Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Cherokee Street Tossup

The emerging Cherokee Street neighborhood (not its official name), is getting more and more positive press, both locally and around the country. It's famous for its creative arts and business scene, Mexican restaurants, and historic architecture.

However, while the outside world is paying lots of attention to the street itself, a local online magazine, the Cherokee Street News, is calling attention to the adjacent historic residential areas on the north and south sides of Cherokee.

A current feature at the site presents a range of opportunities to purchase historic residential properties, all at or below $15,000 apiece. That's fifTEEN thousand, not $150,000. To readers of this site from other states, that is not a typo.

At those prices, the market is very soft, or the buildings are in very poor condition, or both. If you're a supporter of the renaissance of Cherokee Street, you have to be concerned about the strength of the real estate market flanking the strip.

Looking at the efforts to revitalize the Cherokee area, especially its supporting residential blocks, what are the key strategies and goals being pursued? I'm asking because I don't know. If you know, please reply in the comments section. Thanks!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Elevated Lanes Being Removed in St. Louis

Minimal Traffic Delays Observed

No, we're not referring to the eyesore elevated lanes of I-70 which cut off downtown from Laclede's Landing and the north riverfront, but rather the elevated lanes of Grand Avenue between Chouteau and the main St. Louis University campus.

Approximating that Grand through this stretch usually carries about 30,000 cars per day*, closing it down and seeing minimal traffic delays demonstrates the vast amount of excess road capacity in St. Louis.

The elevated lanes of Grand are being demolished because they have come to the end of their useful life. The same is true of many of the 1960s and older sections of elevated roads around the country, including the elevated lanes of the soon to be former I-70 through downtown.

With I-70 being rerouted north of downtown over the new Mississippi River Bridge; with gas prices approaching $5 per gallon; with governments running out of money to rebuild aging elevated highway structures; and, with a growing emphasis on reconnecting downtown to the river, is the foundation being laid for the eventual removal of the elevated interstate structure from downtown St. Louis once and for all?

*: revised based on reader "Herbie's" comment.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

"Respect the Loop - Foul Language is Offensive"

On Metro trains there are signs that read, "Respect Your Ride - Foul Language is Offensive". The signs seem to be working because rides on Metro are pleasant without the nuisance of people cursing in your ears.

Meanwhile, for the past couple of weeks, news reports have been coming out of the UCity Loop about crowds of unruly young people on the sidewalks disturbing the peace in the area with cursing and rude behaviour.

The news reports gave me ideas for a couple of other possible different titles for this post. "Victim of Its Own Success" was one. Or maybe "We've Never Seen the Loop Like This Before".

"Victim of Its Own Success" is obvious. The Loop is a fun place to be. Spring is here and young people are finishing their school years. It's natural they'd be looking for a good place to go, and the Loop is an obvious choice. It's popular. I wish the town of my youth had a place like it.

"We've Never Seen the Loop Like This Before" is not so obvious. It was a statement made on the air in today's radio news. The comment seems to refer to conduct or groups of people in the Loop that are making the person uncomfortable.

The same person went on to say, "you can't leave a cell phone on a table or it will get stolen". The point of the news story is that there are growing safety and security concerns in the Loop.

It will be interesting to see how the spring and summer go. I suspect things will be good. There may be stepped up security patrols on busy nights. More people coming out to enjoy the area will make the place safer for everyone.

What about adding signs on the sidewalk, "Respect the Loop - Foul Language is Offensive"? They work on Metro. Is is legal to use foul language in public? I think it depends on the municipal ordinances in the city.

If it's illegal to spit on the sidewalk, then it seems reasonable that you shouldn't be able to say "F&%K!" in a loud voice. Maybe the use of loud profanity is protected free speech? I doubt the founding fathers had that in mind when they guaranteed us the right to free speech.

Passing more ordinances doesn't seem like the answer. More people on the street and a stepped up security presence are probably the most effective solutions. Stay tuned. This issue is likely to be around for at least the next month or so.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Pity the Poor Traffic Circle

For the past week, new measures have been put into effect to address the continuing backups at the Hampton Avenue entrance to Forest Park. Traffic gets so congested that it can take forty minutes for cars to get from Interstate 64 into the park. The situation gets dangerous as cars back up onto the traffic lanes of the highway.

This week, Metro started a new trolley in the park to help move people around. The beautiful new traffic roundabout at the southeast corner of the Zoo was closed, forcing drivers entering from Hampton to the eastern side of the park. Unfortunately, these measures don't seem to be helping much.

