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North & South Transit Study Meeting Notes

Yesterday I made it to the first of three public meetings to be held this week on the subject of future transit in St. Louis with expansion to both North & South St. Louis. They study is now in month five of 18 months. Very little new information was shared although this is the first time the public is being shown routes different than those that came out of the earlier study back in 2000.

As a small aside, it was nice of PR Consultant Laurna Godwin of Vector Communications to make sure I got a “Media Kit.” As a result I was able to download the images you see below rather than rely on my photographic skills to take pictures of presentation boards.

Regular readers know I am critical of the plan to run light rail down our streets. Not that I don’t like in-street transit. Quite the opposite, I am a huge fan of in-street mixed traffic modern streetcars (not slow heritage/vintage streetcars). I don’t like the light rail in street concept because it creates dedicated lanes and because everywhere except downtown it will require a fixed median which I believe will make it too challenging to bring back once thriving commercial streets where ever the lines passes. Advocates say it is a necessity to get the reduction in travel time to both get funding for the system and to attract riders. For now I’m going to leave this debate for another day with a few exceptions below.

The first meeting was held last night on the Northside at the Herbert Hoover Boys and Girls Club, the site of the old Sportsman Park baseball stadium (history) and next door to the once thriving but now closed Carter Carburetor factory.

Another meeting will be held tonight, June 14, 2006 from 3:30pm to 6pm downtown (906 Olive) and then a third on Thursday evening, June 15, 2006, from 5pm to 7:30pm at the Missouri Botanical Gardens (Monsanto Research, 4500 Shaw). Click here for more info.
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Metro’s Chair Seeks to Correct the Media

Local rail advocacy group, Citizens for Modern Transit (CMT), sent the following out today:

In a letter to KMOX talkshow host Charlie Brennan, Hugh Scott, Chairman of the Metro Board of Commissioners, responded to inaccurate and unfairly critical comments made by Brennan on KMOX, and on KETC’s Donnybrook program. As a supporter of Metro and public transit in the St. Louis Region, we’re providing you with a copy of Chairman Scott’s letter to Mr. Brennan. These facts will help you respond to questions you might receive about Metro and its current MetroLink extension project.

Here is the letter to Charlie Brennan:

To: Charles Brennan

From: Hugh Scott

Date: 6/9/06

While I realize that your on-air comments on KMOX and Donnybrook need to be arranged in convenient sound bites, I have become increasingly bothered by your lack of knowledge on the subject situation.

When you say things like; “We all know Metro is a mess” and then back it up with comments about cuts in bus service and $28 million “in arrears” it shows that you have not really taken the time to look at what is actually happening at Metro. Likewise, your comment on the June 1 Donnybrook program that it is “dumb” that the new stations on the Cross County Extension do not have parking is simply wrong.

For your information, the actual facts are these:

1. The Cross County Extension is a year late and $150 million over budget due largely to poor and incomplete design work on the part of the engineering consortium hired to build the project. While it may be surprising that such large multi-national firms could do such shoddy work, the evidence speaks for itself. Obviously, we hope to recover a large amount of this overcost on behalf of the St. Louis taxpayers, in a lawsuit currently pending in St. Louis County Circuit Court.

2. Bus service has not been cut in the last four years. With the opening of the MetroLink extension, we will be eliminating bus routes where they duplicate the MetroLink expansion. Otherwise, bus service has in fact increased. I might add that ridership has increased significantly each of the past two years in spite of major fare increases.

3. The $28 million “in arrears” comment seems to refer to the fact that Metro has announced that without a tax increase or more subsidy from the State of Missouri or from the federal government, we will have a deficit in fiscal year 2008. Currently, Metro is not running a deficit and in fact finished FY ’06 with a balanced budget. Last month Metro’s board approved a balanced budget for FY 07, as well.

4. Metro has built large park and ride lots and/or garages at two of the nine new stations on the Cross County Extension.(Lansdowne and Richmond Heights) Further, there will be other (non Metro provided) adjacent parking opportunities offered at the Sunnen, Galleria, and Clayton stations. Remember also that many of the new stations are also transfer points where MetroLink connects with MetroBus service. Likewise, the parking lot at the existing Forest Park-DeBaliviere station will be re-opened in time for the opening of the Cross County Extension. You can be sure that as with the present alignment, Metro will be offering a great deal of free parking.

5. The stations without parking are in very densely populated areas where it can be expected that riders will arrive and depart on foot or by bus. Specifically, the Forsyth station exists to serve downtown Clayton workers and nearby residents, the Big Bend station serves the western portion of Washington University, and the Skinker station serves the eastern part of Washington University. While it would have been nice to provide parking at these locations, “park and ride” makes the most sense when it is adjacent to major highways and thoroughfares. This has been provided for in the new extension.

