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A Century Since the River Des Peres Flood of 1915

August 20, 2015 Environment, Featured, History/Preservation, Planning & Design, South City, St. Louis County Comments Off on A Century Since the River Des Peres Flood of 1915

One hundred years ago today St. Louis experienced deadly flooding. The problem wasn’t the Mississippi, it was the River Des Peres!

On the afternoon of Aug. 19, 1915, remnants of a hurricane reached St. Louis from Texas. Heavy and steady rainfall fell through the next day, dumping a total of 7.4 inches across the area. (6.85 inches on Aug. 20 remains the one-day record in St. Louis.)

The River Des Peres rushed from its banks, swamping long stretches of Delmar and Lindell boulevards, Manchester Avenue and other streets. People were stranded on the Wabash Railroad platform at Delmar (now a Metrolink station) by a seven-foot-deep current 200 yards wide. Firefighters reached them with ladders and used boats to rescue residents of Maple and Hodiamont avenues. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch — includes vintage photos)

In August 1915, St. Louis was flooded. All roads leading to the suburbs were cut off, and in Maplewood, the waters reached the second floor of some homes. The water was a mile-wide in Forest Park. Three bridges in the park were washed away, the Zoo’s Bird Cage and Bear Pits were flooded. The platforms at the old Delmar Station were destroyed. Passengers at the Wabash Station were surrounded by seven feet of water and had to be rescued by firefighters. Other people were trapped in their homes, and some even drowned. By the time the disaster was over, 11 people had died and more than 1,000 homes were lost.

The cause of the disaster was not the Mississippi River but the smaller River Des Peres, which ran along the City’s western edge.

River Des Peres, or “River of the Fathers,” was named after two Jesuit priests who founded a mission on its banks around 1700. Problems associated with flood and sewage control became obvious as St. Louis grew. In 1887, city officials planned to drain River Des Peres and Mill Creek. This plan was not completed, though, and River Des Peres had become an open sewer by the early 1900s.
Parts of the river were covered or diverted in preparation for the World’s Fair in 1904, and monitoring of flooding conditions began in 1905. However, no steps had been taken by 1915 that could have prevented the devastating flood that same year. (St. Louis Public Library)

Perhaps the first sewage the River des Peres received was from St. Louis’ Central West End chamberpots. In response to the volume of waste, the city wrote an ordinance in 1887 “to prevent discharge of sewerage or offensive matter of any kind into the River des Peres.” If the city had funded the ordinance, then a separate sewer system would have been built and the River des Peres’ history might have taken a different course. Instead, the government of St. Louis began a trend that has plagued the river for more than a century: St. Louis would support ideas to protect the River des Peres as a sewer more than as a river.

As St. Louis grew westward, so did the expanses of pavement. With less open ground to soak up the rains, the River swelled with runoff. The River des Peres flooded in 1897, 1905, 1912, and 1913. The flood of 1915 killed 11 people and forced 1025 families from their homes. Flooding – not sewage – prompted St. Louisans to action. Mayor Henry W. Kiel called for a hydrologic study, which was completed by W.W. Horner and presented to the St. Louis Board of Public Service in 1916. St. Louis voters chose to implement Horner’s recommendations, which cost $11 million.

The project was called the River des Peres Sewerage and Drainage Works, and it took nine years to complete (from 1924 to 1933). Workers re-graded and paved the River’s banks and straightened its bends. Elsewhere the River was directed below ground to join with the sewer. The engineering innovations brought national recognition for Horner (who was also the project engineer). Scientific American and Engineering News-Record featured the marvelous new River des Peres. In 1988, the American Society of Civil Engineers recognized the project as a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. (River Des Peres Watershed Coalition)

The bond issue vote was in 1923 — 7 years after the plan was presented.

River Des Peres at S. Broadway, March 2012
River Des Peres at S. Broadway, March 2012
River Des Peres, looking East from Hampton, July 2015
River Des Peres, looking East from Hampton, July 2015
River Des Peres; looking North from Gravois. Tuesday August 18, 2015
River Des Peres; looking North from Gravois. Tuesday August 18, 2015

Problem solved? Wrong.

