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Stimulus Keeps America Motoring

Private cars are not going anywhere anytime soon but I like to see policies designed to take away the massive advantage the car has over say mass transit.

Stimulus funds, as we know, are going toward many road projects.  Yes, the road projects were “shovel ready” but only because that is all we seem to plan for.

The cash for clunkers program (officially the car allowance rebate system) has been well received:

According to a survey of car dealerships and 2,200 consumers by CNW Research, the average fuel economy of vehicles traded in last week was 16.3 miles a gallon, which is not much less than the 18 m.p.g. needed to qualify for a government rebate of $3,500.

The relatively small differential suggests that consumers have not been turning in the oldest, dirtiest and least fuel-efficient cars, but instead have been getting rid of their second and third cars, according to Art Spinella, who ran the survey.

The vehicles that consumers bought with their credits had average fuel efficiency ratings of 24.8 miles a gallon, he said.

Lawmakers hoped the cash for clunkers program, formally known as the Car Allowance Rebate System, would reduce America’s dependency on imported oil. But the early results of the program suggest that may not happen. The vehicles turned in were driven about 6,000 miles a year, he said. If the new vehicles are driven about 12,000 miles a year, the rough annual average, then consumers will actually use more fuel, not less.

“The energy independence argument did not ring true, at least so far,” Mr. Spinella said.  (source)

There is much debate about the program.  True, 2nd & 3rd cars are used as the trade in vehicle.   The new car will become the primary vehicle and the old primary vehicle will become the new secondary car in the household.

Some say the fuel efficiency requirements should have been higher.  I agree.  My guess is if they had been too high many of the new vehicles would have been foreign rather than domestic makes.  Domestic makers simply focused too heavily on trucks & SUVs.

My 2004 Toyota Carolla, built in California, has a combined EPA of 28mpg.  It is worth more than the rebate anyway.  A 1994 Carolla still wouldn’t have qualified due to a combined EPA of 25mpg.

I looked up many other cars at fueleconomy.gov to see if they qualifed based on MPG.  A 1994 Ford Crown Victoria just barely qualifies but a 1994 Ford Taurus does not.  On one hand I’d like to see 20mpg cars be replaced with 30mpg vehicles.  On the other you have to draw a line somewhere.

And clearly there has been no shortage of qualifying trade ins.  You have to wonder if buyers are going to cheap used car lots to purchase a $1,000 clunker so they’d have a vehicle to qualify for the $4,500 rebate?

The clunker program is certainly a fast way to stimulate the economy.  But it also shows how important the auto industry is to our economy.  How will we ever change that fact?

At one time the St. Louis we made streetcars used by many cities.  No reason why the shuttered Chrysler plant in Fenton couldn’t build modern low-floor streetcars for use in the Loop Trolley line and in many others.  Someone has to build the trains for the high-speed rail lines being planned in the US.

Stimulus money needs to make it easier to use our private cars less often.  Where is the rebate for trading in a clunker and buying a 90mpg scooter as a replacement? Or a 10-year transit pass?

– Steve Patterson


Mistake Alert: Loop Trolley Proposal Looking Backward Rather Than Forward

It is no secret I love streetcars.  I’ve ridden old & new systems in seven North American cities  (New Orleans, Memphis, Little Rock, San Francisco, Toronto, Seattle & Portland).  While these systems have much in common with each other the main difference is the vehicles used. They vary from vintage to reproduction vintage to completely modern.

European cities  largely kept their streetcar systems intact over the years but have continually upgraded their vehicles to the newest designs over the years. Toronto’s system has lines dating to the 19th Century.  Every so often vehicles have been replaced with newer designs.  Their current vehicles date to the late 1970s:

July 2006
Toronto July 2006

But Toronto’s vehicles have the same problem as vintage vintage reproduction vehicles: access.  Stepping up into them is not friendly to wheelchairs, strollers, bikes, small kids or just a person carrying luggage or packages. The Loop Trolley folks want that vintage look rather than providing the best transportation for the 21st Century.  They are looking backward rather than forward.

