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Ethanol & Hybrid Taxis for St. Louis?

My post from a few days ago on the London Taxi sparked some excellent debate about taxi service in the St. Louis area. Via GreenCarCongress comes a report about the greater availability of ethanol derived fuel (aka E85) in some popular Ford vehicles:

At the Chicago Auto Show, Ford Motor Company said that it will launch the beginnings of a “Midwest Ethanol Corridor”—expanding E85 ethanol fuel availability in Illinois and Missouri this year by about one-third via its ongoing partnership with VeraSun Energy. The company is planning actions to increase the availability of ethanol in neighboring states as well.

With the introduction of four new 2006 models that have the E85 option—including the Ford F-150 pickup, Ford Crown Victoria, Mercury Grand Marquis and Lincoln Town Car—the company will produce up to 250,000 ethanol-capable vehicles in 2006. Ford has produced flexible fuel vehicles in the US for more than a decade, with more than 1.6 million on the road.

The Ford Crown Vic has to be the most popular vehicle for taxi service in the region. With the taxi commission regulations on the age of vehicles it would be nice for taxi companies to consider switching to flexible fuel versions as they replace their fleet.

The same article mentions the Ford Escape Hybrid for taxi use in New York, San Francisco and soon in Chicago. NYC is also using Toyota’s Prius hybrid for taxi service.

Maybe the time is right for a more progressive cab company with a fleet of hybrids, flex-fuel and London taxis? Let unique vehicles and availability at the conclusion of major events such as the symphony be their competitive edge.

– Steve


London Taxis In St. Louis?

tx1_1.jpgI’ve seen a few in St. Louis, you may have too. The London Taxi doesn’t exactly blend in with the cars and SUVs on our streets. The distinctive look adds a European flair anywhere they go.

I want to see more in St. Louis, in particular around downtown.

I’ve only taken a taxi a few times and mostly in more urban cities such as NYC or Philly. I recall once taking a Town Car from Union Station to the Convention Center (I was with a group and we were short on time). But most of the taxis were a full size Ford Crown Victoria.

The Crown Vic is a big car with a big V-8 engine while the London Taxi is 32″ shorter! Yet, the London Taxi, being specifically designed for such purpose, has far more interior room for passengers (overall height is 14″ greater than the Ford).

The London Taxi are also a more efficient vehicle than the typical cab by utilizing a Ford-built turbo-diesel four cylinder engine. This enables the Taxi to get nearly 50% better city fuel economy than the Crown Vic!

tx1_2.jpgBut the real benefit is in passenger amenities. Besides generous space and head room the Taxi includes a wheelchair ramp, interior grab bars, a swing-out seat, an integrated child safety seat and communications technology for the hearing impaired. This is a real world taxi!

As we get more and more residents living in and around downtown St. Louis it would be great to walk out of say a Lafayette Square restaurant and hail a cab to drive you back to your loft. Having cabs available would allow more people to live in St. Louis without owning a car. But they must be convenient, no having to call for a cab and then wait. This is no different than the debate about which comes first, residents or grocery store. Obviously we must have residents first for the commercial enterprises to begin and survive.

Besides London Taxis I’d like to see more pedal powered cabs. This is a great way to get say from one end Washington Avenue to another. Or from your hotel to a dinner destination.

– Steve


Grand Bridge Should Follow Columbus Ohio Example

In the last post I casually mentioned the concept of a retail bridge for Grand Boulevard. It took me a while but I finally found the example that I had referred to. In 2004 a developer added retail to both sides of a Columbus Ohio bridge spanning a major interstate that created a pedestrian barrier.

St. Louis is planning to rebuild the existing Grand bridge by adding a landscaped median as well as wider sidewalks and bike lanes. The intent is to make it more pedestrian friendly so that St. Louis University to the north and their medical center campus to the south are better connected. You can dress up a bridge all you like but it is still hundreds of feet of dead space. No amount of median planting will make it pedestrian friendly.

In Columbus a developer was granted the right to basically construct two new bridges over the interstate highway, each on the side of the existing bridge. By doing so pedestrians and drivers alike don’t really reailze they are on a bridge at all — it simply becomes a city street.

The Grand bridge spans railroad tracks, the existing MetroLink line and the eastbound lanes of I-64 (hwy 40 to locals). The actual width of the tracks and highway is quite short. The rest of the bridge just spans industrial land.

Here is my proposal:

