Monday, March 30, 2009

Metro's Top Ten List for March 30, 2009

With the calendar showing March 30, the day Metro debuts its drastically reduced schedule, what better way to usher in the new era of Metro service cutbacks than a top ten list of the benefits to the St. Louis region for having reduced public transit services?

Number Ten: No comfy train waiting at the platform

Number Nine: A banner day for cab drivers

Number Eight: Cheery station agents have way more people waiting to greet them

Number Seven: Fewer times riding in a car getting stuck behind a bus stopped to pick up passengers

Number Six: Fewer "bus people" coming to the neighborhood

Number Five: At the end of the year, I have about $60 bucks more in my wallet

Number Four: No further Metrolink expansion for at least another 20 years

Number Three: Transit riders have increased waiting times to ride longer and more circuitous routes to their destinations.

Number Two: Speeds up our personal timeframe to buy a second car

and, The Number One reason to celebrate the region's reduction in public transportation services: Lots of free plastic bags all over town being used to cover up bus stop signs on closed routes

All joking aside, this situation sucks on a variety of levels. People depending on public transportation have fewer options. Neighborhoods looking to position themselves with the benefits of improved public transportation have to put their plans on hold. St. Louis is less connected.

A Metro staff person handing out the new reduced service schedule at the station this morning said they hoped these cut backs would be short lived. Without a replacement source of revenue, the question is, how?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Congress for the New Urbanism Federal Testimony on Reforming National Transporation Priorities

John Norquist is the President and CEO of the Congress for the New Urbanism and former Mayor of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Last week he testifed before the House Subcommittee on Housing, Transportation and Urban Development. The following is a transcript of Mr. Norquist's congressional testimony. It is reprinted here with permission.

Chairman Olver and distinguished members of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, thank you for the privilege of appearing before you. I deeply appreciate your efforts to join the issues of transportation and neighborhood development. In government it is easy to get overly focused on narrow specialties. It's important to break out of silos and look for synergies that can benefit the people as you are doing on this committee.

One of these specialties is traffic engineering. Current road policy has focused on highways, arterials, and collectors as individual road segments with the goal of reducing congestion by adding lane capacity and separating the street from the built environment. In other words, getting everything out of the way of the traffic. The system depends on large road types that attract traffic and ultimately grow congested, particularly at rush hour when you need the roads most.

For thousands of years of human history, urban thoroughfares have served three purposes – movement, commerce and social interaction. This is the street that engineers were trained to build in the first half of the twentieth century — 50 feet of pavement and 8 foot sidewalks. This street, Kinnickinnic Avenue in Milwaukee, clearly fulfills the three traditional functions of an urban thoroughfare. Here are three of these streets coming together in Wicker Park in Chicago. And in this economy, places like this are holding their value.

Most streets today, however, are built for only one purpose, moving traffic. There are huge setbacks so the road can be widened later. There is no money left over for sidewalks, so people can walk in the dirt, or as an alternative walk in the gutter.

When you have lots of streets on small blocks as in Northampton, Massachusetts the streets don't need to be big. Many streets share the burden, giving travelers lots of choices, including walking. And networks like Northampton are a great setting for jobs, good living and hold high value/square mile. Yet Federal and state road policies put over half the money spent on pavement into grade separated highways- the top end of the functional classification system.

We now understand that freeways don't last forever. In 1973, New York City's elevated West Side Highway collapsed and was eventually replaced by a street. With views of the Hudson restored, Manhattan's lower West Side gained residents, jobs and vitality. In 1989 an earthquake damaged the Embarcadero Freeway, which had replaced a boulevard in 1950. The boulevard is now restored, the freeway is gone and jobs and residents are back. Even the traffic has improved since the boulevard helps distribute cars more evenly across the grid. In Milwaukee, without an earthquake, we removed a freeway segment, replacing empty lots and surface parking with the beginnings of good redevelopment. But by far the most dramatic change can be seen in Seoul, South Korea where an elevated roadway built on top of a river at the end of the Korean War was replaced in 2005 with two surface streets on each side of the restored river.

This is the man responsible, Lee Meoung-Bak, elected mayor in 2001. See how happy he is. He had the courage to do the right thing and now he's President. He was successful because he embraced the complexity of the city, rising above the narrow concerns of the traffic specialists. He saw the whole, the combination of river, neighborhood and infrastructure as greater than the sum of its parts.

CNU and our allies at the Institute of Transportation Engineers have collaborated on exciting reforms to make transportation work for people and communities, not just their cars. In cooperation with FHWA and EPA we have developed a manual that provides design guidelines to resurrect the street, avenue and boulevard. These are road types that Federal and State departments of transportation should allow and encourage.

