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St. Charles County & St. Louis County Connected Via Public Transit

Five days a week people take public transit to/from St. Louis & St. Charles counties! No, MetroLink light rail wasn’t secretly extended over the Missouri River. No, MetroBus doesn’t serve St. Charles County either. “How”, you ask?

Just the way Madison County Transit enters the City of St. Louis, St. Charles Area Transit (aka SCAT), enters St. Louis County. In late February I took the last morning SCAT bus from the North Hanley Transit Center into St. Charles. Over four hours later, I took the first SCAT bus back.

The shuttle type bus used by SCAT.
The shuttle type bus used by SCAT at North Hanley. They can’t/don’t get close to the sidewalk for easy boarding via wheelchair. No curb ramp exists on the end so I had to backtrack to find the nearest ramp. .
I'm now at the nearest ramp to reach the white bus. Metro needs to add a curb ramp and/or SCAT needs to pull closer to the sidewalk.
I’m now at the nearest ramp to reach the white bus. Metro needs to add a curb ramp and/or SCAT needs to pull closer to the sidewalk.
The I-70 Commuter bus makes six stops in St. Charles plus one at North Hanley
The I-70 Commuter bus makes six stops in St. Charles plus one at North Hanley
I got off on the last stop -- the Streets of St. Charles, the driver is putting the wheelchair lift away. I'll post about that development on Thursday. Click image to see my initial post on it from February.
I got off on the last stop — the Streets of St. Charles, the driver is putting the wheelchair lift away. I’ll post about that development on Thursday. Click image to see my initial post on it from February.

We departed North Hanley on time — here’s the official schedule for the last SCAT bus leaving St. Louis County:

  • 8:55am North Hanley
  • 9:19am St. Joseph Health Center/Main St St. Charles
  • 9:24am Ameristar Casino
  • 9:31am Cave Springs Commuter Lot
  • 9:38am Zumbehl Commuter Lot
  • 9:46am Fairgrounds Commuter Lot
  • 9:50am Streets of St. Charles — where I got off
  • 10:16am last morning drop off at North Hanley

The route, logically, is designed to serve St. Charles residents needing to get into St. Louis County for the day. Just 30 minutes to go from the Fairgrounds Commuter Lot to North Hanley four times each weekday morning, starting at 5:44am!  Still, my bus from North Hanley into St. Charles had about 10 other passengers — people I presume were going to work.

In the afternoon the SCAT I-70 bus runs four times, starting at North Hanley at 1:38pm, the last on 5:59pm.

  • 1:38pm North Hanley
  • 1:45pm Fairgrounds Commuter Lot
  • 1:52pm Zumbehl Commuter Lot
  • 2pm Cave Springs Commuter Lot
  • 2:11pm St. Joseph Health Center/Main St St. Charles
  • 2:16pm Ameristar Casino
  • 2:20pm Streets of St. Charles — where I got on
  • 2:42pm arrival at North Hanley — next departure is 2:48pm

I’m so glad to see the City of St. Charles operating transit buses, connecting to the rest of the region — via St. Louis County. However, the webpage and route maps need improvement. Online maps for the four St. Charles routes must be viewed separately. No system map exists, at least not online.  Still, it’s a start.

— Steve Patterson

 

‘Indulge In Urban Living’ At Streets of St. Charles

I had 20 years to eat at Noah’s Ark restaurant in St. Charles before it closed in 2000, but I never did.  With a lot of land and a highly visible location developers were interested. New Urbanist developer Greg Whittaker, of New Town at St. Charles, bought the site. He hired Duany Platter-Zyberk (DPZ) to plan a New Urbanist project to be called Plaza at Noah’s Ark.

December 2006:

The multi-use development is planned on 26.8 acres occupied by the former Noah’s Ark restaurant and motel and a small subdivision. The area was developed in the 1960s, but the restaurant closed in 2000 and the hotel two years later.

Plans include an 18-story high-rise residential complex, an outdoor ice rink, a movie theater, a 150-room upscale hotel, restaurants and a parking garage that could include 1,827 spaces. (Post-Dispatch)

March 2007:

The 26.8-acre high-density development is planned for the site of the former Noah’s Ark restaurant and motel at the southeast corner of the Interstate 70 and South Fifth Street interchange. Plans call for an 18-story residential building with a minimum of 518 units costing about $250,000 each, retail shops, a movie theater, a 10- to 14-story hotel, an outdoor ice rink and a multilevel, vertical parking garage. (Post-Dispatch)

November 2011:

The site plan allows for 17 buildings, as many as 12 of which would be one or two stories tall. None would be taller than six stories.