  • Forget the planted medians on the bridge. They add weight, require maintenance and widen the distance from one side to the next. The do create safe crossing zones but I’ll address that in other ways.
  • Have four lanes of traffic, two in each direction. This is basically what is on Grand to the north and south of the bridge already.
  • Allow on-street parking just as you would on any other urban street. You might have some bus areas near MetroLink but otherwise make it urban.
  • Add one “intersection” along the span. This would ideally be at the MetroLink stop so as to create a proper street crossing.
  • One additional intersection might do well further south that would allow for car entrances into parking garages on both sides. Drivers could pull into a garage that would basically be built below the street-level retail, about 4-5 levels worth. At grade the structure could have street-level retail to serve the future greenway development area. This would provide more than enough parking for the retail above and adjacent to Grand.
  • In addition to building structured parking the area could have office and condo uses to compliment the street-level retail. The office space could include high-tech bio-med facilities as part of the CORTEX plan.
  • This bridge turned retail street could serve as a needed campus hangout area for both SLU campuses. It could include a coffee house (or two) as well as a copy center like a Kinko’s.
  • With plenty of structured parking, on-street parking, bus routes and MetroLink this could be a happening spot! With land on each side of the tracks and highway we’d be building not bridges but buildings that happen to have a floor that aligns with the bridge sidewalks.
  • Before all the naysayers try to explain why we cannot be urban let me try to address a few points. The area has already been blighted and is going to be redeveloped. Building new buildings up to the existing bridge is feasible, perhaps more so than the plan to add width and medians to the current structure. Also, we can be urban and what better place to create an urban street than at a location with a MetroLink light rail stop and between two major university campuses.

    Related Links:
    Biz Journal story on Grand bridge project
    Cap at Union Station, Columbus OH

    – Steve


    A Critical Look at St. Louis’ Martin Luther King Drive

    Yesterday was Martin Luther King, Jr. day and I’ve spent a good bit of time this weekend looking at the St. Louis street bearing his name. Sunday I took a nice ride on my scooter the full length of MLK in both directions. Yesterday, I went back in the car to get a few more pictures. I learned something new — last year I kept saying “Boulevard” but turns out to be a “Drive” instead. Either way it is about six miles of depressing ruins with the occasion signs of hope.

    From the St. Louis Library Street Index:

    MARTIN LUTHER KING DRIVE (E-W). (Official designation is DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING DRIVE.) Following the route of the early trail from St. Louis to St. Charles, this street was officially named St. Charles Rock Road in 1865 and renamed Easton Avenue in 1881 to honor Rufus Easton, an early St. Louis postmaster [1805]. It received its present name following the assassination of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1968. King won a Nobel Prize in 1964 for his work to gain full civil rights for black Americans.

    Easton Avenue, and part of Franklin Avenue, were renamed in 1972. At the time this once busy major shopping street would have been mostly intact although showing signs of neglect and decline:

    “Between 1950 and 1970 the Ville’s population declined by nearly 40%. With such a drop due to “Black Flight”, the Ville businesses struggled.” [source]

    It is important to note the city was heavily overcrowded at its peak. This should not be confused with density. Overcrowding had to do with the number of people per unit while density is the population per square mile. We had great density to support mass transit and local stores but an insufficient number of units per square mile. Taller buildings, such as the multi-story walk ups common in New York would have given us enough units to avoid being overcrowded.
    … Continue Reading


    Conrad is Best Team to Redevelop Richmond Height’s Hadley Township

    This post will cover a lot of ground including mass transit, pedestrian connections, politics, historic preservation, suburban sprawl and of course; eminent domain. But I’ve given away the conclusion in the headline. Of the proposals presented at last night’s meeting in Richmond Heights on redeveloping a part of that suburb known as Hadley Township, the Conrad team was by far the best.

    THF, which I despise, actually had a much better proposal than I would have anticipated. The architecture firm of Heine-Croghan, which had a proposal as a developer, showed a lack of experience doing urban planning. Mills Properties, that had submitted a fourth proposal, was not at the meeting because apparently their approach wasn’t comprehensive enough to be compared to the others. Translated that means it didn’t take enough people’s homes to be considered by Richmond Heights.

    From the literature I picked up at the meeting it seems that a fifth proposal, not on Richmond Heights’ website, was received. It was from QuikTrip, the Walgreen’s of gas stations. Maybe they wanted to do the world’s largest gas station comprising all 57 acres? Just imagine the number of pumps? People with Hummers might have to fill up again once they got to the other side of the QuikTrip.

    Before I get into looking at the proposals for the area I want to talk about the area and how it got to this point. To the North is the highway that is about to get rebuilt. To the East a stable neighborhood. To the South the THF Realty monstrosity known as Maplewood Commons and to the West, across Hanley, the most f*cked up collection of strip malls, big boxes and offices that are sadly all relatively new. Among them is a new MetroLink light rail station that will be opening late this year.

    The area in question was, at one time, a very stable and middle class African-American neighborhood. But because of the prime location speculators have been buying up properties for years. One was the aforementioned Mills Properties. The City of Richmond Heights has also acquired a number of properties within the area. The Richmond Heights Public Works department is located within the redevelopment area as are some other offices for the municipality. In short, the area suffers from being too well located to remain a nice middle class neighborhood.

    In other similar areas, say Olivette just North of the tony suburb of Ladue, middle class houses were bought and razed for larger homes. But this didn’t happen here. I’m not sure if the speculators knew the land would be worth more if they could turn it into more strip malls or if it was because of the racial makeup of the neighborhood that they thought they couldn’t sell new in-fill houses to the white masses. Either way it has put these people’s neighborhood in the middle of a real estate game where they are simply the pawns. Yet as more and more speculators have bought property in the area it makes it harder and harder to sell your place to a new owner-occupant. The self-fulfiling downward spiral begins with the remaining home owners left realizing they will be forced to leave their family homes.

    … Continue Reading