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Accessing Metro’s Transit Access Center Not Straightforward

Seniors (65+) and the disabled can ride Metro for half price, but a reduced fare permit is required. Seniors have several options on obtaining such a permit, the MetroRide store downtown, for example. The disabled, like myself, must visit Metro’s Transit Access Center at 317 DeBaliviere. Let’s pretend we’re newly disabled and need to get a reduced-fare permit, for the first time. We arrive on the #90 (Hampton) MetroBus or via MetroLink at the Forest Park station.  Remember this station opened twenty years ago, and was altered significantly in 2006 when the extension to Shrewsbury was built.

We get off the bus or come up from the platform on the east side of DeBaliviere and head north to find our destination.

Based on the map online the Transit Access Center must be located in the strip mall over there.
Based on the map online the Transit Access Center must be located in the strip mall over there.
The curb ramp has nothing to do with the crosswalk, no curb ramp exists on the other end of the crosswalk. When the light turns green I'll have to head over to the auto drive where cars will be leaving.
This curb ramp has nothing to do with the crosswalk, no curb ramp exists on the other end of the crosswalk. When the light turns green we’ll have to head over to the auto drive where cars will be leaving.
Made it across safely, there's our destination
Made it across safely, there’s our destination
Drat, no ramps on either side of the driveway! We could enter the auto driveway and hope we find a ramp before a vehicle backs over us,  but none are visible from this point. Let’s continue along the public sidewalk to see if we can find another way in or our destination.
There's a ramp, but we can't reach it from here, We could go back and risk getting backed over or continue.
There’s a ramp to the right of that car, we can’t reach it from here due to planter/curb/parking, We could go back and risk getting backed over or continue until we see our destination. I say we keep looking for a safe route.
Oh, there's the Transit Access Center, there must be a pedestrian route down further.
Oh, there’s the Transit Access Center, there must be a pedestrian route down further.
See, I knew we'd find a direct way! Oh wait...
See, I knew we’d find a direct way! Oh wait…
Naturally a curb is in our way
Naturally a curb is in our way
All the way on the far end is a route to reach the storefronts from the public sidewalk.
All the way on the far end is a route to reach the storefronts from the public sidewalk.
We get to the door and we're glad it has an automatic opener, but it doesn't work when pressed. "It's never worked", says the person inside when we mention it.
We get to the door and we’re glad it has an automatic opener, but it doesn’t work when pressed. “It’s never worked”, says the person inside when we mention it.
Leaving we see the problems from the other side
Leaving we see the problems from the other side
Still too risky to go behind parked cars
Still too risky to go behind parked cars, why must it be such a challenge?
caption
The fix here in this privstely-owned development is pretty simple actually, just replace a couple of curbs with ramps.

I’m not sure how long the Transit Access Center has been a tenant in this building, at least 4 years. The building was built in 1988, two years before the ADA and five years before the MetroLink opened. But for the last twenty years this development adjacent to a light rail station hasn’t been very accessible.

Again, this is the location every disabled person that seeks a reduced-fare permit must go. Granted, access from disabled parking is easy enough but many who need the permits can’t drive. For the disabled, independence is very important.

 — Steve Patterson

City Planning Student Critique of Proposed St. Louis Streetcar

Regular readers know I’m a supporter of public transit, and an advocate for modern streetcars, in particular. When I received an email from a planning student asking about publishing her paper on her evaluation, I was curious. Here’s how Jill Mead described herself to me in that email:

I’m a Masters in Public Health and Masters of City Planning student at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. I also work for the Pedestrian & Bike Info Center at UNC’s Highway Safety Research Center. If that weren’t enough, I’m very much a St. Louisan. I grew up in Forest Park Southeast (in the 80s!) and am a K-12 graduate of the SLPS. I went to UMSL for one year and Wash U for the rest of my college degree. 

Though I don’t agree with her analysis and conclusions in the paper, I thought it would spur some good discussion. Here is a brief summary of her paper:

Artist rendering of proposed streetcar in downtown St. Louis
Artist rendering of proposed streetcar in downtown St. Louis.

Spurred by the availability of federal funds and inspired by the success of streetcar projects in other cities, the non-profit Partnership for Downtown St. Louis released a feasibility study for a downtown St. Louis streetcar project in March 2013. The feasibility study recommended the project based on its likelihood of achieving its two main objectives: (1) enhancing the region’s transit system and (2) catalyzing economic growth throughout the streetcar corridor. While the St. Louis Streetcar Feasibility Study is optimistic about the achievement of these two objectives, reviewing the study calls some of their claims into question. Ridership estimates seem inflated given the slow travel speeds of the streetcar and methodology used. The choice of alignment fails to prioritize the city’s densest areas and is out of sync with plans being made at the regional level. In terms of the streetcar’s ability to catalyze economic development in St. Louis, the study inadequately addresses the wide variety of contextual factors, such as land use policy and the existence of strong public-private partnerships and market demand that were characteristic of other cities’ success in attracting development to streetcar corridors. The paper concludes that strategies to improve economic growth and public transportation are necessary in St. Louis, but it is not clear that the proposed St. Louis Streetcar project is the best use of public resources to achieve these goals.

