Archive for the ‘Transit’ Category

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New Substation at Prospect and Scott – TOD?

December 13, 2011

Last year I wrote about the demolition of some old industrial buildings in the block bounded by Prospect Ave, Bernard St, Spring Ave, and the railroad tracks.

Site of New Substation Before Demolition

At the time I originally noticed the demolition I was unsure of its purpose, but speculated that this had something to do with work on the Grand viaduct and Metrolink station.  However disappointed I was about the clearing of this site, the buildings were ill-suited to reuse.  The old May Company warehouse at Market and Spring was freshly renovated, and I was hoping that The Armory would be next.  The idea that a new and improved Metrolink station could attract transit oriented development there was too exciting to ignore.

Work on the New Substation

Unfortunately, upon returning to the site a couple of weeks ago, I found that a tall, permanent fence, topped with barbed wire was being installed all around the block.   Workers on the site then confirmed to me that they were constructing an electrical substation.  Even to those who considered the block’s previous occupant an eyesore, a substation will almost certainly be uglier.

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Modern Streetcars could be coming to Downtown Kansas City

August 23, 2011

Today, while randomly exploring Kansas City, I walked into Union Station during a Open House event featuring a modern trolley that KC leaders would like to see downtown by 2015.  The model on display, courtesy of Kinkisharyo, was a new ameriTRAM designed specifically for American cities wishing to bring back streetcars.

ameriTRAM on Display in Kansas City, MO

Its bragging points include a 100 percent low floor and an “e-hybrid” system designed to run on overhead power or lithium-ion batteries for up to five miles.  Even while operating on batteries it has several security cameras, wireless internet, and lcd information screens.   The light weight cars will not necessitate bridge replacement on the proposed routes through downtown Kansas City, and will help to lower the cost of laying track.  Because the plans include only routes that are around two miles long, overhead wires are unnecessary, eliminating not only a possible eyesore but also the associated expenses.

Map of Proposed Streetcar Routes in Downtown Kansas City

Coincidentally, the length of the Loop Trolley in St. Louis is approximately two miles long as well.  Could our local streetcar project use the ameriTRAM?  Could completely eliminating overhead power help lower the price tag?  One of the first things that this blog did was come out against the Loop Trolley project.  I still don’t think that this particular implementation is a great addition to our transit system because it does little more than duplicate the coverage of the Metrolink and the 97 Delmar Bus.  Other critics have argued that it just connects Blueberry Hill to the Pagent.  If the project is perceived as a failure, it could help prevent new investment in more substantial public transit infrastructure in the future.  On the other hand, streetcars are awesome, and the potential for this project to spur expansions is too exciting to ignore.  To best take advantage of this opportunity, we must make sure that the Loop Streetcar is effective and well received.  One easy and substantive way to make this project more legitimate is to use cutting edge technology – the latest modern streetcars.  In my opinion, a sleek, modern and attractive streetcar will be even more enticing to the curious pedestrian or motorist than a replica of a historic trolley.  I think it’s an option worth considering.  The advantages are considerable.

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Seattle’s Pedestrian Master Plan

July 1, 2011

I’ve spent the last week or so in Seattle, and have been extremely impressed with the city.  Seattle’s Central City is a continuous, walkable urban environment, that is unlike the vast majority of American cities I’ve been to.  In Seattle, the “inner-city” is a truly desirable place to be (as it should be).  Although it is not completly free of empty storefronts and surface parking lots, when compared to a place like St. Louis these underused spaces are a non-issue.

Seattle has its problems too

I am aware that Seattle and St. Louis have more differences than similarities, but I disagree with those who say we have nothing to learn from a city so dissimilar.  Seattle’s Metropolitan Area is not significantly larger than St. Louis’ (only having recently surpassed us), but it has the resources to experiment.  We need to be paying attention to even our more distant peers if we want to stay competitive.

Section of Chinatown cut off from Downtown by Interstate 5

Seattle has made many of the same mistakes that St. Louis has.  They have an interstate highway running through their downtown.  They have two major sports stadiums that take up superblocks and are surrounded by underused parking garages in a historic district.  At the same time, they value good urban design and the pedestrian experience.  For me, Seattle has many new ideas to offer.  Good ideas.  One big one that struck me is the Downtown Transit Tunnel.

The Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel

Seattle’s Light Rail runs through Downtown in a tunnel, but the tracks run on a paved, flat surface that is also used by buses.  This is brilliant for many reasons (it keeps you out of both traffic and the rain), and is a flexible infrastructure investment.  My one complaint is that you aren’t allowed to simply walk across the tracks to the other platform to change directions.

