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Potential North-South & County Light Rail Line Should Include ‘Green Track’

June 30, 2022 Environment, Featured, North City, Planning & Design, Public Transit, Transportation Comments Off on Potential North-South & County Light Rail Line Should Include ‘Green Track’

No, I don’t want the rails to be painted green. Instead I want the space between the rails to be green with vegetation, where possible.

Why? Aesthetics, cooler temperatures, management of stormwater runoff, etc.

Pre-Katrina you could see natural green track in New Orleans LA, April 2004

Green track isn’t limited to only historic lines, it’s increasingly common in Europe with some limited use in North America.

Over more than 6 (six) decades Green Tracks are popular through out Europe in dense urban areas. They are a fantastic tool to mitigate stormwater issues, to reduce noise and certainly to beautify their integration. Green light rail tracks demonstrate environmental responsibility and they value their customers by making things nice, green and beautiful. Today there are over 500 miles of Green light-rail tracks in Europe.

The living green layers within and around the tracks reduces the noiseand absorbs stormwater. Thus, reducing combined sewer overflow. Modern track systems are typically Ballastless Tracks or Slab Track systems. Basically, a traditional elastic combination of ties/sleepers and ballast is replaced by a rigid construction of concrete or asphalt. Because such systems are ideal for greenery, it is even possible to create additional stormwater retention and detention from surrounding impervious areas with the system.

Already, in 1995 Green Roof Technology filed patents for greening systems on Ballastless Track systems. Currently there are around 300 miles of green tracks in Germany alone. As a result, these tracks eliminate at least 150,000 gallons of water per years from entering the combined sewer system.

In North America, Baltimore started with some experimental Green Light-rail Tracks in 2011 insisting on Sedum mats. The testing was less promising because Sedum mono-cultures are not a good choice for most green light-rail track system. Unfortunately the advice from Green Roof Technology using a smart mixtures of grasses, herbs and wildflowers was not heard. Some call it learning by doing – well – they just don’t do it. (Green Roof Technology).

Typically rails are supported by ballasts, treated wood or concrete pieces set into the ground perpendicular to the rail. Our original 1993 light rail line used wood ballast, the 2006 Shrewsbury extension (aka Blue) line was constructed with longer-lasting concrete ballasts.

Our current lines are Red & Blue so naturally I’d like this new line to be the Green Line. Green track for the Green Line!

It can’t be everywhere, but in many places it can be. A lot of the new line would be in the center of Natural Bridge, which recently went through a quick traffic calming project that reduced vehicle travel lanes to one per direction. Adjacent to Fairgrounds Park the center is green — would be greener if not on top of asphalt.

Looking east toward Grand
Looking west from the same location.

I think the green looks nice, helps keep the area slightly cooler.

While we’re on the subject of alternatives to impervious concrete, another would be water — yes, wet track! Rail going through a fountain…

Not sure if or where this might work, but I think it’s very interesting. Perhaps on Jefferson near the stop near Olive or Market? Guests in new hotels could look down from their rooms and see transit & water converge.

I’d just like us to consider something other than boring ordinary impervious paving.

— Steve Patterson

 

North-South MetroLink Study Update Looking To Stay On Jefferson Avenue, Avoid Previously Planned Circuitous Route

June 16, 2022 Environment, Featured, Planning & Design, Public Transit, Transportation Comments Off on North-South MetroLink Study Update Looking To Stay On Jefferson Avenue, Avoid Previously Planned Circuitous Route

The idea of a North-South MetroLink light rail line has been discussed for many years — too many. We’ve had a couple of studies and locally preferred alternatives over the 15+ year period. Currently Metro is looking at the most recent and “tweaking” it to make it work financially with the city funds from our transit tax. So when I heard this would be included in the Citizens for Modern Transit (CMT) June “Talking Transit” online event I immediately registered. It took place a week ago, but it’s online — link in a moment.

The last alternative was eastbound on Natural Bridge, coming south on Parnell/Jefferson to Cass (to include the large NGA workforce), east to 14th, eventually to 10th, back over to 14th, west on Chouteau, south on Jefferson.

2018 detail map showing the North-South MetroLink in orange. This is no longer possible because of the convention center expansion project closing 9th street.

