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ULI’s ‘Bold Idea’ At The Grand MetroLink Station

A week ago today the Urban Land Institute (ULI) presentation by their Technical Assistance Panel (TAP) regarding transit-oriented development (TOD) at the Grand MetroLink light rail station. The real estate experts from the ULI were asked by Citizens for Modern Transit (CMT) to consider short and long-term solutions.

ABOVE: Gwen Knight led the CMT/ULI Grand MetroLink presentation on November 13, 2012. Click image for info on the presentation, including a link to the slides.

The long-term section included three bold ideas that would evoke an “audible gasp”. First, look again at the Chouteau Greenway concept linking downtown to Forest Park. Second was a high speed rail station at Grand since plenty of room exists.

ABOVE: Concept from ULI presentation shows development along the bridge/viaduct as well as the Chouteau Greenway

The final bold idea generated was to move from focusing on the station which sits below grade to building above the station – a platform development at street level. Some of the merits of this type of develoopment included:

  • Place parking on first 2-3 stories, easily fitting below bridge
  • Place commercial, retail and/or residential on top of parking, level with the bridge platform
  • Embraces light rail and bus connectivity
  • Builds connection between SLU campuses
  • Enhances travel along Grand and encourages pedestrian use

Sounds familiar, oh yeah I proposed this in January 2006 when it was announced the old viaduct would be replaced: Grand Bridge Should Follow Columbus Ohio Example.

Here are a few points from nearly 7 years ago:

  • In addition to building structured parking the area could have office and condo uses to compliment the street-level retail. The office space could include high-tech bio-med facilities as part of the CORTEX plan.
  • This bridge turned retail street could serve as a needed campus hangout area for both SLU campuses. It could include a coffee house (or two) as well as a copy center like a Kinko’s.
  • With plenty of structured parking, on-street parking, bus routes and MetroLink this could be a happening spot! With land on each side of the tracks and highway we’d be building not bridges but buildings that happen to have a floor that aligns with the bridge sidewalks.
  • Before all the naysayers try to explain why we cannot be urban let me try to address a few points. The area has already been blighted and is going to be redeveloped. Building new buildings up to the existing bridge is feasible, perhaps more so than the plan to add width and medians to the current structure. Also, we can be urban and what better place to create an urban street than at a location with a MetroLink light rail stop and between two major university campuses.
ABOVE: Underused land is adjacent to the viaduct, the tracks are contained to a small area.
ABOVE: The ULI panel specifically mentioned relocating this gas company to another location so this land could be developed.
ABOVE: Looking south from a lookout point
ABOVE: At the south end the grade difference disappears.
ABOVE: One possible problem is the curb on both sides would prevent accessible entrances unless it could be cut away as needed.

If only the viaduct/bridge had been designed to facilitate development at the edges, simply by removing sections of railing. Still, as ULI’s experts how shown, it is still a viable bold idea worth considering.

— Steve Patterson


Potential Of UMSL North MetroLink Station

Yesterday I took a detailed look at Developing The North Hanley MetroLink Station, today I’ll briefly look at the next station on the line: UMSL North.

ABOVE: After leaving the train two head though the opening in the fence
ABOVE: This route is a well-worn path in the field on the opposite side of the track from the University of Missouri North Campus.

Like other stations, this has been in use for over 19 years now. The campus side of the station wasn’t designed for pedestrians and the other side has been ignored.

ABOVE: The “desire lines” are very evident despite the fact nothing new has been built oriented to transit. Click image to view in Google Maps

I’m not optimistic about how this area will get developed, when it does eventually. I’m afraid it’ll end up like other stations — very auto-centric rather than being pedestrian-centric. The potential is enormous.

— Steve Patterson


Transit-Ignored Development (TID) At Sunnen MetroLink Station

Since it opened in August 2006 I’ve only been to the Sunnen MetroLink Station a few times. If you haven’t been you are not going to recognize it.

ABOVE: The view to the west of the Sunnen MetroLink station in Maplewood is radically different now, the equipment used to clear the area was parked close on my visit last month.

Before I get into what’s happening let’s take a quick look at what it looked like before the bulldozers started working.

Nearly everything between Hanley Rd and the MetroLink line has been razed.
ABOVE: Older well-maintained apartments next to the station were great for those who liked to live near transit. June 2011
ABOVE: Another apartment complex, this one between Laclede Station Rd and MetroLink, was also razed. June 2011

You are thinking such older structures have to go in order to build a more dense transit-oriented development. True, but that is not what is being built.

