll: Would You Take Amtrak If St. Louis Union Station Was Still Used For Trains?

November 18, 2018 Featured, Sunday Poll, Transportation Comments Off on Sunday Poll: Would You Take Amtrak If St. Louis Union Station Was Still Used For Trains?
Please vote below

It has been over four decades since Amtrak stopped using St. Louis Union Station for passenger rail.  When it opened in 1894, replacing the original St. Louis Union Station, it had 42 tracks.

At its height, the station combined the St. Louis passenger services of 22 railroads, the most of any single terminal in the world. In the 1940s, it handled 100,000 passengers a day. The famous photograph of Harry S. Truman holding aloft the erroneous Chicago Tribune headline, “Dewey Defeats Truman”, was shot at the station as Truman headed back to Washington, D.C., from Independence, Missouri, after the 1948 Presidential election. (Wikipedia)

Amtrak, formed in 1971, used the station until a “temporary” station could be built along the tracks to the East. That began in 1978. There was a period where the Union Station’s main “headhouse” wasn’t used but trains still used the shed — the design allowed access to tracks without going through the main building.

I first came to St. Louis just 12 years after passenger rail service ended at Union Station. I had just traveled by train from Union Station in Washington DC though Union Station in Chicago to a tiny station in Kansas. There I caught a Greyhound bus back to Oklahoma City where I got my car and drove to St. Louis to take up permanent residence. However, passenger rail service had been in decline since before I was born. Interstate highways & air travel made rail service seem obsolete — hence the government’s consolidation of numerous rail companies to create Amtrak.

For 40 years rail service has been at locations other than St. Louis Union Station.  Does this make a difference when deciding how to travel?

Today’s non-scientific poll will close automatically at 8pm tonight. Wednesday I’ll have more on this topic.

— Steve Patterson

 

St. Louis Board of Aldermen: New Board Bills Week 24 of 2018-2019 Session

November 16, 2018 Board of Aldermen, Featured Comments Off on St. Louis Board of Aldermen: New Board Bills Week 24 of 2018-2019 Session
St. Louis City Hall

The St. Louis Board of Aldermen will meet at 10am today, their 24th meeting of the 2018-2019 session.

Today’s agenda includes nine (9) new bills:

  • B.B.#161 – Ingrassia – An ordinance pertaining to Special Use Districts; establishing The Lafayette Square Area Special Use District and containing an emergency clause.
  • B.B.#162 – Rice – An ordinance approving a Redevelopment Plan for 4102 Shaw Blvd.
  • B.B.#163 – Howard – An Ordinance amending Ordinance 66384, approved July 31, 2004, as follows: Section 1 of Ordinance 66384 is amended by adding a new subsection, subsection 10.04.145, to be titled Animals Putting Persons in Fear; and Section 1, subsection 10.04.170, of Ordinance 66384 is repealed, and in enacted in lieu thereof shall be a new subsection 10.04.170, to be titled Adoption of Strays; and Section 1, subsection 10.04.270, of Ordinance 66384 is repealed, and enacted in lieu thereof shall be a new subsection 10.04.27, to be titled Dangerous Dogs; and Section 1, subsection 10.04.285, of Ordinance 66384, is repealed and enacted in lieu thereof there shall be a new subsection 10.04.285, to be titled, Tethering, confinement and treatment of dogs and cats on owner/guardian’s property; and Section 1 of Ordinance 66384 is amended by the addition of a new subsection, subsection 10.04.115, to be titled, Relinquishment of owned dogs and cats to the animal regulation center; and Section 1, subsection 10.04.165 of Ordinance 66384 is repealed and enacted in lieu thereof a new subsection 10.04.165, to be titled, Neuter Assistance and Education Fund; and Section 1 of Ordinance 66384 is amended by the addition of a new subsection, subsection 10.04.360, to be titled, Interfering with a
    Health Officer or Agent; and containing an emergency clause.
  • B.B.#164 – J. Boyd – An Ordinance amending Section 2 of Ordinance 68604, approved March 16, 2010, and codified in Title 20.12 of the Revised Code, by adding a new subsection to Section 2, Section 20.12.025, to Ordinance 68604, to be titled “Naming and Re-naming of Streets in Public Parks”.
  • B.B.#165 – Davis – Pursuant to Ordinance 68937, an ordinance authorizing the honorary street name Cedric The Entertainer Way, which shall begin at the intersection of Olive Street and North Vandeventer and run east on Olive Street to the intersection of Olive Street and North Spring Avenue.
  • B.B.#166 – Roddy – An ordinance determining that the Tax Increment Financing Plans listed in Exhibit “A” are making satisfactory progress under the proposed time schedule for completion of projects therein. WHEREAS, the Tax Increment Financing plans and projects listed in Exhibit “A” were approved by the Board of the Alderman.
  • B.B.#167 – Arnowitz – Pursuant to Ordinance 68937, an ordinance authorizing the honorary street name Estella M. Daly Way, which shall begin at the intersection of Morgan Ford Road and and Upton Court and run east on the 4100 Block of Upton Court to its end.
  • B.B.#168 – Spencer – An ordinance approving a Redevelopment plan for 3555-59 California.
  • B.B.#169 – Arnowitz – An ordinance authorizing and directing the Director of the City Department of Health to enter into and execute an Opioid Crisis Response Services Contract with the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services in order to help to fund some personnel costs, auto travel reimbursement and equipment/supplies for a Crisis Resource Response Team, upon approval of the Board of Estimate and Apportionment; and containing an emergency clause.

