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In the Interest of Safety?

August 21, 2006 Public Transit 8 Comments

Last week a reader emailed me with the following:

Around noon today, the Eads Bridge was shutdown to vehicular traffic while MoDOT investigated a “suspicious package”. At the same time, Metrolink continued to run.

Why is a threat that is considered high enough to warrant vehicular traffic diversion not sufficient to warrant the shutdown of Metrolink?

Back on June 24, 2005, authorities shutdown I-64/40 to traffic because of the threat posed by the explosions at the Praxair facility. Just as today, even though the highway was closed, Metrolink continued to operate. I went through that area on a westbound train at approximately 4:20 that afternoon and can tell you the air was very thick with chemical odors. Yet once I arrived home, you could see from the aerial shots that the trains continued to run.

In both instances, is this a case of transit authorities making an informed decision to continue operations? or is it a communications failure between police/MoDOT and Metro?

I shudder to think its the latter.

Last June I pursued this matter with Metro to no avail. With this latest incident, I’ll be trying again.

Interesting questions posed, I have no answers. I am too am curious why these threats are sufficient to divert motorists in cars yet trains with hundreds of passengers continue as if nothing is going on. None of the explanations are satisfactory:

1) Metro didn’t know about the dangers so they continued to operate as normal.
2) Metro knew about the dangers but didn’t feel they were strong enough to warrant messing up the schedule.
3) Any others?

With vehicular traffic closed in these two cases the Metro bus service would have been impacted, requiring bus drivers to find alternate routes due to the emergency situations. What is Metro’s responsibility in these situations? Should they announce to the passengers that a potential threat exists and give them an opportunity to exit at a station prior to entering the danger zone? I’d certainly like an official response from Metro on their policy relative to safety threats as well as an explanation about how the trains continuing to run during these two incidents relate to said policy. I have sent an email to Metro inquiring about this issue and will relay their response, if any, in a new post.

What are your thoughts on this issue?

– Steve


50th Anniversary of Buses on Broadway

Buses on Broadway is not a long running transit themed musical but the #40 Route in St. Louis. Yesterday, the 19th of August, marked fifty years since the line switched from streetcars to bus service.

While I cannot, as this time, prove a correlation between the change from streetcars to buses and the dramatic reduction in residents in the city during the same time period I am convinced this was at least a contributing factor. Transit was and will remain important to central cities and we cannot underestimate the importance of this relationship to perception, population trends general health of the community.

Citizens for Modern Transit Executive Director Thomas Shrout, Metro’s Walking tour guide Melanie Harvey, follow urbanist blogger Joe Frank and myself discussed organizing an event to commemorate (mourn?) the switch from streetcars to bus service bus our busy schedules simply didn’t allow us to get anything organized. Besides, we had doubt that anyone would ride the #40 simply for the purpose of noting the anniversary.

– Steve


First Look at Hanley Station

As the new MetroLink light rail line to Shrewsbury (aka Cross County extension) is set to open in less than a week I stopped by the new station near Hanley & Eager (map). Oh boy, what a mess that area is. Traffic is horrible and the adjacent developments are sorely lacking good pedestrian connections. But, this post is not about the immediate station but a new project just a hop, skip and 4/10ths of a mile walk to the South. From the project’s website:

Hanley Station is a mixed-use, urban community development located in the heart of Brentwood, Missouri. Hanley Station will feature 150 contemporary condominiums, a 123 room extended stay hotel, 3 free-standing restaurant venues and 11,000 square feet for lifestyle/boutique shopping. The development is anchored by two 5 story parking garages which provide direct, multi-level, covered access to all residents. Hanley Station subtlety offers its residents and patrons a true taste of “new urbanism”, yet maintains the thick tradition of one of St. Louis’ most sought after neighborhoods.

“Urban community?” Parking garages serve as anchors? A “true taste” of New Urbanism? Hmmm, I wish they had elaborated on the “thick tradition” of the neighborhood! Sadly I don’t think the marketing person that wrote this piece has any clue what defines an urban area, what it takes to comprise a community and what new urbanism is really about.