So basically on Jefferson north of Cass and south of Chouteau, but taking a highly circuitous detour to go through downtown — and briefly east of Tucker.  The distance between those two points on Jefferson is 1.6 miles — in basically a straight line that would require no left or right turns.m

In a 2006 post I suggested a modern tram route on Jefferson, with a new MetroLink station where Jefferson crosses over the existing light rail line, so riders could transfer between lines. Well 16 years later they’re looking at doing basically just that — run in-street light rail on Jefferson with the addition of a MetroLink station at Jefferson. This was disclosed by Bi-State Development President & CEO Taulby Roach at 3:23 in CMT’s event a week ago (watch 0n YouTube).

Bi-State graphic, the orange-yellow mostly vertical line in the center shows the initial phase being evaluated now.  The pink sections are “areas of persistent poverty.”

 

With the NGA, Centene Stadium (MLS) and planned new hotels (Jefferson & Market) this a hot corridor.

The rail wouldn’t be a tram in mixed traffic, it would be in a separate dedicated center section, still low-floor though. The vehicles for both are nearly identical. In-street light rail vs tram basically means dedicated right-of-way and fewer stops, to improve overall speed.

Obviously I’ve long thought a stop at Jefferson on the original MetroLink was a good idea — the distance between the Union Station & Grand stations is just so excessive. I often talk about focusing on corridors, not circuitous routes, and Jefferson is an obvious corridor for a transit project.  It’s not a perfectly straight line, but it would eliminate a huge amount of turns.

Like previous North-South studies, the idea of going out west on Natural Bridge allows a future phase to connect into North County. This could help get county residents to employment opportunities at NGA, and in Downtown West/Midtown.

The American-made Brookville Liberty vehicle can go off-wire for short distances. Dallas TX April 2015

The study update is looking at the latest low-floor vehicles to use. Because of some tight points they’re looking at vehicles that could run for short distances on battery, with the usual catenary most of the distance. This is called off-wire. An example is the Brookville Liberty, in use in cities like Dallas, Milwaukee, and Oklahoma City.  I have no idea which specific vehicles Metro is considering, but the technology to go without a catenary for a short distance is proven.

Interior of Brookville Liberty with low center section and step up seating at each end. Dallas TX, April 2015.
Brookville Liberty at a stop in Milwaukee WI, June 2021
Low-floor center section of Brookville Liberty makes boarding easy. June 2021.

I’d hoped to have visited Oklahoma City by now and ride their Brookville Liberty vehicles., but rental cars & flights have just been too expensive. Again, I’m not sure what vehicles Metro is considering, this is the only off-grid vehicle I’ve ever ridden before.

In the CMT event on Zoom Taulby Roach indicated they’re planning on closed platforms  — having to pass through a fare gate to reach the platform.  This coincides with Metro’s platform project to install fare gates at all MetroLink stations in Missouri & Illinois.

Hopefully Metro’s latest look at North-South rail will result in actual construction, eventual operations.

Steve Patterson

 

 

Mega-Convenience Store Wally’s Follows Popular Buc-ee’s Concept With Second Location In Fenton MO…Is Bigger Better?

April 11, 2022 Environment, Featured, St. Louis County, Transportation Comments Off on Mega-Convenience Store Wally’s Follows Popular Buc-ee’s Concept With Second Location In Fenton MO…Is Bigger Better?

When I was a kid a 1970s filling (gas) station was a small corner location with a few pumps and a small interior. Inside they might have a vending machine or two. They also did some automotive work, like tire repairs, in the shop portion of the building. Restrooms were often small and accessed from the outside. Fuel was their primary revenue source.  The closest was a 2-canopy Phillips 66 “gull wing” design — similar to the single canopy one at Page & Vandeventer.

Small convenience stores also existed, and some sold fuel.

At some point (80s?) gas stations and convenience stores merged. It was 1982 when Buck-ee’s opened its first convenience store/gas station in Clute Texas (near Houston), followed by others. These were typical suburban filling stations for the day, significantly smaller than today’s QuikTrip.

In the years since these new gas/convenience hybrids became bigger and nicer, the number of fuel pumps has steadily increased. What was once a small corner lot is now multiple acres.

