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Sunday Poll: Do You Have A ‘REAL ID’?

October 6, 2019 Featured, Sunday Poll, Travel Comments Off on Sunday Poll: Do You Have A ‘REAL ID’?
Please vote below

In 2005 congress passed the REAL ID Act, but adoption has been slow. Missouri just began issuing REAL ID-compliant licenses this year. Three states (New Jersey, Oklahoma, and Oregon) still aren’t compliant.

What’s the big deal?

On October 1, 2020, travelers will need a “REAL ID-compliant” driver’s license, US passport, US military ID or other accepted identification to fly within the United States.

The REAL ID Act established minimum security standards for the issuing of state licenses and their production.
It also prohibits federal agencies from accepting licenses from states not meeting those minimum standards for certain activities. That includes boarding federally regulated commercial aircraft, entering nuclear power plants and entering federal facilities.

To get a REAL ID-compliant state driver’s license, the US Department of Homeland Security requires applicants provide documentation showing their full legal name, their date of birth, their Social Security Number, two proofs of address of principal residence and lawful status. (States may impose more requirements.) (CNN)

The REAL ID Act faced widespread opposition from numerous groups, states.  The final deadline is now less than a year away. If you have a passport, however, you can fly after October 1, 2020 without a REAL ID.

Today’s poll is very straightforward:

This poll will close at 8pm tonight. Wednesday morning I’ll share how you can tell if your license/ID is REAL ID-compliant or not.  Can’t wait?

— Steve Patterson

 

Two Urban Medical Campuses Compared: Big Differences Despite Similarities

September 16, 2019 Central West End, Featured, Planning & Design, Travel, Walkability Comments Off on Two Urban Medical Campuses Compared: Big Differences Despite Similarities

I often spend days, weeks, or months thinking about a post before writing it. I’ve been thinking about today’s post for over 5 years now!

It was May 2014 when we first stayed at friend’s newly purchased vacation condo in Chicago’s Streeterville neighborhood — across the street from Northwestern Hospital. Not a wide boulevard either, Erie Street is like most of Chicago’s streets — two drive lanes and two parking lanes.

We experienced the busy sidewalks but also the internal walkway system connecting the campus’ numerous buildings, complete with bridges over roadways. I immediately thought how different it felt from St. Louis’ Washington University Medical Campus (WUMC)/Barnes-Jewish Hospital (BJC).

St. Louis’ Washington University Medical Campus is prominently identified along Kingshighway, Forest Park Ave, etc
Points along Kingshighway are now labeled A, B. C, etc…

In the Fall of 2017 I had an unexpected emergency surgery and an overnight stay at BJC, I got to experience the walkway going from the Center for Advanced Medicine to Barnes. Then again the next morning going to the bus transit center. Yes, usually you don’t leave hospitalization via public transit, but that’s how I got there with my power wheelchair and a very broken wrist.

I’ve visited the Northwestern campus numerous times while visiting Chicago and I’ve returned to WUMC/BJC for numerous appointment and to photograph/observe the walkway.  I’m finally in a position to compare observation of the two.

First, the similarities between the two:

  • Were built over decades, slowly expanding.
  • Began life in an affluent neighborhood of gridded streets.
  • Comprised of generic beige buildings, parking garages.
  • Lots of people & cars.
  • Have an internal network to help people navigate from building to building indoors.
  • Have one hard edge (Lake Michigan in Chicago, Forest Park in St. Louis)

Given all the above similarities you’d think the two would function the same. But no, the end results are vastly different! This post will hopefully explain the differences I’ve observed and their impact on each campus and surrounding neighborhoods.

In short, the major differences can be reduced to:

  • Sidewalk level activities: Many of Northwestern’s buildings, especially newer ones, have “active” ground floors — mostly restaurants.
  • Street grid: Northwestern didn’t alter the street grid, WUMC/BJC has decimated the grid.

