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Broadway and 4th Street Need To Become Two-Way Again

August 24, 2020 Downtown, Featured, Planning & Design, Transportation Comments Off on Broadway and 4th Street Need To Become Two-Way Again

Last week, in response to a death as a result of late night racing downtown, St. Louis put up temporary barriers in various places, including blocking all traffic across the Eads Bridge.

In addition to the bridge, the city also closed a section of Washington Avenue from Tucker Boulevard to 14th Street with barricades this week. Barriers also narrow traffic in stretches of 4th Street, Broadway and Market Street.
 
“These are temporary changes,” Krewson said Friday. “This isn’t something that we expect to be there forever.”

Krewson said downtown streets are built to hold a much larger volume of traffic than the city sees in an average day, and with fewer people working downtown because of COVID-19, the streets are even less crowded. (Post-Dispatch)

The last paragraph, quoted above, is an admission our streets are too wide. Previously when anyone argued the 4th Street/Broadway couplet (one-way in opposite directions) should be returned to two-way traffic the claim was always they needed to remain one-way due to traffic volume.

Southbound cars on Broadway at the Cole Street light. Three very wide lanes.
When the light turns green Broadway widens to five total lanes. The two outside lanes are no-parking, except for rare times when tickets are being sold at the Dome.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic the volume on 4th/Broadway couldn’t justify the one-way couplet. It’s past time for the decades-long experiment on our streets to end. The sole purpose of originally converting these streets to one-way decades ago was to quickly move cars into downtown offices in the morning, and then vacate them in the afternoon — just before the sidewalks were rolled up each night. Part of the engineer’s disastrous effort also included banning on-street parking — that slows down the flow of vehicles. This is exactly the opposite of how you build a user-friendly downtown.

Now, approaching Convention Plaza (Delmar), the vehicles that raced from the light form a single-file line.

Looking back North from Convention Plaza (Delmar)

Walk Broadway from Cole Street to I-64 and see how it feels being next to one-way traffic for over a mile. You’ll see in places the street has 5 very wide lanes that encourage high speeds. Even with the barricades at points, drivers coming off I-44 onto southbound Broadway at Cole street they reach high speeds to get into single file formation at Convention Plaza (aka Delmar).

The prior week a vehicle knocked over a bollard on the Southwest corner of Broadway & Washington Ave.
And then crashed through this temporary wall.

Changing 4th/Broadway back to two-way traffic is only part of the needed solution. Traffic signals must be timed so that a person taking off from a red light doesn’t encounter another red light just a block or two down the street. Our signal timing often encourages people to speed to make it through the next two or three lights. Lane width also matters — the wider the lanes the faster the traffic.

This isn’t the St. Louis of 1950, we need to reverse decisions made by people born in the late 19th century.

— Steve Patterson

 

Speed Limit on Tucker Blvd is 35mph, but 7/10th of a Mile is 30mph

March 16, 2020 Featured, Planning & Design, Transportation Comments Off on Speed Limit on Tucker Blvd is 35mph, but 7/10th of a Mile is 30mph

I’ve written before about using the adaptive cruise control on our 2015 Hyundai (see Inching Toward Autonomous Vehicles, Learning to Use & Trust New Technology). I use the system if I’m going over 20mph.  I like to set the cruise speed based on the posted speed limit.

Thankfully both the Hyundai map screen and, if using instead, the Apple CarPlay map screen, display the speed for the road I’m on.  The accuracy is amazing, even when the speed limit changes. For example, driving to Springfield IL the highway limit can be 55, 60, 65, or 70 depending upon location. The screens change just as the limit changes.

This has helped me notice the different speed limits on Tucker Boulevard. The entire length it’s 35mph — except a few blocks are 30mph. Driving to Target from the Columbus Square neighborhood I head south on Tucker from O’Fallon Street and set the cruise to 35mph. After crossing Chouteau Ave. the limit drops from 35 to 30.  After Lafayette Ave, 7/10ths of mile later, the speed goes back to 35mph.

Heading northbound on Tucker at Lafayette is a sign indicating the speed just dropped from 35mph to 30mph. After Chouteau it returns to 35mph
Gravois, which becomes Tucker has a 35mph speed limit.

