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Redeveloping Natural Bridge & The UMSL South MetroLink Station

Considerable attention is being given to redeveloping Natural Bridge and the UMSL South MetroLink Station.

On Friday, [UMSL Chancellor] George announced that Normandy collaborators hit their $14 million goal last week to transform a portion of Natural Bridge Road between Lucas and Hunt Road and the inner belt of I-170 into a more pedestrian-friendly street.

The plan is part of the St. Louis Great Streets Initiative, a program through the East-West Gateway Council of Governments, designed to encourage community leaders to use their streets to enhance economic development and social activities in their communities. (St. Louis American)

The initial phase would be between Florissant and Hanley.  In the middle is the UMSL campus and the UMSL South MetroLink station just to the south of Natural Bridge.

CMT in partnership with Metro charged a group of local experts from the ULI St. Louis Chapter called a Technical Assistance Panel (TAP) to look at the possibilities for development at the UMSL South Station. This is the second TAP that CMT and Metro have commissioned – the first at the Belleville MetroLink Station. Thanks to the AGC St. Louis for underwriting this event.

One idea presented was the possibility of rebranding the area around the station as a retail/commercial/event space as Plank Street Station. There would be a new access road that would run from Natural Bridge to the Station. The City of Normandy is willing to move their City Hall location to another area within this possible development or a different area all together. The panel suggested that Metro’s role could include building a pedestrian bridge as well as additional parking structure on the west side of the station to feed both the system and the development. (CMT-STL)

With all this interest I needed to see the area again to be able evaluate the proposals. The easiest way would’ve been to drive down Natural Bridge, but I no longer have a car. Besides, evaluating an area for a walkable district by driving is like evaluating a restaurant’s food based on internet pictures.

So on May 10th I caught the #4 (Natural Bridge) MetroBus on 18th at Clark and got off at Lucas and Hunt (aerial). I then “walked” in my power chair west along the north side of Natural Bridge to Hanley, crossed to the south side and returned. It was a 3.4 mile “walk” per Google Maps. I added a bit more distance by dropping down to the south UMSL MetroLink Station along the way.

During my four hour trip  (end to end, with lunch) I took 382 photos, I’ll share just some here.

ABOVE: Intersection of Natural Bridge and Florissant has potential with mostly-urban buildings
ABOVE: Sidewalks are narrow and many are adjacent to residential neighborhoods.
ABOVE: On the north side of Natural Bridge Rd the only sense light rail exists is if you see the power lines and/or train below
ABOVE: Two Normandy schools sit side by side west of the MetroLink right-of-way but there's no connection to it or the street
ABOVE: Far from a walker's paradise
ABOVE: Numerous lanes for autos reduces the pedestrian experience
ABOVE: Very attractive glass bus shelter just east of Hanley, would make a nice greenhouse
ABOVE: Commerce takes place but this isn't a pedestrian-friendly commercial district
ABOVE: A man crosses Hanley heading east along Natural Bridge
ABOVE: Same man waiting for the bus a block east of Hanley
ABOVE: Pedestrian crossing at the bus stops, lack curb ramps and getting traffic to stop is nearly impossible
ABOVE: One of the worst areas I encountered was in front of the place I'd hoped to have lunch, but it doesn't have an accessible entrance...22 years after Pres. Bush signed the ADA
ABOVE: Pedestrian walks westbound toward Spiro's
ABOVE: Some of the houses facing Natural Bridge are used for UMSL students
ABOVE: The north end of the St. Vincent Greenway, click image for more information
ABOVE: Like most areas, MetroBus is the primary mode of public transit
ABOVE: A huge area of undeveloped land along the south side of Natural Bridge is part of UMSL's campus and is very close to the UMSL South MetroLink station
ABOVE: The sidewalk on the east side of UMSL's South Drive will lead you to the light rail station, eventually. Click image for aerial
ABOVE: Once visible the most direct path is through an unfriendly park-n-ride lot
ABOVE: The pedestrian route takes an unpleasant circuitous path
ABOVE: Back on Natural Bridge we can see the station if we squint
ABOVE: Normandy City Hall is on the east side of the tracks, it has agreed to relocate to allow development
ABOVE: A convent is pretty but unwelcoming
ABOVE: A St. Louis Library branch is set back behind a parking lot, an access route is provided for pedestrians
ABOVE: Almost to Florissant now we see buildings up to the sidewalk

Amazingly I was able to travel more than 3 miles with only a few barriers along the way. A lack of barriers for the disabled is a good start but this is a long way from being “pedestrian-friendly” corridor. One article I read said the goal was to be more like the Delmar Loop. My guess that was more about the writer’s ignorance on the subject than a stated goal. You can make a suburban corridor attractive to pedestrians but that’s not the same as a dense commercial district.

A detailed look at Natural Bridge was done as part of the East-West Gateway’s Great Streets Initiative, see the report here. It prescribes different treatments for different areas of the corridor. The Urban Land Institute, working with Citizens for Modern Transit, took a detailed look at the existing UMSL South MetroLink station and immediate surroundings, see that report here.

I’m not yet sure the proposed ideas are the best solutions but I do know the pedestrian experience can, and should, be improved.

– Steve Patterson


The End Of The Hodiamont Streetcar Right-of-Way

Forty-six years ago today the last streetcar in St. Louis stopped rolling down the streets. The Hodiamont was St. Louis’ last streetcar line. The Hodiamont ran in city streets from downtown to just west of Vandeventer Ave where it went into its own private right-of-way.