They are looking at a system like they have in Little Rock AR:

Little Rock March 2006

Little Rock’s vehicles are new but have a vintage look & feel.

Interior of Little Rock streetcar March 2006

Filming a period movie?  Great, use these.  Investing tens of millions in a modern transportation system that will last into the second half of the 21st Century?  Wrong choice!  The Loop Trolley folks are stuck in 1904.  The World’s Fair is over guys.  So what is the right choice?

Modern “low-floor” vehicles such as the above in Portland.  The same type was used in Seattle.

The vehicle’s low-floor center design with wide doors make entry/exit easy for everyone.  Stroller & packages?  No problem.

The interiors are bright, modern and comfortable.  The type you’d feel comfortable wearing shorts and a t-shirt rather than wearing a dress and carrying a parasol.  We must look forward.  But the Loop Trolley advisory board feels the vintage look is more appropriate.

Helsinki (click image to view source in new tab/window)
Helsinki Finland (click image to view source in new tab/window)

But in Helsinki Finland, founded in 1550, the old & modern blend beautifully.  We must build our new transportation systems and architecture of the current times.  Building a streetcar line to connect areas together is the right direction.  The system should be expandable to parts beyond the Loop & Forest Park.  Looking back to the glory days of 1904 is not going to help us in 2030.  Judy Garland, the star of Meet me in St. Louis.  has been dead for four decades.

To make the reproduction cars accessible they’d have a ramp like our buses do.  As a frequent wheelchair user I can tell you I would not use such a system.  It works most of the time but it would set me apart from everyone else.  The ramp would take time to extend & retract –holding up traffic in the meantime.  Why not just build an accessible system with low-floor vehicles?

The name “trolley” doesn’t matter much.  Could be streetcar or tram.  Seattle started out using trolley for their modern vehicles — the line was going to be the South Lake Union Trolley.  That is until someone realized it would be called SLUT, for short.  So it opened as the South Lake Union Streetcar instead.  So the trolley name is fine but not the reproduction vehicle.

The trick is the modern low-floor vehicles cost roughly three times the price of a reproduction vehicle. I don’t have figures to know how much of the estimated $50 million cost would be for the purchase of vehicles.

For more info on track options and other issues presented at the Loop Trolley open house last Wednesday check out, “Public Gets First Look at Loop Trolley Details, Feedback Solicited On Track Options” at STLUrbanWorkshop.com.

– Steve Patterson


I-64, Light Rail and Transit Suburbs

A few years ago when talk began of rebuilding part of I-64 (known locally as Highway 40) and extending the region’s light rail system, MetroLink, people had suggested putting the light rail down the center of the rebuilt highway.  Ultimately these systems were kept separate.  The light rail extension opened on August 26, 2007 (see post) and Hwy 40 will be complete by the end of 2009.

I never supported the transit in the center of the highway concept for St. Louis.  Here’s why:

Rail in the center of a highway works well when it takes forever to drive to your destination and costs a fortune to park once you’ve arrived.  In the St. Louis region drive times are short and parking is cheap.  Once a person is in their car to drive to the train at the highway they are likely to just stay in their car — no incentive to switch modes.

Another reason would have been the logistics of getting a line out the center of Hwy 40  Existing lines crossed 40 at Vandeventer and further east — both away from the highway construction zone.  As a city person that takes the train outward the center highway option would have delivered me to the center of a highway — not useful to me.

While in Chicago last weekend I visited two transit suburbs — Oak Park & Evanston.  Both developed around heavy rail transit.  St. Louis has no equal.  Ferguson, Kirkwood & Webster Groves are the closest we’ve got but these were more railroad towns than transit suburbs.

Above is Marion St. in downtown Oak Park,  IL.  At the end of the street a Metra stop crosses overhead.  These transit suburbs have the same formula — a few blocks of commercial around the stop and then detached single family homes.  You will have apartments above the retail and perhaps a corner apartment building but the housing is primarily single family.  Residents along these lines continue to support transit because the drive to downtown Chicago takes time and once there it is not cheap.

