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Reconnecting St Louis to the Mississippi; Don’t Cover the Highway, 86 It.

People are naturally drawn to large bodies of water — rivers, lakes and oceans. In St Louis we’ve got the mighty Mississippi as our Eastern border. Sadly we’ve made it far too difficult to actually reach the river.

Last week I did a post announcing the National Park Service’s open house to review their proposed General Management Plan for the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial (aka the Arch & Arch grounds). I had jokingly suggested that the city wanted to replace the arch with the world’s tallest parking garage. Reader comments quickly turned to Memorial Drive and I-70 that divides the Arch grounds (and the river) from downtown.

Mayor of Affton wrote:

I think there’s room for 1 and 2 story buildings on the east side of a much smaller, narrower Memorial Drive, with a service road behind them on the arch grounds. Further, let’s really connect some neighborhoods with a train or trolley that goes from Soulard, to Chouteau’s Landing, across the Arch grounds on the east, up to the Landing, Lumiere, the Bottle District and North Broadway.

‘the dude’ wrote:

Highway 70 is already being rerouted – over the new Mississippi River bridge. The “Lid” plan is seriously flawed. The idea of building a lid over the depressed lanes is based on assumptions made before the new Mississippi River bridge became a real project and before we were attacked on September 11th. The Lid is a bad idea on many levels.

‘Kevin’ wrote:

It seems that nobody wants to discuss that the problem with the arch grounds is not the grounds them self, but the private land around the arch. Pretty much every building adjacent the arch grounds has its back to the arch. Imagine if when you looked out the Eiffel tower or the Colosseum all you saw was the back of buildings. The city needs to require all buildings adjacent the arch to have store fronts facing it. Imagine sidewalk dining or shopping looking the park. Its the only way to integrate the monument into a downtown experience.

And no, I have forgotten about the thing called I-70. If they are going to put in a new I-70 bridge they need to remove the section cutting the arch off from downtown. Have the highway end at broadway and fill in the I-70 trench. Do we really need to connect the two bridges?

‘dude’ wrote:

For starters, the NPS should complete a traffic and design study to determine the feasibility/desirability of abandoning the depressed lanes and replacing them with a new Memorial Drive as compared to going with the Lid option.

Forever people have complained about how downtown is cut off from the river and the Arch. The interstate is obviously the barrier. But none of the higher ups are talking about removing the barrier! Instead, they are proposing a literal band-aid solution. One that leaves some 80+ percent of the barrier in place.

‘Scott’ wrote:

My problem with the Arch grounds is that there is not much down there to draw me there and to stick around. The museum is a huge snooze and residents can only enjoy going up the arch so many times. We need attractions to pull people down there and keep them there and spend some money. An aquarium would be a great idea. We need dining options too. Leave the arch alone and develop the grounds around it.

All valid points. At the time the Arch won the design competition the highway was an assumed. It was just thought we’d all drive our single occupancy vehicles there. Those that would walk would do so only at the center of the Arch. To make sure we only crossed at the center new buildings both North and South of the center blocked off the downtown street grid. The result is that Memorial Drive is barely tolerable as a place to drive and not at all as a place to walk. To illustrate this point I’ve put together a short video:


The NPS is incorrectly focusing all their attention on connecting to downtown at one single point — in the center aligned with the Old Courthouse. A better connection to the Arch grounds and down to the river is more than a single bridge or even a 3-block “lid” can address.

The solution?

  • I-70 needs to be removed from the equation (more on that further down).
  • Memorial Drive needs to be reconstructed as a grand boulevard and renamed 3rd Street.
  • Buildings fronting the existing Memorial need entrances facing the Arch.

The new Mississippi river bridge, when built, will become I-70. While some traffic uses this portion of I-70 as a pass through between North & South they can use my proposed 3rd Street Boulevard or other North-South streets on our street grid. I’d remove I-70 from the new bridge on the North all the way to I-44/I-55 on the South. This would permit a larger portion of the downtown and near downtown to begin to heal from the damage caused by the highway cutting off streets.

