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Our Gas Prices Are Low

bp3059Today I spotted regular gas for $3.06 a gallon at a BP station at Virginia & Bates. In December 2005, when gas was around $2.20 a gallon, I predicted we’d see sustained prices over $3/gallon for regular. We are certainly not at that point but I don’t see it dropping much below $2.80/gal.

The wild card here is the national elections in November. The public is upset about the high price of gas and we may see politicians on both sides of the aisle try to manipulate the price down, if only temporary.

But our gas prices are now, artificially low. Those of us that drive do not pay our fare share of the cost of roads and getting oil to the gas pump. We should be paying in the neighborhood of $5.00/gallon. America has for generations been subsidizing those that drive while penalizing those that cannot or chose not to drive. Few places exist in America where one can live without a car.

In the new global economy our dependence upon cheap oil and our cars to get us to work is going to cripple us when it comes to competing with other nations. Our decades long love affair with the car and driving is going to bite us in the ass.

In the 1950s we had a streetcar system throughout the City of St. Louis, supporting a population in excess of 800,000 people. We dismantled our streetcar system and, indirectly, dismantled our tax base (yes, many factors contributed to the loss of population).

A smart transportation system is the key to our future success. To be continued…

– Steve


Our Interstates At 50: A Midlife Crisis?

Tomorrow the Missouri Department of Transportation will be holding a pro-highway construction love fest in Columbia MO. The event, Our Interstates At 50: A Midlife Crisis Public Policy Forum, is predictably going to tell us why we need the road equivalent of a fancy new sports car, hair implants and young trophy spouse.

JEFFERSON CITY – Retired U.S. Gen. and NBC News Analyst Barry McCaffrey will join state and national transportation leaders in a discussion about the past, present and future of Missouri’s interstate system at a public policy forum scheduled for June 22 at the University of Missouri-Columbia. McCaffrey, a national infrastructure expert who also serves as HNTB Federal Services Chairman, will speak at 12:30 p.m.

The forum, sponsored by the Missouri Department of Transportation and the university’s Harry S Truman School of Public Affairs, is being held in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of the nation’s interstates.

What is really telling is the list of panel sessions and who they’ve invited as panelists. Don’t look for any smart growth folks or someone from the Sierra Club!

The Impact of the Interstate Highway System; Moderator: Bob Priddy, Missourinet

• Mary Ann Naber, Federal Highway Administration
• Allen Masuda, Federal Highway Administration
• Bill Ankner, Missouri Transportation Institute
• Charlie Nemmers, UMC College of Engineering

The Interstates Today: Where We Are, Where We Need To Be; Moderator: Jerry Mugg, HNTB

• Frank Moretti, TRIP (The Road Information Program)
• Marty Romitti, Missouri Economic Research and Information Center, Department of Economic Development
• Hal Kassoff, Parsons Brinckerhoff

The Future of the Interstate: Strategies for Success; Moderator: Kevin Keith, MoDOT

• Mary Peters, HDR Incorporated
• Shirley Ybarra, Ybarra Group
• Bob Heitmann, Zachry American Infrastructure
• Daniel L. Rust, Center for Transportation Studies, UMSL
• Chris Gutierrez, Kansas City SmartPort

Look for them all to congratulate each other and to those prior generations for being so forward thinking. Then they will tell us we are facing a critical situation and need to invest billions more in our highway infrastructure. We bought it 50 years ago based on the Cold War and being able to evacuate the cities quickly in case of nuclear threat. Of course, we did evacuate our cities just over a period of several decades.

You can read the two-page press release here.

Speaking of billions on highway projects, have you heard about the new highway from Mexico to Canada????

A MASSIVE road four football fields wide and running from Mexico to Canada through the heartland of the United States is being proposed amid controversy over security and the damage to the environment.

The “nation’s most modern roadway”, proposed between Laredo in Texas and Duluth, Minnesota, along Interstate 35, would allow the US to bypass the west coast ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to import goods from China and the Far East into the heart of middle America via Mexico, saving both cost and time.

According to the article in the Scotsman, construction may start on the Texas portion as early as next year.

The Texas section, called the Trans-Texas Corridor, would create separate lanes for trucking as well as provide rail corridor for passenger & freight service. To me this smacks of road interests teaming up with the trucking industry to “invest” in our future. The entire necessary right of way exceeds 1,000ft. That is huge! Out in corn fields it is no big deal I suppose but as you approach urbanized areas, such as along I-35, you are going to cause major problems.