Illegal to Cross

As convenient as being able to walk across the tracks would be for an urban explorer and photographer like myself, walking up and over is a small sacrifice for us to make on behalf of public safety.  The City of Seattle actually cares about pedestrians and their safety, and it shows.  Little details can make big differences.  This year Seattle was recognized as the most “walk-friendly” city in the country by the NRDC, and in the City’s Pedestrian Master Plan, Seattle declares that it wants to truly become the most walkable city in the nation.

Alternatives to the Car

Featuring before and after photos of transformed sidewalks that would be sure to make Steve Patterson proud, the Pedestrian Master Plan’s website lays out a detailed plan with ambitious goals that focus on the pedestrian experience.  It outlines the benefits of walking and the responsibility of the city to encourage and to facilitate alternatives to personal automobiles.

Seattle has a Large Network of Trolley Buses

I think that the City of St. Louis can learn from cities like Seattle.  Our problems are not unique to the rust belt, and their solutions might found if the time was spent creating something like a master plan.  We have a long way to go before we can even compete in a walkable city competition, but we need to start with a coherent (unlike many of my blog posts – Sorry!) and comprehensive plan.  Let’s start Downtown and connect our neighborhoods to one another.  Otherwise newer, faster growing cites like Seattle will leave us in the dust.  Or in the fumes of our own exhaust.

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Cass Avenue Bridge Construction Progress

March 20, 2011

Today I drove up North Broadway from downtown and observed the progress that has been made on the new Cass Avenue Bridge (that’s what I’m calling it). This is an exciting new project which opens up the possibility to reverse the terrible decision we made, sending highway 70 right through Downtown St. Louis and cutting it off from the Arch/Riverfront. CitytoRiver is still working to turn this great opportunity into reality.

Cass Avenue Bridge Construction

The Contractors, it seems, are also working quickly to make this bridge a reality.  A good portion of the land approach has been built (presumably on both sides of the river), and the large number of cranes on both sides makes me think that it won’t be too long until they start to cross the Mississippi.

Cass Avenue Bridge Construction

After my visit today I look forward to the view of Downtown St. Louis that will be enjoyed from the bridge once it has been completed.  By climbing up on a big pile of dirt and concrete I was able to to get a sneak peak.

Downtown from the Cass Avenue Bridge

I even think it was worth the risks I took with my Wallabees.

For more photos of the Cass Avenue Bridge see my Flickr set here.

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Metrolink Bridge over Vandeventer appears to be designed for Murals

January 31, 2011

As I have previously written, The Grove (also known as Forest Park Southeast) is home to a growing number of murals that really make a big impact on the perceptions of a visitor to the neighborhood.  Although The Grove has a wonderful start, its collection of murals is still quite small, at least in comparison to the large number of blank walls facing Manchester (and other side streets in the neighborhood).  With the addition of the neon sign at Manchester and Sarah, The Grove is becoming more and more of an attractive place, and I am convinced that this investment will pay off.

New Neon "Welcome to The Grove" Sign

A great way to add to this momentum is with more murals, and what better place to start but at more of the neighborhood’s “thresholds.”  With neighbors like Barnes Jewish, Wash U Med School and St. Louis University, those points of entry that are visible to these significant populations hold lots of potential.  As a SLU student I would often hike over to the Phillips 66 on Vandeventer for their competitively priced tall cans of Budweiser, but was totally unaware of The Grove’s existence just a couple of short blocks away.  In addition, I felt that the dismal walk from Campus was only barely worth the cheap beer.

Now, the Rail Bridge over Vandeventer just south of Highway 40 has been rebuilt, and it has indented arches along both sides of the roadway, and in the support that splits the opposing lanes of traffic.

Train Bridge over Vandeventer – Doesn’t it seem to be asking for Murals?

These spaces seem to be designed for murals, and I really hope that whoever is responsible for this bridge (Metro?) is open to the idea.  I truly believe that SLU students would be more willing to walk to attractions in the Grove if the walk itself were more attractive.  Right now, passing underneath the highway and train tracks is the scariest part of the trip.  Bright and Colorful Murals underneath one of the bridges could not only make the walk more enjoyable right away, they could also encourage the addition of even more artwork to the area, maintaining the momentum that has been building here for several years now.

For more on the Grove’s Murals, see MUMC.Wordpress.com.

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Union Depot of Joplin

January 6, 2011

This week I stumbled upon the Union Depot of Joplin, MO.  Driving North out of downtown on Main Street you can just barely glimpse it off the side of the road.