Let’s start in St. Louis (map):

The Center for Advanced Medicine (CAM) building on the SW corner of Forest Park & Euclid avenues is a very busy place
As a pedestrian you can’t enter the building directly off of either major avenue.
Pedestrians have a narrow walk next to the large auto drive to reach the actual entry.
The newer Center for Outpatient Health across Forest Park Ave did not repeat the pedestrian access problem of CAM.
It is built right up to Euclid. An auto drive for patient drop-off is on the back side.
Pedestrians get their own entrance right off the Euclid sidewalk.
There’s a change of level but the ramp is wide and direct, the steps are narrower and off to the side. Through the windows you can see the automobile drive & patient drop-off entrance.
Looking North on what used to be Euclid Ave., the CAM building is on the left.
Looking at the closed Euclid from the WUMC/BJC walkway system — called LINK. Entering LINK from CAM is pretty natural, but the rest is convoluted.
Back on the ground for a moment, another closed part of Euclid, the LINK is visible.
In the background is the busiest light rail station in Metro’s system. LINK overlooks it, but they don’t connect.
This was the view to the North from my hospital room in November 2017.
The LINK winds its way around connecting all the buildings.
Sometimes it is in a spacious area
There are a few retail outlets, but not many. There was also a tiny Sprint store.
Windows give you a glimpse of where you are.
When I was discharged a nurse had to escort me to Metro’s bus transit center because there is no good public route from the BJC hospital to transit! Her card had to be used a couple of times along the way.
Finally I’m on my way to the bus. This walkway also connects to massive parking garages for staff.
Here we are, the entrance to the garage where the buses converge on the ground level.

Before moving on I should note that I was very pleased with my treatment and all those who took care of me that visit and my other appointments, cataracts surgery, etc.

Okay, now Chicago (map). Starting outside.

Am ambulance only drive for the emergency department
An auto area for the outpatient building next door to where we stay while in Chicago. You can see all the way through to the next block. To the left there are three retail spaces spaces — including on both street corners.
The sidewalks are wide with street trees.
There are some truly awful buildings along some of the sidewalks. No retail, no life.
But old historic buildings, including ones not owned by Northwestern still exist within the street grid.
One of the oldest campus buildings is very attractive — much more so than most everything around it.
Another example of not everything along the sidewalks was interesting. That’s mostly reserved for the corners at intersections.
One of the newest buildings. Being located mid-block it didn’t have any sidewalk retail.
Another older building, not exactly inviting.
Here is a corner, which is very active.
Another corner
And another corner
Medical entrance mid-block
Another auto drop-off area
An older parking garage with a mid-block entrance

Now let’s go inside their walkway system.

There are numerous maps posted, all showing how to reach the street grid outside and other buildings
Building lobbies invite you to the walkway system.
An internal intersection in a central building. A couple of food court areas are very close to this point.
One of the newest food court seating areas with lots of seating
There are many different food retailers located along their walkway system, most concentrated in a couple of central areas.
Another restaurant
Their walkways always seen to be busy.

CONCLUSION:

Both medical campuses have good & bad buildings. While Northwestern does a far better job activating corners it is the fact they still have corners that explains why the sidewalks are so full of people. The non-medical public, like us, are able to easily get through the campus on the sidewalks or via the enclosed walkway system. Northwestern’s campus isn’t a monolithic fortress to go around — you can go right through it just like you would elsewhere in Chicago.

I’m firmly convinced the many closed streets within St. Louis’ Washington University Medical Campus are largely responsible for the relative lack of pedestrian activity. Short of reopening the closed streets, I don’t think there’s anything we can do to fix the problem.

There’s a lot more detail I’d hoped to include, but I knew I just had to get this post finished. I might do some followup posts.

— Steve Patterson

 

Readers Want the Impossible: Amtrak Trains at St. Louis Union Station

November 21, 2018 Featured, History/Preservation, Planning & Design, Transportation, Travel Comments Off on Readers Want the Impossible: Amtrak Trains at St. Louis Union Station
Grand Hall in St. Louis Union Station

In the recent non-scientific Sunday Poll readers overwhelmingly indicated they’d consider using Amtrak if trains departed/arrived at St. Louis Union Station.

