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Walking From Hotel To Restaurant

In September 2010 I posted about the disconnect between a hotel and restaurant in Joplin (see Driving Next Door For Dinner) where I said the design made it difficult if someone wanted to walk next door for dinner after they checked into their room. Last week this hypothetical situation became reality in Amarillo Texas.

I was in Amarillo TX for the funeral of an 80 year old uncle, seven of us were staying in the same Holiday Inn Express. After the service some went back to the hotel to rest, my brother and I to check in. Three other relatives were going to come over to the hotel and the ten of us would walk together to the Texas Roadhouse restaurant, conveniently located right in front. This proved easier said than done.

ABOVE: Aerial view with the Holiday Inn Express on bottom facing the back of the Texas Roadhouse on top
ABOVE: Aerial view with the Holiday Inn Express on bottom facing the back of the Texas Roadhouse on top. Click image to view in Google Maps.

In my family I’m younger than all my cousins — by up to 19 years. Still, I’m the only one that walks with a cane. Our aunts and uncles are now in their 70s and 80s — one aunt will be 90 in a few months. Our group of ten was seven cousins, two aunts & an uncle. An aunt & uncle, both in their 80s,  require help to walk steady on level ground. Especially to cross an obstacle course like the one we encountered.

ABOVE: This was the barrier we had to cross twice.
ABOVE: This was the barrier we had to cross twice. The Holiday Inn is on the left, Texas Roadhouse on the right.

I suppose the three of us could’ve gotten in a car to drive from one side of the divider (above) to the other side, but that shouldn’t be necessary. The point where we crossed going to dinner the step down from the sidewalk to the grass was taller than most curbs. Returning to the hotel we found a spot that wasn’t so bad.  I suppose we could’ve walked around this barrier but that would’ve put us in a busy drive and meant walking a greater distance, a problem for all three of us.

We’ve built so much in every city like this that requires a car to get anywhere, even next door. I hope to live long enough to see the day when this is no longer the norm.

— Steve Patterson


No Matter The Implementation, Light Rail Doesn’t Spur Development

A number of  years ago the East-West Gateway Council of Governments, the MPO (Metropolitan Planning Organization) for the St. Louis region looked at options to get light rail transit to north county and south county, see MetroLink Northside-Southside Study. The final report on October 10, 2008 recommended future routes to North County and South County that included using part of existing roadway. I wasn’t convinced.

Last week I posted about things I liked about DART (Dallas Area Rapid Transit) but today I’m going to use DART to talk why I’m cautious about expanding out own light rail system, MetroLink.  Light rail as a mode of transit moves people well, but it doesn’t automatically spur development the way a streetcar can and costs far for than a bus line.

Just before I left for my trip to Texas and Oklahoma I received the following publication at a transit-oriented development event here in St. Louis.

ABOVE: Cover of REALTORS & Smart Growth’s On Common Ground publication from Summer 2009 featured DART’s light rail on the cover.

Looked exciting, I couldn’t wait to see and experience it.  Let’s take a look at the reality of light rail in Dallas.

ABOVE: Light rail in downtown Dallas uses Pacific Street, cars are banned except in a few places where they’re kept separate.

In downtown Dallas numerous light rail lines converge on Pacific Street, now closed to traffic, with exceptions in a few limited spots. It’s a pretty lifeless street other than people going to/from the light rail stations. Pedestrian traffic is less than other nearby streets. No sidewalk cafes, not much of anything other than a couple of stations. This is what you get when you give a roadway such a single, and limited, purpose.

On the plus side their light rail is highly visible, whereas our MetroLink is nearly invisible in downtown St. Louis since it runs under Washington Ave and under 8th Street. The planned northside-southside lines in St. Louis would go through downtown at grade and be visible.

DART’s blue Line South


ABOVE: South of downtown Dallas the light rail follows old railroad right-of-way initially
ABOVE: Continuing south the line goes through a neighborhood where the street arrangement has been modified to give the line a private route. The Blue line has been in place since June 1996 yet vacant land and boarded up houses remain.
ABOVE: South of Illinois Ave. DART’s Blue line goes into the median of Lancaster Rd. Kiest, VA Medical & Ledbetter (end) station opened less than a year later on May 31, 1997
ABOVE: One of several auto-centric strip shopping centers along the Blue line
ABOVE: For miles I observed no indication the light rail line made any impact on development in the last 15-16 years
ABOVE: The stations for the Blue line are very removed from existing commercial and residential development.