That all being said, the project is not bad for what it really is — some high-end condos (based on cost per square foot) with some adjacent restaurant and retail space. Unlike other projects in the area, the developers are willing to mix some uses and pack quite a bit into the relatively smallish site. They’ve also warmed my heart by extending a public street from the Hanley Industrial Park through their site out to Hanley.

Hanley Station - site

The Site:

Looking at the image to the right, North is to the top. The diagonal white line represents the new MetroLink rail line that is set to open this coming weekend. The actual station is just beyond the top of the image. And that distance, a mere 4/10ths of a mile per the sales staff, is the problem with this development. Actually, the development isn’t really at fault — the site is where it is relative to the new station through no fault of the developer. The problem is that people here will be adjacent to a wonderful mass transit system that can quickly get them to Clayton, the Loop, the Airport (Lambert or Midway in Illinois), downtown and beyond yet the ability to walk there is severely limited.

The developer is doing the right thing by making the site more dense and thus quasi-urban. They could very well have said the area as hopelessly devoted to the car and built another strip center. I’m thankful they did not as this is truly the first sign of hope in the Hanley/Eager area.

Over the next 10-20 years look for this entire area around this station to be completely transformed to the point you’d have a hard time knowing the area if you had been away. In 20 years this Hanley Station project, a pioneer in the area today, will look a bit lacking in how it relates to the street and public sidewalk compared to the newer projects that will get built.

In the meantime walking to Dierbergs, Trader Joes, Target, Best Buy or the MetroLink station are all a chore. The distance is very little but the environment does its best to say, “get in your car and drive.” Later this week I’m going to do a station by station review.

Hanley Station - concept

The Project:

Again, I think they’ve done a great job getting quite a bit onto the site. The two parking garages, each with room for 500 cars, are reasonably well hidden from the public streets. The 150 condos each have a balcony which will add interest to the area as people decorate these with furnishings and plants. People on their balconies will further animate the area.

Problems evident in this drawing are numerous. First, it is all very beige. However, one of the three restaurant spaces will be a colorful Houlihan’s which is relocating to this site from the nearby Galleria mall. The development has sidewalks but they appear like most suburban sidewalks do, as obligatory afterthoughts. They are indicating some relationship between the restaurant entrances and the main sidewalk along Hanley but we’ll see how that plays out in reality vs. colored pencil. The sidewalks themselves are an extension of the curb — pushed up against the street. Lack of on-street parking, both on Hanley and apparently the new Strassner, and a lack of street trees make the sidewalks the least hospitable they could possibly be. This is just one step above not having sidewalks at all.

Currently the two parking garages and the new street Strassner are under construction. While I could make some comment about the garages being built first this actually makes sense from a construction phasing perspective — on such a tight site with the garages in back they really must be built first. These will provide parking for all the trades on the remaining project.

The developer, MLP Investments, was also responsible for the mixed-use Kirkwood Station project that replaced the old Target in downtown Kirkwood. I reviewed Kirkwood Station as one of my very first blog posts back on October 31, 2004. Click here to view that post.

With construction just getting started I hope they will pay more attention to the layout of the sidewalks and consider the placement of street trees, guest bike racks, pedestrian crossings and such. MLP wants to do things right and relative to say THF Realty that did the grotesque Wal-Mart/Sam’s/Lowe’s across Hanley I’d say they are on the right track. I’m happy when I see developers heading toward a more urban model even when not required by code to do so. When they are done I’ll take another look and see how it went.

For information on the project see www.hanleystation.com.

