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Walking In Memphis… & Little Rock

March 16, 2006 Public Transit, Travel 8 Comments

I’m planning a road trip to visit the family in Oklahoma. Instead of my usual route directly on I-44 I’m taking a quick detour through Memphis & Little Rock. The main goal is to experience Memphis’ Mainstreet Trolley and Little Rock’s River Rail.

While I am in those cities I also want to check out some modern in-fill projects, New Urbanist projects and other vibrant areas. The problem is, I don’t know where to find what I’m looking for. So, I’m open to suggestions you may have on places to visit in Memphis & Little Rock. I will have only a few hours in each city and will be spending a night in Little Rock.

So, if you can think of urban projects or places to visit in either city please use the comments below. If you’ve got links to websites with helpful information please include those as well.

– Steve


New Website Launched for Northside-Southside Mass Transit Study

A new website has been launched for the Northside-Southside transit study. From the site’s homepage:

From January 2006 for the next 18 months, this is where you will find the latest information on planning MetroLink and other major transit improvements for the City of St. Louis, Missouri.

In reality the locally preferred routes selected a few years back were routes through the city to get to both north & south county. Plus, as I’ve said before, I don’t think light rail in the middle of the street is a good urban solution. Check out the site yourself and be sure to use the comment form!

The site is visually attractive and easy to use. However, it fails to include an RSS feed for updates. Those of us that use feeds to know when a site has been updated must now manually check the site. Not smart!

Click here to view the new site.

– Steve


Possible Modern Streetcar Routes for St. Louis

It is no secret I want modern streetcars in St. Louis. For those not familiar with the concept of modern streetcars, they are new high-tech vehicles quite similar to light rail vehicles. They have a low-floor design which allows for easy entry/exit from a curb. Unlike light rail systems, the modern streetcar runs in “mixed-traffic” with cars. Where vintage trolley/streetcar systems are more nostalgic than functional, the modern streetcar is highly function for local transit while The only example in North America is in Portland although a number of cities, such as Tucson, are considering such a system.

I’ve been reading up on Porland’s system, now a few years old, and they’ve had an amazing amount of development around their line. This is largely due to development being the initial goal, the line was designed to connect two vacant (or nearly vacant) industrial brownfield sites. Zoning was changed to require minimum density. Developers have been able to get a good return on their investment. From the Development Report dated January 2006:

The Portland Development Commission (PDC) negotiated a Master Development Agreement with Hoyt Street Properties, owners of a 40-acre brownfield in the heart of the River District. The Agreement tied development densities to public improvements with the minimum required housing density increased incrementally from 15 to 87 units per acre when the Lovejoy Viaduct was deconstructed, to 109 units/acre when the streetcar construction commenced and 131 units/acre when the first neighborhood park was built. The developer has stated that without the Streetcar and the accessibility it provides, these densities would not have been possible. The agreement was a unique and essential piece of the public/private partnership that catalyzed development of the River District and serves as a model for the agreement established for in South Waterfront.

Those are some serious densities. The kind of density that makes a neighborhood vibrant and a transit system that is highly viable. With the idea of placing transit where it could be coupled with new development I have prepared a few possible modern streetcar routes. I have intentionally placed the routes so they intersect or come close to the existing MetroLink line.

Basic Assumptions for all Concepts:

  • Streetcar line would be modeled on the Portland Streetcar with modern low-floor vehicles (not “vintage” or “heritage” vehicles). Streetcars would operate in mixed-traffic but would be given signal preference over cross-street traffic. Lines would run in the outside travel lane (not center) and would stop at curb bulb outs every 1/5 of a mile or so.
  • Eminent domain (or even threat) should not be used to assemble land for development within streetcar zone.
  • Form-bsaed zoning overlay should be enacted for the area served by the streetcar (three city blocks on each side of line). Zoning overlay should set out minimum units per acre (gradually increasing at certain benchmarks) and maximum parking spaces.
  • Care should be given to ensure the streetcar zone offers a wide mix of housing options
  • Federal funding is not likely so local support is needed.
  • As with Portland, the City of St. Louis will likely need to own the system and hire out the management from Metro or another organization.
  • … Continue Reading


    39 And Counting

    It seems like yesterday when I was a young college graduate moving to St. Louis from Oklahoma City. I was 23 and so excited about St. Louis’ urban potential.

