Home » St. Charles County » Recent Articles:

St. Charles County Needs Public Transit

St. Charles County now has more people than the City of St. Louis (360,484 vs 319,294).  That population is spread out over a much larger area giving the county a low population density of 643/sq mi compared to St. Louis City which has a density of 5,158/sq mi.   St. Louis County’s population density is 1,966/sq mi.  One might conclude from these numbers that St. Charles County lacks the density to support transit.

In Illinois, St. Clair County contracts with Metro for transit service despite having a population density of only 393/sq mi (270,056). In addition to bus service, they funded and built an extension to the MetroLink light rail line.  In neighboring Madison County, the population density is a mere 366/sq mi yet they have the separate Madison County Transit (MTC MCT) system.

Again, St. Charles County has no county-wide transit service.  The City of St. Charles operates the horribly named SCAT (St. Charles Area Transit) system but that is little more than a senior shuttle service.

The St. Charles Area Transit system, otherwise known as SCAT, consists of five bus routes that provide transportation to various locations within the City of St. Charles as well as to the Metrolink North Hanley Station. Curb-to-curb service is provided for all riders, and all busses are equipped with wheelchair lifts.

All routes run Monday through Friday. Please allow 5-10 minutes leeway for each time listed. The routes and schedules are subject to change.

I have a copy of the fold out paper map showing the routes, none are online (wtf?). Yes, seniors need such systems but what about others? What about the other 294,691 St. Charles County residents that don’t live in the City of St. Charles?

In terms of its growth spurt, St. Charles may still be in its tweens.

“We’re probably kind of in the middle,” Anthony [director of community development with St. Charles County] says. The county estimates that its maximum capacity is about 640,000 people, he says, considerably more than the county’s current population of 360,484.)

With much more growth ahead, the county and cities within it have several things to consider moving forward, chiefly the very things that brought people out in the first place. (STL Beacon)

More growth with no plan to get folks from home in Wenzville to work in O’Fallon?  Part of me would like to just sit back and wait for the realities of an aging population combined with rising fuel prices to sink in to the average St. Charles County resident. But by the time that happens they will be in crisis mode. As part of our 16 county region we can’t allow such a large area fall into transportation crisis.

I’m not the first to realize St. Charles County needs a system. They created the St. Charles County Transit Authority and East-West Gateway studied the idea in 2006-07, an update to a 2001 plan.

East-West Gateway suggested that a sales-tax of 1/8 cent (or less) could support the proposed system which would, in turn, provide the local workforce with a transit option that is financially and environmentally friendly.

Polling commissioned by the Transit Authority in January 2008 and paid for by private donations did not indicate sufficient support for a sales tax for public transit. Voters opposed a bus sales tax for two main reasons:

  1. taxes are already “too high” or
  2. this particular tax would be an “unwise” use of taxes.

In addition, a large group (20%) stated they would not use the bus system or would not access it because its proposed routing is not convenient for them. (source)

Leaders in St. Charles County need to work on passing a transit tax so the Transit Authority can begin the work of setting up a transit system.

– Steve Patterson


Poll: When Will St. Charles County Go Smoke-Free?

Interesting news from St. Charles County last week:

The fate of a proposed countywide smoking ban is now up to County Executive Steve Ehlmann.

The County Council voted 4-2 on Tuesday night for legislation to put the proposal on the November 2012 election ballot. Ehlmann has yet to signal whether he’ll sign or veto the measure, which would apply to bars, restaurants and most other indoor public places. (STLToday.com)

With St. Louis City & County now smoke-free, with some unfortunate exceptions, it would be nice to see more of the region become smoke-free.

He [Ehlman] has 10 days to veto or sign the bill. If he does neither, the bill is automatically approved. (Patch.com)

This is the subject of the poll this week: When Will St. Charles County Go Smoke-Free?  The poll is located in the upper right corner of the blog.

I hope Steve Ehlmann doesn’t veto this bill so the question goes to voters in November 2012.

– Steve Patterson


Readers support the rights of cyclists to use the roads

ABOVE: State Highway DD via Google Streetview
ABOVE: State Highway DD in St. Charles County. Image: Google Streetview

Readers that voted in the poll last week clearly favor the rights of bicyclist to use public roadways and thus opposing a proposed ban in St. Charles County on cycling on some state highways in the county.

Q: St Charles County is considering banning bikes from some state highways:

  1. Bikes are vehicles and have just as much right to use public roads. 114 [60.96%]
  2. Bikes are fine on local roads, but not on state highways lacking shoulders. 52 [27.81%]
  3. Bikes belong on sidewalks or trails, not roads. 13 [6.95%]
  4. Other answer… 7 [3.74%]
  5. Unsure/no opinion 1 [ 0.53%]

However, nearly 28% think cyclists have a right to the roads, but not highways lacking shoulders.  Almost 7% think cyclists belong on sidewalks and trails.  Seriously? Public roads are for vehicles and a bike is a vehicle.