From the anti Trans-Texas Corridor site CorridorWatch:

The Corridor plan is designed to provide transportation funds, more than transportation. Rather than identify specific transportation needs and offer solutions, the Plan defines funding as the need and the Corridor as the solution. Accordingly it’s not important where the Corridor is built, as long as it generates revenue.

Likely a valid point. I think many big projects these days are designed around funding more so than actually need to solve a problem.

– Steve


MetroLink Arrives in Shewsbury (w/Video!)

After posting earlier today about the testing of the new MetroLink line I decided to head over to the Shewsbury/Lansdowne station to witness the arrival. Sadly, I arrived just as the second of two cars were being pushed into place. I even arrived early on the off chance Metro was ahead of schedule.

I scooted around the parking lot getting video and photos from various angles. As I was nearly done an orange vested person approached me saying the area was still under construction and not open to the public. I showed him the Metro press release announcing the event and inviting the media to witness the event. For the record, the news crews were not lined up at the station.

This guy was upset the PR department invited the media and didn’t bother to tell him to expect people to be arriving at a construction zone (although it is virtually complete). As the press release indicated, the platforms were off limits so I stayed on my scooter in the parking lot.

Well, I did get off my scooter once, to shoot some stills and a video of the bike racks. The standard wave rack, designed to hold 3 bikes, is positioned too close to the retaining wall to be used as designed. In April 2005 I had discussions with someone close to the project who reviewed the bike racks for all the new stations. My contact identified the rack for this station being shown on the drawings as “being too close to the retaining wall.” I had hoped that by bringing up the issue with such advance notice it would have been possible to correct the drawings and install the racks in a more suitable place. Rather than giving them the benefit of the doubt in April 2005 I probably should have gone public with what I knew about rack locations as designed.

I’m still experimenting with video so check out this short clip. Don’t be too critical on the editing or music selection but do let me know what you’d like to see in future videos.

– Steve


MetroLink Slowly Pulls Into Shrewsbury Station Today

Testing on the new 8-mile length of the MetroLink “Cross County” extension began this morning at 9am. But don’t look for a train speeding along the track, it will take them 4 hours to get from Des Peres Road (just east of Skinker) to the end of the line at Shrewsbury.

From the press release:

The train and test crew are moving at walk speed (2-3mph average) stopping at each station platform to take measurements.

The release also says they will be “towing” the vehicle but don’t elaborate as to how. Presumably the electrical system is not all in place for the train to operate under its own power. However, they also caution media to assume that all wires a live.

Metro is suggesting the following locations for viewing the train:

•Sidewalk south of University Drive, north of Forest Park Parkway
and just east of Big Bend. (1.2 miles along the test route)
• Public sidewalk adjacent to Forsyth station (2.0 miles along)
• Bemiston Avenue Overpass, over Forest Park Parkway (3.0 miles)
• Morrow Drive at Galleria Parkway (3.8 miles)
• Maplewood station, visible above Manchester Rd (5.4 miles)
• Sunnen station, visible from the cul-de-sac on Laclede Station Rd at
Sunnen Drive (5.9 miles)
• I-44 Bridge (6.7 miles)
• Shrewsbury station (7.2 miles)

You’ll need to do the math to figure out when they will be at the various viewing locations. They are suggesting they will arrive at Shrewsbury at 1pm this afternoon.

On a related note…

IMG_1215.jpgThis past Saturday over 40 people from both the City of St. Louis and the City of Shrewsbury gathered to conduct a design charrette examining TOD (transit oriented development) possibilities for the new Shrewsbury Station.

Seven teams worked all day on their ideas after touring the area and viewing a presentation on TOD. Participants included residents from both cities, local architects & planners. The event was organized by Citizens for Modern Transit along with Shrewsbury Mayor Bert Gates and St. Louis’ 16th Ward Alderwoman Donna Baringer. Rolling Stanley, director of Planning & Urban Design for the City of St. Louis, was among the professionals helping guide the charrette. Rollin’s wife Ann, also planner, was on one of the seven teams.

Many great ideas came out of the results, including some interesting reconfigurations of the street pattern along River Des Peres. I think one of the best ideas was to continue Wabash Street south of Lansdowne, crossing the “river” to connect with the existing Boulevard. All teams focused on creating a mixed-use area along Lansdowne at the station or in the immediate area. Some accepted the MoDot’s idea of connecting River Des Peres Boulevard with a new I-44 interchange. Others weren’t so keen on the idea. Everyone agreed that River Des Peres should actually have water!