SF's Embarcadero

San Francisco’s Embarcadero Freeway carried 70,000 cars daily when it was destroyed by earthquake in 1989. Today the new boulevard still carries a considerable amount of traffic while encouraging pedestrians to walk along or cross it. San Francisco took the opportunity to connect the area into their streetcar system. I say we use this new 3rd St boulevard project as an opportunity to introduce a modern streetcar loop to downtown with a section passing right by the Arch.

This new modern streetcar line, complete with accessible low-floor cars, would use Broadway in one direction and the new 3rd in the other. The line would go North of the Edward Jones Dome to the site that has been hyped as the Bottleworks District. At the other end the line would use both Market and Walnut (or Clark). This would connect the Arch grounds to the future Ballpark Village, MetroLink light rail, and numerous hotels. On this end the line could turn around at 22nd with new development on the extra state land that was reserved for the abandoned 22nd Parkway. Back at the other end, when the dome is imploded after the Rams leave or we build them a new dome the line will connect to new development there. The line could be extended east along Cole to eventually reach the old Pruitt-Igoe site as a location for a new dome or whatever Paul McKee has in mind.

With high activity points along the route the line would be well used. Zoning along the line would need to mandate urban buildings with frequent entrances, not blank walls. Ditto along the new 3rd. The buildings we have now are a disgrace. Cars in parking garages have outstanding views of the Arch while the pedestrian on the sidewalk is subjected to a wretched environment.

A little bridge or a lid over the highway just isn’t enough. Earlier generations dreamed big and it’s time we did too if we plan to fix their mistakes.

Update 7/9/08 @ 3pm

I’ve been a bit busy lately and behind on my reading.  One item I overlooked until now is ‘The Case for a New Memorial Drive’ by my friend Rick Bonasch over on his site, STL Rising.  He covers the same topic in a detailed look at various issues – highly recommended.


U.S. stopping oil shipments into reserve

In past commentaries I had suggested that dubya might try to do something (other than a tax holiday) to impact gas prices. Comments went like this:

“Can someone explain how the President has any effect on gas prices?”

He doesn´t. Only an idiot would suggest that he does. Oil prices, and by extension gas prices, are set on a world market. It´s that pesky supply and demand thing.

The sad part is, these idiots are allowed to vote, which is why we get the “leaders” that we do.

My response had to do with the federal strategic oil reserve, that two month supply of oil owned and stored by the feds. In the news last week:

Responding to congressional pressure, the Bush administration on Friday said it is suspending oil deliveries into the government’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve for the remainder of the year.

The move came days after Congress passed legislation requiring President Bush to temporarily halt shipments into the reserve in hopes of lowering gasoline prices. The president is expected to sign the bill.

It remains to be seen what impact this move will have on global prices, if any. Still, congress can tell their constituents they tried.

Meanwhile, in parts of the country (like Chicago) motorists are paying over $4/gallon for self serve and nearly $5/gallon for full serve.  Diesel is quite a bit higher.  While some can afford to continue filling the tanks on their Escalades many others cannot.  The working poor are most impacted but they are also most likely the segment of the population not adverse to taking public transit.

I don’t think stopping shipments to the oil reserve will have much of an impact — about as much as a federal gas tax holiday would.  Releasing the millions of gallons of oil in the reserve back onto the market— that could have an impact.

This is our new reality folks.  Do we listen to groups like MoDot and build more highways based on their prediction of more trucks or do we realize we must as a society do a better way of getting people and goods from place to place?


Gas Price Predictions, My Timing Was Off A Couple of Years

In December 2005, following Katrina & Rita, I was so sure that gas prices would continue to elevate past the three dollar point by the end of 2006. Boy was I wrong! To make matters worse, in June 2006 I was smugly confident that gas would be three-fifty by the end of 2006. In June of 2006 I wrote the following:

Back on December 30th [2005] I predicted that by the end of 2006 “a gallon of regular gas will exceed $3.00, not due to a natural disaster or terrorism.” I think that prediction might turn out to be a major understatement. At the time regular gas in St. Louis was around $2.20/gallon.

Yesterday when I left my house for dinner regular at the two stations near me was $2.69/gallon. Just a couple hours later the price was $2.88/gallon (shameful I didn’t have my camera with me). Today I noticed the price has settled to $2.84/gallon. This is all for regular. Premium fuel, like my former Audi required, is now over $3.00/gallon. Places in metro East are seeing regular in the $2.94 – $2.99/gallon range.

