Here is the Loop Trolley Company’s report on the final route. Since the proposed line could be a stimulus to investment in the buildings and parcels facing the route, our readers might be interested. Will the trolley be a catalyst for rehabilitation of remaining vacant buildings like Wabash Station, or (in wilder dreams) restoration of Isadore Shank’s DeBalievere Building (1926)? Will it spur dense infill on vacant lots (an outcome that owners of sites of demolished barbeque restaurants might wish)? Time will tell. For now, we know that there are changes in the trolley route and its terminals.
“The old system hasn’t died, and the new system hasn’t been born yet,” says one of the subjects in Beyond the Motor City. He’s talking about urban transportation.
Beyond the Motor City is a critical look at the intersection between mass transit and the renewal of post-industrial Detroit. Director Aaron Wolf is best known for his documentary King Corn, which examined the terrible impact of federal agricultural policy on the American diet and on the small farm.
Thanks to the sponsorship of Citizens for Modern Transit, St. Louis is fortunate to be one of eight cities where Beyond the Motor City is being screened free — Monday, May 17th at 7:00 p.m. at the Tivoli. Appropriately, this event falls in Historic Preservation Month. The role of public transportation in cities is often left out of the historic preservation discussion.
Beyond the Motor City examines how Detroit, a grim symbol of America’s diminishing status in the world, may come to represent the future of transportation and progress in this country. The film explores Detroit’s historic investments in infrastructure—from early 19th-century canals to the urban freeways that gave The Motor City its name and made America’s transportation system the envy of the world. But it also reveals that over the last 30 years, much of the world has left Detroit—and America—behind, choosing faster, cleaner, more modern transportation.
In a journey that takes us into the neighborhoods of Detroit and then beyond to Spain, California, and our nation’s capital, Beyond the Motor City urges us to ask how a symbol of America’s urban decay might transform itself into a model of urban revitalization. Can we finally push America’s transit system into the 21st century?
Immediately following the film, there will be a panel discussion moderated by KETC’s Patrick Murphy with Congressman Russ Carnahan, director Woolf, and Citizen for Modern Transit’s Tom Shrout.
by Michael R. Allen
This United Railways streetcar line map from 1903 reminds us of what is possible with mass transit. The red lines mark streetcar lines, which augment the street grid with a separate network of traffic. In 1903, that separate network was primary to many people. The streets where the street car lines ran gave rise to commerce and pedestrian traffic. The streets around them saw secondary benefits.
Now, 107 years later, county residents are faced with a choice on whether to approve Proposition A to fund the region’s public transit system, now doing business as Metro. That the funding comes through a sales tax increase that triggers an already-approved sales-tax increase in the city has generated concern. A sales tax increase is not desirable, but neither is the funneling of tax revenues to a state infrastructure agency, the Missouri Department of Transportation, that exclusively fund roadway construction. The money raised for state highways ought to stay in the region to begin with, to fund the transportation that best serves an urban area — just as Chillicothe’s transportation dollars are probably best spent on roads. If the money must go to the state, then it should return in the form of funding for mass transit operations in addition to highway funding. There is a board political goal from which our leaders cannot shirk after tomorrow, no matter what outcome.
Back to the 1903 map: density of transit lines created and sustained commercial districts at the turn of the last century. The map here shows midtown St. Louis, which soon afterward would be dubbed the “second downtown.” This is entirely due to the placement and density of mass transit street car lines. Today, we don’t have such stark benefit but we have a regional core where bus and MetroLink service is sufficient to support the location of major employment.
In 1903, mass transit made Midtown more desirable than other parts of the city of St. Louis. Today, mass transit makes the core more desirable for major employers than exurban locations. County voters are not voting to build up the city, but to sustain their own place in the regional economy — a place staked by relative density of population and transit lines. Without the sustaining the Metro system, what gives a county municipality like Brentwood a distinct business advantage over St. Peters? Or, for that matter, Chesterfield over Wentzville?