I spoke with both Mayor Bert Gates and Alderwoman Donna Baringer. They seemed equally excited about the process and were very thankful to everyone that participated. Baringer acknowledged the help of Rolling Stanley in this and prior events (see related video below).

“If it weren’t for him I wouldn’t be so well versed in the best urban designing and streetscaping we can come up with”

The Cross County MetroLink extension has certainly had its low points with the budget and delays but I find it very exciting to be at the point we are now, so close to opening day. What are your thoughts?

UPDATE 6/20/06 @ 4:10pm – Video embedded within post, removed earlier link to video.

– Steve


What Would You Want In A Downtown Loop?

In response to yesterday’s post on the discussion of an expanded MetroLink system some were saying the two alternate routes for downtown just didn’t do enough. I tend to agree.

So it got me thinking, again, about what kind of internal downtown loop I’d want to create. This, in my mind, would be self contained and not connected to future north & nouth MetroLink lines. I’ve argued in the past for a modern streetcar system but I thinking at this point getting something running sooner might help spur additional development (residential, retail & office). Waiting for the funds for a streetcar system might result in a slow down of development.

So what would I do?

For cost reasons I’d start with a rubber tire (aka bus) vehicle. I would not want one of those ugly fake trolley looking buses nor would I want a standard shuttle or regular city bus. I’ve seen buses which look more like a rail transit vehicle — that is what I want.

In the ideal world I’d make this new rubber tire transit vehicle electric with overhead wires but again I am trying to be realistic rather than too far fetched. Perhaps a future phase would switch to electric vehicles and the original vehicles move on to serve shuttle purposes in another part of town like Cherokee St.

Where would it go?

The route would be simple so people aren’t confused about where it goes. I’d do a couplet by going eastbound on Olive and westbound on Locust. The question becomes which streets create the eastern and western Ends. I think on the east end I’d use either 7th or 9th, both being close enough to the 8th & Pine MetroLink station. On the west end of the loop I’ve got three choices: 23rd Street (just before Jefferson), Jefferson or Beaumont St (one block West of Jefferson).

While my proposed route is a basic rectangle that is easy to understand and put on signage it excludes many areas it leaves off many major stops. Not connected are Union Station, Savvis Center, 14th Street Transfer Center, Busch Stadium, Convention Center/Jones Dome or the riverfront. I don’t think a downtown loop can or should serve each and ever area of interest, if so, it would make the entire round trip a good 45 minutes or more. The question becomes what is the ideal compromise route and how close can we get so that people are willing to walk the rest of the way.

My route is heavily focused on the emerging West Downtown neighborhood located between Jefferson and 18th or 12th (depending upon who you ask). I think this area has great development potential and a transit line to get residents to offices in the CBD as well as others out to the area for lunch/dinner would be quite helpful in making development happen at a faster pace. If it extended to Beaumont & Olive it would be right at the foot of all the workers at A.G. Edwards.

How would we pay for it?

Such a circulator should probably be free or a minimal charge like a dollar, not enough to cover actual operations. So who would foot the bill? To a degree I think such a line serving downtown is in the interest of everyone in the city and region. As our downtown continues to prosper this attracts attention from outside the region which might result in a business relocating to the city or other parts like Belleville IL or Fenton, MO. I don’t know that we can convince the region of the benefit but it could be worth a shot. At the very least such a downtown loop would benefit downtown property owners, business owners and residents. We already have a CID (Community Improvement District) with special taxes for the Eastern portion of downtown. Create another to the West and perhaps that is the start.

How often and how long?

The issue of frequency and hours of operation is tough. I’d hate to see tax money pay for an empty bus to drive around all day although I think that is inevitable at times. I could see a morning rush getting residents from lofts in the West to jobs in the CBD with the reverse in the afternoon. The downtown loop could help bring workers from the CBD out to restaurants in parts West for the lunch rush. In the evening I could see residents from all over downtown using the shuttle to get to dinner, the soon to open bowling alley and the planned movie theatre. The potential does exist to make it possible to get around downtown without using a car. For a downtown worker on a limited income, not having a car could possibly allow them to buy or rent a small loft in the West Downtown area.

Future expansion of the loop could continue west toward Grand. This might be phased in over a period of a few years with each year adding 3-4 more blocks to the West. I’m not so crazy about Olive west of Compton with SLU’s massive parking garage and gated campus. Perhaps at some point the route switches to Locust & Washington?

What are your thoughts? Tell me what you think of my initial thoughts or outline your own concept.

– Steve