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The St. Louis Region Should’ve Planned For Commuter Rail A Century Ago

In thinking about transit in other regions compared to ours, it is clear to me that natural geography and historic development patterns play a role in transportation planning in the 21st century. Decisions made a century ago, good & bad, still affect us today.

One hundred years ago St. Louis hired a 26 year-old civil engineer, Harland Bartholomew, to be its first planner. During the previous 151 years it developed organically, without planning, He quickly proposed widening many public rights-of-way (PROW) to make room for more cars.

Franklin Ave looking East from 9th, 1928. Collection of the Landmarks Association of St Louis
Franklin Ave looking East from 9th, 1928. Collection of the Landmarks Association of St Louis

St. Louis city invested heavily in widening streets like Natural Bridge, Jefferson, Gravois.

More than three decades after arriving in St. Louis, Bartholomew got a Comprehensive Plan officially adopted (1947). His plan was all about remaking St. Louis because it would have a million residents by 1960 — or so he thought!

Here’s the intro to the Mass Transportation section:

St. Louis’ early mass transportation facilities consisted of street car lines operated by a considerable number of independent companies having separate franchises. Gradually these were consolidated into a single operating company shortly after the turn of the century. In 1923 an independent system of bus lines was established but later consolidated with the street car company. Despite receivership, re-organization and several changes of ownership the mass transportation facilities have been kept fairly well abreast of the city’s needs. Numerous street openings and widenings provided by the first City Plan have made possible numerous more direct routings and reduced travel time.

Approximately 88 per cent of the total area of the city and 99 per cent of the total population is now served directly by streetcar lines or bus lines, i.e., being not more than one quarter mile walking distance therefrom. Streetcar lines or bus lines operate directly from the central business district to all parts of the city’s area. There are also numerous cross-town streetcar lines or bus lines, operating both in an east-west and north-south direction. 

No mention of a regional need for commuter rail. Some might point out this was the city’s plan, not the region’s. That would be a valid point if it weren’t for the regional nature of the next section: Air Transportation:

It is reasonable to assume that the developments in air transportation during the next few decades will parallel that of automobile transportation, which really started about three decades ago. St. Louis must be prepared to accept and make the most of conditions that will arise. Provision of the several types of airfields required must be on a metropolitan basis. The recently prepared Metropolitan Airport Plan proposes thirty-five airfields. See Plate Number 27. These are classified as follows:

  • Major Airports – for major transport 3
  • Secondary Airports – for feeder transport 1
  • Minor Fields – for non-scheduled traffic, commercial uses and for training 15
  • Local Personal Fields – for private planes 13
  • Congested Area Airports – for service to congested business centers 3
     
    [Total] 35

Of these, two major, eight minor, twelve personal and three congested area airports would be in Missouri. Lack of available land in the City of St. Louis limited the number within the corporate limits to two minor, one personal and two congested area airports. The selection of sites for the latter involves great cost and should await further technological developments in design and operation of various types of aircraft, including the small high powered airplane, the autogyro and the helicopter.

The three airports within the city are:

  • A Minor Field at the southern city limits east of Morganford Road.
  • A Minor Field in the northern section of the city between Broadway and the Mississippi River. (Since the publishing of the above report this field has been placed in operation by the city.)
  • A Local Personal Field in the western section of the city on Hampton Boulevard north of Columbia Avenue.

The latter is of special significance because of the great concentration of potential private plane owners in fairly close proximity. The northern minor field is adjacent to a large industrial area. The southern minor field would also serve a large industrial area as well as a considerable number of potential private plane owners.

So the region should have 35 airports but no commuter rail service? It should have numerous new highways but no commuter rail? Here’s the visual of the region with 35 airports:

Bartholomew's 1947 plan called for 35 airports un the St, Louis region!
Bartholomew’s 1947 plan called for 35 airports un the St, Louis region!

Thirty-five airports but no plan for mass transit beyond bus service?

Bartholomew left St. Louis in 1953 to chair the National Capital Planning Commission, where he created the 1956 plan for 450 miles of highway in the capital region.

