Monday, September 29, 2008

Forced onto the grid

St. Louis is blessed with a wonderful historic street grid. It gives us huge capacity for carrying traffic. Instead of having only one main route to get from here to there, the grid gives drivers infinite route choices.

Unfortunately, most drivers are so stuck in their routines, they never stray from their familiar traffic routes. As a result, there can be traffic jams on one street, while just a block over, traffic is moving smoothly. The closure of the Hampton Bridge over Highway 40 is forcing drivers out of their routines - and onto the grid.

So far, the experience is working out great. On weekends, traffic on Hampton would back up a mile with drivers attempting to access Forest Park. Now with the bridge closed, Hampton is flowing freely. Isn't that something? Drivers are being forced to use the nine other entrances to Forest Park.

Last week on the news, they interviewed a person from Wellston with an amazing story. He said he walked to work from his home in Wellston to his job in South City. That's an amazing story by itself, but what was even more amazing was the rest of his story.

He told the reporter that with the Hampton Bridge closed, he'd have a problem now walking to his job in South City. I couldn't believe me ears. I can understand drivers getting stuck in a rut with their preferred routes, but pedestrians? Unreal.

I'm thinking, "what about the Tamm Bridge?" All this Wellston walker has to do is cross at Tamm. From Wellston, it would be a short cut compared to Hampton anyway. After the interview, I wonder if the reporter showed him the bridge over 40 just a couple blocks west of Hampton...

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Cardinal Care/Ballpark Village Time Capsule Opportunity?

The hole at Ballpark Village is no more. New development is coming soon. But there's still time to celebrate the end of downtown's biggest vacant lot. Let's have a party and raise some money for a good cause while we're at it!

From stories I've heard, when the Arch was built, school kids around St. Louis were invited to put their names in a time capsule placed under the Arch during construction. Why not do something similar at Ballpark Village?

While the hole's been filled, there's still time to sink a time capsule at the site. For a $1 or so, folks from across the region could register their names and a sentiment message (say 60 characters or less), to be added to a time capsule to be buried underground at Ballpark Village. All proceeds could go to benefit the work of Cardinal Care, the St. Louis Cardinal's charitable foundation.

For a little extra, you could get a commemorative, numbered and authenticated, "Ballpark Village Time Capsule Certificate". For a few dollars more, you could have your certificate personalized by a favorite Cardinal player or team owner.

Then, up at street level, above the sunken time capsule, mounted on a pedestal, somewhere in the middle of Ballpark Village there could be a plaque, a point of interest for Ballpark Village visitors for years to come. The plaque could describe how in the year 2008, St. Louisans from across the region, came together to commemorate the building of Busch Stadium II, Ballpark Village, the revitalization of downtown St. Louis, and the tradition of Cardinal baseball, all while raising funds to support the good work of Cardinal Care.

The plaque could be designed to cover a hidden access to the time capsule, which could be opened again in the year 2082, on the 200th anniversary of the St. Louis Cardinals. Adults of today would be long gone, but some kids would still remember the placing of the capsule.

The plaque of the time capsule could also highlight the 2009 St. Louis All Star game season.

To get things started, a local bank could set up a trust account to hold funds. Fundraising could start at any time, and run all the way through to the end of the 2009 season. This way, there'd be plenty of time to organize and raise money. No need to rush to a quick deadline. By allowing more time, more people could get involved.

Cardinal Care could partner with other groups by allowing joint fundraising efforts. Say a scout group wanted to raise money. They could tie in with the time capsule project and raise money for both efforts. Either split the proceeds, or charge $2 per entry with a $1 going to the scouts and a $1 to Cardinal Care.

Another nice aspect of this concept is the way it takes the BV project and leverages it into a much larger community effort which we can remember for years to come. It gets people involved and supports good stuff. Everybody wins. With a year to sign folks up and collect money, a lot could be raised.

How do we get an idea like this going? Call the Cardinal Care people, right? Let's do and see what happens.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

More Here Than Memorial Drive?

That's what these guys are saying.