– Steve


Hosteling Organization May Actually Open a Hostel

For decades the Gateway Council of Hostelling International holds the hugely popular annual fundraiser, the Moonlight Ramble. Each year thousands help raise money for a group whose mission includes youth travel yet does not operate a local hostel. I was critical of this practice last year (see post). It looks as though the group is closer to having a local hostel:

After 90 days of “due diligence,” Gateway Council Board of Directors has entered into a period of negotiation with the University of Missouri at St Louis. Negotiations center around office space, room cost, liability, signage, and renewability of lease. The Gateway Council is interested in creating a kitchen and dining space so the communal nature of hostelling is enhanced; University of Missouri at St Louis is receptive to this idea. The University is also making minor repairs and is painting all rooms.

This is good news indeed.

For years St. Louis has had a single hostel, the Huckleberry Finn Youth Hostel, on the edge of Soulard and thus near downtown. This hostel was previously listed as an official International Hostelling location but a few years ago the owner decided to stop paying the fee for the listing. It was never owned or managed by the local chapter, being privately owned instead. The hostel gets very mixed reviews. At roughly $20/night it is the only affordable choice for many, in particular those dependent upon public transit.

Back to the Gateway Council. They’ve been raising money for years although reports show much of what is raised is actually spent on hosting the fundraiser itself. But it looks like they are getting closer to opening their own hostel in the region. A location at UMSL has both good and bad implications (as would most sites). On the plus side it is facility that was designed as a dorm and is convenient to MetroLink light rail. On the down side it is really a a fair distance from downtown.

Many hostel travelers may arrive via train or bus so transit is very important. Getting from the current bus station to MetroLink is not the easiest although it is just as easy, if not easier, as getting to the hostel in Soulard. Once the new multi-model station opens the bus and train will be in one location right at the Civic Center MetroLink/MetroBus station on 14th. From Metro’s schedules it appears to be a 20 minute ride to UMSL South. To anyone arriving via Lambert Airport this hostel location would be ideal. The real problem is as people are sightseeing downtown and throughout the city they’ll have to go a long way to get back to their rooms. Perhaps that is the price they must pay for cheap accommodations?

A hostel on Delmar east of the MetroLink station would be a perfect location. With transit nearby and many cheap eats in the Loop we could really impress young travelers that one day may return as new residents. Obviously the local organization must work with the budget they’ve got and properties as they become available.

Last night the annual Moonlight Ramble was held in downtown St. Louis. At 10pm cyclists were arriving en mass for the midnight start. It is truly a great event. Hopefully the local organizers will realize increasing proceeds so as to be able to fully fund a local hostel.

– Steve

PS – For those who like to correct spelling please make note: My spell check and the dictionaries I consulted all list the spelling as hosteling — one L. However, the official organization uses two Ls, hostelling. You’ll see it spelled both ways above as I spelled their name as they list it and per the dictionaries otherwise.


Professionals Make Mistakes, Need Oversight

August 11, 2006 Public Transit 5 Comments

Via Green Car Congress comes an interesting story. It seems the transit agency for the Sacramento suburb of Elk Grove bought a fleet of 17 hybrid buses for “high-speed commuter transport on freeways.” Smart move? Well, not really. It seems none of the professionals that approved the plan stopped to consider that hybrid vehicles perform better in stop-and-go traffic.

I think most people grasp the basic concept that hybrids are able to regenerate the electrical power they need through braking. This is why their in-town mileage is often as good or better than the highway mileage. Putting hybrid buses on highway commuter lines is simply foolish.

Yet an entire transit agency and likely some sort of regional agency that disburses federal funds had to approve the project. Apparently the folks in the Seattle area realized the same thing after they received their diesel-hybrid buses (full story):

At times, the New Flyer hybrid articulated buses have gotten worse mileage than the often-maligned 1989 dual-mode Breda buses they are replacing. Yet the hybrid buses cost $200,000 more each than a conventional articulated diesel bus.

The Elk Grove agency is now contracting to purchase CNG (Compressed Natural Gas) buses for the commuter routes into Sacramento. I’d love to know if anyone pointed out to the professionals behind this blunder the potential problems? This is exactly why we need citizens and critics watching the process and questioning logic along the way.

– Steve