Friday, May 28, 2010

Danforth Said it Best

Back in the days of St. Louis 2004, Senator John Danforth said it best when he proclaimed "St. Louis is not a spectator sport". His point was that everyday people need to get personally involved in the effort to improve St. Louis.

Reading blogs and watching television is not enough. Knowing what's best isn't enough. People have to get off the sidelines and do things. Now is one of those key times when regular, everyday people can make a difference in the future of our city.

There is a push on in our community right now to have an impact on the future of downtown St. Louis and the riverfront. If you are a regular visitor of this site, you know what it is: City to River is working to remove the downtown lanes of I-70that have been the physical and psychological barrier dividing downtown from the Arch grounds and riverfront.

Now is the time and this your opportunity to help make it happen. Click here to find out how.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Windshield Survey (with frequent updates)

One of the top concerns regarding converting the soon-to-be-former downtown lanes of I-70 into a new at-grade boulevard is how to handle the truck traffic.

With the rerouting of I-70 north of downtown over the new Mississippi River bridge, all of the east and west bound I-70 through truck traffic currently using the depressed lanes and Poplar Street Bridge will be diverted away from downtown over the new bridge.

However, to get an idea of the volume of truck traffic through the area today, this week I started doing my own survey. I've been counting oversized vehicle traffic along the depressed lanes continuing south on I-55 toward South County.

To date, I've completed three counts. When counting I count all oversized vehicles coming in the opposite direction, plus all the oversized vehicles travelling in front of me and behind me as far as I can see in my direction. The counts are being taken during morning rush hour.

The first count was on northbound 55 between Gasconade and exiting Memorial Drive at around 7:15 am (about 3.5 miles). Total oversized vehicle traffic: 41 vehicles

The second count was taken from Memorial Drive through southbound 55 to the Germania exit (about 6.5 miles) at around 8:15 am: Total oversized vehicle traffic: 59 vehicles

The third count was taken on northbound 55 from River des Peres through to the Memorial Drive exit at about 8:50 am: Total oversized vehicle traffic: 61 vehicles.

We are counting school buses and UPS sized panel trucks, but not pickup-styled small contractor trucks.

School buses and panel vans comprise about 1/2 the total oversized vehicle counts. Full size over the road tractor trailers comprise about the other 50%.

Compared to total vehicle traffic, oversized vehicles appear to take up less than 10 percent of all traffic through the area. Truck traffic is present, but does not appear to be an overly high percentage of overall traffic volume.

UPDATE - Thursday, May 27

Counting cars at 6:36 am on northbound I-55 from River Des Peres to the Memorial Drive exit, there were a total of 63 oversized vehicles, with approximately half of them school buses. So many school buses on the highway in the morning makes you wonder if all those buses are carrying kids headed toward St. Louis County as part of the deseg program?

Monday, May 24, 2010

One More Bridge to Go?

Friday's celebration surrounding the demolition of the St. Louis Centre skybridge over Washington Avenue clears the way for one more step towards the revitalization of downtown St. Louis. The removal of the skybridge creates an uninterrupted streetscape view down Washington Avenue - to the west.

The view above is what will be revealed looking east - the nearly fifty-year old elevated lanes of I-70 above Memorial Drive. Just beyond the elevated lanes are the Eads Bridge, the Mississippi River, the Arch grounds, Laclede's Landing and a Metrolink station.

Imagine in place of the elevated lanes a new, at-grade, pedestrian friendly boulevard. An at grade boulevard in place of the elevated lanes creates clear views east and west along Washington Avenue.

The all-volunteer citizens group City to River is proposing just that, with the goal of seeing teams competing in the Arch design competition propose highway removal as part of their design solutions to reconnect the city to the riverfront and Arch grounds.

For more information on City to River's efforts to replace the soon-to-be-former elevated and depressed lanes of I-70 through downtown with a new urban boulevard, visit the City to River website or contact

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Old time St. Louis alive and well

This post isn't so much about St. Louis rising as it is about St. Louis at its best.

Epiphany Church on Ivanhoe is one of the city's many Catholic parishes.

Epiphany has its own bowling alley and a few years ago the parish installed mechanized pin setters to take the place of the old hand setters.

In 2010, the church is launching a blog. You can visit the site here: Ephipany blog. Epiphany's new website contains much more information than is usually found in blogs.

The site contains plentiful information about the church and parish, and even includes one of those elusive parish boundary maps, along with a legal description of the parish boundary. In a city known for having many overlapping boundaries and districts, some of the most interesting of all are the boundaries of Catholic parishes.

