Home » North City » Recent Articles:

Significantly Reducing Access Points To Public Transit Isn’t Fair, Just, or Equitable

In a guest piece in the St. Louis American 20th Ward Ald. Cara Spencer makes a passionate plea for expanding MetroLink light rail:

The St. Louis region needs a high-quality light rail system to connect Florissant/Ferguson and our densely populated South Side to Downtown and the Central Corridor. Now is the time to push for economic investment to help stabilize some of the city and county’s most vulnerable communities. We should be demanding that our local leaders prioritize North Side/South Side MetroLink expansion as imperative to making St. Louis a progressive and economically just metropolitan area.

Public transportation speaks volumes about a society. Lack of transportation is an indicator of economic injustice and is the number one deterrent to employment and community involvement across the country. (St. Louis American)

Would light rail be more “just”?  Those who don’t actually use public transit on a daily basis may think so, but the reality is the opposite.

Map currently being circulated
Map currently being circulated, click image to view larger PDF in Scribd.

The above map is from the North South MetroLink Expansion Facebook page.


Currently to get from downtown (14th & Spruce) to Ferguson and the Florissant Valley Community College there are two options:

  1. #74 (Florissant) MetroBus is the most direct option. This takes 1 hour and 1 minute with up to 68 potential stops along the way.  That’s a long time, I’ve done it many times in the last year.
  2. MetroLink (Red) to Hanley Station plus #36 (Spanish Lake) MetroBus.  This option takes a total of 1 hour and 2 minutes. This route is 23 minutes on light rail with 10 stops, 10 minutes between modes, and 29 minutes on bus with up to 40 stops.  I’vc also done this a few times.
The two primary choices for getting from downtown to Florissant Valley CC
The two primary choices for getting from downtown to Florissant Valley CC, click image to view in Google Maps. Note that times may vary, just depends on when you depart.

The proposed light rail line would certainly cut this down to 30-45 minutes. That’s a good thing, right? Not necessarily.

Very few ride the #74 MetroBus end to end. It’s a busy bus route but people get on/off where they need to. With 68 points of access it serves the corridor well. More frequent headways would be better though.  The proposed light rail route would most certainly mean the #74 would end at a new Jennings Station MetroLink Station at Goodfellow & W. Florissant, rather than duplicate service from that point North. From Goodfellow & W. Florissant it currently takes 24 minutes to reach the community college at the end of the #74.  The light rail map floating around would instead have just 4 stops including the start & end stops! How is that just?

The proposed light rail has zero stops in the area of W. Florissant that most uses transit.
The proposed light rail has zero stops in the area of W. Florissant that most uses transit.

Sure a light rail train may be faster and be more frequent, but that’s little consolation if you’re walking a mile further in the rain to get to a limited access point. For many current riders they’d now just end up having to walk their entire trip. Unless we ran a bus on the same route as the light rail train, which kinda defeats the point of spending tens/hundreds of millions on light rail.


A similar situation occurs along the proposed Southside route. Currently a person downtown (14th & Spruce) seeking to get to Cherokee & Jefferson using public transit has two choices, both via MetroBus: #11 & #73

How long does it take to get from 14th & Spruce to Cherokee & Jefferson on these two MetroBus routes?

  1. #73: 17 minutes, running every 30 minutes weekdays, with up to 18 points of access in that distance.
  2. #11: 16 minutes, running every 20 minutes weekdays, with up to 19 access points.

Both are pretty quick. The Southside light rail being pushed follows the #11 route exactly between these points so let’s take a closer look.  Google Maps includes the start & end stops in their 19 stop count. Here are the 17 access points in between:

  1. 14th St @ Papin SB
  2. Chouteau Ave @ 14th Street WB
  3. Chouteau Ave @ 18th Street WB
  4. Chouteau Ave @ Mississippi WB
  5. Chouteau Ave @ 22ND Street WB
  6. Jefferson Ave @ Chouteau SB
  7. Jefferson Ave @ Hickory SB
  8. Jefferson Ave @ Park SB
  9. Jefferson Ave @ 1605 S Jefferson SB
  10. Jefferson Ave @ Layfayette SB
  11. Jefferson Ave @ Russell SB
  12. Jefferson Ave @ Shenandoah SB
  13. Jefferson Ave @ Gravois SB
  14. Jefferson Ave @ Pestalozzi SB
  15. Jefferson Ave @ Arsenal SB
  16. Jefferson Ave @ Wyoming SB
  17. Jefferson Ave @ Utah SB

So how many stops would this “just” light rail make to serve the “densely populated South Side”? Five!