150 Years Later - STL to Regain Authority Over Police Department?

St. Louis has a lot of great history. We live with it all around us. One part of our history though, the loss of local control over our own police department, is an outdated arrangement whose time may finally be coming to an end. Change can be painful, and this change may bring some serious pain in terms of heavy financial cost.

For well over one hundred years, city taxpayers have been footing the bills of the St. Louis police department, without having control of the department. The police have resisted any changes to the system, a holdover dating back to when martial law was declared by the governor during Civil War times.

More and more city residents are crying foul over the long antiquated situation. Some call it taxation without representation. Elected officials in Jefferson City control the city's police department, while city voters have no vote in electing most of these officials.

The ongoing investigation into the practices of a private company hired by the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department to tow cars is rekindling interest in returning local control over the city police. The ongoing investigation reported in the Post Dispatch describes stories of vulnerable individuals being victimized by the towing company.

There may be hundreds of victims. Now, at the call of Governor Blunt, the State of Missouri is auditing the police department. $700,000 is owed to the city by the towing company, and through the ongoing investigations, involving the Missouri Auditor, the FBI, and the IRS, more wrongdoing may come to light.

As a city resident, it is my hope that the victims of this scandal are compensated at the state level. City taxpayers should not be called upon to foot the legal bills for an agency over which they have no control.

Local leaders, including Mayor Slay, have long called for local control over the SLMPD. Unfortunately, the issue has always died in the state legislature. With the current problems facing the police department, leaders in Jefferson City might be ready for a change.

We need to restore confidence in the St. Louis police department. Thanks to the Post Dispatch for investigating and reporting on this story. As a community, we need to move forward together to get to the bottom of this situation, and then make the necessary changes to improve public safety and protect the rights of all residents, visitors, businesses, and people working in the city of St. Louis.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

(Head knock!) The Reason Traffic Changes Don't Cause Gridlock...

The best analogy is the policeman dispersing citizens at a crime scene or car accident..."Move along citizens, there's nothing to see here..move along." Everybody is forced to leave the scene and go another way.

They don't keep coming to the same place causing congestion, rather they go a different way and disperse. They are forced into a new routine.

People fear the change, but they cope with it. We're not sheep; we have a brain. The Hampton bridge closure over Highway 40 is the next the big test of how we cope with traffic changes. If that closure works with minimal disturbance, the new Memorial Drive idea is a brave leader away from at least a second look.

To date, there's been no clear data uncovered officially analyzing the traffic feasibility of vacating the depressed lanes in front of the Arch and replacing them with a new Memorial Drive; and, from the best we can tell, there's been no data developed stating the option won't work either. The alternative has simply never been analyzed. The default position has always been that St. Louis will live with the depressed lanes for all of our lifetimes.

STL Rising is on the lookout for any information from completed traffic studies, especially related to the new I-70 Mississippi River bridge crossing, which might shows projected traffic volumes through the depressed lanes once the new bridge is complete.

If you know of the existence of such a traffic study, we would like to hear from you. Please comment below or contact via email

Friday, September 19, 2008

Arch Planning Marches On...

Second newsletter released

Public comments summarized

National PARKing Day

There's a tiny oasis of green today at the corner of 6th and Olive. Instead of finding Carlo the hot dog vendor's minivan in its usual space, the architects of HOK have taken over two parking spaces.

They've installed an umbrella, turf, miniature golf, and parked a dead BMW facing the wrong direction. All of this to raise the question, should we be devoting so much of our public realm to storing cars? National PARKing Day started in San Francisco and is now a nationwide campaign.

STL Can Change - Hampton Bridge Closing

Traffic patterns get implanted in our DNA. Visitors to Forest Park take Hampton Avenue. So much so that on weekends, when the weather is nice, cars get backed up a mile away on the exit ramps of I-44, trying to get to northbound Hampton and up to the park.

So Monday, when MoDOT closes the Hampton Bridge over Interstate 64, STL drivers are going to be forced to change their driving habits...again. They'll need to find new ways to get to Forest Park without their customary Hampton Avenue access. Gloom and doom on the horizon? Or another Highway 40 closure non-event?

