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The Future of Transit Oriented Development (TOD) in the St. Louis Region

Local transit booster group Citizens for Modern Transit (CMT) sponsored a program earlier today called, The Future of Transit Oriented Development (TOD) in the St. Louis Region. This invitation only event included representatives from throughout the region including, Donna Day from East-West Gateway Council of Governments; Rollin Stanley, St. Louis’ Director of Urban Planning & Design (and CMT board member); a number of local architects and developers, etc…

The guest speakers brought in by CMT were pretty impressive.

First up was Ken Kinney, the project director on the Northside/Southside Light Rail Study. Mr. Kinney is with the firm of HNTB out of their Chicago office. He talked about the current study which is building upon prior work done in 1998-2000. Specifically he mentioned the current study area is focusing solely on the City of St. Louis with the northside route ending near I-70 (close to Goodfellow) and the southside route ending at I-55 & Loughborough (yes, the site of “Loughborough Commons” sprawl center, still under construction)

Kinney indicated they are doing a “Transit/Development – Supportive Policy Analysis” as part of both study areas. From his comments I took this to mean two things. First he mentioned looking at other cities to see how their transit policies might help development. Second was to look at the municipal policies to see how that might affect (pro or con) development along proposed routes.

newlands143.jpgHe admitted the most controversial part of the northside and southside routes are that they both include running at street level, especially downtown. He showed an example of a high-floor vehicle like our MetroLink vehicles in a center median situation (Manchester, England). As you can imagine this requires large platforms. As others in the process have previously indicated, they will most likely use what is referred to as a “low-floor” vehicle. These have a low center section that is seldom more than a foot above grade so stops are much easier to design and build. Meeting ADA (American’s with Disability Act) requirements are also much easier going this route.

For the low-floor light rail he showed a suburban Portland example in the center of Interstate Avenue. In this case the center of the road is consumed with the poles in the center and a line going in each direction. Traffic is kept to the outside and away from the tracks. The example at right is actually a computer mock up for Interstate Ave in Portland (source).

But next he showed his “favorite” example: the newish Portland Streetcar (a modern line, not vintage). His image shows new condo buildings being constructed next to the line. Below is an image from the same general area.

Image hosted by Webshots.com
[Portland thumbnail by milantram, click image for full sized version.]

This streetcar line was not finished on my last visit to Portland. Time for another visit!

Next up to speak was Robert Cervero from the University of California at Berkeley. I see in the program that his “participation has been made possible through East-West Gateway Council of Governments.” Mr. Cervero is a subconsultant on the northside & southside study areas.

Most of are probably familiar with the term TOD (Transit Oriented Development) but he mentioned a couple of others. TOD’s step-brother, TAD (Transit Adjacent Development). A good example of TAD is say the suburban stuff in Richmond Heights off Eager road. This development is adjacent to transit but it not oriented to transit. Another is AOD, or Auto Oriented Development. This is suburbia or the proposed Grand McDonald’s. He used another phrase I really liked, “walk-n-ride” to describe just walking from your development to the transit train. This is a contrast to the common park-n-ride lot we see near most of our suburban MetroLink stations.

Cervero stressed “balanced corridor planning” when evaluating various criteria such as speed and development potential. He showed how New Jersey had a number of older commuter rail lines that were not encouraging new TOD’s around stations. After decreasing travel times to Manhattan from 45 minutes to 30 minutes suddenly everyone was interested in riding the lines and they began to see increased TODs and stations.

Cervero indicated he felt our MetroLink light rail system has been hugely successful from a ridership standpoint but not so much so from a TOD perspective. I’d certainly agree. St. Louis, he argues, took the path of least resistance when building our system by using existing tunnels and rail corridors. This path didn’t require expensive land purchases or the taking of homes (although it did require moving some graves near the airport). The problem with the existing route(s) is by using rail lines the transit wasn’t necessarily placed in areas where we might have seen increased development around a stop.

He concluded his time with a picture of the Grand South Grand area at Arsenal and Grand. He described the wonderful building fabric and said, “You almost want a Portland-style streetcar.” Not almost, I do want a streetcar line down Grand (among others)! I’ve made my preference for streetcars quite clear to CMT Executive Director Tom Shrout so when Cervero made this comment I looked over to see Tom’s reaction, he was looking back to see my reaction.

Last up was Jack Wierzenski from Dallas’ transit system, DART. [Side note: I took my driver’s test in my mom’s Dodge Dart] DART was established in 1983 with the system opening 13 years later in 1996. Since then they’ve managed to build considerable more total lines than us with far more coming on line in the next 10 years. After touring St. Louis today he said they are behind us with respect to retail & loft development downtown.