ABOVE: You can now see the Sunnen station from Hanley Rd.
ABOVE: Turning to the right we see the first new building going up in the redevelopment area. What could it be?
ABOVE: A new Mini auto dealership next to a light rail station! Seriously!?!

We should not built expensive rail transit infrastructure, light rail or streetcars, through municipalities until they adopt zoning requiring new development nearby to be dense and walkable.

Can we publicly flog the Maplewood mayor and city council for this?

— Steve Patterson


Six Months Without A Car

It’s now been six months since I sold my car. Once before I didn’t have a car (2007) but I had a 49cc Honda scooter, so I got around pretty well on my own schedule. Now I have a power wheelchair and a bus pass, not as convenient.

ABOVE: The 30-day pass is different than the monthly pass in that it can span into two months, just depends on start date.

Don’t get me wrong, I love public transit (bus & rail) but I also love cars. I have numerous books on European cars, auto magazines from the early 1970s, etc. I read articles on the Motor Trend iPhone app daily. I’m a car guy without a car!

What I’ve noticed over these last six months is I think differently about time than I ever have since I got my driver’s license nearly 30 years ago (gulp). Just a couple of years ago I would compare how long a trip would take me on the bus to how long it would take me to drive. It doesn’t take long to get most places driving in the St. Louis region and the car was always faster, much faster just a few more miles away. A week ago I visited friends living near Loughborhough and Hampton and it took an hour to get there from downtown. Yes, an hour!

But that’s my new normal, surprisingly so it didn’t seem long. A trip to the Target at Hampton & Chippewa takes 40-45 minutes just on the bus, plus additional time getting to the stop and back home. Same for my doctor’s office, also on Hampton.

I’ve learned to make productive use of my time, often taking pics out the bus window, returning emails, making notes, keeping up on Facebook, etc.  I feel I’m just as productive as with a car, I just schedule things differently. Granted, I’m single and on disability so I’m not dropping kids off at school before going to work. I’m not trying to convince you to give up your vehicle, just note that.

In July I went on an 8-day vacation that included Dallas, Ft. Worth, and Oklahoma City. Amtrak got me to  my destinations and Greyhound got me home, I was able to see so much more on the trip because I wasn’t driving.

I’ve gotten a couple of rides with friends these last six months but I’ve not had to get a taxi to get somewhere, as I thought I’d have to.

Once you don’t have a car for a while your view of time and mobility changes.

— Steve Patterson


How Not To Do Retail Storefront Space

By the late 1980s many architects & planners began to realize a desire to include exterior retail spaces to enliven new buildings that would otherwise be lifeless at the sidewalk.  They were right, but their early execution left a lot to be desired. Case in point: AT&T’s data center from 1990.

ABOVE: 801 Chestnut

The building occupies the entire city block bounded by Chestnut on the south, 9th on the west, Pine on the north and 8th on the east (map). The building, built for Southwestern Bell, was designed to accommodate the planned westbound 8th & Pine MetroLink station that opened a few years later in 1993. Good coordination among different parties at least!

Let’s take a walk around so you can see all four sides.

ABOVE: The NW corner at 9th & Pine
ABOVE: The SW corner at 9th & Chestnut
ABOVE: The SE corner at 8th & Chestnut
ABOVE: The NE corner at 8th & Pine, the MetroLink sign is visible

Did you see the three small retail spaces accessible by the general public? You didn’t? Only one is occupied, to my knowledge the other two have never had a tenant. The problem is they don’t face the sidewalks, they are hidden back in the dark recesses.

The occupied retail space is in the corner of the building pictured above, it just isn’t visible from motorists or pedestrians.

ABOVE: The space at the NE corner of the building, near the westbound 8th & Pine MetroLink station, is the only one that’s occupied. The entrance faces west, not the top of the escalators to the south. Even during the day it is dark in the area.
ABOVE: A customers enters the small convenience store while another exits MetroLink

The size of the space is appropriate, we do need more spaces like this adjacent to our light rail stations — but with the windows and door facing the transit users coming & going as well as visibility from adjacent sidewalks.  This is not too bad, if you exit the station here you will see the side window and investigate if you are thirsty.

ABOVE: The vacant space at the NW corner, again not facing 9th or Pine
ABOVE: The third space in the SW corner near the main street entrance on Chestnut. But data center employes use the walkway over the 9th street to come and go.

I can just hear people downtown saying retail doesn’t work, using these as their examples. That these are still vacant more than two decades later would  have been easy to predict.

— Steve Patterson