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Surviving I-64 Reconstruction

Yesterday I attended a luncheon organized by the Downtown St. Louis Partnership. Not one of my favorite organizations but the topic and speakers looked interesting so I forked over the $35 fee.

The topic was I-64 Reconstruction: Getting Prepared. Guests were Marc Cutler, a Senior VP with Cambridge Systematics and Rick Dimino, President of Boston’s Artery Business Committee. Both were brought in to help advise our region on how to get us through the reconstruction of I-64. Their experience: The Big Dig.

They are part of a team looking at ways to address traffic during the construction process. This includes looking at traffic along the construction route, north-south crossings over the construction zone, and other arterial roads that will handle much of the normal traffic.

Other topics briefly discussed were ways the public deals with construction. This was basically three shifts in behavior: time shifting, mode shifting or destination shifting.

With time shifting the idea would be adjust work schedules so that not everyone is commuting at the same times of the day. With mode shifting the idea is to get commuters out of the car and into transit or cycling. Destination shifting is something we’ll hopefully minimize as we don’t want people avoiding destinations. However, minimizing trips can be a good thing.

Working to keep bus service going will be a major challenge as 17 bus lines either use the highway or cross the highway. As the speakers pointed out, the last thing you want to do during a major highway reconstruction project is reduce transit service.

I spoke with Rick Dimino following the meeting and he indicated he was surprised that we were not including transit along I-64 as part of the reconstruction. He also acknowledged how at the end of Boston’s Big Dig they are going to be able to weave the city back together after being severed by their 1950’s highway. A goal that will not be accomplished by our project.

I really enjoyed talking with Dimino as I think he really gets urbanity. He said early designs for the original Boston highway avoided the center of town. Had the original designs been followed the highway would have been built elsewhere and they never would have had The Big Dig project.

The consultant team is expected to have detailed findings by May 16th and a technical report in June.

I’m still not convinced we need to rebuild I-64. I like the idea of looking at how our existing streets can be better utilized by traffic and how mass transit can play a bigger role in our future. While I am very supportive of the route chosen for the Cross-County MetroLink that is set to open later this year, I do think setting aside a right-of-way along I-64 from the new line out West would be very wise. Sadly, we are going to spend hundreds of millions of dollars and not give ourselves that option.

– Steve


AIA Holds Design Charrette in St. Louis’ The Ville Neighborhood

mlk charrette - 09.jpgSaturday’s design charrette in The Ville neighborhood was a tremendous success. The residents of the area are ready for change and, with a few exceptions, most understand the concepts of recreating a walkable neighborhood. The sheer number of residents participating in the all-day charrette organized by the St. Louis Chapter of the American Institute of Architects was encouraging.

Fourth Ward Alderman O.L. Shelton called the event “historic” and I think he is right, it was a critical step in a long road to returning The Ville to its rightful place as a culturally rich and diverse neighborhood.

I was unable to attend the first few hours of the charrette so I arrived after the seven teams had made their initial goals and had begun working on solutions. I spent the afternoon walking around observing the teams. One team had discussed my prior post advocating for a modern streetcar down MLK and they asked me to talk with them for a bit.

I want to reiterate: the charrette was a huge success. However, I want to offer my own critical thoughts on the charrette as well as the the main street, Martin Luther King Drive. The intent of the critical look is not to take away from the excellent work done over the weekend but to make sure the thought process stays on track.

Here we go…
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Metro Introduces TripFinder beta for St. Louis Mass Transit

One of the more challenging things for a new transit rider is trying to figure out how to get from A to B on the bus or light rail. I know the #40 Broadway bus route well enough now to get from my house to downtown with ease but beyond that I’m pretty much in the dark.

Metro now has the TripFinder service available in beta form on their site (click here). I tried out a few different places originating from my house and it worked pretty well. In each case it gave me several choices and showed me in detail how much I’d be walking and the total time spent traveling.

The system lets you change assumptions about walking speed so if you are faster walker you can adjust this to your own rate. If you do as I have done and bike to the bus and take your bike with you then you can simply adjust the walking rate to be something closer to what you’d bicycle.