During the 1960s, plans were laid for a massive freeway system in Washington. Harland Bartholomew, who chaired the National Capital Planning Commission, thought that a rail transit system would never be self-sufficient because of low density land uses and general transit ridership decline. But the plan met fierce opposition, and was altered to include a Capital Beltway system plus rail line radials. The Beltway received full funding; funding for the ambitious Inner Loop Freeway system was partially reallocated toward construction of the Metro system. (Wikipedia)

A book written by a partner of Bartholomew revises history to suggest he pushed for Washington’s Metro — see Chapter 10.

https://www.stlouis-mo.gov/archive/harland-bartholomew/HBaACh10.pdf

Washington has fewer miles of freeways within its borders than any other major city on the East Coast.” Thirty-eight of the planned 450 miles would have routed through D.C. proper; today, there are just 10. Instead, after a wrenching and protracted political battle, they write, “the Washington area got Metro—all $5 billion and 103 miles of it.” (Slate)

In 1945, as a paid consultant, Bartholomew said “the density of population of the Washington area would never be sufficient to warrant a regional rail system.” (Lovelace P141, chapter 10 p3). Most likely he felt that way about the St. Louis region. Though the city was quite dense during his decades here, the surrounding suburbs were low-density, still are.

But what if he had guided the region to develop boulevards to the North, West, & South of downtown with streetcars in the median? Today that right-of-way could be used for light rail. Cleveland, for example, is fortunate that Shaker Blvd & Van Aken Blvd  were planned as such, providing room for their Green Line & Blue Line, respectively.

Bartholomew was highly influential — the one person in the region that might have been able to lay the ground work for better mass transit in the 21st century. It wasn’t feasible like lots of highways & airports.

My point is when we think about future transportation infrastructure, and we look at other regions, we must keep in mind their planning & development decisions a century ago. Many still think we should’ve put light rail down the center of I-64 during the big rebuild — failing to realize there wasn’t a way to get a line into the center and it wouldn’t work well if we could since the housing along the route wasn’t developed around transit.

We were able to leverage rail tunnels under downtown and a rail corridor to get light rail to the airport. Other former rail corridors exist for new light rail lines, such as North along I-170 out of Clayton into North County. We do have excessively wide boulevards in the city & county, but cutting up the street pattern after the fact by putting light rail down the center and significantly reducing crossing points is similar to building a highway — it separates.

Moving forward with plans for new regional transportation infrastructure we must recognize we simply don’t have the advantages many other regions enjoy.  We can’t go back and undo decisions Bartholomew & others made a century ago.

— Steve Patterson

Panel To Discuss ‘Where We Stand 7th Edition: The Strategic Assessment of the St. Louis Region’ Report

Locust Street entry to the Central Library, with the Shell Building in the background
Locust Street entry to the Central Library, with the Shell Building in the background

Today’s post is about a potentially interesting panel discussion, from the email I received:

St. Louis Public Library – Central Library Auditorium
Wednesday, October 14, 2015 6:30–8 p.m. 

In today’s media, rankings are everywhere—from best ballpark food to top 10 vacation spots to most loved Harry Potter character—they can be fun and eye-catching. Rankings also inform citizens, politicians, businesses, and the media. Rankings are used to direct investments, drive competition, affect perceptions, and build a local, regional, and national narrative.

How does the St. Louis region measure up according to the numbers? Does perception match reality? How should we use rankings to tell our story? Join us for the first of three conversations to explore these questions and share your perspective.

On October 14th, St. Louis journalists Andre Hepkins (KMOV), Maria Altman (St. Louis Public Radio), Deb Peterson (St. Louis Post-Dispatch), and Alex Ihnen (NextSTL) will consider how we talk about St. Louis and rankings from East-West Gateway Council of Government’s Where We Stand 7th Edition: The Strategic Assessment of the St. Louis Region.

Check out the report before the event online at www.ewgateway.org/wws.

Brought to you by East-West Gateway Council of Governments, FOCUS-St. Louis, UMSL School for Public Policy and Administration, and the St. Louis Public Library.