Ivanhoe is one of those classic historic streets in St. Louis. Within walking distance of the church, you find lots of gems. One of those is Pizza A Go Go. The pizza is some of the best in town. Pizza A Go Go has excellent pizza but is also known for some quirky rules.

Pizza A Go Go's website is actually a blog. The comments there are a testament to the quality of the pizza, but be sure to also read the strict enforcement of the house rules for ordering pizza. Pizza A Go Go does not sell beer, but customers have been known to bring their own, keeping it chilled in the cooler located in the small dining room. If you think the building is an old service station, you are probably right.

Across from Pizza A Go Go is Killer Vintage. Killer Vintage specializes in vintage musical instruments and amplifiers. The store has one of the finest collections in the midwest.

With so much diversity at a walkable scale, old neighborhoods are cool and interesting places. They have lots of unique small businesses, historic homes, bowling alleys, and churches. A mile or so west of Ivanhoe is Sutton in Maplewood. Sutton competes with Ivanhoe for being one of the nicest neighborhood settings in St. Louis. Along Sutton, some of the historic homes are finding new uses as professional offices.

And there are also cool churches, including the one shown below, ornamented with tons of terra cotta. I have not seen the inside of this one, but according to local legend, the interior of this church served as one of the sets for George Clooney's recent "Up In the Air" film.

With so much going for it, Sutton also boasts what is possibly the coolest bowling alley in St. Louis, the Saratoga Lanes, located on the second floor of this building:

If you buy an old guitar at Killer Vintage, you will need a place to have it repaired, and Goez Stringed Instrument shop is a place to go. They're located in this building, also on Sutton:

And when you have that vintage instrument sounding its best, there are a number of fine venues along Sutton for performance, one of the best being the Focal Point:

The St. Louis area is blessed to have many areas like the very walkable Sutton and Ivanhoe neighborhood districts. They offer charm and a sense of place that increase the quality of our lives. If you're looking for an interesting place to do some shopping, spend a leisurely afternoon or evening, or find a new home, check out these places and our other friendly neighborhood choices.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

People on the street?

One of the goals urban planners have to revitalize downtown areas is to get more people on the street - more pedestrian activity. St. Louis is often criticized for lacking pedestrian activity and having no street life. So I was trying to think where in our downtown are there throngs of people on the sidewalks, right alongside busy vehicular traffic? Anywhere?

Yes! Right outside new Busch Stadium!

At the same time downtown office buildings are emptying out and workers are headed to their cars, thousands of baseball game visitors are walking to Busch Stadium. The combination of these two events creates a heavy amount of pedestrian and vehicular traffic on the east and west sides of Busch Stadium.

It works. Before every ballgame there are street musicians, traffic cops on foot and in golf carts, lots and lots of people, sidewalk vendors, and happy people and urban vibrancy.

So then if we apply what we've learned with the new ballpark to the ongoing Arch design competition, why not repeat this success and create a new pedestrian friendly boulevard alongside the Arch grounds, one that reconnects St. Louis to the riverfront?

They say Missouri is the "Show Me State". At Busch Stadium we have proof that cars and people can mix, and create a vibrant street. Let's build on that success and extend an active downtown street grid to the riverfront!

More of these please!

One of the best things about walkable neighborhoods is the way they open up possibilites beyond the front walk. Here is an example of a courtyard patio located in the back area of a popular restaurant. You access the courtyard either through the main building or via a gated entrance on the side street.

This patio features beautiful flowers and plants, terraces, cast iron tables and chairs, fish ponds, an iron fountain, multiple bar areas, a huge, shady covered section, lots of nice brick, and a full service food and bar menu.

Sidewalk cafes are great, but interior courtyards are my favorite. They bring a little bit of New Orleans to St. Louis. They are hidden jewels inside cool neighborhoods. There aren't very many in St. Louis. I can't think of one in the Central West End or Lafayette Square neighborhoods. The one pictured here is in Soulard. Are there others?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Sidewalk threat!

Last week we called attention to a dangerous fence lining "Ballpark Village" operated by the Cardinals (nothing's changed with the fence since last week).

Today, we feature a section of sidewalk that is poised to stub toes, trip dog walkers, and generally cause all kinds of trouble.

Lifted sidewalks are a fact of life when you have mature street trees. Some trees cause more sidewalk damage than others. I'll take the big trees, and live with the uneven sidewalks.

If the owner here is cited by the city to repair the sidewalk, there is a program available to help with the cost.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Arch contest not your grandmother's design competition

In the mid-1940s, when Eero Saarinen proposed his iconic Arch design, telephones had dials, St. Louis had almost 900,000 residents, engineers used slide rules, the first electronic computers were being developed, gasoline cost about 15 cents per gallon and the US had just come out of World War II.

