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Metro Moving Transit Forward Without Streetcars

Through its “Moving Transit Forward” initiative, Metro is holding public workshops across St. Louis City and County to get folks thinking about transit needs and system expansion.  Rather than just let attendees dream up their own rapid transit lines on maps, a breakout exercise does a good job of sharing the stark financial realities of MetroLink expansion. Participants are given just a hypothetical $700 every decade for capital projects, when the average MetroLink corridor project costs roughly $450. As a result, it becomes quickly apparent that another Prop-M only buys roughly one MetroLink corridor a decade, if that. For example, the combined Northside-Southside corridors, just within the City, cost $800. The exercise also suggests that participants consider other, cheaper alternatives, such as Bus Rapid Transit ($35) or Commuter Rail ($300).

What really concerns me with this exercise is two-fold: 1) Northside-Southside is presented as the only big idea for City system expansion, and 2) Modern Streetcars are missing from the suggested tool box of cheaper alternatives. When thinking of streetcars, I’m not talking more vintage trolleys akin to the Delmar Loop project (that’s criticism for a future post). No, I’m talking low-floor, high-capacity vehicles that travel on cheaper-to-build, embedded, street-running tracks. But back to the first point, this former planner of the Northside-Southside concept actually thinks such a “big idea” is terribly flawed, and should even be scrapped.

To understand how Northside-Southside even came to be is to tackle the very complex history of system planning and evolution of MetroLink in St. Louis. Such history would be its own series of posts. But suffice it to say, the St. Louis region is still working off a 1989 system analysis produced by East-West Gateway as the basis for all its corridors. I admire Metro using their new Moving Transit Forward initiative to scrap the prioritization of that document that hasn’t been officially updated since 1991 in a failed attempt to lure St. Charles County. But showing a map of big ideas spawned from those very corridors dreamed up now twenty years ago is perpetuating flawed thinking. I know this in part, because the Northside-Southside Study, I worked on two years ago, also perpetuated inherent flaws.

In my opinion, the key flaw of the Northside-Southside Study was the dual purpose of serving both City riders and County commuters. As a result, speed of lines to the County became essential, but of course, at an expense. Faster trains meant taking lanes and closing intersections on arterials and complex designs inside Interstate rights-of-way, all for a fast-ride to Downtown. And given such premise, modern streetcars were deemed too slow, despite their lower cost. But in the end, many County stakeholders would view the project as a lower expansion priority, especially given a roughly billion-dollar price-tag, which ironically resulted from attempts to attract their ridership.

A political reality of Metro is that the County holds the purse and the populace (albeit in voters, if not riders). One can imagine then that if you can only expand MetroLink by one corridor a decade, the City will be waiting in line for some time. Plus, as Northside-Southside showed, the City doesn’t have as attractive exclusive rights-of-way to build MetroLink-looking lines easily.

Rather than compete in a game stacked heavily against the City, I advocate changing the transit ideas discussed inside the urban core. Modern streetcar corridors, such as Grand Avenue, would offer the City projects paired well fiscally with a County MetroLink extension each decade.

And there is still time for City transit advocates to be heard. One opportunity is attending the workshop scheduled for South St. Louis City 5-7pm this Monday (10/26/09):

  • St. Louis Public Library, Carpenter Branch
    3309 South Grand Boulevard (map)
    St. Louis, MO 63118

– Brian Horton


Successful Northside Job Growth

The first phase of the Northside redevelopment project as proposed by Paul McKee is to focus on the “job centers” and mixed use areas. Numbers are being thrown around as to imply thousands of jobs will be created by this project. I wonder what measure will be used to declare the project a success with respect to jobs by those proposing the plan.