Q: Agree or disagree: I’d consider taking Amtrak if trains arrived/departed at St. Louis Union Station

  • Strongly agree: 22 [53.66%]
  • Agree: 6 [14.63%]
  • Somewhat agree: 2 [4.88%]
  • Neither agree or disagree: 5 [12.2%]
  • Somewhat disagree: 0 [0%]
  • Disagree: 3 [7.32%]
  • Strongly disagree: 3 [7.32%]
  • Unsure/No Answer: 0 [0%]

Well, to the nearly 75% who agreed I have some bad news for you. Amtrak trains will never use Union Station again. Ever.

For more than 28 years I’ve lived in St. Louis I’ve heard people suggesting the return of Amtrak to Union Station and for 28 years I’ve just been struck by a complete lack of understanding about rail service and station design.

The decline of trail [rail] travel began following World War II, as traffic dropped significantly, even while railroads began to update their passenger fleets with new equipment in the 1950s hoping to retain passengers and ward off ever increasing competition from the automobile and airplane (the development of jet propulsion only worsened the situation).  Technically, passenger rail travel peaked in this country during the first two decades of the 20th century and slowly declined thereafter, particularly with the onset of the Great Depression.  However, it also did not help that President Dwight Eisenhower enacted the Interstate Highway System in 1956 (also known as the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act).  By that time railroads were beginning to see the writing on the wall and cutback their services, with most giving it up altogether by the start of Amtrak in 1971. (American-Rail.com)

By the time the stock market crashed in 1929 St. Louis Union Station had been open for 35 years. This was a poor time to be the largest U.S. railroad station. The last train pulled out from the huge train shed 49 years later.  The main building (from “Headhouse”) hadn’t been used for nearly a decade. With only a few trains per day having such a huge facility made no sense. It would’ve happened sooner if another option existed.

Under the big shed in 2012

You might point out the Kansas City still uses their Union Station for Amtrak service. Yes, yes they do.  It’s a through-station, not an end-station.

Through-stations and end-stations are completely different design and planning problems.  They generate completely different kinds of space and completely different sensations of arrival and departure.  It’s pointless, for example, to compare New York’s dreary Penn Station, a through-station, with magnificent Grand Central, an end-station.  They are apples and radishes. (Human Transit)

In the 19th century when 22 railroads built Union Station they correctly saw St. Louis’ population computing to grow. They wanted a facility they wouldn’t outgrow like the original St. Louis Union Station on 12th (Tucker).  They decided their station would be an end-station, not a through-station.  Half a century later the decline of rail passengers, the failure of passenger rail companies, and the fact Chicago beat St. Louis as the midwest end city meant St. Louis Union Station, a beautiful design, was incredibly obsolete for rail travel.

Kansas City’s Union Station has been able to reutilize most of the building to other uses, with Amtrak using a small part for ticketing and waiting, It’s a short distance out to the platform at the through tracks. From the back of the shed at St. Louis Union Station it’s still a very long distance to the tracks — plus office buildings and the closed movie theater block the path.

In the 70s Amshack was built at the tracks. I recall using this in the 90s. Then a slightly nicer Amshack 2 was built, I used this in the aughts. The station I’ve used the most opened a decade ago…today. Yes, it took until November 21, 2008 to open a proper station. I was there for the ribbon cutting ten years ago, and I’ve been back many times since as a traveling customer.

Comptroller Darlene Green speaking at the opening ten years ago

Over the last decade the maintenance was allowed to get behind, prompting me to label it Amshack 3 in 2017.  Thankfully it was improved on my last train trip, in February 2018.

Please understand Union Station is a magnificent asset to St. Louis — but it was last useful as a train station about 75 years ago.  Embrace the current station, or use the new Alton Station if you’re headed North on Amtrak. The rail improvements started during the Obama administration have greatly improved the St. Louis to Chicago experience.  Stop waiting for trains at Union Station — use the station we’ve had for the last decade.