I get why it’s 30mph in this area — it’s residential. Plus a recreational center is located at Tucker & Park. Other drivers, it seems, don’t realize the speed has dropped. They tailgate me, or change lanes to pass me like I’m going 5mph.

My observation is most drivers don’t adjust their speed in this section of Tucker that’s just over a half mile long.  If I had one of those speed guns I’d collect real data. My guess is most drivers exceed 40mph.  The design of the roadway (lane width, etc) is no different on Tucker or even on Gravois.

I like the idea of 30mph in this section, I’d just like to see it to designed to encourage slower speed. Perhaps just something to let drivers know this 7/10th of a mile is different.  If I felt like doing math I’d figure out how many more seconds this 7/10th of a mile would take at 30mph, 35mph, and 40mph.

The intention is good, but I think the execution needs improvement.

— Steve Patterson

 

Opinion: Hyperloop Project Impossible Without Eminent Domain

February 12, 2020 Featured, Politics/Policy, Transportation Comments Off on Opinion: Hyperloop Project Impossible Without Eminent Domain

Legislators in Jefferson City have given initial approval to the idea of a Hyperloop connecting St. Louis to Kansas City. However, an amendment bans the use of eminent domain. (Source).

An experimental Hyperloop pod on display in downtown St. Louis in October 2019.

Before going any further, here are some definitions:

  • Hyperloop:  A proposed mode of passenger and freight transportation, first used to describe an open-source vactrain design released by a joint team from Tesla and SpaceX. 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, thereby drastically reducing travel times over medium-range distances. (Wikipedia)
  • Eminent Domain: Eminent domain refers to the power of the government to take private property and convert it into public use. The Fifth Amendment provides that the government may only exercise this power if they provide just compensation to the property owners.  (Wex Law Dictionary)

Although the proposed project would largely follow the existing I-70 right-of-way, there might be bits of land needed here and there over such a long distance. An outright ban on the use of eminent domain will kill the project.

Still trying to decide if that’s a good or bad thing — I’m still not sold on the idea being feasible. If it does get built I’m pretty sure I won’t live to see the ribbon cutting.

Another view of the experimental Hyperloop pod on display in downtown St. Louis in October 2019.

Here are the non-scientific results of the recent Sunday Poll: 

Q: Agree or disagree: A Hyperloop system can be built connecting St. Louis with Kansas City without using eminent domain.

  • Strongly agree: 0 [0%]
  • Agree: 1 [5.26%]
  • Somewhat agree: 0 [0%]
  • Neither agree or disagree: 0 [0%]
  • Somewhat disagree: 3 [15.79%]
  • Disagree: 7 [36.84%]
  • Strongly disagree: 8 [42.11%]
  • Unsure/No Answer: 0 [0%]

Rather than have a ban they should have limited criteria for the use of eminent domain. Experts could help draft criteria so property owners adjacent to I-70 ROW could be reassured that huge swaths of their land won’t be taken away.

Otherwise the project is impossible, we shouldn’t even fund a test section.

— Steve Patterson

 

Sunday Poll: Can A STL-KC Hyperloop Get Built Without The Use Of Eminent Domain?

February 9, 2020 Featured, Missouri, Politics/Policy, Sunday Poll, Transportation Comments Off on Sunday Poll: Can A STL-KC Hyperloop Get Built Without The Use Of Eminent Domain?
Please vote below

The idea of a high speed tube transportation system connecting St. Louis to Kansas City (Missouri, not Kansas) was back in the news recently after getting initial approval the Missouri House:

Although the long-term goal is to connect St. Louis and Kansas City with a pneumatic tube people mover that could transport passengers across the state in 30 minutes, a recent study commissioned by House Speaker Elijah Haahr recommends the state should first build a 15-mile track to test the feasibility of the concept.

The report put the price tag on the test track at $300 million to $500 million. The cost to build a track linking St. Louis, Columbia and Kansas City is estimated at $10.4 billion.

Before lawmakers gave their approval, however, Fitzwater proposed an amendment that would ban eminent domain for tube transport systems. (Post-Dispatch)

For those unfamiliar with the term eminent domain

Eminent domain refers to the power of the government to take private property and convert it into public use. The Fifth Amendment provides that the government may only exercise this power if they provide just compensation to the property owners. (Wex legal dictionary)

My one and only Hyperloop poll was in October 2018, and readers were split on Missouri being able to afford such a massive project.