He showed some great examples of previous park-n-ride lots from the original system that are now TOD projects. The end of one line is in Plano, TX where their downtown was a bit tired. A new TOD has helped improve the area. The made a number of comments about their engineers, how their only focus was moving the transit vehicles as quickly as possible or having parking and bus lines right next to the stations. His job is balance the engineers against the need for creating quality pedestrian environments at the stations. Are you listening Metro?

Following the presentations was a frank discussion about where we are now. One participant didn’t think the images of dense new development would fly in north St. Louis because most residents would fear being displaced by eminent domain. Public approval is certainly needed so community concerns need to be addressed. The issue of ‘density’ as a dirty word came up and got a good chuckle from the entire room. One speaker, I think Jack Wierzenski from Dallas, indicated they do “visual surveys” where they use pictures/images to gauge people’s interest in various types of projects. Visually people will most often chose the dense and connected example but if given a written choice of low-density or high-density projects they’d chose the low-density. Visual surveys, are all you PR types listening?

I’ve got many more thoughts on encouraging TOD in the St. Louis region but I’l have to share those another day. What are your thoughts?

– Steve


Ald. McMillan v. Elliot Davis

Last night I caught a Channel 2 “You Paid For It Segment” where “reporter” Elliot Davis questioned Alderman Mike McMillan.

Davis in his usual attack style raised a valid question — the expenditure of a million or so tax dollars on streetscape improvements along a section of Martin Luther King Drive. A section that has few buildings and a few of the ones that it does are crumbling.

I recently wrote;

I think it is important to send a message of hope to current residents & business owners as well as those that are prospective residents and/or business owners. My fear is that sidewalks and street lamps is a little too late.

Contrary to Davis, I think the expenditures in the area are not enough. How does Davis expect the area to improve without some capital expenditure on the city’s part. Davis is solely interested in sensationalism and not about an intelligent discussion on revitalizing decayed areas of our city.

McMillan, for his part, did a poor job responding to Davis’ question. His based response was to contact our congressman & president since most of the funds used were federal funds. Pressed further McMillan gave the standard alderman response of you don’t live in my ward so I don’t have to answer to you. Nothing infuriates me than the your are not in my ward so I don’t care attitude. If McMillan wants to be elected License Collector this year he is going to have to be more open to valid questions about expenditures from the public, regardless of jurisdiction.

– Steve


A Fun Time Was Had By All

Tonight’s ‘The Walk’ in The Ville neighborhood was a fun time. I only made it to the first two places before having to return home. Us newcomers were very welcomed by the usual patrons. The bar owners were very happy to have new customers. I enjoyed spending time hanging out away from my usual places.

Leading the walk was stlsyndicate “kingpin” Brian Marston. Brian’s wife Amanda Doyle managed to beat me at a game of darts but on the next game I did better than her but I was beat by 6 points by a guy named Tony. So close… Brian & Amanda publish The Commonspace website and blog. Other bloggers included Rick Bonasch of STL Rising and Antonio French of PubDef Weekly.

The second stop, the Harlem Tap Room, was established in 1946! That is history folks! The place was also packed. I nice place to stop and have a drink. Despite the devastation in much of this area along Martin Luther King Drive a strong community does exist. The time is now to build upon what remains — not displace — just add to.

Our region can no longer ignore half the city.

– Steve


Reminder: Walk in The Ville on Thursday

Metropolis’ well-known event, The Walk, will take the show to The Ville neighborhood on 2/9/06. The Walk will start at 6:20pm. More details here.

– Steve


The 1970s Plan to ‘Deplete’ North St. Louis

Over on PubDef.net Antonio French linked to a story he wrote back in 2002 regarding some history from the early to mid 1970s. This is a fascinating read and it certainly fills in some gaps in my knowledge.

French talks about a couple of reports and plans prepared in the early 70s. One is known as the “Team Four” plan, from French’s story:

The Plan recommended that each area of the City be grouped into one of three groups: Conservation, Redevelopment, and Depletion, these distinctions being based on factors including age, physical qualities, loan policies, public service level and population stability. Race is not mentioned specifically.

Apparently much of the older areas of North St. Louis were designated as “depletion.” French quotes from the plan how to deal with the depletion areas:

“Efforts must be made to adjust services and public investments so as to provide for those who are remaining in these areas. Yet these efforts should be pursued without encouraging new investment until the City determined that Redevelopment can and should begin.”

Fast forward 30 years and we can see the results of not encouraging new investment. I haven’t read these plans yet but I will be getting copies to review. In case you missed the link above, click here to go to the post on PubDef.net. The city’s website has a simple summary of various planning documents here.

– Steve