— Steve Patterson

 

A Look At Kansas City’s New Modern Streetcar

Last week leaders in the St. Louis region argued publicly over future pubic transit:

St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay has made clear his support for a north-south MetroLink expansion, saying it’s a top priority in his final year in office. But a recent push for money to plan such a route has met with strong resistance from St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger.

Stenger, in a letter to the Federal Transit Administration, said he will not endorse the north-south route until other proposed routes are studied. (Post-Dispatch)

At the other end of the state, in Kansas City, there’s also a disagreement about the expansion of rail-based public transit. The local non-profit behind the new KC Streetcar wants to expand South on Main Street, while another is pushing a light rail plan.

[Clay] Chastain argues his plan gives Kansas City residents a real choice and a much more extensive rail transit system, from the airport to the Cerner Trails campus under construction in south Kansas City and from Union Station to the stadium complex. 

He estimates it would cost $2 billion to build, or about $45 million per mile, although some light-rail systems have cost considerably more than that per mile. He assumes the federal government would provide $1 billion of that amount.

The local match would come from a 3/8-cent sales tax increase for 25 years, plus 3/8 cents that currently go for the bus system, once that tax expires in 2024. (Kansas City Star)

Anyone who has flown in/out of KC’s airport knows it is a long distance from downtown KC. It’s a 20-25 minute drive, but takes over an hour by bus. Frankly, they need to do both — expand the new streetcar and build light rail to far off destinations like their airport and stadiums.

Kansas City was without rail-based public transit from 1957 until May 6, 2016 — the day the 2.2 mile starter streetcar opened.

THE FUNDING:

  • Cost to build: $100 million — $37 million from the federal government, $63 million from bonds.
  • Cost to operate: $4 million annually to be paid by a combination of sales & property taxes within the transportation district.
  • Fare:  $0 — free
  • Local comparison: Our Loop Trolley vintage streetcar project. also 2.2 miles long, is costing $51 million to build. The 8-mile cross-county MetroLink extension that opened in 2006 cost $430 million.

THE VEHICLES:

  • “Each vehicle is 77 feet and 8 inches long; 78,000 pounds; and 12 feet tall.”
  • “Each vehicle capacity is approximately 150 riders and is bi-directional (can run both directions). There is a combination of sitting and standing within the streetcar.”
  • “There are three “cars” in each streetcar vehicle, with 4 sets of doors (one on each end and two in the middle car).”
  • Each of the four vehicles cost $4.39 million each (source).
  • Same as vehicles used in the Cincinnati Streetcar opening later this year.
  • Model: CAF Urbos 3 100% low-floor
  • Manufactured in Elmira NY by CAF USA, a subsidiary of a Spanish company.
  • To meet US crash-standards the body is made of steel
  • Comparison: our 4-car light rail vehicles are 90 feet long; capacity of 72 seated plus 106 standing
Each end is identical
Each end is identical
The lights change depending upon direction of travel. The step on this end of the Union Station platform is annoying.
The lights change depending upon direction of travel. The step on this end of the Union Station platform is annoying.
This view gives you an overview of the three cars in each vehicle -- middle and two ends. Wheelchairs, strollers. bikes, the middle car, the door on each end has a step
This view gives you an overview of the three cars in each vehicle — middle and two ends. Wheelchairs, strollers. bikes, the middle car, the door on each end has a step
The center car is very open, the ends are filled with fixed seating. The floor is level throughout,
The center car is very open, the ends are filled with fixed seating. The floor is level throughout,
The center car has two areas with theater seats. My wheelchair fit here and my husband could sit on one seat.
The center car has two areas with theater seats. My wheelchair fit here and my husband could sit on one seat.
It got packed to capacity a few times we were riding
It got packed to capacity a few times we were riding

THE ROUTE:

Kansas City is lucky to have Main Street as a central arterial. We have Olive/Lindell, but they’re very different. The 2.2 mile route does a loop on the North end around their River Market area. It goes down Main and ends at Union Station.

The route is 2.2 miles long and travels along Main Street in downtown Kansas City from the River Market to Union Station/Crown Center. The route also includes a loop around the City Market and runs on 3rd St on the north, Delaware on the west, 5th St on the south, and Grand on the east. (KC Streetcar FAQ)

An extension to continue South on Main Street is already being planned.