I’ll be out of town so I won’t be able to attend.

— Steve Patterson

The 1876 City Limits Were So Far Out In The Countryside

From its founding in 1764 the city limits of St. Louis kept expanding as the city grew in population. Each time they annexed land in the rural fields surrounding the city.

The 1860 census recorded 160,773 residents — more than 100% growth from 1850s census figure of 77,860. The 1870 census saw the population nearly double again — to 310,864 (Wikipedia). When St. Louis divorced itself from St. Louis County in 1876 the limits where set far out in the countryside.  The leaders at the time must not have thought we’d reach those limits as quickly as we did, or leapfrog them as happened.

This marker at the St. Louis-Maplewood city limits is where
Entering St. Louis from Maplewood, where Manchester Rd becomes Manchester Ave

Though Maplewood wasn’t incorporated until the 20th century, people like James Sutton settled the area in the early 19th century decades before St. Louis split with St. Louis County.  From Maplewood’s history:

In 1876, the limits of the City of St. Louis were extended to their present location. This limit line shows no consideration for the buildings in Maplewood, but ruthlessly bisects many of them. It cuts off the eastern triangle of the Brownson Hotel and runs right through the middle of the old Maplewood Theater, (now gone) putting the projection booth in Maplewood and the screen in St. Louis.

On one street, however, the limits do not interfere with the house. This is along Limit Avenue which was plotted with half of its width on either side of the limits line (St. Louis on the east and Maplewood on the west).

This divorce bought change to the county left behind:

When the new county was organized, a Maplewood man, Henry L. Sutton, son of James C., was chosen as its chief executive officer, or presiding justice of the county court. The first three meetings of this body were held at the Sutton home on Manchester. Then in 1877, the patriarch of the neighborhood, James C. Sutton died. He left nine children and his land was divided between them. One of the daughters, Mary C. Marshall, seems to have been the first to think of selling her tract for a subdivision, for in 1890, she sold to a company organized by Theophile Papin and Louis H. Tontrup, two St. Louis real estate men, and managed by Robert H. Cornell.

If only we could bring the 1870s leaders into the present day to show them the consequences of their actions. If so, St. Louis would likely  be part of St. Louis County with limits out near the present-day I-270.

— Steve Patterson

 

NFL/MLS Stadium A Better Fit In St. Clair County Illinois

It was recently suggested by former St. Louis Mayor Vince Schoemehl that a new NFL/MLS stadium be built across the river in Illinois. Over the last few years I’ve thought this as well, regular reader & prolific commenter “JZ71” has mentioned several times building a stadium specifically between the approaches to the MLK & Eads bridges. It would be visible from downtown St. Louis and be located adjacent to an existing MetroLink light rail station. I’ve thought that was too tight but knew there’s lots of vacant land there awaiting new use.

In June I got married at the beautiful Malcolm W. Martin Memorial Park — directly across from the Arch — maybe South of there? Or to the North of the MLK bridge approach? Looking at maps and serial images only gets you so far, so Saturday afternoon I drove around checking out the Metro East riverfront/bottoms.

I crossed the river on the Eads Bridge since it was direct, I quickly ruled out the land to the South of the Martin Memorial/geyser because of access issues and future CityArchRiver plans, wildlife, etc. So then I looked at the space between the Eads & MLK approaches — as I suspected it appears way too tight for a stadium with enough buffer to keep the bridges open game days.

Looking South on Front St with the MLK in the foreground, the Eads in the background, and the Arch to the right
Looking South on Front St with the MLK in the foreground, the Eads in the background, and the Arch to the right
Looking East from Front St, the MLK approach is to the left just out of view, the Eads approach on the right
Looking East from Front St, the MLK approach is to the left just out of view, the Eads approach on the right. Great location for a hotel(s) if a stadium were built to the North of the MLK
Just North of the MLK bridge approach
Just North of the MLK bridge approach, the land on the right is mostly vacant of structures
Looking East at a gravel road.  More on this later in this post.
Looking East at a gravel road. More on this later in this post.
East St. Louis Police shooting range head
East St. Louis Police shooting range head
Presumably this 80 year old pumping station is still operational
Presumably this 80 year old pumping station is still operational
Very quickly the new SMVMB is in view past the levee
Very quickly the new SMVMB is in view past the levee
Industry at the end of the road, no access to I-70 or the new bridge -- yet.
Industry at the end of the road, no access to I-70 or the new bridge — yet.
Looking back at St. Louis across the Mississippi River
Looking back at St. Louis across the Mississippi River