An earlier plan called for 27 buildings ranging from one to 18 stories and set aside 374,200 square feet for commercial space and 759,600 for residential units.

Under the current plan, commercial square footage will range from 561,575 to 1,147,275. Residential square footage can be from 505,000 to 602,000, with an average unit size of 971 square feet.

Construction of the second building is expected to begin sometime in 2012, Buralli said. The 300,000-square-foot building would include the site’s 196 residential units. Cullinan doesn’t plan to sell any of the residential units for now. (Post-Dispatch)

April 2013:

Peoria, Ill.-based Cullinan bought the property in January 2007 from Whittaker Homes, which had acquired the site for a project then called the Plaza at Noah’s Ark. Cullinan renamed it and reached a new development agreement with the city, but the recession delayed construction. The City Council in January 2010 approved $40 million in bonds to help get it going, and in July 2011 approved a revised plan calling for more commercial square footage, less residential space and fewer buildings than Whittaker proposed. (Post-Dispatch)

A few years ago I saw it after the first building was completed, earlier this month I returned when we were in the area.  My reaction is best described as mixed.

Looking North from 5th & Main. Note the banner on the tall retaining wall "Indulge in Urban Living"Looking North from 5th & Main. Note the banner on the tall retaining wall "Indulge in Urban Living". Click image for official website
Looking North from 5th & Main. Note the banner on the tall retaining wall “Indulge in Urban Living”. Click image for official website
From 5th Street
From 5th Street
Up the hill from the QT, still room for future buildings .
Up the hill from the QT, still room for future buildings .
Beale Street has multi-story buildings on both sides with street-level retail storefronts
Beale Street has multi-story buildings on both sides with street-level retail storefronts
Another view of Beale Street. The first building is on the left, has offices over retail
Another view of Beale Street. The first building is on the left, has offices over retail
The AMC theater is strikingly modern compared to the other buildings
The AMC theater is strikingly modern compared to the other buildings
A new 1-story PF Change is under construction to the North of the original building
A new 1-story PF Change is under construction to the North of the original building
Further North is another 1-story building with Missouri's first Pieology pizza chain. Click image for Sept 2015 article
Further North is another 1-story building with Missouri’s first Pieology pizza chain. Click image for Sept 2015 article
Despite what appears to be decent pedestrian circulation, there are several areas that aren't accessible to everyone
Despite what appears to be decent pedestrian circulation, there are several areas that aren’t accessible to everyone

Drury plans a 180-room hotel.

As I said, I have mixed feelings on this project. As a 25+ year resident of the City of St. Louis, their slogan “Indulge in Urban Living” is laughable to me. But I know I’m not their target market. To most residents of St. Charles County this is more urbanity than they ever thought they’d see on their side of the Missouri River.

A decade or more ago this site would’ve been developed as a big box with an even bigger parking lot. Smaller buildings would’ve dotted the perimeter. Visitors would’ve been expected to arrive via car and to drive to reach other buildings on the site.  From my brief observations, it appears the planners have made sure pedestrians can reach every building via a sidewalk.

While I’m not going to give up my downtown loft to live here, it’s an improvement over old-school development patterns.

I’d love to visit in my wheelchair so I could experience it as a pedestrian. It appears I can catch the St. Charles Area Transit’s I-70 Commuter bus at North Hanley, which I’ll do in the coming month or two. A few hours exploring the site, touring a model apartment, having lunch will give me a better feel of the project.

— Steve Patterson

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Monarch Levee Protected The Chesterfield Valley — This Flood

Flood waters are receding, but what an event — just 22+ years after the 1993 flood. After that flood, we built levees higher. Was that wise?  From late last month:

The rising Mississippi River and its tributaries are threatening to overtop 19 federal levees in the St. Louis area. (Fox 2)

One levee that wasn’t in danger was one that famously failed in 1993 — the Monarch levee. The “gumbo flats” area, now called the Chesterfield Valley, was flooded.

THF's Chesterfield Commons, with over 2 million square feet, is among many developments built in the floodplain since the 1993 flood
THF’s Chesterfield Commons, with over 2 million square feet, is among many developments built in the floodplain since the 1993 flood

Two outlet malls, a couple of car dealerships, and much more now exist only because of the 500 year levee. How bad is flooding elsewhere because the water can’t spread out here? As we continue developing more land we decrease absorption and increase runoff. Add to that more & higher levees and the situation doesn’t look good.

I have plenty of doubt the levee will prevent a flood in my lifetime, I think I’ll live to see all this development under water.