So today I’m revising my estimate, I think we’ll see regular gas at $3.50/gallon before New Year’s Day 2007. And I don’t mean some spike brought on by a hurricane or such. Just normal everyday pricing.

In reality I was not wrong, just off on my timing a couple of years, give or take a few months. Looking closer at the per barrel price of crude oil and I can see where I made my mistake in timing.

In September 2005 oil was pushing up toward $60/barrel following Katrina+Rita and refineries were knocked out along the gulf coast. The market was in place for a short term gas spike. By December, when I made my premature prediction, the price of a gallon of oil had dropped to just pocket change below $50/barrel. I wasn’t totally off, we had started 2005 in the low 30s per barrel so ending up pushing $50/barrel was a big increase.

This month oil prices have been in the high 80s to mid 90s, a considerable distance from $50/barrel.

Yesterday’s LA Times reported (free registration required) that analysts are projecting a US average around $3.50/gallon in the first half of 2008, as demand increases:

“If anyone expects gas to be less than a new record, they are not thinking,” said Fadel Gheit, senior energy analyst for Oppenheimer & Co. “There is no question it will be much higher than last year.”

Americans will start 2008 paying about 65 cents more a gallon than they did in January 2007, according to the forecasts, and by April could see self-serve regular selling for $3.50 to $3.75 a gallon.

In California — where gas this year has fetched as much as 50 cents more than the national average — $4 a gallon “will no longer be considered a rogue number,” said Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst for the Oil Price Information Service. “It will list for that much in a lot of places.”

The Energy Department’s weekly survey of service stations Monday found the average pump price was $2.980 nationally and $3.261 in California, a couple of pennies lower than a week earlier — but much higher than the same period last year, when the number was $2.341 across the U.S. and $2.607 across the state.

Pump prices usually fall between Labor Day and the end of the year, in recent years dropping about 17% in California.  This year they did the reverse, gaining 17%.  

These will not be peaks and then drop back below $3/gallon. Demand continues to increase, both in the US and from other countries such as China and India.  World populations are increasing, as are vehicle registrations and total miles driven.  Not a formula for lowering prices.

All you folks with your V-8 SUVs and your 40-mile one-way commutes, get ready to pay lots more.  Sadly, the working poor who need a car to get to their jobs will also be paying more as well.  While some can handle the increase, others will not be able to do so.  And while many can handle short-term increases the long-term impact will be felt as consumers slow down their consuming to afford the gas for the Explorer.
Of course, this is an election year so that adds a whole new layer to the mix.  Will the Republicans in Washington find a way to artificially lower/stabilize prices between now and the November 2008 election?  Many factors such as the fallout from the subprime mess will really screw up the economic situation in 2008.
What will be interesting is how rising gas prices, combined with next weeks shutdown of highway 40, will impact the voters in St. Louis County with respect to a sales tax increase in August to help support ongoing operations at Metro as well as fund some future expansion.  Will the voters be see the folly of being so dependent upon cars that they decide to fund better transit or will they conclude they are already paying more money for gas and therefore can’t afford any more taxes?

Back to the LA Times:

Motorists found the New Year predictions infuriating.

“It’s absurd, ridiculous,” said Eric Mills, 40, a special-event coordinator for the entertainment industry, as he filled up his 1990 Honda Prelude with $3.399-a-gallon gasoline at a downtown Los Angeles Shell station.

“Every year I hear about fuel cells and other promising alternative fuel possibilities — and every year I’m still putting gasoline in my car.”

For all of you just waiting for that new fuel cell Taurus or Caprice, don’t hold your breath.  While these alternatives might pan out in a decade or so they are not going to help you this year.   Interestingly, motorists just keep motoring as if one day they will just instantly trade the gasoline powered car for some  fuel cell car and things will continue as before.  How simplistic.

Today’s Post-Dispatch has a story on people selling storage condos in St. Charles County.  For $40,000 you can get a storage unit for your extra car, boat or RV.  I guess when your 3-car garage is full that is what you do, buy a storage unit.  For these folks, the new reality that we are seeing unfold will come as a big shock.  When the market crashed in 1929 it was not the poor man jumping out of office windows.  Of course, today, the business man in Earth City doesn’t have operable windows and is likely at most on the 2nd floor.