6. Metro is not a mess – quite the opposite. Larry Salci and the current management team arrived mostly after the Cross County project had begun. They realized quickly that the engineering consortium was not doing a good job and they fired them. Since Metro has taken over engineering and supervision, the project has gone remarkably well. Two years ago, Metro promised that the Cross County Extension would be operating in October of 2006. Today, it appears that this deadline will be met easily. While I am admittedly biased, I believe the present management represents the solution to the problem and not the problem.

I realize that the situation at Metro is baffling and frustrating to many in the community. As you can see from the above, it is difficult to summarize succinctly all of the issues here. To date, the media has shown little interest in understanding the actual issues and in reporting on them. Instead, print and broadcast media seem to “feed off” each other’s misinformation to create stories. While this obviously arouses the ire of already frustrated taxpayers, it does little to help the situation.

Pleased be assured that the Metro staff and I will be happy to meet with you and discuss this situation in detail at any time.

Hugh Scott, III


Metro Board of Commissioners

Not to be argumentative (well, OK, just a bit), here are some thoughts:

Metro blames the “engineering consortium” that was hired for cost overruns and delays. Who hired them? Metro did. As Scott points out in #6 above, “Larry Salci and the current management team arrive mostly after the Cross County project had begun.” That is a convenient excuse but it sounds a bit like the school board, “Oh yeah, that was the guys before us.”

I still have to wonder about the size of Metro. Some have suggested they are now a lean machine while others tell me there is fat to be cut. As a citizen it is really hard to get a grasp around such entities. I was thinking we should send the Alverez & Marsal team over to Metro but they’d probably cut all the bus & MetroLink drivers but retain everyone else, collect millions and then leave town before we realized what happened.

Metro needs money just to stay afloat. Not money for expansion, just operations. It will come in the form of a tax increase. I’m not sure how we can get them to prove they are fiscally responsible but I’d like your suggestions. If they want more money I’d like to know how the current funding level is being spent. I know part of the need for additional funding will the be additional operation of 8 more miles as well as some deferred debt. They need to start a really good sucking up PR campaign. I’m not sure bitching about the media is the best way to start…

– Steve


Revised Prediction for St. Louis Gas Prices

Back on December 30th 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.

What we must remember that the cost of this increase is not simply what we pay at the pump. While the average driver may be able to pay another $750-$1,000 for gasoline in 2006 than they did in 2005 that aggregate cost will mount. Many will be unable to juggle this increased expense with their incomes. Far suburban areas will continue to find it challenging to attract service workers because it simply will not be cost effective for someone to drive 20 miles for a minimum wage job.

Our entire economy is dependent upon oil, cheap oil.

Employers & employees located nearest to mass transit will be the best off. Ironically, it will be more and more costly to operate our bus system as fuel costs surge. Increased revenues from new riders and rate increases will not keep pace with fuel prices. Meanwhile, our government will likely continue road expansion projects rather than providing efficient mass transit where needed to keep the economy moving.

We may elect more Democrats to Congress in November but I don’t think that will help much, if any. Democrats have controlled the White House & Congress and still failed to do anything about sprawl, dependence on oil and auto fuel standards. Republicans are more cozy with oil interests but Democrats don’t seem willing to make any real change, presumably out of fear of not getting elected.

Locally things will be interesting as fuel prices increase. The City of St. Louis will actually be positioned well to deal with a slowing economy. I hope we can actually utilize some of our industrial buildings to once again manufacture goods to replace those we can no longer cheaply import from China. Our retail storefronts should again begin to open up as locally made goods are sold locally. Local farmers markets will see continued growth as the big grocery chains struggle to stock shelves with reasonably priced merchandise that has to be shipped cross country.

People will naturally gravitate together in the core. Sprawling suburbs with massive McMansions will become liabilities. Owners of those 3 acre lots may have to resort to growing veggies where they have the manicured lawn now.

This is not going to happen overnight but it has already started. The shift is taking place. How quickly the economy changes is hard to say as is how rough it will be.

– Steve


Forty Year Anniversary of Last St. Louis Streetcar

Yesterday marked the 40th anniversary of the last streetcar to operate in regular service in St. Louis. On May 21, 1966 the #15 Hodiamont line ceased operations. From Streets & Streetcars of St. Louis by Andrew D. Young:

“This line opened in 1875 as a narrow-guage steam railroad running northwest on right-of-way from 4000 Enright through Wellston to Florissant.”