You can also save locations that you frequent. I’m glad this is available as I think it will help people transition away from auto dependence. I’ve added this link to my links on the right side under ‘St. Louis Area Resources’. Now if only it existed in some kiosks at the bus stops…

– Steve


St. Louis Not Prepared for Oil Crisis

SustainLane has created a ranking of “50 Largest cities Ranked by Readiness for an Oil Crisis” (see list at right). St. Louis didn’t even make the list! My hometown of Oklahoma City, known for its massive sprawl, was ranked ahead of St. Louis at #50.

From SustainLane:

SustainLane analyzed commute trend data within major cities–how many people rode, drove, carpooled, walked, or biked to work. Then we looked at how much people rode public transit in the general metro area, and metro area road congestion. Sprawl, local food, and wireless connectivity made up our final areas of data analysis (see chart below for weighting of these criteria). The index did not take into consideration energy impacts associated with heating or electricity, which would be largely dependent on non-oil energy sources, such as coal, natural gas, and nuclear energy. Only one U.S. city in our study, Boston, uses a significant amount of heating oil. For this reason Boston, ranked #2, gets an asterisk: if heating oil usage were used as a criteria its rank would be somewhat lower.

As fuel prices continue to rise the St. Louis region will lag behind these other regions. The time to act is now.

What Can The Most Vulnerable Cities Do?
It’s not impossible for cities that are now the most vulnerable to an oil crisis to become more prepared.

One city that is taking comprehensive actions to lessen its economic and physical dependence on the automobile is Denver. Ranked #15 on our oil crisis preparedness index, Denver has bet its future on new multi-modal public transportation as part of an economic strategy known as Transit Oriented Development.

The city passed the largest regional transportation funding measure in America’s history in 2003. The measure, which was led by Mayor John Hickenlooper and regional mayors, garnered 73 percent voter approval for a $4.7 billion initiative that combines funding for multiple new light rail, commuter rail, and bus rapid transit lines. There will even be a ski train to zip adventurers into the nearby constellation of Rockies resorts.

While other regions are funding and building state of the art transportation systems we are looking at spending massive sums on rebuilding an existing highway and building a new bridge. Our priorities need to be changed. We also need a leader to help guide the region to a more sustainable model.

Full Story here. Thanks to reader Jim Zavist for the link.

UPDATE 4/11/06 @ 6:45pm
The rankings have been called into question for this study. From the methodology on their related US City Rankings we know they considered all cities with a population greater than 100,000. With the City of St. Louis in the mid-300s we would have part of the study group but simply failed to make a showing on the top 50 list. As evidence, the City of Arlington TX has a population less than the City of St. Louis but appears as #43 on the list. I’ve sent SustainLane an email asking to clarify the ranking of St. Louis.

UPDATE 4/12/06 @ 7:45am
Well, turns out I was wrong and Publiceye was correct. Warren from SustainLane added a comment below to clarify the methodology for their sustainable cities project was different than that used to rank cities for oil crisis preparedness. In short they took the top 50 cities by population figures. Arlington TX was behind St. Louis in the 2000 Census but by the 2004 update that was used they had pulled ahead. So we don’t really know where we’d rank because we are too small to be counted.

– Steve


Removing Highways to Restructure the St. Louis Region

Rather than spend hundreds of millions on rebuilding highway 40 (I-64 to the rest of the map reading world) we should just tear it out completely. Don’t look so confused, I’m totally serious. This is not a belated April fools joke.

Our highways in the middle of urban areas are relics to the cheap gas economy that is quickly coming to an end. In addition to removing highway 40, we should remove all the highways within our I-270/I-255 Loop: I-55, I-70, I-44, and I-170

I’ve not gone crazy nor have I been smoking anything.

And before you scroll down to the comments section to explain all the conventional wisdom reasons why this won’t work I ask that you hear me out first. I know we cannot just remove the highways and leave the balance of our political entities, zoning and other systems in place and expect this to make a lick of sense. Therefore, I have some basic assumptions & qualifications that would need to accompany the removal of any or all highways in our main urbanized area of the region. The likelihood of this coming together in our lifetime is slim but as the economy changes we will need to change and adapt to remain competitive with other regions.

Keep in mind that 60 years ago men took maps and drew lines where we’d wipe out entire neighborhoods for highways and housing projects. In hindsight, huge mistakes were made that disrupted lives and cost millions. Today we are still dealing with the aftermath of these poor decisions. So I’m taking a map and looking at ways we can undo damage previously done without inflicting new damage.
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