Home » Environment » Recent Articles:

PR: Christmas Tree Recycling Available at Three City Parks

December 24, 2010 Environment, Press Release 2 Comments

The following is a press release from the mayor’s office:

Dec. 22, 2010 — After the glow of Christmas is gone and the decorations have been taken off the tree, City residents can take the bare tree to one of three City parks to be recycled.

ABOVE: Lower Muny parking lot one of three tree drop off locations
ABOVE: Lower Muny parking lot one of three tree drop off locations. Image: Google Maps, click to view

Trees can be dropped off at:

Trees will be accepted at these park sites from Mon, Dec 27, 2010 through Fri, Jan. 14, 2011. The trees will be ground into mulch that will be free and made available at the same sites. Fake or plastic trees will not be accepted.

Trees must be free of ALL decorations. Please remove the ornaments, tinsel, lights and tree stand. Do NOT put the tree in a plastic bag or cover it. Wreaths and pine roping are not accepted at the sites.

“We want to encourage residents to recycle their Christmas trees. Locations in the north, south and central areas of the City were chosen to ensure that our recycling sites are as convenient as possible,” said Greg Hayes, Forestry Commissioner.

City residents should not place Christmas trees in alley dumpsters or recycling containers. The Refuse Division will collect them as part of its regular monthly bulk pickup program.


These McMansions Will Be Hard To Give Away A Decade From Now

About 8 years ago I had a client on a quiet & respectable street in the suburb of Chesterfield. What struck me at the time was the number of houses all with a single road to get out of the subdivision. One visit I stopped to reset my trip odometer just to see how long it was from the main road to their house, it was over a mile and a half!

ABOVE: 1.7 miles between the subdivision entrance & the street with the client's house
ABOVE: 1.7 miles between the subdivision entrance & the street with the client’s house. Click image to view in Google Maps.

I remembered this area as I read an article about a recent study:

People who live in walkable communities are more socially engaged and trusting than those who live in less walkable areas, says a new study from the University of New Hampshire.

The study buttresses other research that has linked a neighborhood’s walkability to its residents’ quality of life, notably improved physical and mental health.

The McMansion on the large lot & 3-car garage was once desirable by many, but those days are fading. This subdivision has sidewalks, but no direct connection to each front door!

ABOVE: 4.1 mile route to "nearby" shopping
ABOVE: 4.1 mile route to “nearby” shopping. Click image to view in Google Maps

Out of curiosity I decided to run the Walk Score for this street. No surprise it got a 2 out of 100 and the label “auto-dependant”

ABOVE: A score of 2 compared to an average of 41 for Chesterfield

Half a century ago you couldn’t give away mansions in the city. They were big, drafty, and “functionally obsolete.” They lacked modern plumbing, wiring and air conditioning. A decade from now these McMansions will be obsolete. The cost to heat & cool these houses alone is enough to make them undesirable but it will be the lack of walkability that will do them in.

In contrast, my downtown address got a score of 95 – walker’s paradise. My first apartment in St. Louis (CWE) has a score of 91. My first apartment in Old North St. Louis has a “very walkable” 77. The two properties I owned in Dutchtown have a “somewhat walkable: score of 52. Must someone live in a downtown loft to have a high Walk Score? Hardly. My former office was in Kirkwood where the residential units where the former Target store was located get a 91 “walker’s paradise” score. Inner-ring suburbs often score high because they originate in days of streetcars. Ferguson MO gets an 80 and Maplewood 75, both “very walkable.” On the Illinois side of the region you have places like Belleville (80) and Edwardsville (86).

Here is how they define the levels.

walkscorelevelsAs gas prices & public transit ridership go up homes in car-deopendent areas will have little appeal. Areas that are somewhat & very walkable will be retrofitted to become more walkable. I’ve set up a calendar reminder for December 23, 2020 to revisit this issue, and this street in Chesterfield.