So access here kinda sucks too — but not for long. Since it opened in February 2014 I’ve driven across the new Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge (I-70) many times, but this weekend was my first seeing how it connected to IL Route 3. Later this year will mark 25 years I’ve lived in St. Louis, I know the region pretty well, including the Metro East — but the new I-70 approach to the new bridge is very different than it has been. Connectivity is greatly improved and will get better.

The new I-70/Route 3 interchange has the start of a road heading toward the East St. Louis riverfront
The new I-70/Route 3 interchange has the start of a road heading toward the East St. Louis riverfront
It's unfinished but will soon provide easy access to the Casino Queen, Malcolm Martin Memorial, and anything else built here.
It’s unfinished but will soon provide easy access to the Casino Queen, Malcolm Martin Memorial, and anything else built here.
The blue line marks where the road will continue. Image from the New Bridge gallery, click to view.
The blue line marks where the road will continue. Image from the New Bridge gallery, click to view.
Aerial shows how the new I-70/iL Route 3 interchange will connect to Riverpark Dr  leading Front St.
Aerial shows how the new I-70/iL Route 3 interchange will connect to Riverpark Dr leading Front St. Three potential sites here, the bottom left has good visibility from downtown St. Louis and the other two from the new I-70.

This is within St. Clair County, an analysis of future MetroLink light rail expansion into neighboring Madison County four of seven possible alignments would pass by to the East along the Route 3 corridor.  Additionally transportation officials are working to improve Amtrak speeds between Alton & St. Louis while also considering a new stop in St. Clair County. No historic buildings/districts razed, fewer/no businesses/residents displaced.

A new NFL/MLS stadium, light rail expansion into Madison County, and an Amtrak stop could transform this area and further connect the St. Louis region. Sorry Gov Nixon, Illinois make much more sense!

— Steve Patterson

Twenty-Fourteen In 63 Pictures

December 31, 2014 Featured, STL Region No Comments

The end of another year…so for the last post of 2014 I’ve selected 63 images from the 800+ I uploaded throughout the year. Enjoy, please be patient as they load.

JANUARY

Fields Foods at 1500 Lafayette Ave
Fields Foods opened at 1500 Lafayette Ave without pedestrian access, this was soon corrected after my post
14th St @ Washington Ave.: Stones pavers & concrete removed so a new bus shelter can be built.
14th St @ Washington Ave.: Stones pavers & concrete removed so a new bus shelter can be built.
At Taylor I noticed this new storefront because it stood out from how it looked for years
At MLK & Taylor I noticed this new storefront because it stood out from how it looked for years
Pipes burst in the YMCA/Centenary Tower building
Pipes burst in the upper floors of the YMCA/Centenary Tower building
Work was still wrapping up on the Tucker project
Work was still wrapping up on the Tucker project
The Treasurer's office began testing different parking meters
The Treasurer’s office began testing different parking meters

FEBRUARY

The Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge opened, thus was seconds after Illinois Gov Quinn & Missouri Gov Nixon cut the ribbon
The Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge opened, thus was seconds after Illinois Gov Quinn & Missouri Gov Nixon cut the ribbon
The St. Louis flag turned 50 as the city turned 250
The St. Louis flag turned 50 as the city turned 250
The wrap on the new buses looks like the original
The wrap on the new low-floor downtown trolley buses looks like the original