Joplin Union Depot

After seeing this awesome building and walking around it, I did some research online and found some very interesting facts, one of which was that the structure is concrete, made from scraps left over from local mining operations.  Joplin, MO was thinking green in 1908!

Joplin Union Depot - Abandoned

The abandoned depot hasn’t been used by anyone but graffiti artists for decades, but appears to be in remarkably good condition.

More photos of Joplin.

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New Scott Transit Plaza loses Neighbors

December 19, 2010

Last weekend I noticed that one of my favorite buildings had come down.  While driving down 40, I glanced towards the Armory and saw a large lot of dirt to its south instead of the corrugated-steel warehouse that was there last time I had looked.

Beck and Corbitt Steel on Spring

I admit that the building was not an architectural marvel, or even particularly attractive, but I loved it.  With its ring of graffiti underneath the large letters announcing its former tenant, this building told the story of the area now and in the past.  It had me imagining what it was like alongside the train tracks running through the middle of the city when they were alive and productive here.  Only two blocks south of Market Street and directly on the tracks, this was a prime location.  In addition to all of this, the building had a small feature that really attracted me to it.  This Bear (or Badger as I have always called him) was on the West side of the building.  I will miss it.

The Badger

I originally speculated that this would be the site of Metro’s new Park and Ride lot for the new Scott Transit Plaza, but was corrected by Jennifer from NextStopSTL (Thanks!).  Unfortunatly, I still don’t know why this block was raized.  Maybe the land is going to be used by whoever is in the former May Company Warehouse that sits across Spring.

Gone

A couple google searches taught me that the Million square foot warehouse sold by Macy’s last year for 2 million dollars has at least 2 tenants now: Hazzard Moving and Storage, and Warehouse of Stuff.  Hopefully this land will be used productivly for those tenants or maybe for some future plans for the Armory (wouldn’t that be cool?).   I guess I’ll just have to wait and see what happens, but whatever it is, I won’t forget what was here before.

600 S. Spring

I really wish progress didn’t have to be so destructive.

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High Ball Alley

October 9, 2010

Grand Center is one of St. Louis’ coolest areas, but has some pretty bad problems.  I would say the that the biggest problem is one shared with Downtown and other city neighborhoods: it can’t keep people around after events.  People drive in to see shows at The Fox, The Sheldon, Powell Hall, The Black Rep etc., and then hop right back into their cars and drive home.

Grand Center from the North

Some do have a bite to eat at Kota Wood Fire Grill, The Best Steak House or the new City Diner @ The Fox before hand, but theater/concert patrons only add business for the hour or two directly preceding their show.  Looking at a map of Grand Center, the explanation for this phenomenon is pretty obvious.

Ample Parking

Although the view from Grand is wonderful, most of Grand Center is made of parking lots.  The only thing to do is park and then leave.  For Grand Center to be the entertainment destination that it could be, the parking lots must be replaced with something!  Clearly parking is necessary, but surface is not the answer.  We need some parking garages with stores, bars, restaurants and clubs on the first floor and we need mixed-use infill everywhere else.  To make this task easier and reduce the amount of land in need of development, I propose adding a North/South street in between Spring and Grand from Olive all the way to Enright.

Grand Center Avenue (or High Ball Alley!)

This short Avenue also creates much more walkable blocks that improve the friendliness of the pedestrian experience.  Looking at the map I became curious if there was once a similar street in place breaking up these long blocks, but according to the Sanborn Fire Insurance maps from 1907, no such street existed.  What did exist, however, was a short street connecting the back of the St. Louis Club to the Olive streetcar.  On the map it is labeled “High Ball Alley.”

A little bit of Google investigation yielded more about the drink than the alley, but proved quite interesting nonetheless.  Apparently the Highball had been invented in Grand Center at the University Club during the late 1800s, and had become a very popular drink at the area clubs.  Somehow, over time, the streetcar conductors changed the name of their stop along this stretch of Olive, from the St. Louis Club stop to Highball Alley.  This spot, that was once popular enough to have its own name and streetcar stop, is now a pair of surface parking lots.

High Ball Alley Today

I think that Grand Center’s revitalization would get a huge boost from the creation of an extended High Ball Alley.  Doesn’t it sound like a great place to meet for a drink?