Seventy years later, people use their phones as computers, gasoline costs nearly $3.00 per gallon, the population of St. Louis has dropped by 60 percent, the US lost in Viet Nam but won WW2 and the Cold War, and, we have the internet - the technology that is changing everything.

We live in a different world, one with a trend towards increasing transparency. How will the final five teams in the Arch design competition tailor their work to our current times? Will they take advantage of the internet to engage the public in the design process? Will they seek community input online? Would opening up their design work put them at a competitive disadvantage? Or would it make their proposal stronger?

One of the most interesting elements of the Arch design competition is that this effort is more about fixing broken connections between the Arch, riverfront and downtown, than doing anything with the Arch itself. Those bad connections are where the city of St. Louis meets the National Park.

With the close connection between the City of St. Louis and the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, how should the public be engaged in the development of the design to reconnect the city to the riverfront and Arch grounds, if at all? The technology is in place to make the design process completely transparent and interactive.

For the Arch design competition, will average citizens get their first glimpse of the design team's plans just weeks before the winning team and design is chosen, or will the general public from both sides of the river be engaged in the process of helping determine the winning design that will set the tone and direction for the future of the Arch grounds, the riverfront, downtown St. Louis, and the region?

(Post edited with thanks to comment from reader "Jeem")

Friday, May 07, 2010


Over the past year, the possible sale of Classic 99 KFUO in St. Louis has been in the news. Classical music lovers are concerned about the sale because KFUO is the only classical music station in St. Louis.

The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod owns KFUO and a buyer plans to turn the station into a Christian Rock format. The FCC has approved the sale and it's supposed to close in a week.

Here's the part I find amazing: the price. The buyer is reportedly paying $18 million for the station plus another $8 million in interest. How is a small to mid-sized FM radio station in St. Louis possibly worth that much? From what I understand, the value is in the license. But $26 million?

Ad revenues are down in all traditional forms of media. Internet and satellite music options are growing. And a local radio station sells for over $20 million? How do the buyers plan to make any money or just break even?

Thursday, May 06, 2010

USA Today covers City to River


"Downtowns go from gray to green"

"Cities from Los Angeles to Cincinnati are remaking concrete barriers into parks, open spaces."

Link to full story

Kids of city firefighters to get school choice?

A new bill pending in Jefferson City would end city residency requirements for firefighters after they've put in seven years of service. The bill mirrors a law passed a few years ago relieving veteran city police officers of city residency requirements. The stated purpose for the change is to give families of firefighters the freedom to move out of the city so their children have the opportunity to enroll in higher performing public school districts.

Does this mean that soon the state will follow the same logic and propose the end of residency requirements for all city employees? If the goal of the state is to offer city school-aged children better educational options, why should the effort be limited to children of city employees?

Aside from the irony that city employees are relieved of residency requirements to seek better public school options (while non-government employee city residents are given no special consideration), shouldn't the goal of the state be to ensure that all its residents have the best educational opportunities, regardless of where they live or for whom they work?

Rather than lift city residency requirements for city employees, what about changing the rules so that all city residents are allowed to enroll their children in schools outside the city? That single change to public policy would answer once and for all the decades old objection that "we'd love to live in the city except for the public schools".

For parents of city school children who enroll their kids in private schools (while paying taxes to fund the city schools), why not allow some or all of private elementary and high school tuition to be tax deductible for families living in school districts with underperforming public schools?

Monday, May 03, 2010

Occasional Planet on Highway Removal

Local writer Gloria Shur Bilchik writes about highway removal in front of the Arch at the Real Change, One Idea at a Time "Occasional Planet" website.

Heads Up!

"Heads Up!"

At youth baseball games, that's the cry you hear whenever a foul ball is headed to the stands, especially if it's on its way to a place where people might not see it coming.

Meanwhile, in the big leagues, next to Busch III, someone might want to warn passers by with the same familar call about the fence that lines the long- delayed Ballpark Village site. Pedestrians need to watch out that they don't accidentally hit their heads or end up with an eye injury thanks to the razor sharp top of the BP Village fence that is jutting into the sidewalk.

This wayward section of fence is right in the same location where lines of tourist buses park to pick up and drop off passengers attending Cardinal games. The sidewalk carries thousands of pedestrians on their way to and from ballgames.

Maybe this is the year the fence around Ballpark Village will come down? In the meantime, better keep your "heads up"!