  1. Chouteau & Truman Parkway
  2. Jefferson & Park
  3. Jefferson & Russell
  4. Jefferson & Gravois
  5. Jefferson & Arsenal

The density isn’t concentrated at just 5 points! Only a person who doesn’t understand transit can ague that spending millions while reducing 17 access points to 5 is “fair, just and equitable.” For example, everyone who works & shops at Jefferson Commons would now have to walk further. Sorry folks, remember this is “just” as your grocery trips are longer.

Back to Ald. Spencer’s op-ed:

On the one hand, it is exciting to see renewed interest in light rail in St. Louis County. Yet on the other hand, it is alarming that the expansions mentioned did not include a north/south route, but instead focused on the Clayton-Westport, Lambert-Florissant and Shrewsbury-Butler Hill lines. These three lines fail to provide service to the region’s most densely populated areas and many communities that have the highest need. 

Northside/Southside light rail also fails to address actual needs — it would provide service for whites who are uncomfortable riding the bus with non-whites, see Race, Class, and the Stigma of Riding the Bus in America. You can have a free train running every 5 minutes 24/7 but if a person must walk a mile to reach a point of access they’re not going to use it. Stop pretending it benefits them.

Related prior post: Northside-Southside Light Rail Wouldn’t Be Good For St. Louis Neighborhoods

— Steve Patterson




Thoughts on McKee’s Northside Regeneration

Northside project area, 2011
Northside project area, 2011

It has been nearly a decade now since Paul McKee’s Northside Regeneration plan was first made public. It was July 2005 when Michael Allen disclosed properties owned by Blairmont Associates and affiliated companies. At the time I was in real estate and was able to search & download bulk property records, which I’d given to Allen. At that point McKee had been quietly acquiring properties for a couple of years. In the years since McKee has received a go ahead from local & state official, and survived numerous lawsuits.

A recently filed lawsuit presents another hurdle:

The lawsuit says that the loans, originally issued by Corn Belt in October 2007 for $12 million, went into default in October 2009, but that McKee, his trust, NorthSide and Multibank entered into a forbearance agreement, in which Multibank agreed not to collect on the notes if the forbearance agreement was followed.

But McKee by November 2012 failed to make payments dictated by the forbearance agreement, the lawsuit states. (St. Louis Business Journal)

And unpaid property taxes yet another:

In examining real estate property taxes, St. Louis Public Radio discovered McKee’s company, Northside Regeneration LLC, owes the city more than $750,000 in taxes for 2013 and 2014. That total includes nearly $120,000 in interest and penalties. (St. Louis Public Radio)

Unlike the 2008 collapse of developer Pyramid Construction, I think McKee will find a way to survive. At this point, however, we need McKee to thrive — not just avoid the collapse of his plan. The areas where he has bought properties need to see buildings renovated and new construction going up. Sticking with McKee is a gamble — but backing his creditors would also be a gamble.

If only the city had put together a plan to attract employers, developers to unwanted/underused sites like Pruitt-Igoe and the 22nd Street Interchange.  City planners could’ve marketed the area where the Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge meets a rebuilt Tucker at Cass.  Instead the city withdrew from planning, leaving the field open to private for-profit interests.

— Steve Patterson


Potential On 22nd Street Across From Possible National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency Location

Let’s assume the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency selects the 100-acre site in North St. Louis, over three others in the region, for its new campus, see Urban Renewal Officially Ended In 1974, Still Alive In St. Louis. Will this help or hinder the redevelopment of the surrounding blocks?  The planned clearance of 100 acres will leave a one block wide strip across 22nd, to the East. To the South is Cass Ave and the former Pruitt-Igoe site, to the West is the excessively-wide Jefferson Ave. To the North will be the backs of properties facing St. Louis Ave.