References to High Ball Alley/The St. Louis Highball:

http://listserv.linguistlist.org/cgi-bin/wa?A2=ind0101a&L=ads-l&P=10786

http://www.oldandsold.com/articles16/american-travel-18.shtml

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Light Rail in Denver and Salt Lake City

September 5, 2010

I recently spent some time in both Denver and Salt Lake City, both places that have many examples of urban planning successes and failures that serve as great learning experiences.  Denver’s 16th Street Mall and Salt Lake’s “The Gateway” and City Creek Center developments represent large downtown projects worthy of serious study.  One thing that all three of these developments have in common is the fact that they are served by light rail that runs on city streets.  Both light rail systems are also very similar to ours in St. Louis (we use Siemens SD-400 and SD-460, while Denver and Salt Lake both use the SD-100 and SD-160).  The main difference between St. Louis’ Metrolink and TheRide in Denver/UTA Trax in Salt Lake City is the height of the platforms and the lack of a dedicated right of way (at least in the center city).  Because the platforms are basically just the sidewalks in Denver or sidewalk-like medians in Salt Lake, entering the train requires walking up steps (like getting onto the bus).  To accommodate people with disabilities or parents with strollers, etc.,  both systems have ramps leading up to elevated platforms at the front of each train.

18th and California Station - Denver, Colorado

The elevated section of the platform can be seen towards the back of the above photo.  Below is a picture of a UTA Trax Train approaching a platform, with the accessible section towards the lower right of the photo.

UTA Trax Train in Downtown Salt Lake City

A view from the platform itself provides a better idea of how this raised section really works.

UTA Trax Accessible Train Entry

Seeing this system firsthand was a really good experience for me, because it served as confirmation that a new  Metrolink lines could run right down the middle (or edges) of our excessively wide avenues in St. Louis.  In particular, the new North-South line could run through downtown on Tucker (12th Street) and extend South along Gravois (which Tucker turns into) and North along N. Florissant (which Tucker also turns into).  On the North side, the line could make a Westward turn onto Natural Bridge from N. Florissant to provide a more central route.  Because Tucker is currently being torn up and replaced just North of Downtown, this would be a great place (and time) to begin the project.  The route could connect to the existing Metrolink line with a Viaduct stop similar to the Grand Station, or riders could simply walk the two blocks to 14th street or the 4 blocks to 8th street to change lines.  Maybe it could be the Green Line!

Possible Future Metrolink Map?

I know this idea is not by any means new, and a similar route is what most of us have been hoping we’ll get in the near future (particularly since the passage of Prop A), but I really think that this line on existing city streets would be most affordable, and would have the potential to do the most good.  Extending Metrolink along Highway 55 is silly to me, because the areas around the highway are not pedestrian friendly.  Gravois could really use some pedestrian activity to activate businesses that already exist and create a demand for more businesses along this street which essentially serves as a high speed thruway.   The addition of light rail to this corridor will also reduce the auto traffic.

On the North side this line would serve as a much needed catalyst to spur development along the largely abandoned shoulders of N. Florissant (many of which are clean slates for new construction) and would also connect the steadily improving Old North St. Louis neighborhood with Downtown.  Although Buses will remain the centerpiece of our regional transportation system, expanding our light rail increases the visibility of transit, the likelihood that it will be used, and that the neighborhoods it serves will be explored.

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New “Attraction Corridor” Signage

July 22, 2010

While Driving down Highway 40 recently I was pleasantly surprised to see new signs that attempt to convince motorists to exit the freeway while driving through the City of St. Louis.  Signs on 170 advise of the “Attraction Corridor” that 40, our main street, has become; and the three main exits on the corridor (Kingshighway, Grand and Broadway) advertise their respective attractions.  The first exit, Kingshighway, has signage that to me is puzzling.

Kingshighway "explore St. Louis" Sign

Three attractions are listed: Forest Park, The Hill and The Loop.  Isn’t the Loop centered around Skinker not Kingshighway?  Isn’t the Central West End an amazing attraction just North of 40 and Kingshighway?  When this question was raised on UrbanSTL today, the answer from Nerfdude struck me as pretty good thinking:

bonwich: Terrific idea, great graphics. But why in God’s name do they have signs in both directions on 64 telling people to get to the Loop via Kingshighway???

Nerfdude: because then you’ll have to explore St. Louis to find what you’re looking for, of course.

Not too bad.  I assume there will be signs @ Delmar and Kingshighway directing people west to the Loop eventually (there are none as of this posting).  Apparently the start date for this was June 23rd and kicked off a project that will continue for the rest of the year and end up placing 300 signs throughout the city and county.  I am very happy with this project but wish that there were more attractions on the signs that are already up!

Explore St. Louis Sign @ Grand

The Central West End is a pretty big omission from the Kingshighway sign, and Midtown Alley would have been a great addition to the Grand sign.  I hope that both of these are added as time goes on. Keep an eye out for more of these helpful signs.

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