– Steve Patterson


The Challenges Of Going Electric

Hybrid vehicles are now mainstream:

“The Prius first went on sale in Japan in 1997, making it the first mass-produced hybrid vehicle. It was subsequently introduced worldwide in 2001. The Prius is sold in more than 70 countries and regions, with its largest markets being those of Japan and North America. In May 2008, global cumulative Prius sales reached the milestone 1 million vehicle mark, and in September 2010, the Prius reached worldwide cumulative sales of 2.0 million units. The U.S. is the largest market, with 814,173 units registered by December 2009.” (Wikipedia)

Gas-electric hybrids are are now available from many manufacturers, Hyundai, Lexus, Lincoln, etc…  The beauty of the hybrid is a conventional engine kicks in to supply power.  You can drive cross country in a hybrid without worry.

The next frontier is the electric car.  GM was out front in 1996 with the EV1 but it famously killed the project in 2002, sparking the 2006 documentary, “Who Killed The Electric Car?”


GM had purchased the Hummer brand name in 1999 — the opposite vehicle of the EV1.  The Hummer brand is gone and next week GM is introducing a mass market electric car — the Chevy Volt.  Next month Nissan is introducing the all-electric Leaf.  Unlike a hybrid, the Volt & Leaf require charging.

“Your Volt will be fully charged in about 10 hours, depending on climate, with standard 120-volt line, or as little as 4 hours using a dedicated 240-volt line”

So I can just run a long extension cord? Sorta, maybe, depends:

The batteries that power electric cars can be charged by plugging them into a standard wall socket or nearly twice as fast with a charging station. Yet a station could cost at least $2,000, including installation, and possibly $4,000 higher if you need a new electrical panel, according to the Associated Press.

“The main thing to consider is how you are going to use your electric car,” the story says. “If your commute is short, or there’s a charging station near your office, you might not need much of a charge at home. You can get away with topping off your battery overnight.” (USA Today)

I’m thinking in ten years or so I will be able to buy an electric car.  Many of my neighbors already have hybrids, they might get an electric sooner.

Our condo association has 78 units, in two buildings joined by underground parking containing 88 assigned spaces.

ABOVE: My car in the condo parking garage
ABOVE: My (conventional) car in my condo's basement-level parking garage

In most of the garage the only electric is the lighting.  One of the three sections has power for car lifts.

ABOVE: Example of empty auto lift hard wired to conduit on the garage ceiling

The car lifts are hard wired on a common electrical service for the building.  These owners pay a tiny bit more in monthly condo fees to offset their electric use.  With the lifts I’d say we have a capacity for about 100 vehicles.  I could see 2-5 electric vehicles with 10 years.  But how would we charge them? Can the electrical service for our two buildings handle the demand?  Could one 30-minute quick charge station make more sense for those owners to share?

Assuming we figured out how to charge a handful of electric cars without causing our buildings to go dark, could downtown’s electrical grid handle the concentration of electric cars? Here is a short news report from AP explaining the issue.


Locally I drive less than 4,000 miles per year so the range of an electric would not be an issue for me.  However, the current costs make it an impractical choice given how little I drive locally.  Still I want to figure out how to address the inevitable future need.
– Steve Patterson

New Downtown Rain Garden Reduces Sidewalk Width Too Much

ABOVE: New rain garden in the 11th St sidewalk between Pine & Olive

Here is an addition to downtown you may have missed, here was the press release:

ST. LOUIS, November 10, 2010 – The Downtown Community Improvement District (CID) has installed its first demonstration Rain Garden at the corner of 11th and Pines Streets. One of the CID’s goals for this project was to catalyze a trend toward more sustainable streetscapes in the city. The 11th Street pilot project employs a new segmental wall and curb system, called Freno, that offers a cost-effective, modular method of building an urban rain garden.

This rain garden was designed to capture rain water from the gutter and adjacent parking lot, prior to reaching the sewer system. This sustainable landscape does not require watering and gives back to the environment by specifically designated plants and soil mix that filter out 80-90% of the pollutants from car fluid and road treatment chemicals.

Rain gardens have been designated in the downtown St. Louis streetscape plan and they are gaining popularity in downtowns across the nation and abroad. With this in mind, the need for sustainable landscapes in downtown is becoming more and more important.