— Steve Patterson

 

 

 

Rapid Urbanization of Dardenne Creek Watershed in St. Charles County Has Dramatically Increased Runoff

From a MoDOT camera, trucks in lower right used to close I-70
From a MoDOT camera, trucks in lower right used to close I-70

Record rainfall has resulted in flooding in the region, notably St. Charles County. On Sunday a major interstate highway was closed in both directions:

Both directions of Interstate 70 remain closed in St Charles County near Route 79 in St Peters due to rising flood waters from the Dardenne Creek. The eastbound lanes closed around noon Sunday, December 27 and the westbound lanes closed around 2:30 p.m.

It is expected that both the eastbound and westbound lanes will remain closed for Monday morning rush hour traffic.

Motorists who need to use eastbound I-70 in St Charles County can exit at Interstate 64 eastbound to Route 364 eastbound. Route 364 connects to Interstate 270 in St. Louis County and from there motorists can reconnect to Interstate 70. Westbound I-70 travelers will have to exit the highway at Route 94 in St Charles. They can take westbound Route 94 to westbound I-64 to connect back to I-70. (MoDOT)

The Dardenne Creek watershed flooded onto the interstate:

A watershed is an area of land where the runoff from rain or snow will ultimately drain to a particular stream, river, wetland or other body of water. There are nine major watersheds in the St. Louis region which drain into the Mississippi River and the Missouri River. Nested within these watersheds can be found smaller watersheds of creeks or streams and those segments of land which drain directly into the nine major watersheds. The following sections delineate the watersheds in the St. Louis region, discuss watersheds and watershed based natural resource planning and describe the actions the general public and local governments can take to improve water quality in their watersheds. (East-West Gateway Council of Governments)

While the record rainfall is big factor in the flooding, we can’t continue to ignore the role of urbanization plays. The better term, however, is suburbanization. Low density development with lots of rooftops, parking lots, and wide roads to connect it all. Coupled with dramatic population growth, too much of the county is paved over.

Here is the population of St. Charles County, per decade, with the percentage of growth from the previous.

  • 1910 24,695 0.9%
  • 1920 22,828 ?7.6%
  • 1930 24,354 6.7%
  • 1940 25,562 5.0%
  • 1950 29,834 16.7%
  • 1960 52,970 77.5%
  • 1970 92,954 75.5%
  • 1980 144,107 55.0%
  • 1990 212,907 47.7%
  • 2000 283,883 33.3%
  • 2010 360,485 27.0%

Below is the visual:

Graph made from figures on Wikipedia, click image to view page.
Graph made from figures on Wikipedia, click image to view page.

Flooding is an unintended consequence of this growth — all those parking lots add up! Had they planned development to be more compact and respectful of the watershed the current flooding wouldn’t be as extreme. Two geography students looked at this in a paper published in 2009: IMPACTS OF URBANIZATION ON SURFACE RUNOFF OF THE DARDENNE CREEK WATERSHED, ST. CHARLES COUNTY, MISSOURI.

Some quotes:

Urbanization, a common land use/land cover (LULC) change in suburban areas, has become a significant environmental concern in the United States. Urban areas are continuously increasing at an alarming rate (22.7 ha per hour in 1982–1997) as reported by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) (USEPA, 2009). Although it provides enormous social and economic benefits, urbanization creates a significant amount of impervious surface by converting vast area of croplands, for- ests, grasslands, and wetlands into urban uses. The conversion alters natural hydro- logic processes and results in profound environmental consequences within a watershed, such as increasing the volume and rate of surface runoff and reducing ground water recharge (Carter, 1961; Andersen, 1970; Lazaro, 1990; Moscrip and Montgomery, 1997; Tang et al., 2005). Expanded impervious cover also reduces runoff lag time and increases the peak discharge of stream flow, resulting in larger and more frequent incidents of flooding (Field et al., 1982; Hall, 1984) and subse- quent increases in the scouring and incision of streams (Leopold, 1973; Booth, 1990; Doyle et al., 2000). Furthermore, the increase of impervious surface area degrades water quality of the stream, which is a major transporter and concentrator of pollutants (such as nutrients, heavy metals, and pesticides) in runoff and sedi- ments (Schueler, 1995). Percent impervious surface area in a watershed has been used as an important indicator of the ecological and environmental conditions of an aquatic system (Schueler, 1995; Arnold and Gibbons, 1996).