MARCH

IDOT officials held an open house at the Jackie Joyner Kersee Center in East St. Louis to get input into speeding up Amtrak from Alton to St. Louis
IDOT officials held an open house at the Jackie Joyner Kersee Center in East St. Louis to get input into speeding up Amtrak from Alton to St. Louis
Some members of the First Presbyterian in Edwardsville IL opposed the sale of the property to the school district, the church would be leveled for parking. The congregation has worshipped on the same site since the early 19th century
Some members of the First Presbyterian in Edwardsville IL opposed the sale of the property to the school district, the church would be leveled for parking. The congregation has worshipped on the same site since the early 19th century
Looking west toward Morgan Ford
New bike lane & pedestrian zone on Chippewa, looking west toward Morgan Ford
The Castle Ballroom in midtown was damaged in a storm, later razed.
The Castle Ballroom in midtown was damaged in a storm, later razed.
The property to the north had a gate that blocked the public sidewalk, it was later removed
The property to the north had a gate that blocked the public sidewalk, it was later removed
It was announced a park was planned for the north side of the Eads Bridge, to the right of the trucks parked in the alley,
It was announced a park was planned for the north side of the Eads Bridge, to the right of the trucks parked in the alley,
To prep for a new Civic Center bus transfer facility, all the trees were cut down
To prep for a new Civic Center bus transfer facility, all the trees were cut down
Fields Foods pedestrian access
Fields Foods pedestrian access problem corrected
Metro showed of the first of  15 articulated buses they would receive in 2014, mostly for use on the #70 Grand route
Metro showed of the first of 15 articulated buses they would receive in 2014, mostly for use on the #70 Grand route
City police had out of town journalists park on the sidewalk during a basketball tournament because...homeland security
City police had out of town journalists park on the sidewalk during a basketball tournament because…homeland security
6th ward residents checked out the Participatory Budgeting project expo
6th ward residents checked out the Participatory Budgeting project expo

APRIL

On April Fool's Day I got many people with the announcement of a Trader Joe's at Grand  & Olive
On April Fool’s Day I got many people with the announcement of a Trader Joe’s in a new mixed-use building at Grand & Olive
Inside the "Live" area of Ballpark Village the day before the home opener
Inside the “Live” area of Ballpark Village the day before the home opener
I proposed returning 9th & 10th north of Washington or Cole into two-way streets
I proposed returning 9th & 10th north of Washington or Cole into two-way streets
Schnucks closed their North Grand location
Schnucks closed their North Grand location
After two years of not having a car, my then-fiancé and I bought a used car together.
The east facade of the branch of the St. Louis County Library which was planned to be demolished after a new library was built.
The east facade of the Lewis & Clark branch of the St. Louis County Library which was planned to be demolished after a new library was built.
On April 29th major equipment was ripping out the unloved center planters  on 13th Street between St. Charles St & Washington Ave
On April 29th major equipment was ripping out the unloved center planters on 13th Street between St. Charles St & Washington Ave

MAY

I took at look at the dire economic disinvestment in the north county area at Chambers & Lewis & Clark
I took at look at the dire economic disinvestment in the north county area at Chambers & Lewis & Clark
I convinced Culinaria to stop filling the entire sidewalk in front of their 9th Street grocery store with cafe tables
I convinced Culinaria to stop filling the entire sidewalk in front of their 9th Street grocery store with cafe tables
Plans for the new Civic Center MetroBus transfer facility were made available.
Plans for the new Civic Center MetroBus transfer facility were made available.

JUNE

David and I exchanging our vows on Sunday June 8th, officiated by our friend Chris Reimer.
David and I exchanging our vows on Sunday June 8th at the Malcolm Martin Memorial park in East St. Louis, officiated by our friend Chris Reimer.
Our reception was brunch at Bevo Mill, Lydia S. drove us in her Tesla.
Our reception was brunch at Bevo Mill, Lydia S. drove us in her Tesla.
The Melvin Price Locks & Dam celebrated 20 years
The Melvin Price Locks & Dam celebrated 20 years
I took a look at the unincorporated area of North County known as Spanish Lake, the Belle Parke Plaza strip mall shown here
Five years since Citygarden opened
Five years since Citygarden opened in 2009

For July through December click more below.
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