Today’s poll is about the amendment banning the use of eminent domain added to the Hyperloop bill.

As always, today’s poll will close at 8pm. On Wednesday I’ll share my thoughts on Hyperloop and eminent domain.

— Steve Patterson

 

Volunteer Labor Should Be Considered To Restart Loop Trolley

February 3, 2020 Featured, Transportation Comments Off on Volunteer Labor Should Be Considered To Restart Loop Trolley

Last week Mayor Krewson asked Metro to reconsider the idea of restarting the Loop Trolley by pooling unspent federal money. Metro’s board recently rejected the idea.

Loop Trolley 001, November 2018

If a way isn’t found to restart the short-lived trolley, St. Louis City & County might be on the hook for millions in federal funds used for the project.

That was a reference to a Federal Transit Administration official’s statement Friday that if the trolley wasn’t revived, his agency could file a lawsuit to recover $25 million in federal grant money that had been used to help build the trolley line and related projects.

The official, regional administrator Mokhtee Ahmad, said there would be no effort to recover $11 million in other trolley-related federal spending because those were “street projects that would be done anyway.” (Post-Dispatch)

While I’m not a fan of historic trolley lines, I hate to see this huge effort & financial investment go unused. I especially hate the idea of the City & County having to come up with another $25 million to repay the feds.

The green car over the service pit is a Melbourne car from Seattle, March 2017

Everyone, including myself, thought transit agency Metro was the only option to revive the trolley. The problem is the fares & sales tax collected collected in the transportation district aren’t enough to cover operating expenses. Either the revenue needs to go up, or expenses go down — or some combination.

My thought turned to historic trolley lines I’ve experienced, wondering how they’re financed & operated. How do they make it work? The cities I’ve experience vintage/heritage streetcars are: New OrleansLittle RockMemphisSan Francisco, and Dallas.

All of the above, except Dallas, are operated by the local transit agency. All have operated for years, some decades. All have been expanded from their original length.

At least San Francisco and Dallas use a nonprofit and volunteer labor. While I haven’t examined the operating budget, I have no doubt that labor is a large portion — so reducing labor to one or two nonprofit staff might help the trolley line break even.

Dallas’ McKinney Ave Trolley (aka M-Line) in July 2012

Dallas’ McKinney Avenue Transit Authority model is worth considering:

Founded in 1983 with the intent of returning heritage streetcars to the streets of Dallas, the McKinney Avenue Transit Authority successfully accomplished that goal in July of 1989. The M-Line’s air-conditioned and heated, restored vintage trolleys operate 365 days a year, providing safe, clean, and convenient public transportation, free of charge (except charters) in Dallas’ vibrant Uptown Neighborhood.

Since it’s beginnings, MATA’s fleet has grown from its original two cars to today’s beautifully restored seven car fleet, operating year-round for over half a million rides a year. The once 2.8-mile track now covers almost 5 miles from Cityplace’s Uptown Station to the Downtown Arts District and back.

For 30 years, MATA has seen the city grow around it, and is an institution serving Dallasites and visitors with this unique, fun, reliable transportation. (MATA)

It wasn’t always free, but they recognized asking for donations works better for them. Groups can also charter a trolley.

Dallas’ McKinney Ave Trolley in May 2015.

I fully recognize this idea might not work here, there might be unique circumstances to prevent it. We already have a taxing district working for some funding and a nonprofit that operated the trolley. From their volunteer page:

McKinney Avenue Transit Authority is looking for a few good men and women!

Ever dream of being a Motorman. . . of a restored, vintage streetcar? Like working with your hands restoring vintage trolleys? Enjoy woodworking, mechanics, problem-solving? You are in luck! McKinney Avenue Trolley needs your help.

We are seeking volunteers to be trained as Motormen or Conductors to operate and greet passengers on our 7-car fleet of trolleys. We also need skilled volunteers to help us restore trolleys – inside and out.

Like working on special events to help us raise funds or marketing campaigns or App design to help enhance the trolley experience? We can use your talents!

Interested? Complete the form below and we’ll set up an interview.

This could the best volunteer position you ever had!

Every region has residents who have an interest in operating old trolleys, or an interest in the maintenance side. I could also see a connection with our local trade schools.

As part of due diligence I think it’s worth considering a volunteer labor model.

—Steve Patterson

 

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