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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


The Union Station MetroLink Stop Should Be Moved Under The Train Shed

St. Louis’ Union Station reopened as a “festival marketplace” in 1985 and eight years later our light rail system, MetroLink, opened. For the last 18 years the Union Station stop is basically on the other side of 18th Street. Stairs and and elevator do come up on the east edge of the old train shed, but you’d hardly describe the station as well-integrated.

ABOVE: This is the view when you come up to grade from the MetroLink platform. An open-air parking garage!
ABOVE: MetroLink trains travel through the old baggage tunnel under the historic Union Station train shed.
ABOVE: The MetroLink platform is located on the east side of 18th Street, totally exposed to the elements.

My thought is build a new platform in the tunnel with steps and elevator coming up in the middle of the train shed. Currently some riders catch buses on 18th but once the Civic Center MetroBus Transit Center is rebuilt and expanded I expect we’ll see those lines move to 14th.  Yes, the interior of the tunnel will need to be finished so it is not so creepy looking.

ABOVE: A walkway exists at the center point of the shed, coming up to grade at this point would put you very close to Hard Rock Cafe and equal distance between 18th and 20th Streets.
ABOVE: Looking east toward the current MetroLink exit
ABOVE: Looking south you’d be in line to walk to the office buildings along the south edge of the property next to I-64.
ABOVE: A decent connection that probably doesn’t get much use.

A new platform and direct access under the shed with improved pedestrian connections to main building, office buildings, 18th and 20th along with a revised parking lot could dramatically change impressions of Union Station.  A few more free-standing structures like the Hard Rock Cafe could add to the activities.  It’s been 27 years since Union Station reopened — it’s time for a major rethink of transit, train shed, and pedestrian circulation.

Please don’t suggest that Amtrak service be resumed at Union Station, I’m tired of hearing that every time I mention Union Station, train service at  the new facility works fine.

— Steve Patterson


Metro’s Disconnect With Riders, Pedestrians

On Monday August 20, 2012 the Grand MetroBus stop and Grand MetroLink stations reopened. On the overhead speakers in all stations Metro, speaking in transit jargon, announced the Grand station was open for “revenue service.” Really Metro, revenue service?

From dictionary.com:

jar·gon [jahr-guhn, -gon] noun

1. the language, especially the vocabulary, peculiar to a particular trade, profession, or group: medical jargon.

2. unintelligible or meaningless talk or writing; gibberish.

3. any talk or writing that one does not understand.

4. pidgin.

5. language that is characterized by uncommon or pretentious vocabulary and convoluted syntax and is often vague in meaning.

What’s the big deal, so they used transit agency speak? The use of technical jargon by any business shows it doesn’t know how to communicate with its customers. If they announcement had been that Grand was “open for service” nobody would’ve  thought they didn’t have to pay since they didn’t say “revenue” before service. Metro has problems relating to those of us that use transit, largely because Metro employes drive instead of use transit.

From the joint City/Metro press release:

On Saturday the ribbon cutting was held for the Grand viaduct (bridge). 

WHERE: South end (Chouteau side) of Grand Bridge.

(VIP and media parking will be available off Papin Street.)

The public is encouraged to take the #70 Grand MetroBus or MetroLink to the Grand Station. Parking at the new Grand MetroLink Station Park-Ride lot is also an option. The lot is located at Scott Avenue and Theresa Avenue at the northeast end of the bridge.

At least they mentioned transit after parking. I took transit to the event, but not the #70 MetroBus or MetroLink. I caught the #32 just two blocks east of my loft downtown and it dropped my off right at Grand & Chouteau, much closer than the MetroLink or rerouted #70.

ABOVE: The westbound #32 MetroBus on Chouteau just barely west of Grand. The Pevely bldg is to the left, for now.

But the real problem is how Metro didn’t connect their new work to the city. I’ve already shared this concern with folks from Metro, some who were in agreement with me and others with the attitude that created the disconnect. Let me show you what I’m talking about.

ABOVE: Metro built a small parking lot for the Grand station which included a new sidewalk for the south side of Scott Ave. The other side of Scott Ave doesn’t have a sidewalk at all.
ABOVE: But Metro assumed the only folks that would walk on this sidewalk are going to their car in their parking lot. They changed the grade and didn’t bother to connect the sidewalk so that people, like myself, can cross Scott or Theresa Avenues. One Metro employee said it’s just an employee entrance at the business across the street. WTF!?! If they use transit they’ll be a pedestrian!
ABOVE: The little bit of sidewalk along Theresa next to Metro’s new parking lot is useless anyway. Why wasn’t it removed?

What is there to connect to east of here? Lots actually, including a Metro facility. I doubt those who designed the station, parking lot and sidewalk ever bothered to walk around the area before starting the design. Designers must literally put themselves in the shoes of those that’ll use what they design.

ABOVE: Businesses exist directly east of the station, Metro could’ve helped provide a place for pedestrians rather than force them into the street or walk on grass.
ABOVE: Some buildings are vacant but being so close to a major transit hub should be helpful in getting them occupied.
ABOVE: And 4/10th of a mile east is a Metro facility.

I continued on Spruce to Compton. This would be a good route for people going to the Chaifetz Arena, Harris-Stowe and Sigma-Aldrich.

I took lots of pictures and some video at the Grand viaduct/bridge ribbon cutting but I’m not going to show you those. The speakers  all talked about how great it’ll be for pedestrians. True, it’s a massive improvement as I acknowledged here. I’m just furious the most basic/obvious pedestrian connection wasn’t planned for yet again.

To Metro engineers/planners/designers: Transit users are pedestrians when arriving & leaving transit stations. We come from and go in all directions. Able bodied pedestrians take the shortest route — a straight line. This isn’t complicated stuff.

— Steve Patterson


Convention Center MetroLink Station Maintenance Neglected

Many visitors coming to St. Louis for a convention use our MetroLink light rail to get downtown from the airport. The eastbound station they’ll use to reach their hotel and America’s Center looks decent, but when they leave to return to the airport they’ll see neglected maintenance.

ABOVE: Paint and plaster missing from column at the Westbound Convention Center MetroLink Station

Overall the station looks okay but one column is highly visible and clearly in need of attention. This column has been in this sad condition for at least a few years now.  I know many other stations also need attention, largely from exposure to the elements. Would it really cost that much to patch the plaster and repaint? Maybe a flash mob could so up one day and take care of the plaster when the guard is on the platform?

Big deal you say, we’ve got bigger problems. True, we do. Perception as a failed city is one. With a little effort paid to details around our city we, and our visitors, can begin to feel better about our future.

— Steve Patterson