Let’s start to plan urban and suburban transportation movements around highly connected networks of streets and transit rather than just individual road segments. We need to better appreciate the value of networks like this one, the Plan of Washington DC. The street network absorbs and distributes traffic just as wetlands absorb and cleanse water. And the grid serves as a setting for valuable economic and social activity just as the wetlands providing rich habitats for diverse plant and animal life. We’ve learned that paving steam beds isn’t always the best answer.

Street networks, especially when connected with transit, make life convenient and strengthen the bonds of community. They also dramatically reduce household driving and lower household greenhouse gas emissions. Residents of Atlantic Station, a new neighborhood with a walkable street network on the site of an abandoned can plant in Atlanta, drive an average of eight miles per day compared to a regional average of 34 miles per day.

Through its partnership with the United States Green Building Council and the Natural Resources Defense Council, CNU helped create the nation's first certification system for green development at the neighborhood scale. And to qualify, these green neighborhoods must have highly connected networks of walkable streets, with at least 150 intersections per square mile (including alleys). The oversized highways, and arterials that the federal government typically funds lead to not only higher infrastructure costs and carbon emissions, but less valuable neighborhoods. These road designs should no longer be promoted as the preferred option by federal policy.

Research by the Center for Neighborhood Technology and the Brookings Institution confirms that neighborhoods with connected street networks and transit service give families real relief from high transportation costs.

Consumer preferences show that people are eager to live in complete, convenient, walkable neighborhoods. Future transportation policy should support this preference. Transportation investments should be at a compatible scale with the neighborhood. They should build on rather than undermine the efficiency and environmental performance of walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods.

I urge you to take advantage of opportunities to realign federal transportation policies around sustainable transportation networks.
• Thanks to Senators Carper and Specter and Representatives La Tourette and Blumenauer, the CLEAN TEA legislation now promotes investment in new, local street and transit construction that enhances network connectivity and performance. That provision deserves your support.
• Likewise, T4 Reauthorization is an opportunity to further direct investment towards infrastructure that adds value to communities. Key CLEAN TEA provisions could be incorporated in T4 to help move it beyond the predictable highways vs. transit modal split debate. States and regions that receive T4 funds would benefit from plans that take into account the carbon impact of their transportation investments. Such planning will lead communities to high-performance street and transit networks that achieve transportation and economic development goals through cost-effective use of federal dollars.
• Transportation engineers at CNU and ITE realize that the federal highway program must evolve into a federal networks program. Congress can help speed that transition by asking the FHWA to extend its successful context-sensitive thoroughfares project to provide research and guidelines for the sustainable networks formed by those streets.

Our new President has declared his commitment to reforming and improving transportation. We need only look to the Internet, employed to so effectively by his election campaign, for a telling example of how 21st century transportation systems should work. Internet traffic makes use of a network of linkages, breaking up large volumes of data into small packets and distributing them through a web of available nodes. It's fast and it's reliable. The same model applied to transportation networks will allow all modes of traffic to flow over multiple routes, reducing travel times, making driving, walking and bicycling easier, and making transit service and emergency response more effective.

CNU, the Institute for Transportation Engineers, the Center for Neighborhood Technology, and The T4 America Coalition( of which CNU is a proud member) are ready to help you get transportation moving in the right direction, adding real value to America’s communities.

By John Norquist, President and CEO, Congress for the New Urbanism, March 19,2007

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Park East Freeway to McKinley Boulevard

A Milwaukee case study in freeway removal....

Freeway razing sets stage for $250 million in development

Former Milwaukee mayor John Norquist editorial re. cost savings and benefits of replacing downtown interstate with new boulevard

Congress for New Urbanism summary

Man, this looks familiar...

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Fountain Square

The plaza across from the Old Post Office is nearly complete. The project spans the south side of the block between 8th and 9th Streets. The plaza shares the block with the Roberts' Orpheum and Tower projects. The plaza has a sleek design, with modern lighting and an impressive water feature.

At the east end of a giant flat metal projection screen is a 4-story fountain. Well, it's more like a 4-story waterfall. Water pours down the side of a round metal surface and then drops four floors straight down into a stone pool.

The falling water makes the loud, continuous crashing sound you'd expect from a sizable waterfall. I'm guessing here, but this is probably the tallest waterfall in the midwest.

Both the sight and sound are impressive. I wonder if it will be lit up with colorful lighting at night? Passersby were stopping on the sidewalk to take it all in.

Monday, March 23, 2009

STL to star in Hollywood movie

The news is reporting that Sutton Avenue in Maplewood is closed to traffic today for the filming of George Clooney's "Up in the Air" movie. For the next few months, film crews will be working in St. Louis on Clooney's next big screen production. I don't know anything about the movie, except with George Clooney in it, it's sure to get a lot of attention. And that's good for St. Louis.

Over the past few weeks, film crews have been downtown. They were lined up along Memorial Drive near the Arch, and also by the Bowling Hall of Fame/St. Louis Cardinals Museum. With the great renaissance happening in Maplewood, it's no wonder location scouts have landed upon Sutton Avenue.

