Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Urban News Vol. 42

It appears as though there was no last-minute emergency appropriation by the State of Missouri to preserve various metro transit services on the chopping block. I thought I'd revisit this with some maps to highlight the amount of coverage on the Missouri side of the river pre and post service cut and comment once more on the state of affairs there before relaying largely good news from Rochester.

As can be seen in the accompanying maps (click image to open a detailed PDF version), the number of lines has been cut dramatically. Most buses now terminate at or near the I-270 beltway. What is not inherently obvious is the question of where the city limits lie in this spaghetti. In each image there is a beige colored route that runs in the shape of a shallow arc beginning on the river directly north of downtown and crescents to the southwest. It cuts through the split of the metrolink (rail) lines and terminates at the River Des Peres. This is roughly the city limit (in fact the route is named so) and the Des Peres finishes the southern boundary.

By this measure it would appear that from an urbanist standpoint, very little has been cut. This nation must wake up to the fact that one cannot choose to live 30 miles from downtown and expect the bus to pick them up at their front door. On closer inspection, the Metrolink Light Rail seems to be quite a comprehensive system for a major area of its size. Considerably more of it is in the suburban municipalties than not and it reinforces a transit corridor direct from downtown to the sprawling (in a good way) Forest Park. Its daily ridership alone was over 60,000 in FY '08 would change my interpretation of the system as a whole and how I compared it to Rochester in my last post.

Unfortunately my research let me to find out that the very same corridor that also carries Interstate 64 was likely engineered to serve another purpose as evidenced by the demographic data furnished by the U.S. Census Bureau. This is only reflecting block groups within the city limits, but a similar application profiling St. Louis county shows a similar pattern. Draw your own conclusions. To conclude my little revisit of the St. Louis transit 'crisis,' I'll say that the transit is not employing any tactics that RGRTA wouldn't resort to, namely the elimination of underperforming routes. The onus is on the people of Eastern Missouri to change their attitude about their living arrangement.

Speaking of RGRTA, they are crediting the same mode of operation that allowed them to reduce fare to $1 (treating the operation of a public authority like a private business venture) with an uptick in ridership to levels not seen since 1991. Having gone to a handful of their townhall meetings, I will say that CEO Mark Aesch truly believes that riders are customers rather than statistics and that the agency has been taking incremental steps to improve the overall riding 'experience' as it were.

Also in local news, international engineering and architectural firm Stantec plans to move into the old Jillian's building at High Falls and bring a substantial number of employees downtown. The sweetest part of the news is that previously bricked-over windows will be restored, improving the architectural quality of the district. The most sour part is that the promise of free covered parking was required to entice the inert employees who preferred a suburban location. Also sweet and deserving of praise was Mayor Duffy's shrewd handling of the situation. From Brian Sharp of the D&C (believe it or not, the displayed comments at the bottom of this D&C article are from a pair who are Ferry believers so I'm temporarily lifting the boycott):

Mayor Robert Duffy wrote the firm in May, stating that the apparent suburban preference was "deeply distressing" for a firm that had received $18 million in city and school district contracts over the past decade, including more than $5 million awarded during his administration. At the time, the mayor publicly chided the company, though not identifying Stantec by name, and implied, both in public and in the letter, that future business dealings might be affected.

"Everyone has their prerogative, I have mine," Duffy said Tuesday, noting that he since has changed city policy to give greater weight to city companies when awarding city contracts. "At that moment a relationship could have ended. It didn't. It got stronger. This story has had a very happy ending."

Some might say the city isn't in a position to play hardball against the more secure tax-base of the suburbs, but I'm a big believer in keeping city business inside the city to stem, if not eliminate, the export tide of financial capital. On top of that, Stantec will somebody ultimately be glad they were able to relocate on these terms (pending the results of state grant seeking). There will come a time when suburban inefficiencies become too great to overcome and the fight for prime downtown real estate will resemble that of the period between 1860 and 1920. To make arrangements on your own terms is a luxury that may not last forever.

And finally, Rochester was ranked 17th on Prevention Magazine's list of the 25 Best Walking Cities. The more I think about this, I am not surprised. I've walked home thrice this year from Amerks games in under 45 minutes each time. With the exception of the odd pedestrian arrangements surrounding the inner loop, Rochester's neighborhoods are very walkable. This study also factored in public safety at which the haters would scoff, but this is likely because they've never been anywhere else. I've never been accosted on the streets of Rochester for anything more than some spare change.

1 comment:

Adam said...

My wife will go nuts over this ranking for Rochester as a 'walkable city.' She is crazy about the idea that people just don't walk enough - and the consequences this has for health and community. Go Rochester! Way to make the list!