So my predictions for 2008?  Nothing specific, I learned my lesson on that.  Gas prices will continue their upward trend, malls will continue to be yesterday’s news as people seek open air street-like shopping districts or actual shopping districts.  Projects in far St. Charles County that people think are temporarily on hold will be permanently on hold.  Developers and home builders will realize that 2008 is different than 1958 — the demographics are different, cheap gas is gone and people are seeking quality public space.  It will look rough while we are in it but in 2009 and beyond we will be thankful.


Riding the Bus, Changing Perspectives

This morning I had a meeting attend at the St. Louis Bread Company (Panera to everyone outside St. Louis) on Delmar in the Loop area. I also have a dangerously low back tire on my scooter than needs to be replaced. What to do?

I actually had two good choices, MetroLink (light rail) or MetroBus. Given that I can see from my balcony the #97 bus as it passes along Washington Ave and the fact it would drop me off across the street from my destination it was the winner between the two. Often I would not mind a walk to the Union Station MetroLink stop and then a walk to the Bread Co from the Delmar MetroLink stop but when it is cold and rainy and you’ve got to be there by 8:30am you look for quicker ways to get there. In this case, a bus on city streets was going to be faster overall — roughly 45 minutes.

On my scooter, in this weather but with a good back tire, I’d get there in about a half hour. Fifteen to twenty minutes in good weather. So it was going to take me a bit longer, but my choices were really limited. I could have gotten the tire aired up and hoped that it didn’t deflate midway. A cap would have been way too expensive. Others at the meeting were coming from other directions and I didn’t have their numbers anyway. So this morning I simply got up when necessary and made my way over to the bus stop.

The bus arrived on time, just past 7:30am. Of the twenty I was only the second white person, everyone else was black. I say that simply as a statement of fact. Shortly after the young white kid (maybe 20) got off the bus. Between downtown and the loop numerous folks got on and off, all black, and I was the sole white person.
Personally, I think it is good for non-minorities to be in places where they are suddenly the minority. For the male business person to be among a group of businesswomen, the college student to be among only seniors, and for the white guy to be on a bus where everyone else is black.

Sitting there, on the bus, I thought about what I was going to write today. Ah, this bus trip! But I can’t just talk about bus stops and such. Race, yeah that should be a good topic.

I think to many whites we see a bus full of non-whites, often black. And many people, be they black, white or any other, see bus riders as being poor. But this morning I looked deeper, closer past the color of skin or social class. What did I see?

Today I saw many people, just like me, simply going about their daily lives. They too, probably lacked a car. People were heading to work, or in the case of the VA hospital at Delmar and Grand, getting off work. The driver seemed to know many riders, likely the regulars. If we can all learn to get past issues of race and class, and simply see others as human, public transit and so much of our public lives will be improved.

As we all know by now, in two weeks I-64/Hwy 40 will be taken out of service for two years. For many, I think MetroBus is viable choice. Yes, it will take you longer to get from A to B (or to A-B). You know what, so will being stuck in your car on Manchester Road! Interestingly, the more people use the bus and/or light rail the better the roads will be for those who are driving. Those single occupancy cars consume a considerable amount of space when stored all day and when packed onto arterial roads.

Learn the schedule(s). Bring your iPod and some reading. At the very least, give it a try. While you are doing so, leave any pre-conceptions about the bus and who rides it back at the curb.


“Clowns” on Jury Award Metro Zip!

The Post-Dispatch is reporting this afternoon that the jury in Metro’s case against four contractors reached a decision — Metro gets nothing out of the $81 million it sought. The contractors counter-suit against Metro? They get not quite half of their requested $6 million — $2.56 million. Ouch, that has to hurt.

Larry Salci, the head of Metro, must be a tad upset. He is probably calling folks more than just clowns. Earlier this month he said of KTVI’s Elliot Davis, “He fits right into St. Louis, he’s a (expletive) clown.” Salci later apologized.

Will this impact voters in St. Louis County in February when they are asked to approve a half cent sales tax to keep Metro solvent as well as raise money to extend the light rail system? Has Salci’s job security changed?

UPDATE 11/30/07 @ 7pm — link to article from St. Louis Business Journal.