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Trying To Get to South County Via MetroBus; My Scooter Awaits

I figure I preach enough about walking and using mass transit I should make such a person attempt myself. You see, my beloved scooter got a flat tire from a nail on Monday evening as I was heading to dinner downtown. I ended up pushing it the last 6 blocks to meet my friend, late. I left it in another friend’s parking garage downtown until the dealer could come and pick it up. I’d been meaning to take it in for routine service anyway so the timing was actually OK. Now it is ready this fine Saturday morning and I need to pick it up and ride back home. It is located at Mungenast Motorsports behind Dave Mungenast’s St. Louis Honda on South Lindbergh.

This obviously excludes me driving my car down there as I’d have to go back somehow later and get my car. My first thought was to get a friend to drop me off but then I wondered if I could just take the bus to get there. Why inconvenience a friend and use more gas when the bus is likely going that way anyway. Plus, I can’t let Joe Frank be the only blogging about taking the bus.

So I pull up Metro’s recent “TripFinder” website where you can put in your starting point and destination and it gives you options for bus and light rail — a Mapquest for mass transit. But I was getting these weird results all wanting to take me downtown and then up North with results in excess of two hours. I discovered that although I entered the destination address of 5939 South Lindbergh Blvd the software dropped the “South” part and wanted to take me to Florissant in North County. Zip codes are not allowed or at least I haven’t found any combination of commas or whatever that permits them. Some mapping software will ask do you mean “South” or “North” 5939 Lindbergh just to make sure. This, however, gave me no such option. From past observation I knew I had two bus routes near my house that both ended up at South County Mall which is not far from my destination but probably further than I’d be willing to walk both due to distance and environment (suburban hell). I pulled up Metro’s system map and confirmed that #40 and #93 both make it to the mall.

The TripFinder offers another way to find the address, I can use a map or find a street and look for stops on that street. So, I pull up Lindbergh and they have a very long list of stops on Lindbergh — 5 pages of stops. Makes sense, the street is very long cutting across a wide swath of the region. And Lindbergh is listed as “Lindbergh”, “Lindbergh US-61”, “Lindbergh Blvd” and so on with the cross streets coming after that. I looked up the area on Google and saw that Mueller Rd was probably a likely stop. I picked page 3 of the list and found the Mueller stop relatively easy. Plug it in and I’ve got my logical route to South County Mall via the #93 with a transfer to the #49 along Lindbergh. Total travel time, just a few over an hour. Total time figuring this out, about 10-15 minutes. For a frame of reference, Google says the drive is 8.2 miles and should take 13 minutes.

So I am debating. The fare is $2.25 (bus w/transfer) which is not a big deal but I had to check my wallet to make sure I had some singles as they don’t make change. Looking at the schedule I see that half the hour travel time is spent waiting at the JC Penny at South County Mall, not exactly my idea of a good way to spend a nice Saturday. I do have class reading to do but I’d have to carry a backpack and my motorcycle helmet on the bus and while I am waiting. The bus leaving near my house on the #93 is on an hourly headway so I have to work on that schedule as well.

I just called my friend, he is picking me up in an hour.

On a somewhat related note: Dave Mungenast Sr. recently pass away from cancer. I had the fortune to meet and talk with him earlier this year while visiting his Classic Motorcycle Museum on Gravois in South City. I, of course, bent his ear about opening a new shop in the city for his Honda scooter sales. I had hoped to talk to him more in the future as he had great knowledge about what the city was like in the 1950s. The motorcycle museum location on Gravois was one of his early auto dealerships before he and nearly every other business fled to the once greener pastures of the suburbs. My condolences go out to the Mungenast family for their loss.


Greater Number of Smaller Grocery Stores the Key to Revitalizing St. Louis?

Last week a couple of seemingly unrelated posts converged here. Discussions about walking to the new Schnuck’s store coupled with a new book by a former St. Louisan on living car-free or at least car-lite and the usual discussion of mass transit.

As one commenter noted, it is regular grocery shopping that increases the apparent need for many of us to own, maintain and drive a personal car. Food is the one item we cannot defer making a purchase. That computer, new shoes or artwork can be put off but on a very regular basis we are all making a trek to the grocery store. The exception is my non-cooking friends but they still make it to the store for prepared meals and beverages.