The “other” answers were:

  1. Ban Cars
  2. Ban the cars and solve the obesity problem
  3. Daft Wankers!
  4. stl bikers need education on the laws – until they stop at stop signs ban bikers
  5. If a bicyclistg wants to risk life and limb on a state highway, go for it.
  6. They are state roads…St. Charles has no jurisdiction in banning bikes on them.
  7. Reduce speed limit to 35 from 55mph for the cars – why do the cars go so fast?

I’ll be interested to see how this issue plays out.

– Steve Patterson


The route to St. Charles

More and more I rely on Google Maps on my iPhone.  Sometimes it is for directions but recently it was to let me know the time to drive from downtown to visit friends in St. Charles.

I knew the route but wasn’t sure of the time.  Thirty-five minutes isn’t too bad, certainly seems longer! Once I had my answer I was curious about the other two route options offered by Google Maps: transit and walking.

As expected the transit option (above) returned with the message, “Transit directions could not be found between these locations.”  No surprise since I was headed far into suburbia.  But what about walking?

Great, a walking route.  But the route is over 70% longer than driving (29.5 miles vs 44.5 miles).  I’m not sure what I expected but it wasn’t such an out of the way route.  Some use walking routes to help find cycling routes and this is not a viable alternative. It must relate to safe ways to cross the Missouri River.

– Steve Patterson


Where Is Your Third Place?

There is one thing cities provide in much greater abundance than suburbs: the essential “third places” in our lives that provide respite and relaxation for us outside our homes or workplaces.

Third Place
Third places are defined as one of three places that meet fundamental human needs: home, a first place; work, a second place; and a third place, where we go to find community, relaxation, and simply “be” when we aren’t at home or working.

For all the people who work from home offices, the line between the first and second places, home and work space, may have blurred, but it makes the third place even more important. We all need a common place to hang out, see friends, find conversation, or simply watch the world go by. We seek a place that is separate from our homes or workplaces and all their attendant comforts and irritations.

Third places are very individual. In a family of four, there could be four different third places: church, coffeehouse, club or park. They are where you go to get away from your immediate responsibilities and expectations. You don’t have to do housework or laundry; you don’t have to finish that project or spar with your partner. You are (temporarily) free to indulge your own thoughts, talk or not talk, do or not do anything.

In the city of St. Louis there are many good third-places: local coffeehouses like The Hartford, Shaw Coffee or even the London Tea Room. There are neighborhood bars and cafes where they get to know you and you can stay as long as you like. There are libraries, drop-in centers and parks. There are churches and clubs, both social and athletic. There are museums and entertainment districts like The Loop on Delmar or Washington Avenue downtown. And there are intentional places like Left Bank Books with book groups, author readings and community events. These third places are close at hand, across the street or down the block, most of them within walking distance.

The suburbs of St. Louis are trickier, especially in second-ring suburbs. Newer, more affluent suburbs like Chesterfield and Wildwood have been built with more modern sensibilities about community gathering spots and the intentional communities created by mixed-use construction. You may be more likely to hang out at commercially sponsored third places like Starbucks or the mall, but they exist and are well used.

The second-ring suburbs are in a tougher spot. They belong to an earlier time, before we realized how much we would miss the communal third places that are so abundant in the city. Like the outer-ring suburbs, they may have some commercially-sponsored places like Starbucks, McDonalds or Dennys, but there may be only one or two in a municipality and they are rarely within walking distance. There is a real dearth of small, local businesses like independent coffeehouses, casual cafes or bookstores. Which pretty much leaves the bar, gym or possibly church and almost all of them require driving in your car.

There is a misplaced attempt to fulfill this need for third places in the construction of suburban great rooms, finished basements and fully-equipped media rooms, but all of these fall short. A third place requires distance from home and family. It also requires diversity and randomness in the people you might observe or start a conversation with.
When I lived in Seattle, I could easily walk a few blocks to any of six coffeehouses, each with its own ambience and crowd of regulars. There were bookstores with cafes where you could hang out from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. When I lived in the South Grand area, I had my choice of places to hang out.

In Maryland Heights, I’m stumped. I occasionally get in the car and drive to Starbucks at Westport or I go farther afield to Creve Couer or Chesterfield. More and more, I drive farther to Main Street in St. Charles or into the city to find a third place, but none of them are my third place.

City planners take note: vibrant cities or suburbs don’t exist without a multitude of viable third places. And if you want to attract the young, the creative, the socially engaged, that advice is doubly important.

What I’d like to know, especially if you’re a suburbanite, is where is your third place? Where do you regularly go to hang out, read a book, see friends, or just escape home and work responsibilities? What makes a place your third space? I look forward to what you have to say.

-Deborah Moulton