Map of Main St. stop in Evanston IL

St. Louis never had such a system.  Our suburbs never developed as Oak Park or Evanston did.  Attempting to retrofit transits systems later is a major challenge. Putting rail down a highway, if you could, is not going to make the highway suburb transit friendly.

St. Louis did have a complete streetcar network in the city and inner-ring suburbs.  Returning to such makes sense both functionally and economically.  Running light rail down the center of a highway out to suburbs built around the car would have been a major waste of money.  Of course we wasted tons of money having to put much of the light rail extension underground rather than at grade as it should have been.

We’ve got to figure out the best way to weave transit into our non-transit friendly region.  To me that is maintain our current light rail system with streetcar & buses serving the core (city + inner ring suburbs) and buses to serve the areas outside the core.

– Steve Patterson


Planning & Promotion Continues for Loop Trolley

June 26, 2009 Public Transit 22 Comments

Yesterday I attended an Economic Development Forum sponsored by the Loop Trolley.  Guest speaker,  Portland developer John Carroll, spoke about the benefits he has seen in Portland over the last decade.

Portland developer John Carroll speaking 6/25/2009 at the Missouri History Museum
Portland developer John Carroll speaking 6/25/2009 at the Missouri History Museum

The streetcar/trolley is not the most efficient way to get persons from point A to B.  That would mode would be the bus.  However, as our speaker pointed out, the permanence of a fixed rail helps entice development.

It was December 5, 2005 that the ribbon was cut on the two restored streetcars used to promote the Loop Trolley.  I was there that day:

Loop Trolley ribbon cutting on 12/5/2005
Loop Trolley ribbon cutting on 12/5/2005

That day I wrote:

One could argue that the loop, both East and West, is going fine and doesn’t need the federal dollars that it will likely receive to move this project forward. I agree philosophically. Cherokee Street comes to mind [as] a commercial street that could benefit from an exciting transportation system such as this trolley system. But Cherokee Street doesn’t have a Joe Edwards pushing for anything. So I say build the trolley not where it is needed most but where we can get it built and where it will get used.

Once built, the region, I hope, will demand more streetcars throughout the city and region.

In the nearly four years since I wrote the above I have experienced streetcar systems in San Francisco, New Orleans, Memphis, Little Rock, Seattle, Portland and Toronto.  Quite the list and quite different from each other.  Some are old systems that have remained in operation.  Others are new with restored, reproduction and modern vehicles.  I’ve attended two Rail-Volution conferences since then — Chicago in 2006 and Miami Beach in 2007.

The Loop area is so named because of the streetcar line that used to make a loop and turn back toward downtown.  The western end is in the municipality of University City.  In recent years the restaurants & shopping have expanded east of Skinker in the City of St. Louis.

Loop’s leader Joe Edwards want to return a streetcar (er, Trolley) to Delmar.

The blue line on the left shows the route as planned.  It simply would go from the Lion gates at the west end to De Balivere at the east and then loop around the Missouri History Museum on the edge of Forest Park.  Along the short route it would pass two MetroLink light rail stations (Delmar & Forest Park).  Would the trolley be transit overkill?  At first I thought so.

But between these two stations and all along the proposed route there are plenty of development opportunities.  Development around light rail stations happens in rings whereas development along streetcars follows the line — impacting far more real estate and reaching more people.  More bang for the buck basically.

Plus I want to get a system in operation in St. Louis so that it can be expanded to serve more of the city.  The lines on the map above are my most recent ideas for potential extensions (a variation on earlier thoughts).

One idea is to take a line into Forest Park to reach the Art Museu, Zoo,  and Muni.  This would be a great way to get an overview of the park and it could reduce the need for more parking.  Next I’d extend a line north through what is now the Ruth Porter perdestrian mall.  At the very least go up to Page and come back south on Goodfellow.  The biggest extension would continue east on Delmar.

