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Readers: MetroLink Light Rail was a Good Investment

This morning I’m meeting a friend at the airport so we can catch up on the ride to his downtown hotel. Sure, he could take a cab or ahotel shuttle or I could drive out there to get him, but why?

ABOVE: The MetroLink platform at the main terminal

Our light rail connection to the airport is outstanding. We’ve enjoyed the connection since 1993. When I flew to Seattle in 2009 their airport light rail wasn’t yet complete.   Flying into LaGuardia Airport in 2005 I took a bus into Manhattan, NYC’s excellent rail system didn’t reach the airport.

No doubt the airport connection helped garner so many favorable responses in the poll last week, Poll: Was MetroLink a Good Investment?:

Q: MetroLink light rail opened 18 years ago, was it a good investment?

  1. Yes, it is an important part of our region’s transportation system. 180 [79.3%]
  2. Other answer… 19 [8.37%]
  3. No, likely cost too much given the ridership 16 [7.05%]
  4. Possibly, need data to know 10 [4.41%]
  5. unsure/no opinion 2 [0.88%]

Here are the numerous other answers:

  1. If it went faster I would easily say YES. Right now it is a VERY “nice to have”
  2. Yes, although we need more lines for it to be truly effective.
  3. Good starter line but not designed to take advantage of STL’s Urban Form
  4. Yes, but it needs more lines to make it fully functional
  5. No, because it’s taking away from the bus system.
  6. It’s a good start, we need a north south line in high density residential nabes
  7. It’s a needed part of trans. system, but need data to know if good investment
  8. Yes, but it needs to be expanded to MidAmerica to grasp the airport’s potential.
  9. ghetto link
  10. Good investment, but really need to encourage TODs to maximize investment return
  11. Overall yes but NIMBYs have strongly compromised its potential and overall worth
  12. Yes, but the subsequent failures have hurt: lack of extension down 40, etc.
  13. a good investment subsequently wasted by failure to expand to critical mass
  14. It would have been but not as it stands.
  15. No. It is too limited to be useful.
  16. Only if they build more lines
  17. Yes, but we need to do better.
  18. yes, but it still needs improvement in service hours and number of stops
  19. Without turnstiles, we have no idea how much revenue we are losing.

Here are some of my thoughts:

  • Light rail is one of several types of fixed rail transit, others include heavy rail and streetcars. Each has it’s place. Light rail into Illinois and to the airport was a good investment because we had the right-of-way, bridge, and tunnels to support the construction.
  • The extension further into Illinois was also a good investment as the distance is substantial, getting many cars off the roadways with minimal infrastructure since the line used existing at-grade right-of-way.
  • The extension to Shrewsbury, however, was not a good investment. Expensive tunnels and flyover bridges drove up costs enormously. The distance covered is not that great.
  • The lack of turnstiles made sense in the late 80s when the original line was being planned, ridership was unknown and the additional costs to construct a closed system would have been too much. I don’t think much revenue is lost by those who don’t pay, but not having a reloadable card option (yet) is a huge disadvantage.
  • Light rail is typically run in it’s own right-of-way so therefore it isn’t where you need it to be – in the street next to your destination.
  • Light rail doesn’t belong in street right-of-ways, that’s what a streetcar is for.
  • I see very limited need for additional light rail in the region.  An extension into Madison County Illinois would be nice.  Connecting north county via existing right-of-way from Clayton or airport area makes sense too.  Extending into south county from Shrewsbury also makes sense.
  • I oppose street running light rail going through north & south St. Louis to get county riders downtown.
  • We will never again have a streetcar system serving all neighborhoods in the city and light rail only serves a very small portion of people.  Bus service, therefore, is the main mode of transit.
  • Light rail distracts Metro and funding from bus service, which has been getting the short end of the stick for too long.

– Steve Patterson


Poll: Was MetroLink a Good Investment?

ABOVE: The elevator tower at the Convention Center MetroLink station, 6th & Washington Ave.

Eighteen years ago today St. Louis’ initial light rail line, MetroLink, opened for service:

Construction on the initial MetroLink alignment from Lambert-St. Louis International Airport to the 5th & Missouri station in East St. Louis began in 1990. The portion between North Hanley and 5th & Missouri stations opened in July 31, 1993, and the line was extended westward to Lambert Airport Main station in 1994. At that time another station, East Riverfront, was opened in East St. Louis. Four years later, in 1998, the Lambert Airport East station was added. The capital cost to build the initial phase of MetroLink was $465 million. Of that amount, $348 million was supplied by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA).

MetroLink exceeded pre-opening ridership estimates, but the system has expanded slowly. Construction on proposed extensions has been delayed by the increasing scarcity of FTA funds. As time has passed, an ever-greater share of the costs has been borne by state and local governments. The most recent work has been entirely funded by local dollars. (Wikipedia)

The fact we had the Eads Bridge, existing tunnels under downtown, and unused railroad right-of-way, created the needed local match to get federal funding the initial project.

Since today is the 18th anniversary I thought I’d do the weekly poll question about MetroLink: was it a good investment?

– Steve Patterson


Readers: Find Another Way to Stop Meth

July 20, 2011 Crime, STL Region 16 Comments

In the poll last week readers made it clear they don’t want to need a prescription to buy common cold & allergy medication:

Q: Should St. Louis County & City Require Prescriptions for Cold & Allergy Medicines to Stop the Production of Meth?