Thus the biggest opportunity for positive impact on exiting development is East of 22nd Street, two corners stand out:

At 22nd & Mullanphy St is a vacant warehouse built in 1889. This is owned by the St. Louis Housing Authority. In the same block is the former Falstaff Brewery — successfully converted to housing a couple of decades ago — including new construction & adaptive reuse.  Click image to view the Falstaff project.
1890, 1904
Two blocks north at Madison you get these three buildings owned by Paul McKee’s Northside Regeneration. The corner was built in 1904, the two on the right in 1890,.

Neither of these corners are architectural gems, but their age is a nice contrast to already built infill and the secure fortress of what the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency would build. The old cast iron storefront at Madison might house a coffeehouse/cafe — a place for the new employment base to walk to for lunch. This could be a chance for an existing resident to become an entrepreneur, hiring others from the area.

I don’t know if the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency works without outside contractors, if so, the 3-story 19th century warehouse could become office space.   Residential is certainly another option.

If we’re going to raze a 100 acre swath of land adjacent to the long-vacant Pruitt-Igoe site we should begin thinking now about how to improve the edges.  If the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency doesn’t pick this site we’ll be area on ideas for the area, with other businesses perhaps being interested in the vacant blocks within the 100 acre site.

Great potential exists, but the private market often overlooks these less common areas that require greater creative thought.

— Steve Patterson


St. Louis’ Low Standards Turns A Once-Proud City Into A Suburban Office Park

We can all agree St. Louis must retain existing employers and attract new ones. Unfortunately, St. Louis has a habit of forgetting about urban design along the way.   Let’s take a look two examples; one within the proposed 100 acres site for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and one to the immediate West.

First is a warehouse currently occupied by Faultless Healthcare Linen.

This warehouse, built in 1991, will be razed if the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency picks the city site over three others in the region.
This warehouse, built in 1991, will be razed if the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency picks the city site over three others in the region.
This small building from 1899 helps hide the awful warehouse behind it.
This small building from 1899 helps hide the awful warehouse behind it.

I remember when this was built in 1991 — I’d just moved to Old North St. Louis and passed it daily on Jefferson.  One street was closed, the rest are faced with blank concrete block walls.

The next example is Pharmaceutical company Sensient Colors Inc., their 30-acre campus at 2515 N. Jefferson is to the West of the potential National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency site.

The Sensient building was built in 2004.
The newest Sensient building was built in 2004 faces Jefferson but no entrance here, no public sidewalks even.
Looking NE from Elliot Ave between N. Market & Benton. The company has removed public sidewalks from the public-right-of-way adjacent to their facility.
Looking NE from Elliot Ave between N. Market & Benton. The company has removed many public sidewalks from the public-right-of-way adjacent to their facility.

Never heard of Sensient? I hadn’t either, but you’ve likely seen their products — on your plate.

Most of the world’s largest food and beverage manufacturers use Sensient colors and flavors to make their household brand-name food and beverage products. (St. Louis Business Journal)

Now, the demand for natural colors is suddenly outpacing demand for synthetics, and Sensient, which makes both, is responding. It has sophisticated technology it won’t explain (it does mention doing “supercritical CO2 extraction”) to pull the coloring agents from botanicals. It has a Fusion Precise Natural Color system that lets customers specify not just a particular color, but also a subtle shade of that color. And it has a head start: 60 years’ experience with natural colors. (St. Louis Magazine)

I get it, they have trade secrets. Still, in a city people do walk to work — especially from public transit. I believe we can retain/attract employers without turning our city into a suburban office park.

— Steve Patterson


Urban Renewal Officially Ended In 1974, Still Alive In St. Louis

The redevelopment process commonly known as Urban Renewal, in retrospect, was largely a failure:

After World War II, urban planners (then largely concerned with accommodating the increasing presence of automobiles) and social reformers (focused on providing adequate affordable housing) joined forces in what proved to be an awkward alliance. The major period of urban renovation in the United States began with Title I of the 1949 Housing Act: the Urban Renewal Program, which provided for wholesale demolition of slums and the construction of some eight-hundred thousand housing units throughout the nation. The program’s goals included eliminating substandard housing, constructing adequate housing, reducing de facto segregation, and revitalizing city economies. Participating local governments received federal subsidies totaling about $13 billion and were required to supply matching funds.