For 91 years this line had numerous technical changes but continued to serve the needs to those residents along the line. Many forces following WWII took their toll on streetcar systems: old equipment, GM’s interest in selling buses, road paving & widening projects, bridge replacement projects, and increasing suburban sprawl. While impossible to prove my theory, I believe that had St. Louis updated its streetcar system rather than shutting it down we would not have lost the population we have over these last 40 years. Of course, this assumes many other factors such as something to control sprawl and creative ways to keep lines running while bridges were replaced.

MetroLink, everyone keeps reminding me, is a regional system. While this is nice for everyone far away from the core it does little to benefit me in the core. I want a modern transit system to once again serve the City of St. Louis and it’s inner ring of suburbs. We are a city and we should not be dependent up our cars or typical bus service.

Of course it always come back to money. A regional system is being pushed because St. Louis County can potentially get the money from voters to help fun more of the system. I’m increasingly of the mindset we need to find a way in the city to pay for a localized system of new modern streetcars. I think I’d even settle for one of the BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) lines as long as the vehicle that was selected was one that looked more like a rail transit vehicle than a bus.

We need both a regional and core system. The regional system cannot do work of a localized system nor can a local system do the job a regional system is expected to do. Light rail does a great job on the regional level but standard 40ft buses fall short at the local level. I’d like to see the light rail system remain in as much rail right-of-way as possible because that is where it does well. Streetscars, by contrast, are meant for streets.

Forty years is simply too long to have gone without a streetcar running down a city street. Maybe we’ll have enough vision to undo past wrongs.

– Steve


Notes From a MetroLink Luncheon

Yesterday I attended a luncheon hosted by CMT & WTS and sponsored by consultants HNTB. Speakers were Metro CEO Larry Salci and East-West Gateway Project Manager Donna Day.

Salci painted a rosy picture of the Cross County MetroLink extension, promising they will meet the budget and time table set in March 2005. That budget, $676 million, is $85 million per mile. Salci also indicated their budget for FY2007, which begins on July 1, 2006, is balanced. However, for FY2008 they are projecting at $28 million deficit due to various reasons such as deferred payments on Cross County, new rules on funding of employee pensions, and operations of the new lines. Salci indicated they plan to ask voters for another 1/4 cent sales tax just to break even.

Salci indicated the public will be “pleasantly surprise” by the completion date. The expected completion is around October but he said they are doing well on their schedule and that we’ll be seeing testing soon. Expect more news next month.

Donna Day elaborated on the Northside/Southside Study that her team is conducting. For the most part her talk was not much more than what we’d get from the study website. For a few months now we’ve been hearing talk of the team evaluating alternate routes to those that were considered the locally preferred routes back in 2000. Well, she showed these alternates for the first time. But, following the meeting, I was asked not to share what they were. Nothing would be gained by telling you now so I’ll just give you a hint.

One alternate to the Northside route was shown. It was, for the most part, a variation of the published route. On the Southside a couple of variations on the published route were shown in addition to a few completely different choices. The original 2000 routes as well as these alternates will be shown during a series of public meetings to be held next month:


Tuesday, June 13, 2006
5:00 p.m.-7:30 p.m.
Herbert Hoover Boys and Girls Club
2901 N. Grand
St. Louis, MO 63101
Presentations at 5:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.


Wednesday, June 14, 2006
3:30 p.m. -6:00 p.m.
Downtown St. Louis Partnership
906 Olive Street
St. Louis, MO 63101
Presentations at 4:00 p.m. and 5:15 p.m.


Thursday, June 15, 2006
5:00 p.m. -7:30 p.m.
Monsanto Center
Missouri Botanical Garden
4500 Shaw Blvd. (at Vandeventer)
St. Louis, MO 63110
Presentations at 5:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.

If we look at our current MetroLink system, as well as the soon to open Cross County extension, we can see that it has only a few at-grade street crossings. The new line, in fact, goes to great lengths to avoid any intersections. So it is no wonder East-West Gateway is taking a safe approach to suggesting the new proposed routes run in-street. That is, they are suggesting “reserved” lanes rather than mixed traffic. Physically this would look like a median down the middle of the street with poles for the overhead wires.

The implications are that crossing the street by foot, bike or car would only be possible at major intersections. The pros, they argue, is as a regional system the travel times are simply too high in a “mixed-traffic” system. At issue is how new systems are funded, they must show the new line will provide a time savings for commuters. So, the modern streetcar system I’ve advocated here before can provide excellent localized service but cannot compete with car travel from the suburbs. So, all we need to do is get Congress to change how they fund new transit systems…

– Steve