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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




Two Sites Seeking Zoning Changes In Frontenac, Pushback From Residents

Currently there are a couple of interesting zoning issues in the affluent St. Louis suburb of Frontenac. First, some background:

Frontenac is a wealthy inner-ring suburb of St. Louis, located in St. Louis County, Missouri, United States. The signature landmark is Plaza Frontenac, a high-end mall featuring many prominent retailers such as Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, and Tiffany & Co., among others. The population was 3,482 at the 2010 census.

The community name is inspired by the Château Frontenac of Quebec City. Benjamin and Lora Wood, who laid out the community’s core called Frontenac Estates, that consisted of 26 two-acre estates, had made frequent trips to Quebec. The community was incorporated as 217 acres (88 ha) in 1947 and annexed another 967 acres (391 ha) in 1948. The community still consists mostly of houses on one-acre lots. French architecture is encouraged in design. (Wikipedia)

From the same Wikipedia page:

The median income for a household in the city was $119,508, and the median income for a family was $136,972. Males had a median income of $100,000 versus $47,344 for females. The per capita income for the city was $64,532. About 0.8% of families and 1.2% of the population were below the poverty line, including 0.6% of those under age 18 and 1.0% of those age 65 or over.

The majority of residences in Frontenac are large single-family detached homes on at least a one-acre lot. At Lindbergh & Conway there are a few blocks of smaller homes on small lots. The biggest exception to the single-family one acre norm is off the I-64 service road West of Spoede — the Daniel Boone Trailer Park. But this 1.31 acre site at 11130 S. Forty Dr isn’t involved in the two zoning issues.

The first is the nearby site of the former Ladue Early Childhood Center at 10601 Clayton Rd., Frontenac is in the Ladue School District. The second is the former Shriner’s Hospital for Children at 2001 S. Lindbergh, on June 1st their new hospital opened in the City of St. Louis.

10601 Clayton Rd

The vacant school  has 420 feet of frontage on Clayton Rd
The vacant school has 420 feet of frontage on Clayton Rd
Closer view of existing building
Closer view of existing building
Some in Frontenac oppose a developer's plan to build a senior residence & villas on the site
Some in Frontenac oppose a developer’s plan to build a senior residence & villas on the site

Though zoned for one acre lots, this site and a few others West to Spoede Rd. are shown as “Single Family Residential – Planned (Overlay) ” on their future land use map. From page 8 of their 2006 Comprehensive Plan:

“Single Family Residential–Planned” is proposed as an overlay land use category. The intention of this is to recognize that the demand for housing options in the area is dynamic and to allow a degree of flexibility for the City of Frontenac to meet this demand. This district identifies areas within Frontenac where the type of residential development described below could easily fit into the fabric of the community. As an overlay, this district is only intended to be an acceptable alternative to the existing land use or the Future Land Use Plan. In addition to the specific areas identified on the map, land adjacent to and fronting on North Outer Forty Drive and South Outer Forty Drive has also been identified as appropriate for Single Family Residential– Planned.

Defined on the following page as:

Single family detached homes or 2-unit attached villas, clustered to maximize open space and allow for flexible home siting and property maintenance arrangements. Requires the creation of a new Planned Residential District as an Overlay District within the City’s Land Use Code of Ordinances.

More detail at the Frontenac Planning & Zoning Commission, see the latest revision to the proposal here.

2001 S. Lindbergh

When the Shriner’s moved their hospital to Frontenac in the early 1960s much of the small town was still undeveloped. Since then, McMansions on one acre lots have closed in on the 14.87 acre site with more than 600 feet of frontage on Lindbergh Blvd.

In 1962 the Shriner's built a new hospital on a large site in Frontenac
In 1962 the Shriner’s built a new hospital on a large site in Frontenac

With the new hospital open the old site can now be sold for redevelopment. From last month.

John Gloss, hospital administrator, said the property in Frontenac attracted 17 offers, which were then narrowed down to four and now one.

The buyer and the hospital are in a “due diligence” period with the buyer, which Gloss declined to identify, citing a confidentiality agreement. 

Robert Shelton, Frontenac’s city administrator, however, told the Post-Dispatch Wednesday “the buyer is DESCO.” (Post-Dispatch)

DESCO is the development company of Schnucks Markets, behind developments like Loughborough Commons and the 9th Street Garage — after razing the historic Century Building. My assumption is they’d like to build a new Schnucks to replace the old/small location at the NE corner of Lindbergh & Clayton in the City of Ladue.

Schnucks at 10275 Clayton Rd. in the Ladue West Shopping Center was built in 1959. The shopping center site is only 5.44 acres.
Schnucks at 10275 Clayton Rd. in the Ladue West Shopping Center was built in 1959. The shopping center site is only 5.44 acres. Click image for map.