After crossing Kingshighway the eastbound track would go down Washington, one block south of Delmar.   This would widen the impack of the investment.  It would jog down to Olive at Vandeventer and then straight line into the CBD.  The return line would pass the MetroLink light rail station at 6th & Washington as well as pass the convention center.  Joe Edwards said he felt a streetcar line could give St. Louis the nod when competing with other cities for a conventions.  A streetcar passing between the convention center and convention hotel would be a natural draw.  Visitors could easily be enticed to hop on the line to see the sights along the route — getting an overview to help them where to decide where to dine.

At Tucker I show the westbound line going west on Locust rather than Washington.  This puts is only a block off the eastbound track on Olive, avoids messing up the expensive streetscape on Washington between 12th & 18th and, as a bonus, it would run past my front door at 16th & Locust.

Of course it can’t all be just east & west.  Above I show a north-south pair of lines on Vandeventer & Sarah.  Around Jefferson Paul McKee is planning a north line for his NorthSide project.  I’d want a line or two heading south as well.  I’d like to be able to reach all parts of the city via streetcar.  Perhaps  if I live another 50 years?  But the lines shown above are realistic and they could, over time, work to increase our population and job base.  We could become the type of city that retains young graduates from laces like Saint Louis University and Waashington University.

To learn more about the Loop Trolley consider attending the public open house at 4pm on July 8th, Regional Arts Commission, 6128 Delmar, 4 to 7 p.m.

– Steve Patterson


Controversial “Blairmont” Project to be Revealed Tonight

Tonight we expect politically connected developer Paul McKee, of McEagle Development, to publicly unveil the controversial development project nicknamed “Blairmont.”

The project got this name after one of the early holding companies used to acquire properties, Blairmont Associates LLC.

Here is a video that explains Blairmont:

Another source of info on Blairmont is a January 2007 RFT article.

Out of the controversy came an August 2007 bus tour of McKee’s properties.  Here is 5th Ward Alderman April Ford Griffin:

The next month the meetings continued.  Here is 19th Ward Alderman Marlene Davis:

I got involved by asking a question of Alderman April Ford Griffin.  Griffin is the chair of the Neighborhood Development committee at the Board of Aldermen.  She has a warped view of zoning.  Rather than have excellent zoning that codifies the community vision, she likes outdated zoning so developers must come to her.  The video starts out rough but gets better:

Congressman Clay talks about a hearing held at city hall with a reference to the 1970s Team Four plan that called for reducing services in parts of the city:


Here is a summary of the infamous Team Four plan:

This document contains the technical memorandum that was submitted to the Plan Commission by Team Four, Inc. in 1975. This memorandum proposed public policy guidelines and strategies for implementing the Draft Comprehensive Plan that was prepared by others. It offered a series of considerations concerning the process of adopting, staging, budgeting and ultimately implementing the Draft Comprehensive Plan. In addition, this document contains a preface dated 1976 that attempts to clean up any inconsistencies and or controversies surrounding the proposed implementation strategies and a bibliography or annotated listing of Technical Memoranda and Appendixes. Part I of this document focused on strategies for three generic area types: conservation, redevelopment, and depletion areas; and Part II of this document discussed major urban issues and their solutions.

Today “shrinking cities” are studied and various techniques are debated.  In the 70s in St. Louis the Team Four plan was seen as a racist plot to deny services to a minority population.  We know more today about how to adjust to shrinking populations.

Tonight we will see another, a huge heavily subsidized redevelopment plan.  Many are opposed simply based on the history of the project to date.  I for one plan to go with an open mind. I have reservations about both the developer and the political leadership.  Griffin’s view on the role of zoning doesn’t give me a lot of hope for what may be presented in pretty artist renderings actually being completed as promised.  A good framework of a zoning code can help ensure the promised vision develops into reality.

Tonight’s meeting starts at  7pm at Central Baptist Church Education Building 2843 Washington Ave (Google Map).  I’ll be there and will report on the presentation next week.