Explore any city enough, and at some point you’re likely to walk on water, so to speak. San Francisco is full of ghost rivers. So are Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles. In the urban core of Baltimore, up to 98 percent of streams are underground. 

Early city planners may have hoped for healthier cities when they covered up these streams, but it turns out they created new problems. Paving over and piping waterways often worsens flooding. And as new research by scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency indicates, buried streams can also exacerbate pollution. 

In a paper published in PLOS ONE, lead authors and EPA research scientists Jake Beaulieu and Heather Golden found that nitrates—nutrients that can become pollutants—travel on average 18 times further in buried urban streams than they do in open streams, before they are taken out of the water column. (City Lab)

From February 2014:

Starting in a few days, MSD will begin construction of a 3,028 foot-long tunnel under the River Des Peres, just south of Carondelet.

The tunnel will hold a pressurized pipe that will carry sewage to the Lemay Wastewater Treatment Plant.

MSD spokesperson Lance LeComb said the new pipe will increase the plant’s capacity to take in sewage, and also serve as a back-up in case the existing “force main” ? which dates back to the 1960s ? has a problem.

The project is the first of about a dozen tunnels, totaling nearly 33 miles in length, that the MSD will be digging under St. Louis in the next couple decades. Most of the tunnels will hold a mix of stormwater and sewage. “The longest one will be nine miles long, running underneath the River Des Peres, almost 200 feet below ground,” LeComb said. “And 30 feet in diameter.” (St, Louis Public Radio)

Hopefully this will keep our sewage out of the waterways and not create more problems! The River Des Peres starts in St. Louis County, flash flooding remains an issue.

— Steve Patterson

 

Readers: Year Later Conditions ‘Slightly Better’ In Ferguson

August 12, 2015 Ferguson, Politics/Policy, St. Louis County Comments Off on Readers: Year Later Conditions ‘Slightly Better’ In Ferguson

In the Sunday Poll readers indicated conditions were “slightly better” than they were just before Mike Brown was shot a year earlier. Protests, rightly so, continue because conditions are only slightly better, rather than significantly better.   And criminals use the protests as an opportunity to cause chaos.

Aside from the political & institutional, the physical isn’t much better. Most buildings burned are now just vacant sites. Only one was rebuilt.

Public Storage office at 9291 W. Florissant in August 2014
Public Storage office at 9291 W. Florissant in August 2014
Same after the late night decision to not indict Wilson, November 2014
Same after the late night decision to not indict Wilson, November 2014
Not sure when this new office was completed. photo: August 7, 2015
Not sure when this new office was completed. photo: August 7, 2015

The results:

Q: It’s been a year since Mike Brown was shot in Ferguson. How would you rate conditions today compared to just prior to his death?

  1. Slightly better 16 [44.44%]
  2. Unchanged 7 [19.44%]
  3. Significantly worse 4 [11.11%]
  4. Slightly worse 3 [8.33%]
  5. TIE 3 [8.33%]
    1. Worse
    2. Other:
      1. better in what way?
      2. Tougher for the lawmakers; open season for the law breakers.
      3. Same, but with more awareness of how bad conditions are
  6. TIE 0 [0%]
    1. Better
    2. Significantly better
    3. Unsure/No Answer

The current conditions are institutionalized and will take decades to change.

— Steve Patterson

 

Sunday Poll: How would you rate conditions today compared to just prior to Mike Brown’s death?

One year ago today Michael Brown was fatally shot by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson. For today’s poll, a barometer of how things stand today compared to a year ago.

Please vote below, the answers are presented in random order. The “conditions” are left up to you to interpret.

 

The poll is open until 8pm.

— Steve Patterson

 

Readers: Remove/Change The Confederate Memorial

First, let me apologize for the lack of posts Monday & Tuesday, our new fiber optic internet in our building went out last Saturday night. Our building’s IT provider didn’t get it fixed until after 4pm yesterday.