The project will require a lot of construction jobs, which is a fact. These are people that would not have been needed otherwise. The time frame of twenty years implies the jobs will be needed for an extended duration compared to most construction projects. Despite that scope and time frame, do construction jobs truly help grow the area? Even with such a long time frame the jobs are only temporary. It is unreasonable to assume that someone could graduate, make a career of the project, and retire when it is done. Based on retirement accounts requirements they would still have another twenty years of work.  Shouldn’t the expectation for jobs created be that the jobs are permanent? Yes,t his economy has shown that no job is truly permanent, But no matter the time frame  construction jobs are by nature temporary. The 40/64 concrete river project demonstrates that. When 40 is complete construction will continue in the region, but will all those workers stay in St Louis? I doubt it. Some of them will return when the new Mississippi bridge starts up in full. There will probably be projects after that, but I don’t want the fate of the region’s job growth to depend on never ending highway work.  Local restaurants can’t move around the region at will to follow the construction.  They need permanent customers to keep open.

Looking at the McKee track record for development makes me wary, too. He touts his Winghaven and NorthPark projects as examples of what he and his associates can accomplish. The two projects boast two of the regions larger employers in Express Scripts and MasterCard. Unfortunately both these employers were already in the region before they moved into their new offices.  More specifically, they were in the same city. Sorry, Maryland Heights, I hope you didn’t need those taxes. True, Express Scripts was threatening to leave the area and NorthPark help keep them here, along with some tax incentives. Also, MasterCard had outgrown its offices in Maryland Heights and needed new digs. But in the end, McKee merely helped keep jobs from leaving. Preventing negative growth is not the same thing as creating new growth. Who does McKee plan on luring into the north city for this new project? I doubt Edward Jones is going to give up all their brand new buildings along 270.  Do you think InBev is tired of the historic brewery yet?

Additionally, there is the dilemma of existing projects already in work to compete with. Winghaven still has space available for development. NorthPark is basically a field with nice streets. Express Scripts isn’t even in the development, instead choosing to be south of I-70 next to UMSL. The old Ford Plant has been wiped out of existence and Hazelwood is dieing to get some tax base back on that land. The current economy has opened up business space in areas like Earth City and Westport. The occupancy rate downtown offices are not that great. And these are just some examples of places in the region vying for new jobs. What if the Northside development center gets all the new jobs in the coming years and every where else in the metro area remains stagnant?

Finally, the current economic conditions do not bode well for new jobs. Every region of the country is going to fight to keep what they have. Other cities are constantly offering huge incentives to attract growth. Just look at what it took to keep Express Scripts. What exactly does Paul McKee have to offer to convince a company to move to St Louis when it is hard to keep the ones already here? St Louis will be wrangling with every other city in the country for each new job. Not to imply it is a contest St Louis cannot win, but it won’t be as easy as some people are implying. The Lou is not the only place that will be offering new buildings and tax incentives in the coming years. That still leaves the possibility of start-ups as the source of new jobs. Might the next Google or Facebook start up in north St Louis? A future global company setting up roots in the new development could be the pinnacle of the project. Unfortunately, as many failed businessmen will tell you, there are more failures than success with new companies.

How will you measure the success of the project with respect to jobs:

  • For just having jobs associated with it?
  • Having low end retail jobs new to the city?
  • Pulling jobs into the city from around the metro area?
  • Preventing jobs from leaving the metro area?
  • Getting new jobs at the cost of other developments in the metro area?
  • Being the founding location of a future Fortune 500 company?

Permanent new to the region jobs, while not sucking up all growth in the metro area, will be my measure of success.

– Kevin McGuire


St. Louis is Low-Profile

October 13, 2009 Downtown, Economy, STL Region 7 Comments

We may get a boost in future convention business because we not a high-profile city like Las Vegas:

What happens in Vegas may be moving to Detroit, Denver or Dallas.

The public backlash against lavish corporate meetings and conventions in cities such as Las Vegas, Palm Springs and Hawaii is becoming a boon for cities such as Detroit and other places viewed as destinations less likely to raise eyebrows.

What some convention bookers call the “AIG effect” — after the insurance giant whose officials traveled to a luxury California resort last year a week after the federal government agreed to an $85 billion bailout — is causing business travelers and organizations across the country to rethink their destinations. (Source, Conventions seek lower-profile cities via USA Today)

Finally it may pay off to not be an “it” destination.