    I’m still excited about the potential of the urban fabric and with the progress made so far. However, I’m less enthusiastic for the “system” to change and adapt. The system serves those in the system, so why change.

    I’m growing increasingly impatient of the system and those self serving individuals that perpetuate it. I’m especially disappointed by those who claim to be progressive and then get caught up in the system, causing them to do thing just to keep their jobs (you know who you are).

    Why am I increasingly impatient? Well, today is my 39th birthday.

    As you might expect I’m reflecting on my life to this point and what it means to have my last year in my 30s. And I’m thinking about what life may hold for me in my 40s, 50s, 60s and beyond.

    I crave a vibrant urban life and, today at least, I feel like time is running out. I don’t have the luxury of waiting 30-40 years for a complete light rail system in St. Louis and a substantially increased population.

    I want it all.

    Great urban density. Streetcars. Bike racks on every street. Elected officials unwilling to settle for some suburban drive-thru. A collective vision for St. Louis.

    I want it all, now!

    At 25 I could be patient. Same for 30 and even 35. My time of patience is over.

    I have some goals to accomplish this last year in my 30s. I will push even harder for my vision of an urban St. Louis. I hope to influence the outcome of the 2007 aldermanic race in the even numbered wards. I hope to breakdown the ward machine in St. Louis and open up discussion on planning, design, transportation and such. And hopefully I will begin doing some modern in-fill projects throughout the city.

    The more the establishment resists the more determined I will become. The fun thing is the ranks of people who share my views is growing while the numbers wishing to maintain the status quo are dropping.

    I’m determined to have an urban existence in St. Louis.

    – Steve


    The Future of Transit Oriented Development (TOD) in the St. Louis Region

    Local transit booster group Citizens for Modern Transit (CMT) sponsored a program earlier today called, The Future of Transit Oriented Development (TOD) in the St. Louis Region. This invitation only event included representatives from throughout the region including, Donna Day from East-West Gateway Council of Governments; Rollin Stanley, St. Louis’ Director of Urban Planning & Design (and CMT board member); a number of local architects and developers, etc…

    The guest speakers brought in by CMT were pretty impressive.

    First up was Ken Kinney, the project director on the Northside/Southside Light Rail Study. Mr. Kinney is with the firm of HNTB out of their Chicago office. He talked about the current study which is building upon prior work done in 1998-2000. Specifically he mentioned the current study area is focusing solely on the City of St. Louis with the northside route ending near I-70 (close to Goodfellow) and the southside route ending at I-55 & Loughborough (yes, the site of “Loughborough Commons” sprawl center, still under construction)

    Kinney indicated they are doing a “Transit/Development – Supportive Policy Analysis” as part of both study areas. From his comments I took this to mean two things. First he mentioned looking at other cities to see how their transit policies might help development. Second was to look at the municipal policies to see how that might affect (pro or con) development along proposed routes.

    newlands143.jpgHe admitted the most controversial part of the northside and southside routes are that they both include running at street level, especially downtown. He showed an example of a high-floor vehicle like our MetroLink vehicles in a center median situation (Manchester, England). As you can imagine this requires large platforms. As others in the process have previously indicated, they will most likely use what is referred to as a “low-floor” vehicle. These have a low center section that is seldom more than a foot above grade so stops are much easier to design and build. Meeting ADA (American’s with Disability Act) requirements are also much easier going this route.

    For the low-floor light rail he showed a suburban Portland example in the center of Interstate Avenue. In this case the center of the road is consumed with the poles in the center and a line going in each direction. Traffic is kept to the outside and away from the tracks. The example at right is actually a computer mock up for Interstate Ave in Portland (source).