Sites were acquired through eminent domain, the right of the government to take over privately owned real estate for public purposes, in exchange for “just compensation.” After the land was cleared, local governments sold it to private real estate developers at below-market prices. Developers, however, had no incentives to supply housing for the poor. In return for the subsidy and certain tax abatements, they built commercial projects and housing for the upper-middle class. Title III of the Housing Act of 1954 promoted the building of civic centers, office buildings, and hotels on the cleared land. Land that remained vacant because it was too close for comfort to remaining slum areas often became municipal parking lots. (source)

Jane Jacobs’ 1961 book The Death and Life of Great American Cities rebuked the ongoing land clearance policies advocated by supporters of urban renewal. By the late 1960s one of St. Louis’ most prominent urban renewal projects — Pruitt-Igoe — was a disaster. Before the 20th anniversary the first of 33 towers were imploded in 1972 — urban renewal was unofficially over.

In 1974 it was officially over:

The Housing and Community Development Act of 1974 emphasized rehabilitation, preservation, and gradual change rather than demolition and displacement. Under the Community Development Block Grant program, local agencies bear most of the responsibility for revitalizing decayed neighborhoods. Successful programs include urban homesteading, whereby properties seized by the city for unpaid taxes are given to new owners who promise to bring them “up to code” within a given period—either by “sweat equity” (doing the work themselves) or by employing contractors—in return for free title to the property. Under the Community Reinvestment Act, lenders make low-interest loans to help the neighborhood revitalization process. (same source as first quote)

But forty plus years later the St. Louis leadership continues as if nothing changed. The old idea of marking off an area on a map to clear everything (homes, schools, businesses, churches, roads, sidewalks) within the red lined box remains as it did in the 1950s. The message from city hall is clear: don’t invest in North St. Louis because they can & will walk in and take it away.

Cass & Jefferson
Great old building near Cass & Jefferson would be razed for the campus

What are the scenarios at this point?

A) National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency selects the city option:

  • Businesses, residents, churches, etc are displaced.
  • A 100-acre swath is purchased and cleared.
  • The federal government builds a fortress-like campus, few workers would leave at lunch.
  • No benefit to the surrounding neighborhoods, access to public transit cut off by monolithic campus.
  • Adjacent areas now threatened as the next target for clearance, further eroding those areas.
  • Fire Station Number 5 would remain, but because of the new campus, firefighters would be unable to quickly reach the area to the West of Jefferson/Parnell.
Fire Station 5, in the narrow strip between St. Louis Place Park and the proposed campus, would be blocked to the West.

B) National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency selects another option:

  • Nobody buys into this area because it’s now a known target area.
  • It declines further because it’s a known target area.
  • It’s taken later for some corporate campus.

C) An alternative if National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency selects another option:

  • The city/community works with Paul McKee, existing businesses and property owners to develop a plan to revitalize the Cass & Jefferson/Parnell corridors and to coordinate with a new street grid in the long-vacsnt Pruitt-Ogoe site.
  • The existing street grid is left fully intact.
  • Infill planned with a variety of residential units with a concentration of retail & office at Cass & Jefferson.

But this won’t happen, St. Louis is forever stuck in the middle of the 20th century.  Clearance for a new stadium and a QuikTrip are other current examples. It has been nearly 70 years since St. Louis adopted Harland Bartholomew’s City Plan and we’ve yet to stray from the thinking he outlined.

Here are the results from the Sunday Poll:

Q:  Should the City of St. Louis use eminent domain powers to assemble a site if the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency selects the city option?

  1. No 20 [44.44%]
  2. Yes 14 [31.11%]
  3. Maybe 8 [17.78%]
  4. Unsure/No Opinion 3 [6.67%]

We shouldn’t be willing to raze 100 acres to retain earnings tax revenues. If there was hope the campus would help the surrounding area it might be a fair tradeoff, but it’ll further deteriorate and isolate. Still, this urban renewal mindset is so engrained I’m not sure we’ll ever break free of it.

Perhaps I should just give up?

— Steve Patterson