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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?
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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

 

Sunday Poll: Should All New Development in St. Louis be Urban or is Some Suburban OK?

November 11, 2018 Featured, Sunday Poll Comments Off on Sunday Poll: Should All New Development in St. Louis be Urban or is Some Suburban OK?
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A century ago St. Louis was highly walkable with an abundance of streetcar lines, but in the last 100 years we’ve widened streets, created major interstate highways, developed suburbs not served by commuter rail, etc. In the city buildings built up to the sidewalk have been replaced by buildings set back behind parking.

All this has taken a toll on the walkability of the city:

St. Louis has an average Walk Score of 65 with 319,294 residents.

St. Louis has some public transportation and is somewhat bikeable.

The most walkable St. Louis neighborhoods are Downtown, Benton Park West and Benton Park. (WalkScore)

WalkScore says “St. Louis is Somewhat Walkable: Some errands can be accomplished on foot.”  The site combines Downtown & Downtown West into one neighborhood called…Downtown (WalkScore is 89).  Many other neighborhoods are considered car-dependent.

Today’s poll is about going forward. Namely, should we try to add urban buildings when building new or should we only do so in a few areas that are currently urban/walkable?

Today’s non-scientific poll will close at 8pm.

— Steve Patterson

 

Sunday Poll: Should St. Louis Require Businesses To Accept Cash?

November 4, 2018 Featured, Sunday Poll Comments Off on Sunday Poll: Should St. Louis Require Businesses To Accept Cash?
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I often get asked for change by homeless downtown, which doesn’t bother me. The thing is, I don’t use coins. The exception is I make sure I have a quarter on me for my monthly shopping trip to ALDI — to get a shopping cart. When I get home the quarter goes back into our change bowl. So when a homeless person asks me for change I’m being totally honest when I say I don’t have any on me.

This got me thinking about how I live basically a cashless life, the opposite of my brother-in-law.  Groceries is the main thing I purchase. At ALDI, Trader Joe’s, & Culinaria I use ApplePay with a rewards Visa.  At Target I show the cashier a bar code on the Target app linked to our Target MasterCard. And at Costco our membership card is our Costco Visa.  Our monthly Costco trip is the one time shopping I need to get my wallet out of my pocket and get a card out.  I usually have $5-$10 in my wallet for emergency use, but I don’t carry change.

In researching this topic I found out an increasing number of places don’t accept cash, some cities are proposing laws to force businesses to accept cash and cease cash discounts.

From July 2018:

Mobile payments. Credit cards. Digital currencies. Going cashless seems to be a worldwide trend. In Belgium, it is illegal to buy real estate with cash. Some banks in Australia have eliminated cash from their branches. Sweden has seen its use of cash drop to less than 2% of all transactions, and the number could be heading even lower in the next few years.

However, one city in the US is resisting that trend: Washington DC. In the nation’s capital cash is still king, and a new bill introduced this week wants to keep it that way. The Cashless Retailers Prohibition Act of 2018 would make it illegal for restaurants and retailers not to accept cash or charge a different price to customers depending on the type of payment they use.

City councilmember David Grosso, and five other councilmembers who co-introduced the bill, are responding to the recent tide of retailers in their city and around the country – like the salad chain Sweetgreen – who are no longer accepting cash. These retailers, which mostly serve upscale customers, say that going cashless speeds up transactions, improves customer service and makes for more accurate accounting. They also argue that having less cash lying around also minimizes the risk of crime and contributes to a safer environment for both their customers and employees. (The Guardian)

There are a couple of restaurants in town I’ve stopped patronizing because one charges more when paying with plastic, the other has a minimum charge I don’t reach when eating alone.

I usually know my position before you see a poll, but I’m very torn on this subject. I love living cashless but know the struggle for those with cash, even managing a debit card is difficult for many.

This poll will close at 8pm tonight, hopefully I’ve got the settings right to adjust to the time change. Wednesday I’ll talk about my past problems managing credit, going all cash, and finally going cashless without going into debt.

— Steve Patterson

 

Sunday Poll: Do Local Blogs Provide Valuable Information Not Found In Traditional Media?

October 28, 2018 Featured, Media, Sunday Poll Comments Off on Sunday Poll: Do Local Blogs Provide Valuable Information Not Found In Traditional Media?
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Since I began in 2004, this blog has always been a way for me to express my thoughts, flattered others take the time to read my posts….thousands of them. Wednesday marks the 14th anniversary of UrbanReviewSTL.com.

A lot has happened in these 14 years, including my stroke over a decade ago. I also ran for public office, started grad school, bought a 50cc scooter, went car-free (twice), got married, etc. When I began blogging about St. Louis YouTube, Twitter, etc didn’t yet exist. Facebook had been around for less than 9 months, limited only to Harvard then.

Different blogs have different focuses, purposes. Today’s poll is about blogs and more traditional media sources (newspaper, radio, tv).

This non-scientific poll will close at 8pm.

— Steve Patterson

 

 

Sunday Poll: Can Missouri Afford A Hyperloop Between St. Louis & Kansas City?

October 21, 2018 Featured, Missouri, Sunday Poll, Transportation Comments Off on Sunday Poll: Can Missouri Afford A Hyperloop Between St. Louis & Kansas City?
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Today’s poll involves a rather technical new idea, so it makes sense to look at what it is first:

A Hyperloop is a proposed mode of passenger and/or freight transportation, first used to describe an open-source vactrain design released by a joint team from Tesla and SpaceX.[1] Drawing heavily from Robert Goddard’s vactrain, a hyperloop is a sealed tube or system of tubes through which a pod may travel free of air resistance or friction conveying people or objects at high speed while being very efficient.