In St. Louis, we're getting experienced at dealing with major changes to our established traffic patterns. So far, we've handled them well. Impacts have been less than the dire predictions. People are discovering alternate routes. They're finding the street grid.

Dogtown and the Tamm Street/Turtle Park overpass stand adjacent to the Hampton bridge. Will Dogtown be flooded with lost drivers searching for a new way to enter Forest Park?

Or will drivers divert into a thousand alternate routes, from all sides of the park, and will St. Louis absorb another lifestyle change with grace and little disruption? Maybe drivers will discover that by making a few additional turns along the way, they will shorten their wait in traffic by a half hour or more?

Look for drivers to use Clayton Road, Laclede Station, Vandeventer, Kingsighway and Forest Park Parkway as alternates to Hampton Avenue. STL Rising prediction: We will fare far better than most people expect.

STL Rising: To Do List - Point of View Restaurant

Walking to the 8th and Pine Metro station, you might pass a little sign mounted on the corner of the Laclede Gas Building inviting you to a restaurant way up on the building's 30th floor. It's called "Point of View" and serves up spectacular 360 degree views of downtown and beyond.

Don't know anything about the food. Didn't even know the place existed till yesterday. But loving the opportunity to soak in long views of STL, a visit to this place gets added to the to-do list.

Little bird says it's a production of Patty Long, operator of the 9th Street Abbey.

Hours: T-F 11-2 PM. Telephone 421-5941.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Fortune Told?

Monday night we ate at the "Steak and Rice" Chinese restaurant in Kirkwood, corner of Kirkwood Road and Big Bend. STL Rising recommended. It's one of the few places where they serve A-B products with a chilled pilsner glass.

At the end of the meal, the server delivered the customary round of fortune cookies and the bill. My cookie had a somewhat ominous message: "Your luck is about to change". Never paying much mind to fortunes, I didn't think a whole lot of it.

Today, walking outside for some fresh air, I jingled the change in my pocket. One of the coins had a different feel. I pulled it out, and sure enough, it was different. It felt cleaner. It was a silver dime from 1964, the last year they minted silver dimes.

It's been at least ten years since I've found a silver dime in circulation. According to some websites, silver dimes run about 1 per thousand in circulation, but I doubt that number.

Silver dimes have a distinct color and feel. They're not as shiny as the copper/nickel clad issue, and they don't have that greasy feel nickel coins do. Most people quickly recognize them and nab them out of circulation. They're almost impossible to find any more. Mine came out of this morning's change drawer at the 6th and Olive Starbuck's.

At today's prices, the melt value of a silver dime is $.84. From a collector's standpoint, it's worth between $1 and $8, depending on condition. Finding a silver dime in your loose change a change in luck, or, as a commenter puts it, "luck in change"? Either way, I'll take it.

A New Memorial Drive for 1/3 the Cost of Lid or Less?

In the middle of a bad economy with federal earmarks on the chopping block, it's not a good time to be talking about how to finance significant public infrastructure projects. Nonetheless, let's be positive that our economy will improve in the months or quarters to come, and that we will move forward on regional infrastructure priorities.

Part of the task of promoting any development plan is to make the case based on financial feasibility. Beautiful drawings without a financing strategy are not worth much. It will be critical for supporters of any plan to improve access to the Arch and riverfront to figure out how to pay for it.

However, we have some information to work with. We know the cost of the Highway 64 rebuild is $420,000,000 in construction and $535,000,000 total. It's eleven miles, with 25 bridges, including rebuilding the 170 interchange.

The projected cost of the Lid over the depressed lanes is about $80-90 million in construction, plus another $20 million to endow a maintainance fund. Total cost in the $100-120 million range.

However, there's another cost to the Lid option. Keeping the depressed lanes open involves the long term maintenance of the viaduct/channel. We know the difficulty and expense of these situations - just consider the Gravois and Chippewa viaducts in South City. They are the source of regular "Towntalk" complaints.