I have some theories about grocery stores, sprawl and auto use. At this time I can offer no real evidence to prove or disprove my theories. But, I wanted to share and get your feedback.

This will be a cause-effect debate. Starting in the 1950s grocery stores moved from the small storefront to bigger stores with parking lots (Schnuck’s, Brentwood, 1952) and in the decades since each new store has grown larger and larger. As a result the total number of grocery stores serving the St. Louis region, relative to population, has probably decreased. The percentage of population within walking distance of a grocery store has also likely decreased.

So while most would say we fell in love with the car and shopping centers and grocery stores simply responded I don’t think that is the full picture. That may have been true initially but what has morphed over the last half century is the other way around: due to the travel distance required to get to a grocery store we have continued to need cars. At some point, as generations past, I believe the cause-effect reversed themselves. We don’t buy cars now because we want to, but because we must do so if we expect to feed our families.

While in Toronto this summer I was amazed at the lack of large chain grocery stores in the central core of the region, roughly the size of the City of St. Louis. Instead, every major street was a buzz with smaller markets and produce stands. For the person living in Toronto, the need for a car to buy groceries was nil. Instead they were offered numerous choices on where to shop. If they wanted to make some purchases at a more conventional grocery store a number of them were located along the subway lines further away from the core.

So my theory is that part of what is holding back St. Louis from repopulating as an urban core is partially the lack of grocery stores within walking distance from residential neighborhoods. Certainly, schools and mass transit are related issues but for those seeking a more urban and mostly car-free existence, it is a challenge to walk to the grocery store in the City of St. Louis unless you choose your place of residence carefully.

To this end, can we see a correlation with neighborhood density not around a transit stop but around grocery stores? So my theory goes that to rejuvenate and repopulate this city we need to have a reputable grocery store within a 1/4 mile walking distance of everyone. That is a lot of stores. Naturally, it would not happen overnight but you get the idea.

What wouldn’t work is the mammoth stores such as Schnuck’s (63,000sf), Dierberg’s, Shop-N-Save or even Whole Foods which are now approaching these other chains on store size. These chains will all claim they need to be bigger and bigger to compete. But does this only hold true in the far suburbs where they are competing to fill up a suburban family’s SUV? Chains like the locally based Save-A-Lot and Straub’s survive with smaller formats (granted, quite different from each other). California-based Trader Joe’s (owned by a trust of the brother that owns Aldi) also operates smaller format stores, roughly 15,000sf.

Can a chain operate more smaller stores and be as efficient as a single bigger store? It would seem the answer is yes. Is there a market for both type of store? Absolutely. The problem, as I see it, is we all assume the stores will get bigger and that we must drive to do our shopping. A good urban balance is not achieved locally between the bigger stores and the more reasonable sized stores.

Coming into the picture are other places to buy food such as Walgreen’s, CVS (in Illinois), Target and Wal-Mart. Locally-owned stores such as City Grocers, J’s International and numerous ethnic markets do serve a local need. And we have places like 7-11 and QT that supply basics on a convenience basis (24hrs, close by, cha-ching). And finally we see a resurgence in public markets throughout the city and region.

But, back to my theories and auto use. I believe that if we managed to locate a larger number of smaller stores (Aldi, Trader Joe’s, City Grocers, Straub’s, etc..) along with more farmer’s markets we can begin to break the auto habit. This would accomplish a number of things. Those on the lower end of the economic range, assuming they could use public transportation to get to work, could function in society without the huge financial burden of a car. This could very well improve their financial picture. The same holds true on up the economic ladder. By having fewer people driving within the city we’d have less need to build more parking structures. Our priorities would shift from road building projects to narrowing roads, widening sidewalks and constructing new buildings (local stores) where surface parking once existed. Demand for localized mass transit would increase substantially as more people lived within the city and more and more of those did not own personal vehicles.

Car sharing services would also be able to do well in such a market. In these cases, we could simply rent a car for a few hours to make that trip to the winery for the afternoon or to run to that business meeting out in the burbs not served by mass transit. That new TV, purchased with money saved by not owning a car, can be delivered.

Grocery shopping is keeping us from living a more car-free, walkable lifestyle in this city. Granted, if we were to subsidize the construction of 25 new stores in the city we would not see an immediate change. The correlation is there but it is not a direct cause-effect. But there is no denying that for many car ownership is required to lug home the week’s worth of groceries from the mega grocer.