Like the former school on Clayton Rd, the nearly 15 acre former hospital site is zoned one acre residential. However, Frontenac’s future land use plan shows it as Regional Commercial, the same as abutting Plaza Frontenac. Their 2006 Comprehensive Plan defines this as:

 Retail, office, and/or other commercial uses at a scale of regional service. 

I’ll be interested to see DESCO’s proposal for this site.

— Steve Patterson


St. Louis County Voters Approved Proposition A 5 years Ago Today

Five years ago today St. Louis County voters approved a tax increase to support public transit:

By a wide margin, county voters approved a half-cent increase to the transit sales tax to restore lost bus and Call-A-Ride service and, eventually, expand the reach of mass transit farther into the St. Louis suburbs. (Post-Dispatch)

This ballot victory triggered a previously-approved sales tax increase in the city. Attempts in 1997 & 2008 were rejected by St. Louis County voters.

The 57x I took to Town & Country stopping on Clayton Rd. between Woods Mill & Hwy 141
The 57x MetroBus on Clayton Rd. between Woods Mill & Hwy 141. Click image to view the 57X route & schedule
This image sums up how pedestrians are treated, The bus in the background is heading WB on Chambers.
The #61 MetroBus in the background is heading WB on Chambers at W. Florissant in Dellwood. Click the image to view the #61’s route & schedule.

After the fall 2008 defeat transit advocates approached the 2010 campaign differently, producing outstanding results:

The measure passed by a monstrous 24 point margin. The St. Louis Tea Party focused its energy on defeating the civic project, calling the campaign a test run for defeating Democrats in this fall’s midterm elections. So it’s a setback for them.

But it’s good news for those wanting to get around the St. Louis metro area. The “proposition A” measure will restore bus lines that had been de-funded, pay for more frequent buses, prevent future cuts, and, eventually, expand the reach of transit further into area suburbs.  (Grist)

The greatest support came from north county voters, the highest users of transit in the county.

— Steve Patterson


Top-Down Auto-Centric Thinking Continues In Ferguson, Still Time To Change

We all know the phrase: “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.”  Those living in low-income areas, especially those of color, have been sent this message for decades: Mill Creek Valley, Pruitt-Igoe, etc. In other words, we know what’s best for you so just accept what we decide to give to you. In the near term the gifts seemed like a good idea, but in hindsight they were ill-conceived and corners were cut. Pruitt-Igoe:

As completed in 1955, Pruitt–Igoe consisted of 33 11-story apartment buildings on a 57-acre (23 ha) site, on St. Louis’s lower north side. The complex totaled 2,870 apartments, one of the largest in the country. The apartments were deliberately small, with undersized kitchen appliances. “Skip-stop” elevators stopped only at the first, fourth, seventh, and tenth floors, forcing residents to use stairs in an attempt to lessen congestion. The same “anchor floors” were equipped with large communal corridors, laundry rooms, communal rooms and garbage chutes.

Despite federal cost-cutting regulations, Pruitt–Igoe initially cost $36 million, 60% above national average for public housing. Conservatives attributed cost overruns to inflated unionized labor wages and the steamfitters union influence that led to installation of an expensive heating system; overruns on the heating system caused a chain of arbitrary cost cuts in other vital parts of the building.

Nevertheless, Pruitt–Igoe was initially seen as a breakthrough in urban renewal. Residents considered it to be “an oasis in the desert” compared to the extremely poor quality of housing they had occupied previously, and considered it to be safe. Some referred to the apartments as “poor man’s penthouses”.

Despite poor build quality, material suppliers cited Pruitt–Igoe in their advertisements, capitalizing on the national exposure of the project.

The people were expected to adapt to the solution, rather than the solution adapt to the people. Locally and nationally little has changed since the 1950s.

Early residents were thankful, those displaced not so much. Within a decade what had seemed like a great solution turned out to be an expensive nightmare. Most of the site remains vacant four decades after being cleared.

The players today are different — non-profits and the private sector in place of the federal government. The attitude, however, is the same: ‘we want to do something to help you — why should we ask for your input?’ The unintended consequences of the well-intentioned were huge. Eventually the federally government realized the folly of this way of thinking — changing to rules & regulations to require environmental impact studies, public input, etc. This is not to suggest these will avert all unintended consequences — they won’t — but the results are better than those designed in isolation. Which brings me to Ferguson.

As I wrote about a week ago two community plans intersect at former ferguson QuikTrip site. Rather than QuikTrip officials quietly talking with the St. Louis Urban League for six months I think they should’ve empowered the local residents by getting them involved in the process of determining what to do with the site. The Urban League’s slogan is “Empowering Communities. Changing Lives.”

This was an opportunity for Ferguson’s residents to have a say in their future — to have a seat at the table. Empowerment through engagement.