Blue Line North


ABOVE: Unlike the Blue line southbound, other lines are often elevated along former rail lines. The result is disconnection from the suburban sprawl below.
ABOVE: Many stations along the Blue line northbound are park-n-ride lots
ABOVE: The current north end of the Blue line, downtown Garland TX, is starting to build more urban. Click image to view in Google Maps.

I’ve got hundreds more images from DART’s Blue & Red lines but you get the idea. Relatives and friends in Dallas said they don’t use the light rail because it’s too inconvenient to use, having to drive to the station and park. They’d just as soon drive to their destination.

Light rail, by design, is separated from its surroundings. It’s below grade, elevated above grade, squeezed in the middle of a busy roadway, etc.. But it’s not connected to the street grid in the way a streetcar or even a bus is. Thus, many have to drive to reach a station.

Both the streetcar and bus are right outside the door and both make frequent stops so you don’t have massive areas without service, like you do with light rail. That said, I can’t imagine taking a bus to the airport. Conversely, when I go to the Delmar Loop I take the #97 (Delmar) MetroBus because it’s far more convenient.

Back to the northside and southside MetroLink expansion. I’d support rail transit but only in streetcar or BRT form. Light rail costs more to build and as we’ve seen in St. Louis it hasn’t produced measurable development.

St. Louis was developed largely with help from streetcars, horse drawn initially. I expect, no I demand, development to be a result of investment in transit infrastructure.

— Steve Patterson


Transit Ideas Worth Copying From DART

Yesterday I posted about the visibility of the DART (Dallas Area Rapid Transit) headquarters and store, today I want to share some other items I liked about their transit service on my short visit last month.

Posted Schedules for bus & train

Knowing when a bus or train will arrive is important information to know. Having this information available at the point where you’d catch the bus or train would be incredible. For many riders of DART they have such information, those of us that use Metro in St. Louis can only fantasize having.

ABOVE: Many DART bus stops have the schedule posted for the route(s) the stop serves — very helpful information!
ABOVE: At points where many buses converge the schedules for many routes are posted
ABOVE: Bus & rail schedules are in a quick and easy to read format that tells the user at what time after the hour the next bus or train will arrive.

Additional Cars Added to Light Rail

DART increased capacity of their light rail vehicles in a very creative way:

DART is updating its fleet of 115 light rail vehicles (LRV) by inserting a new, low-floor insert between the existing sections of the vehicle adding seating capacity and improving access through level boarding. The newly modified vehicles began service on June 23, 2008 with car #151.

Known as Super Light Rail Vehicles (SLRV) because of the greater length and added passenger capacity, the SLRV will seat approximately 100 passengers compared with 75 on the current vehicles. Standing passengers on the vehicle can nearly double the capacity. (DART)

They’ve had to modify stations, something we [may] not be able to do.

ABOVE: Light rail vehicles are from Japan’s Kinki Sharyo Co., Ltd., but accessibility was an issue. Click image for more info on manufacturer.
ABOVE: Since the system opened in 1996 they had special raised waiting platforms for the disabled, operators would have to put a bridge in place to enter/exit because of the steps. Seriously?
ABOVE: DART just added two non-powered sections into each light rail train. These feature a low floor with areas designed for two wheelchairs and two bikes.
ABOVE: Interior of these new sections feel spacious. Note the floor color changes to designate the wheelchair/disabled area on the right. Photo taken from the other such spot.

Bike Rack on Light Rail

Besides the easy boarding for wheelchairs I like the space to hang bikes in the newer low-floor cars. The seating in these is arranged facing inward rather than to the front or back, this gives more floor area and more standing room.

ABOVE: A rider just hung his bike from one of two overhead hooks in the newly added train section.
ABOVE: Rider about to sit down behind his bike on the crowded train

Final Thoughts:

It’s good to look to see what’s being done in other cities to see what might be good to use at home. I rode several light rail lines and two bus routes in my 30 hours in Dallas, I’d like to return with more time.

The bus vehicles were different than ours but no major surprises. The wheelchair lifts didn’t seem as robust as our lifts but I didn’t get dropped.

— Steve Patterson


Travel: Elevated Highway Removal In Oklahoma City Part 2

Yesterday I ended part 1 with the following photo showing Oklahoma City directing people from downtown, past where the old elevated I-40 was, through a desolate area toward the new I-40 and the Oklahoma River beyond.

ABOVE: A sign indicates a trail, directing people southward through no-man’s land toward the new highway and the Oklahoma River beyond.