– Steve


Former St. Lousian Authors New Book on Car-Free Living

Check out an article in the current West End Word on a new book by former St. Louisan Chris Balish, How to Live Well Without Owning a Car:

Balish is disarmingly frank about his own situation. In the book he tells his personal story of going “accidentally car free” while working for KSDK-TV Channel 5 as the host of Show Me St. Louis. At the time he worked in downtown St. Louis and lived on the western edge of the Central West End.

“In 2002 I was driving a shiny new $36,000 SUV,” he writes. “It was a dark blue Toyota Sequoia with a big V8 engine, power everything and enough seats to fit all my friends. I loved that thing, and I kept it immaculate. It was expensive, but I thought my status as a TV news anchorman necessitated an impressive ride and a flashy image.” Then when gas prices spiked, he thought about selling the SUV and downsizing. But, as it happened, the first person to respond to his classified ad bought the vehicle on the spot, before Balish had a new set of wheels lined up.

Balish was still living and working in St. Louis while writing the book and interviewed a number of locals, such as my friend Jeff Jackson, that manage without a car. From the promotional website for the book:

Despite what $20 billion of automobile advertising every year would have us all believe, buying or leasing a car, truck, or SUV is the worst financial move most people make in their lifetime. And they make this mistake again and again, at a cost of literally hundreds of thousands of dollars. High gas prices, car payments, insurance, depreciation, parking, repairs, maintenance, and nearly one hundred other expenses add up so quickly and silently that most car owners don’t even notice—they just see how little money they have left at the end of the month and wonder why.

The first two chapters are available as a free download on his website, LiveCarFree.com. You can order the book from locally-owned Left Bank Books for the published price of $12.95.

I’m going to move in this direction by selling my ’06 Scion and getting an old basic car outright. Goodbye car payments and goodbye expensive full coverage insurance. The trick is finding something that is cheap, reliable and not overly embarrassing. With my scooter serving more and more of my daily needs the car becomes less and less important.

– Steve


Grand Opening, 8 More Miles of St. Louis’ MetroLink Light Rail System

IMG_4537.jpgMetro & elected officials kicked off a series of ribbon cuttings this morning at the Forest Park Station in the City of St. Louis. This station was part of the original 1993 alignment but it was completely rebuilt to serve as a transfer station where the line now splits off to the airport vs. Shrewsbury.

I managed to stay ahead of the train and make it to a number of station openings: Forsyth, Brentwood and Shrewsbury. Below are videos taken at these openings. Interviews with a number of officials look and sound great but unfortunately they are not sync’d with each other (I can’t complain as YouTube is free). Many thanks to Pete at ArchCafe for giving me guidance on converting the clips from the camera format to Apple’s Quicktime Format (mp4) so the sound is sync’d.

You can also look at my photos from the opening on Flickr.

As you will learn in the videos this corridor has been held for more than a decade, awaiting this use. Also, the ribbon cutting was not done by a big pair of scissors but at each station they had ribbon that broke away as the train pulled in.

Arriving at Forsyth Station in University City

This is the big circular hole in the ground and yes, this is University City — barely! A local band was playing before and after the train arrived, keeping the crowd entertained. A number of vendors set up on the sidewalk just outside the station. One managed to block the artsy bike rack.

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More Videos From MetroLink’s Cross County Inagural Run

On Tuesday August 22, 2006 myself and others were treated to a “sneak a peak” ride on the new alignment of St. Louis’ MetroLink light rail system (see prior post w/video). The grand ribbon cutting is today at 11am at the Forest Park Station. Dignitaries will perform a progressive ribbon cutting at each station as they make their way to the end at Shrewsbury where LinkFest will be taking place.

Larry Salci, Metro’s CEO, narrates as we leave Shrewsbury, cross over I-44 and head into the Sunnen station in Maplewood. Salci shows his funny side by saying this new section was, “a bit more expensive.” Try, substantially more expensive. He explains how Phase 1 (original) and Phase 2 (St. Clair Illinois) used mostly abandoned right of way and existing tunnels. Salci compares our new underground stations to those of Washington D.C.’s Metro system.

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