The meeting begins at 10am, past meetings and a live broadcast can be watched online here. See list of all board bills for the 2017-2018 session — the new bills listed above may not be online right away.

 

Opinion: Urban Design Only Works If Both Sides Of The Street(s) Are Also Urban

November 14, 2018 Featured, Planning & Design Comments Off on Opinion: Urban Design Only Works If Both Sides Of The Street(s) Are Also Urban

When I started this blog over 14 years ago I was of the belief that all corridors in the city should be urbanized as new development replaced old. Gradually the corridor would slowly become more urban — with newer buildings up to the street rather than set back behind a sea of parking. This has become the reality in a few places, mostly in the Central West End — but also in other places.

Arlington Grove has two 3-story buildings facing MLK in North St. Louis

The form is good, with active uses at the sidewalk level. So this helps to restore an urban feel to Martin Luther King Drive, right? No, because across the street is a typical suburban gas station & convenience store.

With this across MLK it’s impossible to create an urban street.

This came to mind Friday when Board Bill 157 was introduced for the redevelopment of the SE corner of Chouteau & Jefferson.

Looking East along Chouteau from Jefferson. The sheet metal workers building, on the left, is in Downtown West. The proposed redevelopment site, on the right is in Lafayette Square.

Lafayette Square has strict guidelines foe new construction, but given the suburban nature of both Jefferson & Chouteau it’s kinda hard to see the point of having only one of four corners be urban. Across Jefferson had some urban buildings until a few years ago.

Former buildings on the SW corner of Chouteau & Jefferson, in The Gate neighborhood.
A suburban QT now occupies a large site on the SW corner of Chouteau & Jefferson.

In the above image you can see the NW corner is no longer urban either. That corner, by the way, is in the Midtown neighborhood.

So we have a major intersection that’s mostly suburban in design — each corner in a different neighborhood. Only one of the four has urban design guidelines — but what’s the point in enforcing them when the other three corners are urban holes?

The recent non-scientific Sunday Poll asked about development along major corridors such as Jefferson, Chouteau, etc:

Q: Agree or disagree: St. Louis should accept most major corridors, with the exception of a few, are largely auto-centric/suburban and will never be re-urbanized.

  • Strongly agree: 1 [4.17%]
  • Agree: 1 [4.17%]
  • Somewhat agree: 2 [8.33%]
  • Neither agree or disagree: 1 [4.17%]
  • Somewhat disagree: 7 [29.17%]
  • Disagree: 5 [20.83%]
  • Strongly disagree: 7 [29.17%]
  • Unsure/No Answer: 0 [0%]

Most disagreed with the statement, I used to be a “strongly disagree”, but now I’m barely a “somewhat disagree.”

Living in St. Louis foe 28+ years I’ve seen so much potential wasted as we constantly shoot ourselves in the foot with suburban development directly across from acceptable urban development. I just don’t see the political will to set guidelines that’ll eventually create great urban corridors. With this reality, it’s hard to be optimistic about St. Louis’ future.

— Steve Patterson

 

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