Elon Musk’s version of the concept, first publicly mentioned in 2012,[2] incorporates reduced-pressure tubes in which pressurized capsules ride on air bearings driven by linear induction motors and axial compressors.[3]

The Hyperloop Alpha concept was first published in August 2013, proposing and examining a route running from the Los Angeles region to the San Francisco Bay Area, roughly following the Interstate 5 corridor. The paper conceived of a hyperloop system that would propel passengers along the 350-mile (560 km) route at a speed of 760 mph (1,200 km/h), allowing for a travel time of 35 minutes, which is considerably faster than current rail or air travel times. Preliminary cost estimates for this LA–SF suggested route were included in the white paper—US$6 billion for a passenger-only version, and US$7.5 billion for a somewhat larger-diameter version transporting passengers and vehicles[1]—although transportation analysts had doubts that the system could be constructed on that budget; some analysts claimed that the Hyperloop would be several billion dollars overbudget, taking into consideration construction, development, and operation costs.[4][5][6]

The Hyperloop concept has been explicitly “open-sourced” by Musk and SpaceX, and others have been encouraged to take the ideas and further develop them.

To that end, a few companies have been formed, and several interdisciplinary student-led teams are working to advance the technology.[7] SpaceX built an approximately 1-mile-long (1.6 km) subscale track for its pod design competition at its headquarters in Hawthorne, California.[8]

Some experts are skeptical, saying that the proposals ignore the expenses and risks of developing the technology and that the idea is “completely impractical”.[9] Claims have also been made that the Hyperloop is too susceptible to disruption from a power outage or terror attacks to be considered safe.[9] (Wikipedia)

Last week Missouri received lots of national press because one group is saying a Hyperloop between St. Louis and Kansas City, with a midway stop in Columbia, is feasible:

Virgin Hyperloop One has announced the results of a feasibility study on a planned route connecting Kansas City, Columbia and St. Louis. The study, which has yet to be published in full, purports that the route between the three cities is commercially viable. Researchers at Black & Veatch examined the engineering, viability and economic challenges of a proposed line running parallel to I-70.

The release doesn’t go into specifics, but Hyperloop One must feel justified in saying that the route is worth the effort. It claims that the number of people traveling between the three cities would increase by 80 percent, from 16,000 to 51,000. In addition, the local economy is said to be $410 million better off, thanks to reduced journey times, with an extra $91 million coming in savings from a less congested I-70.

Virgin Hyperloop One has doubled down on its claim that journey times between Kansas City and St. Louis could be cut to under half an hour. The release suggests that the trip would now last 28 minutes, with the time to Columbia — roughly equidistant between the two — being cut to 15 minutes. (Engaget)

From the press release:

The news follows on an historic congressional testimony of September 2018 by Virgin Hyperloop One before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation on the necessity of a new regulatory framework for hyperloop systems.

Two other states are currently studying hyperloop through in-depth feasibility studies—Ohio and Colorado. In addition, Ohio is also participating in the first U.S. Environmental Impact Studies (EIS) of a hyperloop system and Texas has announced its intent to start the process.

Kansas City KS engineering firm Black & Veatch had no Hyperloop study press release on their site.

Here’s more specifics on the user experience:

Travelers would go to what’s called a portal, which will likely be first in transit hubs of major cities before spreading outward to smaller ones. There, they will enter a large tube and board a pod inside of it with 15 to 30 others. The tubes can be built on elevated pylons, underground, through the ocean or at ground-level, and the pod will be roughly the size of a subway car; the tube would be the diameter of a subway tunnel. The door will close behind them, along with the entrance to the tunnel.

The air from the tube will be pulled out so the environment is as close to a vacuum as possible. Airline pilots soar at 30,000 feet in part because it allows them to conserve fuel with low air resistance, and the hyperloop can do that inside the tube. Instead of moving on wheels like a train, the hyperloop will levitate magnetically, allowing it to avoid more resistance. The pod will be accelerated by using electric power and piloted by a computer, zooming forth like a gigantic, passenger-bearing air hockey puck. As it accelerates, floating in the near-airless tube, the pod will be able to coast long distances without losing momentum — like a bike downhill — and the computer will generate bursts of power as needed to maintain extremely high speed. (CNBC)

See articles from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and Kansas City Star. Total project cost would be $7.5 billion to $10 billion — from private & public sources. A round-trip ticket would be about the same as gas, about $60.

Sounds great, right? Many say, “not so fast.”

If the Hyperloop’s purpose is to address large-scale urban mobility, then there are many other options already deserving of public funding and attention—ones that do not require a hard rebooting of the entire urban world to be realized. We could increase funding for Amtrak. We could make our existing subways run on time, safely. We could fix our bridges. If boredom is already setting in, recall the fate of the Concorde. We once lived in a world that boasted a supersonic airliner, capable of whisking passengers from New York to London in three and a half hours—but this was a very qualified use of the word “we.” Who exactly could book a ticket on the Concorde was determined entirely by wealth, and, as such, that now lost transatlantic wormhole never felt particularly futuristic. Certainly, it failed to revolutionize international transportation for the masses. Today, it’s as if this feat of aeronautical engineering never existed. (The New Yorker)

More criticism from MIT’s Technology Review. Hopefully that’s enough background, here’s today’s poll:

This poll will automatically close at 8pm tonight.

My husband and I are in Kansas City for the weekend. We usually take Amtrak, but we drove this time because we needed a car to visit a museum that’s inaccessible to public transit. Wednesday I’ll share my thoughts on the St. Louis to Kansas City drive, train ride, and proposed Hyperloop.

— Steve Patterson

 

 

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