In 2001 Buc-ee’s owners decided to go big instead of incremental growth — opening their first mega location along I-10 near Luling TX (map). It’s a stop between San Antonio and Houston, in the middle of nowhere. Even now the only other thing at this exit is a Love’s Travel Stop and a couple of hotels, all on the other side of the interstate. Sheer size was the gimmick. Rather than have multiple separate locations along the interstate they put all those fuel pumps, food, restrooms, employees, etc into one big location. It was a brilliant idea — great for marketing, simplifies logistics, etc.

During the last two decades others have replicated their logo and/or concept.

In recent years, during the company’s rapidly growing success, Buc-ee’s has filed numerous lawsuits against other convenience store chains, most of them based in Texas, for trademark and trade dress infringement.

In 2014, Buc-ee’s filed a lawsuit against Texas based convenience store chain “Frio Beaver”. Frio Beaver, a company with a logo also depicting a beaver in a yellow circle with a black outline, was accused of copying the iconic Buc-ee’s beaver head logo, which the company is widely known for in Texas.

In 2016, Buc-ee’s sued “Choke Canyon BBQ”, another Texas convenience store, for copyright infringement and trade dressing. Choke Canyon uses a logo of a grinning alligator in the middle of a yellow circle, which Buc-ee’s claims is an attempt by the chain to resemble the Buc-ee’s logo. Choke Canyon is also calling their new stores “Bucky’s”.

In 2017, Buc-ee’s again filed a lawsuit for breaking an agreement, this time against a Nebraska-based convenience store chain known as “Bucky’s”. The two companies had agreed to remain in their respective states and expand only to states where the other did not operate.

There was also a non-logo related lawsuit filed in 2013 against “Chicks”, a convenience store located in Bryan, Texas, for trade dressing by allegedly copying Buc-ee’s mega convenience store designs and layout. The case was settled out of court.

Wally’s opened its first Buc-ee’s style mega-convenience store/filling station in Pontiac IL in 2020 (map). I checked, it’s inside the city limits. Barely.  Their logo would never be confused with Buc-ee’s, so they’re safe there.  Since Buc-ee’s doesn’t have a Missouri or Illinois location (yet) Wally’s is likely safe from a trade dress lawsuit.

Long line of fuel pumps is parallel with I-44
Long line of fuel pumps is parallel with I-44

The new Wally’s in suburban Fenton MO is their second location. They’re looking to expand, interested in sites 2-8 acres in size.

Likes:

  • Clean.
  • Cheese pizza slice was good.
  • Nice seeing food prepared on site.
  • Friendly employees.
  • Contactless payments accepted inside and at fuel pumps.

Dislikes:

  • Excessive impervious paving.
  • No solar.
  • No trees.
  • No seating, inside or out.
  • Long walk to restrooms.
  • Higher fuel prices than most others in zip code.
  • Higher food, beverage prices.
  • Number of disabled/accessible parking spaces seems too few.
  • A few ADA violations.

Let’s take a look:

Street entrance
My first pic of Wally’s, a view from the street. The massively wide driveway is likely designed to accommodate tanker trucks delivering fuel.
Jeep Grand Cherokee
A vintage Jeep Grand Wagoneer takes center stage, facing the highway. This is where one ADA violation occurs — they have a marked pedestrian route from the building out to this platform buy failed to include a curb cut/ramp.

 

Fuel pump
Fuel pumps are modern, offer contactless payment.
Crosswalk to building
The have an outer sidewalk along the outer edges of the property on the industrial park side, this marked crosswalk leads you to the building. However, the industrial park isn’t designed for pedestrians. So workers in surrounding businesses will likely need to drive here say for lunch — or walk in the street, driveways, and/or drainage ditch when not full of water.
Area to charge electric vehicles
To one side of the building is a canopy shading electric vehicle chargers.
Plug in graphic painted on paving
I thought this painted graphic was cute.
EV charger
Not sure if the ADA addresses access to chargers, but many with disabilities would have a hard time accessing the charge hose — this is a problems I’ve seen at every public charger location. The screen height seemed ok.
Side view of Wally's
Looking back at the side entrance from the charger area.
Side entrance
Entrances are large with automatic doors.
Center interior
The center of the building has a higher ceiling, lots of staffed stations.
bar-be-que station in center
Like Buc-ee’s, the main attraction is BBQ.
Back wall from center
Looking along the back wall
bakery with pizza
The bakery included pizza and muffins, etc
Two pizza slices
We each had a slice, we had to eat it in our car.
A cafe section, or course.
Beyond the Cafe is the wall of soda, and snacks like jerky. You pass though here to reach the restrooms.
The restrooms were clean, with sinks in the center. At each sink you get soap, water, air to dry. Very nice.