  1. No, don’t punish innocents in an effort to stop the illegal activities of a few 52 [48.6%]
  2. Yes, meth is a regional problem 26 [24.3%]
  3. Only if the other four counties agree to fund homeless services in the city 12 [11.21%]
  4. No, rural counties don’t care about our problems, why should we help them? 8 [7.48%]
  5. Other answer… 7 [6.54%]
  6. Unsure/no opinion 2 [1.87%]

So much for regional cooperation. Here are the seven other answers:

  1. no, current laws are strict enough (and just shifting production to Mexico)
  2. Put it behind the counter
  3. These choices are ridicules. Yes, by prescription, to protect the innocent.
  4. Why isn’t the electronic tracking system, in place now, doing the job?
  5. Could write the law to expire in a few years?
  6. What do homeless services have to do with cold
  7. No. This will drive up the cost of the medicine by forcing everyone to see docs

The answer with the most votes was not originally one I provided.  The poll software allows me to convert a reader submitted answer into an official poll answer, which I did early on the first day of this poll.

– Steve Patterson


Poll: Should St. Louis County & City Require Prescriptions for Cold & Allergy Medicines to Stop the Production of Meth?

ABOVE: Meth is generally made in rural, not urban, areas

You thought manufacturing had left the St. Louis region? Not so, the manufacturing of meth is going strong. Not in the city, but in the rural fringes:

Leaders in four area counties announced on Thursday a regional anti-meth drive — pushing simultaneously to require prescriptions for cold and allergy medications containing the key ingredient used to make the illicit drug.

Officials in St. Charles and Franklin counties say they’ve already lined up enough votes on their governing boards to pass countywide prescription requirements for products with pseudoephedrine, such as Sudafed. The measures would apply both in unincorporated areas and cities.  (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

St. Louis County & St. Louis City are not part of this effort and some think those making meth with drive in to buy cold & allergy medication. So my poll question this week asks if St. Louis County & City should also require prescriptions for cold and allergy medications now sold over the counter?

– Steve Patterson


A New Saint Louis: Erasing Our Political Boundaries Through Consolidation

It is time for the St. Louis region to realize that, over the years, we’ve created too many political entities, most from the last (20th) century. I propose a complete overhaul.

Before I get into my solution I want to outline the problem(s) as I see them:

  1. A strong “City vs. County” attitude exists dividing us, holding the region back.
  2. Municipalities within St. Louis County disagree how to share revenues.
  3. St. Louis County experienced a drop in population in the 2010 Census.
  4. We have poor & affluent school districts providing very unequal education to future voters.
  5. Numerous police & fire departments exist.
  6. St. Louis, and the region by association, is viewed nationally as on the decline. This limits the potential to retain talent and attract employers.
  7. In 1876 the bulk of the region’s population lived east of Grand, but now the population lives mostly in St. Louis County. As a region we’ve outgrown our 19th century viewpoint.
ABOVE: Transect diagram developed by Duany Plater-Zyberk, click image for more detail

OK, so here is my solution: government consolidation on a massive scale.

  1. St. Louis County would become an independent city and absorb the current City of St. Louis and all 91 municipalities within it’s current borders.
  2. The new City of Saint Louis would have a population of 1,318,248 (998,954 + 319,294), instantly making it the 8th most populated U.S. city, after San Antonio and ahead of San Diego (see list).
  3. The Greater St. Louis MSA (Metropolitan Statistical Area) would remain the 15th largest with  a population of 2,779,939.The new Saint Louis would contain 47% of the region’s population.
  4. Planning districts would be established to plan corridor/transportation projects.  These would be classified using DPZ’s Transects, shown above, offering something for everyone.
  5. Existing government buildings (city halls, for example) would be evaluated and some used as district offices.
  6. St. Louis County’s existing buildings in Clayton would become the new City Hall for the new Saint Louis.
  7. Expenses would be incurred in the short term but in the long run savings would be realized.
  8. A Council-Manager form of government would be adopted, a professional municipal administrator hired.
  9. A new non-partisan city council would contain seven members, the presiding officer (“Mayor”) would be selected by a vote of these seven. The mayor would oversee meetings and cut ribbons. As an alternate two representatives could be elected from each of seven districts and a mayor elected by the public.  Either way administrative power would reside with the city manager.
  10. Staff would be empowered to enact the policy established by the city council.
  11. Former municipalities such as Florissant, Ladue & Pacific would become neighborhoods for planning and identification purposes,


ABOVE: St. Louis City Hall would be a district office

None of this is new, cities and counties have merged in this manner before. Evansiville Indiana is currently in the process:

Tonight is likely the final workshop between the Vanderburgh County Commissioners and the Evansville’s City Council before they reconvene their public hearing on June 30 to address a possible city-county merger proposal.

Members of the two bodies have met for five weeks to work on changes to the initial consolidation proposal drafted by a citizen committee earlier this year. Both bodies must ultimately approve identical merger plans for the issue to go to referendum, possibly in November of 2012. (source)

This sort of radical departure from the current forms is needed for the region to end the 21st century better than when we started.  Discuss.

– Steve Patterson