    But next he showed his “favorite” example: the newish Portland Streetcar (a modern line, not vintage). His image shows new condo buildings being constructed next to the line. Below is an image from the same general area.

    Image hosted by Webshots.com
    [Portland thumbnail by milantram, click image for full sized version.]

    This streetcar line was not finished on my last visit to Portland. Time for another visit!

    Next up to speak was Robert Cervero from the University of California at Berkeley. I see in the program that his “participation has been made possible through East-West Gateway Council of Governments.” Mr. Cervero is a subconsultant on the northside & southside study areas.

    Most of are probably familiar with the term TOD (Transit Oriented Development) but he mentioned a couple of others. TOD’s step-brother, TAD (Transit Adjacent Development). A good example of TAD is say the suburban stuff in Richmond Heights off Eager road. This development is adjacent to transit but it not oriented to transit. Another is AOD, or Auto Oriented Development. This is suburbia or the proposed Grand McDonald’s. He used another phrase I really liked, “walk-n-ride” to describe just walking from your development to the transit train. This is a contrast to the common park-n-ride lot we see near most of our suburban MetroLink stations.

    Cervero stressed “balanced corridor planning” when evaluating various criteria such as speed and development potential. He showed how New Jersey had a number of older commuter rail lines that were not encouraging new TOD’s around stations. After decreasing travel times to Manhattan from 45 minutes to 30 minutes suddenly everyone was interested in riding the lines and they began to see increased TODs and stations.

    Cervero indicated he felt our MetroLink light rail system has been hugely successful from a ridership standpoint but not so much so from a TOD perspective. I’d certainly agree. St. Louis, he argues, took the path of least resistance when building our system by using existing tunnels and rail corridors. This path didn’t require expensive land purchases or the taking of homes (although it did require moving some graves near the airport). The problem with the existing route(s) is by using rail lines the transit wasn’t necessarily placed in areas where we might have seen increased development around a stop.

    He concluded his time with a picture of the Grand South Grand area at Arsenal and Grand. He described the wonderful building fabric and said, “You almost want a Portland-style streetcar.” Not almost, I do want a streetcar line down Grand (among others)! I’ve made my preference for streetcars quite clear to CMT Executive Director Tom Shrout so when Cervero made this comment I looked over to see Tom’s reaction, he was looking back to see my reaction.

    Last up was Jack Wierzenski from Dallas’ transit system, DART. [Side note: I took my driver’s test in my mom’s Dodge Dart] DART was established in 1983 with the system opening 13 years later in 1996. Since then they’ve managed to build considerable more total lines than us with far more coming on line in the next 10 years. After touring St. Louis today he said they are behind us with respect to retail & loft development downtown.

    He showed some great examples of previous park-n-ride lots from the original system that are now TOD projects. The end of one line is in Plano, TX where their downtown was a bit tired. A new TOD has helped improve the area. The made a number of comments about their engineers, how their only focus was moving the transit vehicles as quickly as possible or having parking and bus lines right next to the stations. His job is balance the engineers against the need for creating quality pedestrian environments at the stations. Are you listening Metro?

    Following the presentations was a frank discussion about where we are now. One participant didn’t think the images of dense new development would fly in north St. Louis because most residents would fear being displaced by eminent domain. Public approval is certainly needed so community concerns need to be addressed. The issue of ‘density’ as a dirty word came up and got a good chuckle from the entire room. One speaker, I think Jack Wierzenski from Dallas, indicated they do “visual surveys” where they use pictures/images to gauge people’s interest in various types of projects. Visually people will most often chose the dense and connected example but if given a written choice of low-density or high-density projects they’d chose the low-density. Visual surveys, are all you PR types listening?

    I’ve got many more thoughts on encouraging TOD in the St. Louis region but I’l have to share those another day. What are your thoughts?

    – Steve