Looking North on Main St toward Downtown Kansas City
Looking North on Main St toward Downtown Kansas City.
Looking South in the CBD
Looking South in the CBD

See a route map here.

THE STOPS:

Stops are every few blocks, over the 3-day weekend I rode the streetcar a few times but also traveled the route on the sidewalk. For the most part. the stops are built out into the parking lane — leaving the sidewalk unblocked.

Another view of the Union Station stop
Another view of the Union Station stop
The River Market North stop is the only stop in the middle of traffic
The River Market North stop is the only stop in the middle of traffic
Another view of the River Market North stop
Another view of the River Market North stop
Next stop is River Market West
Next stop is River Market West
The view from the sidewalk
The view from the sidewalk
Looking North you can see the streetcar coming around the corner in the background
Looking North you can see the streetcar coming around the corner in the background
People gathering for the next streetcar, we tried to get on here a couple of times but it was too full from the two prior stops
People gathering for the next streetcar, we tried to get on here a couple of times but it was too full from the two prior stops
North Loop is the most unusual stop, as it's mostly parking lots
North Loop is the most unusual stop, as it’s mostly parking lots
Looking West from the stop
Looking West from the stop
Sidewalk next to Northbound Metro Center stop
Sidewalk next to Northbound Metro Center stop
Same stop, same direction -- just out near the curb
Same stop, same direction — just out near the curb
Opposite view
Opposite view
Southbound Metro Center stop
Southbound Metro Center stop
Streetcar at SB Power & Light stop
Streetcar at SB Power & Light stop
NB Crossroads stop
NB Crossroads stop

NEW CONSTRUCTION:

New construction is everywhere in Kansas City, especially near the streetcar route.

New construction at 13th & Baltimore, one block West of Main
New construction at 13th & Baltimore, one block West of Main
Rehab on E 19th, just East of Main
Rehab on E 19th, just East of Main
New construction E 5th & Grand
New construction E 5th & Grand
New infill on Main Street between 19th-20th
New infill on Main Street between 19th-20th

VIDEO:

I put together a brief video of various clips I took:

FINAL THOUGHTS:

Their streetcar isn’t meant to be a regional system, at least not initially. CAF makes very similar vehicles for use in higher-speed light rail applications, so if they ever do a light rail line the vehicles could look just like their streetcar.

The main problem we experienced was crowds — but it was a nice holiday weekend in the first month of service.  Would like to ride it on a regular weekday. We did speak to a retired couple that recently moved from the suburbs to new construction downtown — the streetcar was one reason,

Being right there it helped add life to the street. It’ll be interesting to see if they’ll be able to expand.

— Steve Patterson

 

Reduced Fare Smart Card For Chicago, Still Waiting On St. Louis

Metro St. Louis is busy working on smart cards for paying transit fares, some have been testing the new technology. Meanwhile, we’ve been using the Ventra smart card for nearly 2 years when visiting Chicago. See Contactless Transit Smart Cards from February 2014. Last month I finally decided to apply for a reduced fare card.

Full fare Ventra card (top) and my reduced fare card (bottom)
Full fare Ventra card (top) and my reduced fare card (bottom)

Both cards are now on one online account, allowing me to login to add value. My husband will use the full fare while I use the reduced fare with my picture. I applied in person in Chicago and the card was mailed to me in about a week. Both are “contactless” which means the user just taps it at the reader, both have a magnetic strip on the back. The same card works for all three Chicagoland systems: CTA, Metra, & Pace. It doesn’t appear my new reduced fare card can be used as a debit card — that won’t matter to me but it might to others.

In St. Louis, our Metro isn’t going to have a debit card connection — deemed too costly. I’m told existing reduced fare ID holders like myself will automatically receive a new reduced fare smart card — once ready. New applicants will apply in person but leave with the card rather than have it mailed. Since my current Metro reduced fare ID expires in February 2016 I’ll need to renew it once more before I get a smart card version.

— Steve Patterson

 

 

 

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