Americas Center
America's Center

We have fun things to do in St. Louis that, as long as you avoid the immediate East Side, won’t raise any eyebrows.  Meanwhile, growth cities such as Vegas have serious problems.  I know plenty in St. Louis who are out of work but St. Louis, it seems, will do better than others.

– Steve Patterson


St. Louis Rams Playing to the Right? (Updated)

You’ve probably all heard the latest Rams news.  From the LA Times on 10/6/09:

It appears conservative talk-radio host Rush Limbaugh wants to be an NFL team owner.

In a statement released today, Limbaugh said he’s partnering with St. Louis Blues owner Dave Checketts in a bid to buy the St. Louis Rams. Limbaugh didn’t go into details, but said he and Checketts “have made a bid to buy the Rams and are continuing the process.”

Such a move would most certainly keep the Rams in St. Louis, good news to many.

Would the controversial Limbaugh make fans question their loyalty to the team?  Would the conservative radio host ask for taxpayer help to build a new stadium when the Rams have an out on their current lease at the Edward Jones Dome?    Or would he argue for a free market solution – he and the other owners building their own facility? Would they be happy keeping the team in a politically blue city?

Los Angeles is still without a team, and a loophole in the Rams’ lease allows them to move as early as 2014 if the Edward Jones Dome is not deemed among the top quarter of all NFL stadiums. Though just 14 years old, the dome is fast becoming one of the league’s older venues, and getting it into the top quarter seems unlikely. (Source: AP)

The poll this week, in the right sidebar, asks for your reaction to the possibility of Limbaugh as a Rams owner. Read the answers carefully before answering:

  • I don’t like Limbaugh but I would continue supporting the Rams.
  • I don’t like Limbaugh, used to support the Rams, but will stop if he becomes an owner.
  • I don’t like Limbaugh and this would make it easier to stay away from the Rams.
  • I don’t care who owns the team as long as it remains in St. Louis.
  • I don’t have an opinion on Limbaugh buying the Rams.
  • I like Limbaugh but not the Rams/football.
  • I like Limbaugh so I might start supporting the Rams.
  • I like Limbaugh and the Rams, great match.

I tried to cover all the options with the answers listed above.

The comments to the LA Times story covered all views from left to right:

I hope Rush does but the Ram’s, that will give me another reason to hate them both.

This is interesting, because he will have a team that runs all the time – no passing. He will want to see how many yards his team can Rush each game.

I’ll become a Ram fan…God Bless Rush…The Ram will be a winning team for ever…can’t wait.

We don’t know if the Limbaugh/Checketts bid is for 60% or 100% of the team.  It is important to note they have only recently made their bid known — the sale is not a done deal.  One thing is certain, it will be interesting to watch issues around the Rams ownership and facility.

Update 10/15/09 – Yesterday Rush Limbaugh was dropped from the group seeking to buy the Rams.  News at ESPN.

– Steve Patterson


Riverport Area Should Be Walkable (Updated)

For the first time in my 19 years in St. Louis, I went to the suburban Riverport area last weekend (map) .  I went to the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater (formerly known as the Riverport Amphitheater) for Farm Aid.

But this post is about the amphitheater (bottom above) as it is about the entire area along the loop road known as Riverport Drive.  This compact area contains offices, hotels and restaurants – all within easy walking distance of each other.  Sure, nobody is going to walk to Riverport but people should be able to walk within Riverport.

The #34 bus stops at Riverport Drive.  Then what?  Walk in the street to get to your destination?  Are sidewalks and a pedestrian network just too much to ask?

The area includes several hotels.  I know I’ve had long days before driving in a car for hours and after checking into a hotel the last thing I want to do is have to get back in the car to drive to dinner.  Walking should be an option in addition to driving.  As designed, the only option is driving.

I’m not asking for a recreation of a downtown, just tie it all together with sidewalks.

Update 10/9/09 @ 10am:

I looked up the directions to get to Riverport from my place downtown.  It is very easy but it is that last bit that makes it unpleasant.

I love the caution about missing sidewalks.

– Steve Patterson




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