Sunday the poll software didn’t automatically close the poll at 8pm like I had set it to do. As a result, the poll stayed open until I noticed it Monday morning — closing it via my smartphone. That said, the percentages are roughly the same as they were at 8pm the night before:

Q: What should St. Louis do about the confederate memorial & street name in Forest Park?

  1. Change the street name & remove the memorial from Forest Park 20 [28.17%]
  2. TIE: 14 [19.72%]
    1. Do nothing
    2. Change the street name & supplement the memorial with additional information
  3. Change the street name, leave the memorial in Forest Park 11 [15.49%]
  4. Leave the street name, supplement the memorial with additional information 10 [14.08%]
  5. TIE: 1 [1.41%]
    1. Unsure/no answer
    2. Other: Change the street name and move the memorial History Museum grounds 
  6. Leave the street name, remove the memorial from Forest Park 0 [0%]

The “do nothing” vote was less than 20%, conversely those who wanted change of some type was more than 78%. This is a great opportunity for a public process to brainstorm possible solutions that’ll help us reach a consensus. Last week I visited the confederate memorial to check it out, I’ve lived here almost 25 years and didn’t know about it until recently.

I also asked landscape architect Eären Hummel for her thoughts, which were:

  • I think there should be a dialog, rather than a reactionary move. Further, I don’t think the monument should have been placed there to begin with.
  • City parks are meant to be places for all people to have a respite away from their busy lives, I think a park is no place for a confederate memorial, especially without the balance of a union memorial. That may sound “politically correct”. A civil rights garden could be created of the area, if the process is inclusive of all the players that civil rights – or lack there of – has affected. Whatever is done, I think it is important that it is not just a bandage, but true dialog.
  • As far as I can tell, there is no monument to the Union soldiers in St. Louis, nor a Civil Rights monument/memorial other than the “Naked Truth” sculpture at the Compton water tower. And that is really a monument to 3 German men, and not really for the cause of civil rights. Meaning there is not civil rights memorial significant to African-Americans.
  • The lack of other memorials in St. Louis, I think speaks volumes about the attitudes of the people of StL. Reinforcing the notion of white supremacy, everyday racism… It is the ongoing issues that were raised in Ferguson last summer, but have since fallen silent. Personally, I think focusing on removing flags or memorials skirts around the true issues and are only platitudes to quiet the cries of racism.
  • One thing that greatly bothers me about the monument, is the statement on it about the “battle to preserve the independence of the states…” The war was fought over slavery, as very clearly stated in the southern states on declarations. It was treason. The statement on the monument is revisionist history of the “lost cause”. That I find offensive and reprehensible. For that alone, I wish the monument was not there as it perpetuates erroneous “history”.
  • I would leave the language as is, but definitely have a panel next to it explaining that it is wrong, and why many people wanted to rewrite the history of the war.
  • It is a beautifully crafted monument by a notable sculptor.
  • I believe a civil rights garden could be sensitively incorporated into the park. There have been numerous additions to the park over the years.

I agree the memorial represents revisionist history and shouldn’t have been built. Let’s take a look…

The confederate memorial was dedicated in 1914, rededicated in 1964. Click image for more information
The 32 foot high confederate memorial was dedicated in 1914, rededicated in 1964. Click image for more information
The sculpture is by George Julian Zolnay,
The sculpture is by George Julian Zolnay, Click image to read about him on Wikipedia
The words on the south face
The words on the south face
I could't read the revisionist  text on the north face
I could’t read the revisionist text on the north face
Confederate Dr is in poor condition
Confederate Dr is in poor condition, the memorial is on the right

Renaming, or even removing, Confederate Dr is a given — relatively easy. The memorial is a much more complicated issue. The words are offensive, but it is a good reminder of St. Louis’ race problem. I think we should discuss the creation of a civil rights garden that would educate visitors on events from our history, for example:

There are many more that could be included in a civil rights garden, these could all be told.

— Steve Patterson

 

 

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.

Northside:

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.

Southside:

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

 

 

 

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