The materials and labor that went into the construction of this rain garden has been 100% donated by the City of St. Louis Department of Streets, HOK, Midwest Products, St. Louis Composting, Forrest Keeling Nursery, and the Downtown CID.

This Downtown Next priority is brought to you by the Downtown CID – dedicated to a cleaner, safer, more vibrant and greener Downtown. Downtown St. Louis is a regional leader in sustainable practices.

I like rain gardens, they do a great job of reducing water runoff.

ABOVE: Close up look at the rain garden, which replaced a former driveway
ABOVE: one of two places where water from the gutter will run into the rain garden

But I also like sidewalk space and this new rain garden consumes way too much of the width of the sidewalk.  Eliminating a driveway into the adjacent parking lot is a very good thing but with the reduced width of the sidewalk I’m concerned about cars parking too far forward.

ABOVE: fencing around small parking lot at 10th & Olive

Ideally there would be fencing to prevent cars from parking so their front ends don’t further squeeze the sidewalk space.  Simple wheel stops in the parking lot would solve the problem on the cheap.  The rain gardens on 9th & Market (Citygarden) extend out from the curb line into what is normally the parking lane.  Here, on 11th, parking is not permitted next to the rain garden so the street width is excessive for the two travel lanes.  The curb to curb for the roadway is too wide but the sidewalk width was cut in half. Typical.

ABOVE: trash accumulated in the rain garden on one visit

The problem of trash will be ongoing.  Good intentions, poor execution.

– Steve Patterson


Single Stream Recycling Here For Some

November 15, 2010 Environment 12 Comments

In July the Board of Aldermen passed ordinance 68698.  From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Saturday July 3, 2010:

” A new city trash fee passed the Board of Aldermen on Friday and was signed into law by Mayor Francis Slay. It will cost most homeowners $11 a month, or $132 per year, and includes new, single-stream recycling bins – for cardboard, plastic, glass and more – for the first time.”

City residents haven’t had specific fees for trash collection before so suddenly paying $11 per unit came as a shock but the promise of city-wide single stream recycling made the fee easier to tolerate.  The fee would be added onto the existing water bill.  For those with multi-family buildings the fee can add up quickly.

ABOVE: New recycling collection point at Carter Ave & Obear Ave

The water bill is invoiced in arrears, after you’ve had water service. Residents now have their bills with the trash fee for July-October.  But only three (8, 15, 28) of our 28 wards have the promised recycling bins in their alleys.  Nine wards (1,2,3,4, 18, 20, 22, 26, 27) won’t get recycling bins in the alley.  These wards, per their aldermen, will get collection points only — groupings of recycling bins.  Waelterman as quoted in the same P-D article:

“Dumpster-style recycling bins will probably begin arriving in city alleys this fall. The city is bidding out contracts on the bins now. Bins will be citywide by year’s end. A few neighborhoods – if requested by the ward’s alderman, or neighbors – will not get them.”

So the news that not all wards would get convenient recycling bins in their alley is not new.  The reason is money — these aldermen didn’t want to spend the funds necessary to buy the bins.

ABOVE: New blue recycling bin in alley near Euclid & McPherson

Those who use roll-out containers for trash will get blue roll outs, but it will be the end of March 2011 before the entire city has recycling.  So some will have paid for 9 months ($99) of recycling before getting recycling.

ABOVE: Graphic on new recycling containers

To address growing unrest the city held a press conference last week.

ABOVE: KMOX interviews Todd Waelterman, Director of Streets
ABOVE: KMOX interviews Todd Waelterman, Director of Streets

The press conference was held in the mayor’s office at city hall.   Here is the press conference with Mayor Slay, President of the Board of Aldermen Lewis Reed and Director of Streets Todd Waelterman:


The following is the Q&A:


My condo association pays for private trash & recycling collection so the $11/month fee doesn’t impact me.  But I’m guessing many of you are now paying this fee but the corresponding service won’t arrive until next year.  Please share your thoughts on the fee and the process in the comments below.

– Steve Patterson