The Dardenne Creek watershed in St. Charles County, a suburb of St. Louis, Missouri, has experienced significant urban expansion in past decades. Events such as road overtopping in 2005 as a result of the highest flood level recorded since stream gages were installed in 1999 (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 2007) have focused public attention on the need to understand how the pattern and magnitude of past LULC change have impacted runoff, and how future development and miti- gation might change watershed hydrology. The aim of the work reported here was to provide a quantitative assessment of the impact of past urbanization on surface runoff, and a baseline calibrated model for future efforts to assess potential hydro- logical impacts of new urban development and LULC change.

In the lower portion of the watershed, both forests and agricultural lands decreased from 1982 to 2003, although the rate of decrease became lower after 1987. Corresponding to the decrease of these two LULC classes, urbanization was apparent between 1982 and 2003. In 1982, urban areas only covered 7.4% of the area. After that, they increased at approximately 2.1% per year and became one of the dominant classes in 2003 (50.5%) (Figs. 3B and 3D). LULC change in the upper portion of the watershed was less dramatic (Figs. 3C and 3D) because of its remote location from the metropolitan area. Forest cover in the upper portion was higher than in the lower portion. Forest cover decreased 11.2% from 1982 to 1987 and tended to be stable in the following years. Different from the lower portion, agricultural lands increased from 1982 to 1991, a possible correspondence of deforestation. Agricultural lands decreased after 1991 at a much lower rate than that in the lower portion. Urbanization in the upper portion was limited. Urban areas were only 0.4% in 1982 and gradually increased to 10.9% in 2003. 

Results indicated that the watershed experienced rapid urbanization from 1982 to 2003. Urban areas increased from 3.4% in 1982 to 27.3% in 2003 in the whole watershed. Urbanization dominated in the lower portion of the watershed and gradually migrated to the upper watershed due to the proximity to the metropolitan area of the city of St. Louis. As a direct result of the urbanization from 1982 to 2003, the long-term surface runoff increased >70% for the whole watershed (>95% and >48% in the lower and upper portion of the watershed, respectively). The runoff increase was highly correlated with the percentage of urban areas (R2 > 0.90). Cou- pled with significant flooding events in 1993 and 2005, this work helps raise aware- ness of the actual scale of hydrologic impacts of urbanization in this particular watershed, and provides a simple calibrated tool for local planners to use in assess- ing potential impacts of future development and mitigation activities. More generally, such case studies provide important insight both into the scale of impact of complex land-use change and into approaches that can be used to evaluate, plan, and manage watersheds.

So what can be done about it now, isn’t it too late? No!

I’ve talked about Retrofitting Suburbia before. Architect Ellen Dunham-Jones suggests, in her TED talk, we can daylight creeks, rebuild wetlands, etc.  The solution is to literally urbanize some suburbanized areas, while returning others to rural, wetlands.

However, I seriously doubt the conservative electorate in St. Charles County is willing to do what is necessary. Flooding will likely continue.

— Steve Patterson

 

Page Avenue Extension (Route 364) Opened Ten Years Ago Today

For years it was just a controversial highway proposal, but a decade ago phase one of the Page Ave. Extension (aka I- Route 364) opened, connecting the Westport area of St. Louis County to St. Charles County.  Years before the opening I participated in efforts to derail the project, including attempting to pursuede St. Louis County voters to reject a land swap allowing the road project to cut through Creve Coeur Lake Memorial Park. Originally planned in 1969, construction began in 1997.

Looking west on I-364 Source: Google Streetview
Looking west on I-364
Source: Google Streetview

Before construction could begin a land swap had to take place to permit the selected route through the south edge of the park:

Opponents say the extension not only will destroy the park but also will add a fourth bridge to hasten the exodus of the middle class from St. Louis and aging St. Louis County suburbs to the greener pastures of St. Charles, Lincoln and Warren counties.

“If it goes through, it’s the turning point for the downslide of St. Louis County,” said state Rep. Joan Bray, D-University City, who helped a group called Taxpayers Against Page Freeway gather more than 40,000 signatures to put the referendum before voters.

Bray said the money slated for the project would be better spent to upgrade existing roads and to expand MetroLink. (source)

Voters, unfortunately, 60% approved the measure in November 1998. Highway advocates spent $800,000 vs $160,00 from the opposition (source).

Following the opening, St. Louis County experienced a population decline for the first time since St. Louis City left in 1876
Following the opening, St. Louis County experienced a population decline for the first time since St. Louis City left in 1876

Many factors are at play in the population decline of St. Louis County and increase in St. Charles County but I have no doubt I-Route 364 played a role.  Ground was broken on the third and final phase on May 22, 2013.

— Steve Patterson

 

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