Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Highway Departments Designing Communities

We have two high profile situations in St. Louis where some of the most important planning work in our region is being led by highway departments. The latest is the South County Connector - a joint project of the St. Louis County Highway Department, MODOT, and the Federal Highway Administration. The second is the finalizing of the Arch redesign effort.

In the case of the South County Connector, the County Highway Department is leading the Environmental Impact Study (EIS) of a project to connect Mid-County to I-55 via River Des Peres. At the Arch grounds, MODOT is working on highway access to the planned improvements coming to the Arch.

Federal dollars spent on highway projects trigger NEPA (National Environmental Protection Act) reviews. The EIS process is the first step in satisfying NEPA requirements. In the EIS, project alternatives are identified, impacts and mitigation are analyzed, and, ultimately, a preferred alternative is chosen.

It's possible that the best alternative is deemed the "no project" alternative. However, you would not expect many highway planning efforts to result in a finding that "no project" is the best alternative. Planning efforts are expensive and they are intended to "pave the way" for new projects.

Planners frame the process. In the case of the South County Connector, the process is being framed to connect the Manchester/Hanley intersection to the Shrewsbury Metrolink station at Lansdowne and River Des Peres. From there, to get to I-55, commuters would travel down River Des Peres boulevard through existing neigborhoods.

In the case of the Arch grounds, planners analyzed the option of closing Memorial Drive in front of the Arch. Closing Memorial Drive is part of the approved environmental review in the new General Management Plan for the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial.

The South County Connector is a project of the County Highway Department. The cities of St. Louis, Webster Groves, and Shrewsbury are not proposing a new federally funded highway connector through their neighborhoods; the planners at the highway department are.

The final version of the plan to improve the Arch grounds will soon be revealed to the general public. It will be the first time the public sees the working drawings for how MODOT and the National Park Service plan to connect downtown, the interstate highway system and the Arch grounds.

At the start of the Arch planning process over two years ago, bad connectivity, largely based on the barrier created by the highway, was identified by the public as the number one problem with the Arch grounds. Soon we will see the results of the public process. At the end of the day, will St. Louis get a widened highway structure between downtown and the Arch grounds?

As the South County Connector project begins its planning process, there is no clear sense of the biggest problems facing the area to be served. County highway planners state that the biggest problem to be solved is to provide faster travel times between South County and the Clayton/Richmond Heights/Brentwood commercial center. Yet many South County residents disagree, saying travel times from their homes to mid-County are less than thirty minutes.

Traffic in the St. Louis region is very light by national standards. Is this because of good highway planning or low demands on the system? The streets of downtown St. Louis are said to have far greater capacity than they need. Tucker Boulevard is 8 lanes wide, and most downtown streets are one-way, higher speed routes. Is our vision as a region to have the fastest travel times for commuters, whether from South County to Mid-County or through the streets of downtown?

Short travel times hardly seem a good indicator of a region's competitiveness or quality of life. In some ways, it suggests the opposite. A little congestion can be a good thing. Slower is not necessarily a bad thing. There are many communities in St. Louis. What does it say about us when we give top priority to the community of commuters?

Monday, December 20, 2010

Two St. Louis Area High Schools Win National Video Production Competition

National competition sponsored by Ford Motor Company.

See the videos here: Drive One for Your School

Why not use window stickers?

Missouri's peel and stick license plate renewals are notorious for the way they are so often stolen from your car's plates.

Why not give driver's an option of having a sticker on the inside of your rear window?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Most Dangerous (Sidewalk) City

STL Rising is no fan of "most dangerous city" lists, especially the bogus CQ Press rankings. Yet on this icy morning, we do want to call attention to a list of dangerous sidewalks in downtown St. Louis.

For the past 12 hours or so, light freezing rain has been falling in St. Louis. When it comes to *light* *freezing* *rain*, freezing is the operative word. It only takes a paper thin layer of ice to cause problems. And that's what we have this morning on some sections of downtown's sidewalks - primarily in front of vacant buildings.

Sidewalks in front of rehabbed, occupied and loved buildings of downtown are generally fine. There's plenty of ice melt in front of places like the Old Post Office, Culinaria, and the Railway Exchange Building. But in front of the vacant and disposessed buildings, not so much. So be careful when walking past some buildings, including the Arcade and the Chemical. The sidewalks in front of these two buildings have not been treated and they're dangerous. I almost busted my head slipping on the sidewalk in front the Arcade.

The sidewalk in front of the Paul Brown, loved and occupied is fine. But as soon as you pass the gangway from the Paul Brown to the Arcade, watch out. This warning would be of no use to out of towners. Even if they read the blog, they would likely have no idea the names of places like the Chemical Building and the Arcade.

Since these buildings are very likely delinquent in their CID fees, I wonder if they are not being serviced in the same fashion as other downtown properties? Or maybe the CID does not provide for ice and snow melting/shoveling. Maybe we should organize a collection to ensure snow shoveling and ice melt in front of the few remaining empty buildings in downtown STL?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Huffington Post Article on Reclaiming Urban Spaces


Good article, much applies to St. Louis, but the part about a traditional street grid making it more difficult to reclaim community doesn't make sense to me. Street grids make for lots of places to build connections.

From the article:

Our experience with Michael and City Repair made us realize that our cities are based on the grid plan, and it is much easier for people to feel isolated and sadly be disconnected from their own neighbors. The neighborhood places for communication and gathering that develop naturally in non-grid cities must be specifically planned for in grid cities. Sustainable communities are built when people work together for mutual benefit.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Fall Peak

2010 Fall color peaking on our block.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

World AIDS Day Remembrance

I remember my good friend Victor H. Victor and I were classmates in high school, graduating in 1977.

In the summer of 1976, Victor, Mark S and I backpacked across the Sierra Nevada. It was a 2 week, 120 mile trek. I remember how, halfway through the hike, we all started hungering for a hot, fresh meal.

All around the trail, there were these plump looking grouses (plural of grouse, anyone?) darting in and out of the scrub. After awhile, we all started seeing them with their feathers off, little dressing caps on the ends of their feet, and roasted. We started carrying rocks the size of billiard balls in our hands.

Whenever a grouse would appear, we'd chase after it, backpacks weighing us down. The grouse would run a zig-zag pattern. We'd fire the rocks just as the grouses would take their short-hop flights in the air, evading all our throws.

It got to be kind of funny. Desperate hikers chasing after these little chicken-like things. I don't know what we would have done if we actually bagged one. I guess we would have found a new use for our Swiss Army knives...

Anyhow, I didn't know it at the time, but Victor was gay. You'd have never guessed it in high school. Victor was one of the most popular guys in the school, especially with the girls. He was funny, handsome, an AAU champion swimmer, and the singer in a rock band we started.

We named the band "The Piss Aaron Band" in tribute to our favorite singer and performer, Todd Rundgren. Victor was the first person to turn me on to the wonders of Todd. I graduated high school never knowing Victor was gay.

Shortly after high school, Victor got heavy into the gay bath house scene in San Francisco. He spent more and more time in the City. We lost touch, but I heard he died in the early 80s from HIV/AIDS.

Victor has been gone for about 30 years, but he will never be forgotten.

Here's to you my friend.