Here’s a link to Mead’s full paper: Evaluation of the St. Louis Streetcar Proposal (19 page PDF).

Mead must have missed the reason for looking at a modern streetcar now, mentioned on page 2 of the Final St. Louis Streetcar Feasibility Study:

When St. Louis University announced plans to move their law school from midtown St. Louis to downtown, the Partnership for Downtown St. Louis once again began the discussion of a streetcar for downtown. This move presented an opportunity to link the two campuses with a streetcar and fulfill the goals of the Downtown Next Plan.

The idea of SLU running shuttle buses every day between midtown and downtown meant only a small segment of the population would be served, pollution would increase, roads would be see additional traffic from the continuous loop of shuttles. Us regular transit riders along Olive/Lindell would still have 30-40 minute headways on the existing #10 MetroBus.  Why not improve the public transit system for all?

Connecting to south St. Louis wouldn’t help SLU with transporting students, faculty, and staff between the main campus in midtown and the new law school building downtown. By including a north-south segment on 14th the proposal recognizes future expansion into south & north city.

The existing MetroBus isn’t slow, it doesn’t take me long to get to the Central West End from my downtown loft, but the streetcar will come every 10-15 minutes instead of every 30-40 minutes — that’s far more important than whether it takes 8 minutes versus say 12-15 minutes to reach my stop! The streetcar will be faster than the bus, the center dedicated right-of-way, off-board fare payment, etc. will  make the trip no longer than bus, very likely shorter. Buses are sometimes late; they get stuck in traffic, wheelchair lifts malfunction, rerouted around events, etc. When the bus takes 10 minutes to get to my stop but arrives 10 minutes late that puts me way behind. If I take the 30 minute earlier bus I arrive way too early and it uses more of my day.

Also from page 2 of the final study:

The purpose of the study was to: 

  • support the goals established in The Downtown Next 2020 Vision to improve Downtown’s accessibility; 
  • create a catalyst for continued economic development; 
  • provide additional opportunities for alternative transportation; 
  • support the region’s and City’s sustainability initiatives;
  • and  promote an environment that will retain and attract new jobs and residents to the City.

I’ve invited Mead to come downtown and ride the #10 MetroBus with me, to midtown and back, to better understand the existing conditions, then I think she’ll see how the streetcar will be a potentially massive improvement. She’s in town visiting family, we’re talking about doing this later in the week.

Mead is correct when she said, “the study inadequately addresses the wide variety of contextual factors, such as land use policy.” The word  “zoning” appears just four times in the final study report. “Proper zoning” is mentioned, but not defined. My fear is we won’t set up the necessary land-use controls to guide new development over the 10-20 years following the completion of the streetcar. If the prevailing Laissez faire attitude in St. Louis is allowed to squash good form-based zoning then the streetcar investment will be at least partially wasted.

But if we can get the formula right, it will be a boon and expansions can follow every few years, as we’ve seen in other cities. But I’ve been here long enough to know the old guard isn’t going to change so easily. Will this time be different?

Please share your thoughts on Mead’s paper, or my response, below.

— Steve Patterson

Lindell Update: 3949 Apartments, CVS, AAA

A year ago the 3949 Lindell Apartments were a burt out mess, but now they’re nearly rebuilt.

Just over a year later the rebuild is nearly complete.
Just over a year later the rebuild is nearly complete.
Scene on July 19, 2012 passing by on the #10 MetroBus
As seen on July 19, 2012 passing by on the #10 MetroBus

Looks like the same basic design, with some details being different. Notably, the large windows are now have black frames rather than white.

Immediately to the east a new CVS is under construction.
Immediately to the east a new CVS is under construction.

CVS tried to raze the former offices of the St. Louis Housing Authority a half a block to the west and later they wanted to raze the round AAA building, they were rebuffed at both sites. They wanted a store in this area so they were forced to adapt. AAA has also announced they will renovate their building since they were denied a demolition permit.

With the CVS being built on the AAA parking lot the former lawn is now parking.
With the CVS being built on the AAA parking lot the former lawn is now parking.
ABOVE: Former headquarters of American Automobile Association of Missouri
Pedestrians had a path from the sidewalk to the front door, but now the lawn is now auto parking. Hopefully they plan a new pedestrian route when construction is complete.

Once all three are finished I’ll visit to see how they connect to the sidewalks on Lindell and McPherson, as well as to each other.