I don’t fault the owners or patrons of Wally’s, it is certainly of the current times.  Thankfully I don’t think we’ll see too many of these in the future. The typical big gas station (looking at you QT) is bad enough.

We shouldn’t even be building any new gas stations at this point.

— Steve Patterson

 

 

New Book — ‘Risky Cities: The Physical and Fiscal Nature of Disaster Capitalism’ by Albert

April 7, 2022 Books, Environment, Featured Comments Off on New Book — ‘Risky Cities: The Physical and Fiscal Nature of Disaster Capitalism’ by Albert

A new book explores one of my favorite topics: the overlap of urbanization, capitalism, and disasters. Think our bad habit of developing in flood plains, then acting shocked when levees results in flooding elsewhere. The term “disaster capitalism” is very appropriate.

Over half the world’s population lives in urban regions, and increasingly disasters are of great concern to city dwellers, policymakers, and builders. However, disaster risk is also of great interest to corporations, financiers, and investors. Risky Cities is a critical examination of global urban development, capitalism, and its relationship with environmental hazards. It is about how cities live and profit from the threat of sinkholes, garbage, and fire. Risky Cities is not simply about post-catastrophe profiteering. This book focuses on the way in which disaster capitalism has figured out ways to commodify environmental bads and manage risks. Notably, capitalist city-building results in the physical transformation of nature. This necessitates risk management strategies –such as insurance, environmental assessments, and technocratic mitigation plans. As such capitalists redistribute risk relying on short-term fixes to disaster risk rather than address long-term vulnerabilities.  (Rutgers University Press)

You can read the introduction at Barnes and Noble.

— Steve Patterson

 

 

We Saved 17.3% On Last Month’s Electric Bill

March 3, 2022 Environment, Featured Comments Off on We Saved 17.3% On Last Month’s Electric Bill
A smart electric meter is needed for Time of Use (TOU) rate plans.

Many more of you now have a smart electric meter, assuming you’re an Ameren Missouri customer, than when I have previously posted about this new technology — and the variety of billing rates that go along with it.

My three prior posts:

We have now completed 8 billing cycles using new time of use (TOU) billing rates — the rate charges varies depending upon the time of day. We did one month of Evening/Morning Savers, four months of Ultimate Savers, and the last three on the Smart Savers plan.  The latter plan is best for us, more on that below.

You’re probably thinking you don’t want to mess with new rate plans, you’ll just stick with the flat rate (aka Anytime Users) you’ve always had. Sorry, if you have a new smart meter Ameren will automatically move you to the Evening/Morning Savers plan.  This plan charges slightly less for electricity used between 9pm and 9am.

Why is Ameren Missouri changing all meters and complicating electrical rates? They’re trying to minimize energy use during peak demand periods. Think about shopping malls, they have massive amounts of unused surface parking — except for peak periods like Black Friday when parking lots fill up. Surface parking, unfortunately, is cheap so building extra capacity that isn’t used most of the time is no big deal. Energy plants, on the other hand, are incredibly expensive. Plus, Ameren is planning to shut down its second largest coal plant later this year.

Ideal for energy unities (natural gas & electric) the demand would be perfectly flat 24/7/365. Reality is our air conditioning, electric heat, electric clothes dryers, lighting, and electric cooking use isn’t flat. Most people have similar enough schedules they cool off the house after work in summer, make meals at the same time, etc.  These activities cause spikes in demand. Roller coaster use isn’t a good match for electricity generation.

Spikes in energy demand are costly to deal with, so it’s better for electric utilities to reward customers to help flatten out demand. So peak times cost more, off peak less. Peak demand happens at different times of the day in winter months compared to summer months.

All four of Ameren’s TOU rate plans have a few common elements.

Summer rates are valid for 4 months, June-September. Thus, winter rates are the remaining 8 months, October-May. The flat rate we’ve all had for years has been different in summer vs winter — higher in summer because of air conditioning demand. What’s new is the variability based on the time of day, and day of week.