St. Louis makes some sense for film makers. We have four seasons. We have a wide variety of scenery. And we're an affordable place to do business. In the 70s, our run down buildings were chosen to serve as the backdrop for a post-civilized New York City in "Escape from New York". Today, STL is being chosen as an authentic American landscape.

It will be interesting to learn the impressions from movie people about their experiences working in St. Louis. With good word and a successful project, St. Louis can raise it's standing as a viable option for more Hollywood movie making.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Older North

This weekend we are enjoying a milestone celebration in our house, so we were looking for some nice ways to commemorate the event. We visited a place we haven't been in over ten years, and are happy to report, the place is as authentic and enjoyable as ever. I'm referring to one of the oldest homes and entertainment venues in the region, the Bissell Mansion.

Built in 1823, the Bissell Mansion is one of the oldest homes in St. Louis. Much of the original building is intact, with the main interior bearing wall around two feet thick. The building's original owners have important history dating back to the founding of the United States, with General Bissell a veteran of the War of 1812. Back in the 1820s, St. Louis was barely a dot on a map, so it's fun to walk the grounds, see the view of the Mississippi, and think about what St. Louis was like, forty years before the Civil War.

The Bissell Mansion is a dinner theater, so a visit there is an interactive and entertaining evening. Staff serves the meals and acts in the show. The artists both perform and write the shows. The place has a lot of heart; the performers give their all; and the food is good too. Guests are given scripts and are invited to participate in the show. But no worries - you're given the option of a small or larger part when you make your reservation.

Attendance was good, with a large party upstairs, and our group downstairs. Nonetheless, in tight economic times like these, competiton for discretionary restaurant dollars is tough. For an authentic St. Louis night out, to experience a special occasion with family or friends, and to help preserve an important piece of St. Louis history and tradition, STL Rising recommends the Bissell Mansion dinner theater.

Shows change four times a year. This year we will make an effort to visit again for their fall or winter performances.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Bevo Mill - For Sale or Rent?

Bevo Mill has closed its doors. The property was recently donated to the City by Anheuser Busch, and so, it really belongs to you and me - the city taxpayer.

The building is one of the city's destination landmarks for tourists. Approaching it from Delor on the west is the ultimate in a Scrubby Dutch St. Louis view. So what should happen with it?

Rent for a $1 and offer it to the operators of the Boat House in Forest Park? Convert to an urban Bed and Breakfast? Sell to the highest bidder?

Offer rent free to Schlafly for a southside microbrewery with live music, splitting proceeds with the Bevo community organization to help fund neighborhood improvements?

Something needs to be done to ensure the building lasts another 100 years. How do we make sure it's something good?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Grounds For Action

Yesterday closed the public comment period for the draft General Management Plan for the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. Sometime over the next few months, the National Park Service will finalize and adopt the new General Management Plan. The GMP will guide the future of the park for the next 15-20 years. That's a generation of urbanists to you and me.

The GMP lays the ground work for action. Action to fix the connectivity problems plaguing the Arch. Connectivity is the common thread identified for improvemenet in all three action alternatives of the draft General Management Plan. What those action measures include will become the outcomes of the current planning process.

The Danforth Foundation and the National Park Service have gotten the momentum going. It is time for the rest of the community to build on that momentum. Investors in Chouteau's Landing, casino interests, MODoT, the Army Corps or Engineers, Laclede's Landing merchants, the City of St. Louis, and the Partnership for Downtown St. Louis - as well as average citizens like you and me - all have vital roles to play in bringing about improvements to our downtown and riverfront area.

Success is built on partnership and collaboration. Leveraging the resources of the multiple stakeholders involved will bring about the best outcomes for future generations of St. Louisans, and help draw more people to our region. Our challenge is to switch from planning mode to action on solutions. It will be interesting and fun - and let's hope rewarding - to see how well we do.

What do you think? How would you proceed? What would you do?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Deadline Approaching to Submit Comments on Future of Arch

The deadline for the public to submit comments on the Draft General Management Plan for the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial is Monday, March 16.

More information can be found here:

NPS Update on Arch Planning Process

The link opens with a good video and provides all the information you need to offer public comment.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Arch Connections Group Gets New Name

The ad hoc riverfront connections group that's been meeting for a few months has a new name: "City to River Group".

The group has been looking at ways better connections might be made between downtown, the communities of the central riverfront, the Mississippi River, and the Arch grounds. The link on the right side of this page will take you to the group's Google page.

For years, it has been said that St. Louis has turned its back on the river. With better connections reestablished between the City and the riverfront, St. Louis will start to feel like a riverfront city again.

So, in an effort to rebuild the idea that St. Louis is a river city, and that its rightful front door should face the river and not turn its back to it, the riverfront connections group has given itself a name that's all about reorienting the city's relationship with the Mississippi River.

If you would like more information or to get involved, please visit the Google page linked on the right side of this page.