Reflections on the Great Flood of 1993

Twenty years ago today we saw record flooding in the St. Louis region:

The Mississippi River at St. Louis crested at 49.6 feet on August 1, nearly 20 feet above flood stage and had a peak flow rate of 1.08 Million cubic feet per second. At this rate, a bowl the size of Busch Stadium would be filled to the brim in 69 seconds. (source

Flooding like this in May 2010 is typical for St. Louis, the 1993 flood was substantially worse, over this track.
Flooding like this in May 2010 is typical for St. Louis, the 1993 flood was substantially worse, over this track.

Here’s a more detailed look at flooding that year leading up to August 1st:

At St. Louis, the first spring flooding on the Mississippi River was recorded April 8, cresting at .2 feet above flood stage and lasting only that day. The Mississippi rose above flood stage again on April 11 and stayed above flood stage until May 24. The city got a respite as the Mississippi stayed below flood stage May 24 to June 26. On June 27, the Mississippi again went above flood stage and didn’t drop below flood stage for the year until October 7—a total of 146 days above flood stage. The Mississippi River was above the old record flood stage for more than three weeks at St. Louis from mid July to mid August. Prior to 1993, the historic flood of record on the Mississippi River at St. Louis had been 43.2 feet, recorded April 28, 1973. That record was broken July 21, 1993, with a level of 46.9 feet and broken again 11 days later with a record stage of 49.58 feet on Aug. 1. St. Louis is located near the confluence of the Missouri, Illinois and Mississippi rivers, all of which were in flood at the same time. (source

In the  two decades since, Chesterfield’s Monarch Levee was rebuilt and substantial commercial development has happened within the Chesterfield  valley. For example. THF’s Chesterfield Commons:

THF's Chesterfield Commons has over 2 million square feet, this site was flooded 20 years ago.
THF’s Chesterfield Commons has over 2 million square feet, this site was flooded 20 years ago.

And now we have two competing outlet malls opening very close to each other on land flooded 20 years ago. In the market for a new Bentley, Maserati, or Aston Martin? Head to STL Motorcars showroom in the floodplain, at 1 Arnage Blvd.  Not even close to St. Louis, but it sounds better than Gumbo Flats Motors on Floodplain Ave.

— Steve Patterson 

Lack of Land-Use Controls Among Reasons Why So Little Transit-Oriented Development At MetroLink Stations After Two Decades

Today is the 20th anniversary of the opening of our original MetroLink light rail line. Since then we’ve added a line in Illinois and one in St. Louis County.

MetroLink train leaving the North Hanley station
MetroLink train leaving the North Hanley station

One thing we haven’t really seen much of is transit-oriernted development (TOD). We’ve had a few projects that are, at best, transit-adjacent development (TAD).

TAD is TOD gone bad, development that is adjacent to transit but breaks all the rules that make TOD work, like making public spaces the focus of building orientation and neighborhood activity; creating pedestrian-friendly street networks that directly connect local destinations; and providing a mix of housing types, densities and costs. (TOD’s Evil Twin: Transit-Adjacent Development)

In the poll last week I asked about the lack of TOD in the last two decades:

Q: Why do you think our MetroLink light rail stations haven’t seen much transit-oriented development in the last 20 years? (Pick up to 3)

  1. Lack of proper land-use controls, like form-based zoning 42 [13.21%]
  2. Nobody pushed for TOD 37 [11.64%]
  3. Regional fragmentation of leadership 37 [11.64%]
  4. Regional job & population growth have been stagnant 37 [11.64%]
  5. The station designs aren’t conducive for infill development 31 [9.75%]
  6. Located in bad locations. 29 [9.12%]
  7. The alignment isn’t convenient to many 27 [8.49%]
  8. No demand for transit-oriented development 23 [7.23%]
  9. We naively thought if we built it they’d come 17 [5.35%]
  10. Used mainly for games, events, to reach Lambert airport 15 [4.72%]
  11. Another reason not listed 10 [3.14%]
  12. Our laissez-faire love of the free market 8 [2.52%]
  13. Naysayers muted initial enthusiasm, halting TOD potential 4 [1.26%]
  14. Park & ride lots are the best use of the land at the stations 1 [0.31%]
  15. Unsure/no answer 0 [0%]

All of the above (except #14) are valid reasons, I think they ended up in about the right order too. A form-based code at the Wellston station would’ve required St. Louis County Economic Council building to acknowledge the presence of light rail.

The St. Louis County Economic Council building abuts the station but doesn’t even have a sidewalk to the front door, located as far away from transit riders as physically possible.

When the county government doesn’t do set a good example, how can we expect others to do better on their own?

In the last couple of years there has been a TOD push. Better late than never or too little, too late?

— Steve Patterson

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