ABOVE: Looking east on the last eastern section of the Hodiamont Right-of-Way
ABOVE: Hodiamont ROW ends
ABOVE: Cole School was built in 1936
ABOVE: In 1909 the site was home to United Railways that owned the Hodiamont line. Click imaged to view larger version. Source: UM Digital Library Sanborn Maps Collection
ABOVE: The streetcar tracks come out of the private right-of-way and head east on Enright Ave

ABOVE: The streetcar tracks come out of the private right-of-way and head east on Enright Ave

Eventually new rubber-tire buses with air-conditioning  replaced  the older streetcars:

Only three lines were left in April 1964, when the new Bi-State agency winnowed the system to the Hodiamont line, which ran from downtown to the Wellston Loop. Along the way through north St. Louis, the Hodiamont had its own right-of-way, like a railroad. (STLtoday.com article from 2010 — recommended)

I can’t help but wonder if running a new modern streetcar through this right of way today would make sense. Or even a bus line?

— Steve Patterson


Grand Ave MetroLink Station Taking Shape

The new Grand Ave Viaduct is moving along, it’ll open later this  year to vehicles first and then to MetroBus and MetroLink.

ABOVE: Feb 2010 drawing of the Scott Ave Transit Plaza being built now under the new Grand Ave Viaduct. Click image for source.

Originally I saw the graphics  pointing toward the platform and incorrectly assumed pedestrians would be able to cross Scott Ave and the westbound track at the center point under the new bridge, but the access point is the sidewalk to the west which I don’t think will offer much protection from rain.

ABOVE: Fence to keep people away from tracks is already in place
ABOVE: Sidewalk with track crossing is already poured

Two tracks are located between the platform and Scott Ave — the westbound MetroLink and an additional track I thought was going to be removed. It’s unclear how pedestrians will get from the grade-level crossing up to platform height.

Before those transferring to/from the #70 (Grand) MetroBus & MetroLink had a flight of stairs or elevator ride. Now they’ll have to cross a plaza, Scott Ave and one or two tracks.  We shall see when it opens if this is an improvement or a fail.

– Steve Patterson


New Low-Floor Buses Make Boarding Easy

More of Metro’s new low-floor buses from California transit bus manufacturer GILLIG are on the routes I ride regularly. Eighteen months ago I was lucky to see one and now about half my bus trips are on a new bus. The old buses are worn out, used long after the expected lifespan. Any new bus would be an improvement over the old but the lower floor makes boarding and unboarding easier and faster for everyone — especially those of us using power chairs.

ABOVE: Interior of Metro's new low-floor buses from Gillig

The old high-floor buses had a mechanical lift to bring us up to the right height. One winter I spent 45 minutes stuck on a lift when it malfunctioned, not fun.  The low-floor bus has a piece of the floor that hinges out to provide a ramp. The operation is faster than the old lifts and it can be operated manually in case of a mechanical failure. The lack of steps is great for others not using mobility devices.

Not all are pleased though, Metro says these seat 39 compared to 43 on the older “Phantom” bus. Metro hasn’t provided me with seating diagrams I requested a couple of weeks ago so I cannot verify their numbers.

I’ll just keep enjoying these new buses and hope service improves on many routes to address overcrowding.

– Steve Patterson


Readers: Concealed Guns On Public Transit Is A Bad Idea

Nearly two-thirds of readers thought concealed guns on public transit was a bad idea. The original post, Poll: Concealed Weapons Allowed On Public Transit, has great comments on the topic.

The pro-conceraled gun argument goes something like this:

“I rarely ride transit but when I do I’m scared beyond belief about what might happen to me while waiting or en route. If a dark person tries something funny I want to be a hero with my gun.”

Ok, my characterization is a bit unfair but these folks sound like they’re frightened by their own shadow. They might be well trained to use their gun on a paper target in a controlled setting but I’m transit dependent and I can assure you the bus and train are not a shooting range. They cite a drop in crime in areas where concealed  guns are allowed on transit but fail to mention the similar drop in crime in other places where concealed guns aren’t allowed on transit. I’ve yet to see one independent scientific study that says conclusively that concealed guns results in a drop in crime.

The total vote count was higher than usual (160) but the percentages stayed consistent throughout the week so I don’t think any side tried to alter the results with a campaign:

Q: Concealed guns on public transit is:

  1. A bad idea 102 [62.96%]
  2. A good idea 46 [28.4%]
  3. Neither a good or bad idea 10 [6.17%]
  4. Other: 3 [1.85%]
  5. Unsure/No Opinion 1 [0.62%]

The other answers were:

  1. Are you serious? Could we be any more uncivilized?
  2. Already happening.
  3. already happening & will continue no matter what the laws are

Drinking alcohol is legal and people drink & drive, we should make that legal by the logic of these last two. The pro-gun lobby (NRA) seems to think they should be able to carry their guns anywhere and everywhere. In 2008 the US Supreme Court declared Washington D.C.’s gun law unconstitutional but conservative Justice Antonin Scolia wrote in the majority opinion:

There seems to us no doubt, on the basis of both text and history, that the Second Amendment conferred an individual right to keep and bear arms. Of course the right was not unlimited, just as the First Amendment ’s right of free speech was not, see, e.g., United States v. Williams, 553 U. S. ___ (2008). Thus, we do not read the Second Amendment to protect the right of citizens to carry arms for any sort of confrontation, just as we do not read the First Amendment to protect the right of citizens to speak for any purpose. Before turning to limitations upon the individual right, however, we must determine whether the prefatory clause of the Second Amendment comports with our interpretation of the operative clause. (District of Columbia v Heller

In other words, keeping a loaded gun in your own home is protected by the constitution. That doesn’t automatically extend to everywhere outside your home. Legislators that responded to my email on this subject tell me the bill to make concealed guns on public transit in Missouri legal won’t make it out of committee…this year.

– Steve Patterson