When we lost the street car lines, we found out what would happen when Midtown had to compete with the county in the absence of a strong mass transit system. Midtown faded away. So it could go with St. Louis County. Whether the city or St. Charles County ultimately benefits from the decline of Metro is a gamble of unknown odds. Somehow I doubt that defeat of funding for mass transit will benefit the urbanization of an already too-dispersed region. Yes, if Proposition A fails, the system is not dead — but it will shrink immediately and the prospect of service restoration will diminish. Passage of Proposition A allows time to build a better funding system without regional havoc or further economic dispersal.
by Michael R. Allen
I dig Citizens for Modern Transit‘s new ad.
by Michael R. Allen
This week, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch carried a commentary by NiNi Harris entitled “County residents should vote own interests”. Harris makes the case for St. Louis County voters’ approving the sales tax measure for Metro that will appear on the April 6 ballot.
Instead of the usual — and correct — arguments in favor of mass transit as something the region needs to have to be competitive and maintain an urban quality of life, Harris demonstrates that the sales tax measure will help St. Louis County maintain its quality of life. The services that county voters take for granted are dependent on workers’ being able to easily get to jobs in the county. For many workers, that means catching the bus.
Voters might not consider the fact that even health care costs are associated with the availability of public transportation:
The quality of hospital care is not only determined by the physicians and registered nurses, but also by the LPNs, the people who do the laundry and cleaning and food service staffs. The quality of overall care can be maintained without mass transit only by increasing wages or providing other transportation.
After all, according to Harris:
It’s not just a few workers about whom we are talking. Last year, Metro buses, MetroLink and the Metro service for the disabled provided rides for almost 53 million boarders.
Can the county maintain its quality of life with diminished Metro service? Absolutely not.
by Michael R. Allen
Former Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist published an op-ed in the Charlotte Observer that lays out the problems in the “Jobs for Main Street” bill that Congressional Democrats pushed through the House of Representatives. The bill is yet another instance where the Democratic Party has missed the boat on urban policy under the guise of helping cities and small towns. While the bill includes $8.4 billion for transit and $800 million for Amtrack, its biggest component is a $27.5 billion appropriation for highway construction!
According to Norquist:
The $27.5 billion isn’t targeted to rebuild streets at the heart of older cities and towns. No, it will mostly go to the expansion of wide, motor-vehicle-only highways that go hand-in-hand with energy-wasting sprawl. This follows the earlier stimulus bill that favored massive highway projects, including a batch of expensive “highways to nowhere,” which an examination by the Infrastructurist Web site concluded “make no sense.”
This week St. Louisan extraordinaire Jeff Vines discovered an online cache of 120 photographs of St. Louis Public Service Company trolley cars taken between 1954 and 1961. A few photographs from the 1980s are included.
The images of the cars in their vintage red, white and tan color scheme are fabulous. Yet the photographs also capture views of the city long lost, change or, in a few cases, preserved. The old Grand Avenue viaduct, its replacement soon to be replaced, features in many of the photographs in use adn under demolition. Other locations include the South Broadway car barn (now site of Carnahan Middle School), the Midtown skyline (remarkably unchanged), Maplewood, University City and Flynn Park, Washington Avenue from the Eads Bridge street car turn-around to 15th Street, rural Creve Couer, downtown St. Charles, and McKnight Road.
The photographs of the vicinity of the Eads Bridge and Washington Avenue include shots of the piers for the modern elevated lanes of I-70, now seen as likely to be removed in most of our life times.
by Michael R. Allen
The St. Louis Beacon reports that the legislature passed a stimulus bill that contains $12 million for Metro (actually still named the Bi-State Development Agency but doing business as Metro). This is a one-time payment, of course, and short of the $20 million that Metro estimates it needs to restore all service cuts made in March.
Governor Jay Nixon, often silent on state-funded programs that support St. Louis, actually has expressed support for Metro. However, the $12 million request came from Lt. Governor Peter Kinder, not Nixon. If the governor signs the bill, Metro will be able to restore Call-a-Ride and some bus routes — for one year.
Realistically, the stimulus money is a small stop-gap. What is needed is a regional taxing district. Senator Robin Wright-Jones introduced a bill in this legislative session to allow such a district to be created, but the bill remains on the Senate’s informal calender.
No matter what the fate of the stimulus funding or Wright-Jones’ bill, Metro has a lot of work to do right now to build a strong case for its support. The longer the agency waits to start building public support, the longer people are stuck without transportation — and the longer cities that have regional investment in transportation will surpass our ability to attract new residents and jobs. We can’t have a hand-to-mouth transit system if St. Louis is going to be a competitive American city.