Let’s review the plans, starting with the flat rate we’ve all had for years — the same rate no matter the time of day or the day of the week.

The specific charge per kWh has changed over the decades, but you see the time of day doesn’t matter.

Now we can get into the new plans, starting with the one Ameren has moved you to after installing the smart meter:

This is the plan everyone will be moved to after receiving a new smart meter. As you can see the rate for 9am to 9pm is only slightly higher than the other half of a 24 hour cycle. 12 hours peak, 12 hours off peak — 7 days a week.

Here are the other three rate plans. They can be confusing but after 4 months Ameren can show you the average cost of each plan based on your usage.

With this plan peak rates are 16 hours, off peak is 8 hours. Seven days a week.

 

This is the one plan that has three levels, instead of just two. Eight hours of off peak, five hours peak summer, four hours peak winter. Peak is only for non-holiday weekdays.
This rate plan has the best rates, but it also has a demand charge based on the hour of highest demand during the billing cycle.

I should note here that major holidays are a break from peak rates, see my first post on TOU rates for specifics.

I jumped into plans as soon as I could, without waiting 4 months to see which plan was best for us. However, I’ve also changed when we use electricity because of these rates — trying to maximize our savings each month. When our report was available I could clearly see the Smart Savers rate plan would save us over the Ultimate Savers plan. I switched based on the report and now that we’re in winter and using electric heating we’re saving big money each month.

We recently received our February bill for the period 1/22/22-2/22/22 — a savings of $12.39 compared to the old Anytime flat rate. The previous cycle we saved $10.64.  So far we’ve cumulatively saved $29.22 on time of use rates compared to the old flat rate — nearly 80% of that amount in just the last two billing cycles! I can’t wait to see the savings after we’ve been on our current TOU rate plan for a full 12 billing cycles. Ameren doesn’t tell you the savings, but I’m a spreadsheet geek so I don’t have to do the math manually.

Our apartment is 100% electric, about 15 years old, 3 exterior walls, with two occupied apartments above ours — winter heat is a bigger expense than summer cooling. The best plan for you may be different, all you need to do is log into your Ameren account online to see the approximate average cost per month for each of the time of use billing rates.

Ameren dashboard
If you have a smart meter and they’ve compared the various TOU rates you’ll see a mention at the bottom of this section of your Ameren dashboard about rates.
Ameren rate plan comparison
This is our current comparison. Note the dollar amounts are energy only — no fees, charges, taxes. Some plans you can opt for summer only or all year.

And finally, what makes these new electric meters so smart?  They’re able to understand what is using electricity based on the loads. This allows Ameren to show me reports like these:

energy use by appliance report, December 2021 bill cycle
Our energy use by appliance report, December 2021 bill cycle. Water heating was our biggest single user of electricity in this cycle ahead of heat.
energy use by appliance report, January 2022 bill cycle
In our January 2022 bill energy use by appliance report heating is no longer a separate lime item, this is likely due to our cat’s heating pad that’s on 10pm-6am daily, with the help of a smart plug.
February 2022 bill energy use by appliance report
Last month our energy use by appliance report was nearly identical to the previous.

Once you have a login for your account it only takes a minute to see if they’ve had enough data from your use to compare rates. You might be paying more each month than necessary.

I mentioned that I did make changes in an effort to reduce our energy costs. I used to do 3 loads of laundry per week, in the mornings. I now do 2 loads timed so the dryer isn’t turned on until 10pm. The washer is set to tap cold water. Most of the time our dishwasher is also run after 10pm — the heat dry and other energy sucking features are off. The dishwasher is occasionally run during the mid-peak time, but never during full peak. Our thermostat is set to a temperature during peak hours so our heat/cooling won’t kick on. I’ve not made any changes to what, how, or when we cook.

In addition to saving money by using some appliances during off-peak hours, we’re using less electricity.  Here’s the totals for the last 3 years:

  • 2019: 10,179 kWh
  • 2020: 9,620 kWh
  • 2021: 7,447 kWh

The weather, of course, plays a role in our heating & cooling costs.

Without changing your life you can potentially save money by checking out Ameren’s advanced time of use billing rates — let them show you the comparison. If you’ve only just received your smart meter check bask online each month to see if they have a comparison ready.  If you can additionally reduce energy use during peak hours you can save even more.

— Steve Patterson

 

 

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