Rendering of the Empowerment Center of Ferguson shown on March 16, 2015
Rendering of the Empowerment Center of Ferguson shown on March 16, 2015

The speakers for their presentation was exclusively top-down players:

  • Michael P. McMillan President and CEO, Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis
  • Michael Johnson Board of Directors, QuikTrip Corporation
  • Warner Baxter Chairman, President & CEO, Ameren
  • Patrick J. Sly Executive Vice President, Emerson
  • Thomas J. Irwin Executive Director, Civic Progress
  • Kathleen T. Osborn Executive Director, Regional Business Council
  • Susan Trautman Executive Director, Great Rivers Greenway
  • Steven Sullivan President and Executive Director, Provident

The proposed new building would be built in the same spot as the old QuikTrip — not up to the sidewalk to make the area more pedestrian-friendly as suggested by the Great Streets Initiative. Great Rivers Greenway said they’d hire some who complete the 4-week jobs 101 course to be Gateway Rangers to bike the North Riverfront Trail — the planned trail next to the site wasn’t mentioned.

Today’s buildings are more disposable than those build 100 year or more years ago, this QuikTrip opened in 1989 — it lasted 25 years until burned following the shooting of Michael Brown. As I said in the comments on Monday, the building had been fully depreciated. Yes, the St. Louis County Assessor still said it had value, but the business view is different — for tax purposes you want deductions: a facility you can depreciate or lease payments.

QuikTrip just razed their 2851 Gravois location built in 1991 — to be rebuilt. QuikTrip sold this property two years ago in a 15-year sale leaseback.   The two-year older Ferguson location wasn’t sold to an investor, so no deductions. The 1.14 acre site was too small to build a new QuikTrip.  So they opened a new location a mile and a half north at 10768 W. Florissant Ave. on 3+ acres.

It was either the night of the shooting, August 9th, or the next night when the older QuikTrip was burned that QuikTrip Board Member Michael Johnson called the Urban League’s Michael McMillan to offer to donate the property. I can’t blame them — they probably had wanted to close the location anyway. So began the six month process involving corporate CEOs and heavy hitters collectives like Civic Progress.

A few misunderstood my point a week ago — involving the public or at least respecting the plans the public helped draft  — isn’t an “either or” situation. They could’ve done exactly as they did but announced this building will represent the new W. Florissant Ave with a up to the sidewalk design to respond to the needs of the high pedestrian population. Instead they just decided to put the new building where the old building was.

St  Louis County records list the irregularly-shaped property as being 1.14 acres.
The building was located on the East edge of the site, set back from W. Florissant and Northwinds Estate Drive
QuikTrip never made added an accessible route to the entrance, as required by the ADA
QuikTrip never made added an accessible route to the entrance, as required by the ADA
The North side is the easiest to meet the one route minimum, but most pedestrians will come from W, Florissant.
The North side is the easiest to meet the one route minimum, but most pedestrians will come from W, Florissant.

Locating the building at the street corner would make access from the sidewalk easy. Keeping the building at the back will require a circuitous route(s) — not pedestrian-friendly. Bare minimum — not empowering!

Additionally, if the Urban League builds at the back of the lot behind parking it’ll be difficult to convince others along W. Florissant Ave  to rebuild in an urban manner — effectively killing an important part of the plan. The St. Louis region is known for developing plans that sit on the shelf and collect dust — now we’re killing plans through willful ignorance.

When I asked during the press conference about why the building wasn’t up to the sidewalk Mike McMillian, said “remediation.” I guess that means QuikTrip isn’t remediating the contamination enough to build over the old tank location, but even that doesn’t make sense.   To remediate the site enough for residential use would be onerous — but a commercial building should be able to be constructed after the tanks are removed and basic remediation has been completed. I think they simply failed to consider the pedestrian population of Ferguson.

Nothing is built yet — the site isn’t ready yet. I hope they’ll do the right thing and work to set a good example for future buildings this stretch of W. Florissant.

— Steve Patterson


Half Of Readers: Ferguson’s Mayor Should Not Resign

Only one person selected “maybe” in the Sunday Poll — that person was me. I think Knowles‘ time to resign was 5-6 months ago — to fall on his sword — to clear out the old guard leadership so real change can begin. Now I hope the recall effort is successful.

Here are the poll results:

Q: Should Ferguson Mayor James Knowles resign?

  1. No 21 [50%]
  2. Yes 14 [33.33%]
  3. Unsure/No Opinion 6 [14.29%]
  4. Maybe 1 [2.38%]

Last Fall Knowles didn’t think problems existed in the Ferguson Police Department — his employer for 4 years, but the DOJ has shown otherwise. For Ferguson’s new political activists I think it’ll be much more rewarding if he’s recalled by voters than if he were to resign as others have. Conversely, if he survives the recall it’ll be a blow to those trying to bring change.

Ferguson has a Council-Manager form of government, the mayor’s annual salary is only $4,200.

— Steve Patterson