The new I-40 is a half mile south of the Myriad Botanical Gardens, a recently revamped space occupying a superblock made up of four city blocks. The Myriad Gardens now has many spaces along the lines of those at Citygarden, for example, interactive water features. The half mile space between the gardens and the new highway is pretty much a wasteland, long cut off from downtown by the old I-40. The river and waterside trail system is an another half mile south of the new highway, through a very low income neighborhood.

ABOVE: Aerial image showing the location of the Myriad Botanical Gardens at the top center and the suggested route south to reach the river trail, following Harvey Ave. Click image to view in Google Maps.

Does Oklahoma City really think people will walk through these areas? The two nights I did it I saw many people: individuals, couples & families.  In time the half mile zone between the old highway and the new highway will be redeveloped and occupied. The removal of the old elevated highway is allowing development to spread whereas before it was contained. Why are people walking there now you ask? The major roads that cross over the new I-40 all have generous sidewalks but a pedestrian-only bridge was also constructed where Harvey Ave reaches the new highway.

ABOVE: A larger-than-life 105 ton scissor-tailed flycatcher sits on top of the Skydance bridge rising 192 feet above the highway, attracting many pedestrians. Oklahoma City built it interesting and people come.

I saw the pedestrian bridge the first time as my train pulled in a night. At the time I wasn’t sure what it was but I asked my brother right away, it was just too intriguing not to be curious. The next day we drove under it as we returned downtown. The also allowed me to experience the new I-40 alignment.

ABOVE: You can’t help but notice the Skydance pedestrian bridge
ABOVE: Looking back north toward the downtown Oklahoma City skyline dominated by the Devon Tower.
ABOVE: The bridge features a wood floor and sides
ABOVE: On my first visit a group of four on rental bikes from downtown passed me heading to the river trail.
ABOVE: But as the sun goes down the lights come on and the people really start to come out in droves.
ABOVE: Instantly a part of town long written off is THE place to be, to get photographs together with the bridge in the background.
ABOVE: The powerful LED lights change colors so it’s not static
ABOVE: Looking west at the Skydance bridge from the Robinson Ave bridge nearby

I visited two nights in a row and talked with numerous strangers both times. My entire life this area was a “bad” part of town and here I was talking with strangers at night. They’ve successfully begun to change perceptions of an area ignored for decades!

Take a look to see why.

ABOVE: In August 2010 I drove south of the new I-40 construction on Robinson Ave, this was always auto junkyard row.
ABOVE: This building at 1100 South Robinson Ave caught my eye in August 2010. This was just south of the construction for the new I-40.
ABOVE: In July 2012 the building has been prepared for rehab. This is a block east of the south end of the pedestrian bridge, a visible location.
ABOVE: South Robinson still has junk yards but it’s a route to the river, the popular skate park and neighborhoods further south so as part of their “core-to-shore” plan it’s getting improved.

I’m still amazed I was exploring this area alone, at night, in a wheelchair!   Their Core to Shore plan was big:

In 2006, the City of Oklahoma City undertook an ambitious planning process to redevelop 750 acres of underutilized land between the core of downtown to the shore of the Oklahoma River.

Envisioned as Core to Shore, efforts are now underway to build and connect a series of neighborhoods, parks, and economic opportunities that will reinvent downtown Oklahoma City, leading to new jobs and a higher quality of life for residents.

Major aspects of the Core to Shore plan include:

  • Creation of a world-class, pedestrian-friendly boulevard
  • Development of a 40-acre central park
  • Development of business, retail and mixed use housing along the central park
  • Building of a Convention Center and Convention Center hotel
  • Relocation of some of the existing businesses and homes in the area

This is a vastly different thinking than the 1960s Pei Plan that led to the destruction of much of downtown and the creation of many superblocks. Financing for this work was part of the Metropolitan Area Projects Plan (MAPS) which began in the early 1990s. The highway move and other recent work was part of the third phase, MAPS3.

Many have been critical of the taxes paid and the cumulative costs of the numerous projects over the last 20 years. But schools have been updated, downtown energized, attracted a winning NBA franchise, saw massive private  investment from major corporations (Chesapeake, Devon, SandRidge, etc.

In the country as a whole, single-family woes are fueling the multifamily surge. Stubbornly persistent foreclosure rates, mortgage bankers’ continued reluctance to lend to any but those with the very best credit and most stable employment history, as well as still-high unemployment in most places, have apartment investors investing in new product.

But here, a healthy local economy — enviable unemployment rates, population growth on the rise — has cautious and seasoned but willing single-family builders building again. (newsok.com)

Investing in your community pays dividends! It doesn’t happen overnight but financing the big ideas gets noticed eventually. Oklahoma City’s 2010 population was 579,999 and the metropolitan area was 1,322,459, half that of Greater St. Louis.