As viaducts age, their maintenance gets more expensive. Would the Lid rebuild the walls of the depressed lanes? Based on information available to date, long term maintenance of the depressed lanes appears to be outside the scope of the Lid budget.

Second, the elevated lanes of I-70 past Laclede's Landing are due for seismic retrofitting. These are also high cost efforts. Building a new Memorial Drive could save both depressed lane maintenance costs as well as seismic retrofitting of the elevated sectios of I-70.

At less than one tenth the cost of Highway 64 expansion, the new Memorial Drive could come in under $40,000,000, or about a 1/3 the Lid option.

From a fiscal perspective, is the new Memorial Drive a potential less is more opportunity?

Monday, September 15, 2008

Tower Tours?

The father of our former neighbor is a retired steeplejack. Steeplejacks are the most specialized of carpenters - they are the ones who climb skinny ladders and scaffolding to build and repair the tall steeples on old city churches. So when he'd come over to our neighbors house to do odd jobs and basic maintenance, it was easy sailing for him compared to his year's working alone at the top of a tall, narrow steeple. The views he had of our neighborhoods was something seen by few.

Thinking of those heights made me wonder if any of the churches around town offer tours of their bell towers? Some of them are so narrow they are only accessible by a ladder. However, others look big enough to have staircases to the top.

Climbing to the top of a church bell tower would afford wonderful views of the surrounding neighborhood and church grounds. If churches could arrange one or two days a month where they'd open the tower for guided tours, it would be a good way to promote the churches, the neighborhoods, and the architecture of the city.

A nominal fee benefitting the church could be charged, with volunteers from the church serving as docents for the tower visits. I'd pay $5-$10 to have a chance to visit these unique spaces. Call it urban exploring with an invitation. Anyone know if such tours are available? I'll call Our Lady of Sorrows on South Kingshighway later today to see if their Italinate tower (shown above) is ever open to the public. Check the comments later for an update...

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

STL Rising - Fashion Report

As the war in Iraq entered its third and fourth years, downtown STL started to see more and more office workers dressing in styles reminiscent of the 1960s. Floral print dresses, halter tops, and other hippie-inspired styles were becoming popular again. Personally, I like this form of self-expression, and I like the way it reminded me of my teen years.

This morning, I spied a rather startling shift in downtown business attire. A man standing at the corner of 6th and Olive was wearing what can best be described as a zoot suit. Bold navy blue, his jacket, broad-shouldered, cut square and nearly down to the knees, served notice with crisp, white pin stripes. The dude, with a cigarette in his fingers, made a bold fashion statement.

Changing fashions often signal trends in society. Zoot suits reappearing on the street corners of downtown St. Louis? Any predictions about what this might mean for the next year or two?

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Advance Word?

The NPS first draft report on the new management plan for the Arch was due out a month or so after the public meetings held at the end of June/first of July. It's been two months, so we should be seeing something any day. Any advance word on the findings?

Lots of people testified about the idea of rebuilding Memorial Drive as a proper connection between downtown, the Arch grounds, and the riverfront. It will be interesting to see how the idea is presented in the draft report.

Driving the route early this morning made me wonder about who would be against such a remaking of the area. Putting big rigs on a new Memorial Drive might be the biggest downside to the idea.

Or would it be an overblown concern? There is heavy truck traffic travelling on S. Broadway through Soulard, especially semis serving the brewery. Soulard survives pretty well.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

STL Rising - Good Eats!

One of the reasons St. Louis was chosen as a settlement was the great abundance of natural resources here. Our location on two major rivers, fertile area farmlands and forests put St. Louis right at the heart of the American breadbasket.

This time of year, look for locals to be harvesting nuts from trees in Tower Grove Park. Last night on KDHX, I heard a brief portion of Amanda Doyle's interview of someone discussing urban farming as a profession. I wonder how the urban farmers deal with the buried debris under the surface of so many vacant city lots?

Then yesterday, on a sidewalk in our neighborhood, a hawk had a rabbit trapped in its talons. Its wings had its prey completely surrounded. It was a wierd site, but something I'm surprised we don't see more often given the thousands of rabbits, squirrels, and mice which run around all over the city.