According to Sunday's Post-Dispatch, there were still long delays for drivers to get into the park on Saturday. The ironic part of this is there are only delays at one entrance: the Hampton entrance off of Interstate 64. This is an easy problem to fix. In fact, it's really a self-imposed "problem". Drivers bring this problem on themselves by all trying to squeeze through the same entrance.

The Post-Dispatch ought to run a "WAR HAS ENDED" style, 3-inch tall banner headline on the front page of the paper, all week if necessary, notifying the public that Forest Park has THREE SIDES, all with multiple entrances. Sub headline: "No Waiting at Kingshighway, Lindell, and Skinker Entrances!".

Imagine instead of an entrance to Forest Park, we're inside a grocery store. At checkout, there are ten cashiers waiting for customers. But everyone lines up to go through the same checkout lane, creating a massive backup in that one lane. All the other lanes are wide open with no waiting. We would think that was pretty silly, wouldn't we?

It's not that different in Forest Park. So long as everyone tries to enter the park through the same entrance, there will always be delays. Pity the poor traffic circle. The traffic problems in Forest Park certainly weren't its fault...

Friday, April 01, 2011

Prop E Highlights Need for New Missouri Compromise

When Missouri entered the union, it was under the Missouri Compromise, whereby Missouri was admitted as a slave state and Maine was admitted as a free state.

Before the Civil War, Missouri wanted to keep slavery, but wanted to remain in the Union. During the Civil War, the governor of Missouri took control of the police department. After the Civil War, the city slowly expanded its boundaries in a westerly direction.

In 1876, St. Louis voted to separate itself from St. Louis County. By 1940, the city, for all intents and purposes, was built out. Between 1950 and 1960, its population peaked at about 850,000.

Since 1960, the city's population has dropped by over 50%, while suburban growth stretched out across Missouri and Illinois, putting St. Louis city at the center of the region.

Today, a little over 1/10 of the regional population lives in the city proper, but many of our regions 2.8 million or so residents think of themselves as St. Louisans. There's a general sense that everyone in the region has some stake in the city, but only a tiny percentage get a vote in the future of what happens here.

Next week, that idea of regionalism will be put to the test. Lots of people are advocating for a "Yes Vote on Prop E", the proposition to retain the city's earnings tax, but only a handful of voters will decide the issue.

The St. Louis Business Journal has come out in favor of Prop E, but in their editorial they state that most of their employees don't live in the city, so they have no vote. They work here, so for now, they pay the earnings tax. In its editorial, The Business Journal warns that if the earnings tax is defeated, they would for the first time be forced to consider moving out of the city - for the health and safety of their employees.

Many are making dire predictions about huge cuts in city services - including cuts to fire and police protection - if the earnings tax is defeated. At the same time massive increases in other taxes, such as sales taxes and real estate taxes, are predicted to follow. It's the sort of one-two punch in the civic gut that could potentially bring the city to its knees. The predictions are not much of a stretch when you consider that 1/3 of the city's budget is funded by the earnings tax.

While Prop E will decide the future of the earnings tax, at the same time, the legislature in Jeff City is debating local control of the city police department. A 150 year old debate about how St. Louisans should be governed continues to this day. While Jeff City debates returning local control of the police department to St. Louis, the region is debating how St. Louis should be governed via its tax structure.

As it was when the city divorced from St. Louis County, a very close vote at the time, so it will be in 2011 when a tiny number of individual voters will have a say in a matter of major regional significance for the future of all St. Louisans.

Out of curiosity, does anyone know if the St. Louis Police Officer's Association has taken a position on Prop E? There is some irony here, because a few years ago the state controlled board of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department significantly reduced the residency requirement for city police officers. So today, like many employees of the St. Louis Business Journal, large numbers of city police officers are not eligible to vote in city elections.

Maybe it's time for a new Missouri Compromise, but this time, make it the St. Louis Compromise, one that creates a sustainable, equitable tax structure for the city of St. Louis as the center of the St. Louis region. Compromises work when there are mutual interests at stake. Under our current system, there are many mutual interests, but our ability to reach a compromise, is, well, seriously compromised.

Too many people have a vested interest in the city of St. Louis with no voice in the outcome of local elections. It's hard to make good decisions about government when there is such a high percentage of our citizens ineligible to participate in the most important decisions.