Back to St. Louis:

This is the type of planning St. Louis should’ve been doing to reclaim areas like Pruitt-Igoe and the 22nd Street Interchange, two areas where Paul McKee stepped in to fill the city’s planning absence.

It’s I-70 that currently uses the elevated and depressed highway dividing parts of downtown St. Louis. In 2014 I-70 will cross over into Illinois on the north edge of downtown rather than on the south edge at the Poplar Street Bridge.

— Steve Patterson


Travel: Elevated Highway Removal In Oklahoma City Part 1

Count me among those who think St. Louis needs to remove the elevated section of I-70 north of Washington Ave that cuts off Laclede’s Landing from the rest of downtown. These types of elevated lanes were built during a period where little, if any, consideration was given to pedestrians. The negative consequences weren’t considered at the time but they became apparent later.

As a kid growing up in Oklahoma City we’d have to drive under an elevated highway to get to downtown. I rarely drove on I-40 since it was an east-west route and we lived a few miles directly south of downtown. The few times I did drive across the elevated highway I was nervous doing so, the lanes were narrow and the condition was poor. I never once walked under it.

The Oklahoma City Crosstown is an elevated four mile (6 km) stretch of Interstate 40 that dissects downtown Oklahoma City from Agnew Avenue to Byers Avenue. It is owned and maintained by the Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT). It is the primary east–west artery through Oklahoma City, and serves an unofficial dividing line between north and south Oklahoma City (the official dividing line for address purposes is [Reno Avenue]). While the Crosstown designed to withstand about 76,000 vehicles a day, it is currently used by nearly 120,000 vehicles a day. The Crosstown was completed in the 1960s using an engineering process commonly termed as “fracture critical”, a process that has not been used since the 1970s because it does not provide redundancies. According to Brian Windsor, an ODOT structural engineer, without redundant support, the failure of a single beam creates the risk of total collapse of that section of bridge. The entire stretch of the Crosstown is elevated, and at some points, the elevation is as much as 50 feet (15.2 m). Other safety problems of the existing Crosstown include falling chunks of concrete and a lack of shoulders or breakdown lanes. In an August 2007 poll sponsored by The Oklahoman, nearly ? of respondents indicated that they were “afraid to drive across the Crosstown bridge in Oklahoma City”. (Wikipedia)

It wasn’t a good roadway, nor could it be retrofitted. It had to come down.

ABOVE: I-40 in Oklahoma City in August 2009

Well, the four mile elevated stretch of I-40 is now closed and is being dismantled. This was years in the planning and before you ask, yes they built a replacement highway in a wide trench a half mile to the south. Part 2 tomorrow will look at the new highway.

As I indicated earlier, I-40 is a major east-west highway:

Interstate 40 (I-40) is the third-longest major east–west Interstate Highway in the United States, after I-90 and I-80. Its western end is at Interstate 15 in Barstow, California; its eastern end is at a concurrency of U.S. Route 117 and North Carolina Highway 132 in Wilmington, North Carolina. Much of the western part of I-40, from Oklahoma City to Barstow, parallels or overlays the historic U.S. Route 66. I-40 intersects with eight of the 10 primary north–south interstates (all except I-5 and I-45) and also with I-24, I-30, I-44, I-77, and I-81. (Wikipedia)

Locals use I-40 but so do many more just passing through Oklahoma.

ABOVE: The old I-40 elevated lanes in Oklahoma City being demolished.
ABOVE: Close-up of old on-ramp to westbound I-40 cutting through the south edge of downtown Oklahoma City as the highway is being removed.
ABOVE: Crews slowly dismantle the old I-40 elevated lanes.
ABOVE: New development (background) can continue to the south once the elevated highway is removed.
ABOVE: Just to the north is the Myriad Botanical Gardens and the new 844ft high Devon Tower, click image for more information. The Gateway Arch is only 630ft tall.
ABOVE: South of the highway was cut off from downtown and investment, places like the Salvation Army were the only ones that would locate there.
ABOVE: Vacant land where part of the elevated highway has been completely removed.
ABOVE: A new entrance to the Chesapeake Arena, home of the OKC Thunder NBA franchise, is being constructed now that the adjacent highway is being removed.
ABOVE: A sign indicates a trail, directing people southward through no-man’s land toward the new highway and the Oklahoma River beyond.

Tomorrow I’ll continue the story with a look at the new I-40 and how to cross it as a pedestrian. I’m excited about visiting Oklahoma City during the coming years as they fill in where the highway was removed.

— Steve Patterson




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