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Posts from the "St. Louis" Category

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Highway Revolts Break Out Across the Midwest

The evolution of state and regional transportation agencies is painfully slow in places like Missouri and Ohio, where officials are plowing ahead with pricey highway projects conceived of decades ago. But plenty of Midwesterners have different ideas for the future of their communities, and they aren’t shy about speaking up.

Protesters picket outside the headquarters of the Southeast Michigan Regional Council of Governments against plans to spend $4 billion on two highway widenings. Image: Transit Riders Union

One after another, residents of major Midwestern cities have challenged highway projects in recent months. People in Detroit, St. Louis, Milwaukee, Cleveland and Oklahoma City have reached the conclusion that spending hundreds of millions of dollars on road widenings might not be in their communities’ best interests.

And it’s not just a few activists. Challenges have come from people like Council Member Ed Shadid in Oklahoma City, institutions like the Michigan Suburbs Alliance, and local governments like the city of Maplewood, just outside St. Louis.

Detroiters held signs outside a meeting of their regional planning agency earlier this month, picketing plans for $4 billion worth of highway expansion projects. Though the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments ultimately green-lighted the plans, members of the agency had to sit through two hours of negative public comments first. Not only was the public moved to speak out, so were the city of Detroit and the county of Washtenaw, which officially opposed the project.

And in Oklahoma City, the grassroots group Friends of a Better Boulevard has twice fought back state DOT plans to install a wide, highway-like boulevard in a developing area near the city’s downtown. As we reported this week, the FHWA recently intervened on the group’s behalf and forced ODOT to consider a proposal to restore the street grid instead of building a new road.

Meanwhile, in Wisconsin, environmental and civil rights groups may soon obtain a court injunction against a $1.7 billion interchange outside Milwaukee, on the grounds that project sponsors did not consider its potential impact on sprawl and transit-dependent communities. And in Cleveland, a few scrappy activists and the Sierra Club are opposing a $100-million-per-mile roadway that would displace 90 families on the city’s southeast side.

Now St. Louis has a highway battle on its hands. In many ways, this fight echoes the other protest movements. The South County Connector — like Cleveland’s “Opportunity Corridor” — is a “zombie” highway project. It was first conceived in 1957. The original concept was for an “inner belt expressway.” Its stated purpose is to “improve connectivity between south St. Louis County, the City of St. Louis, and central St. Louis County” and “improve access to Interstates 44, 64, 55, and 170.”

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St. Louis Punts on Highway Teardown, for Now

City to River's concept for an area near downtown St. Louis that is currently occupied by elevated freeway lanes. Image: City to River

For three years, grassroots advocates in St. Louis have been pressing for the removal of elevated portions of I-70 through downtown. This group of urbanists and architects, with little to no financial support, came together to make the case for highway removal.

Calling themselves City to River, the group built a website and a nonprofit organization and, over time, a pretty diverse coalition around the idea. They lined up support from residents and businesses along the corridor, as well as preservationists, park advocates, and local foundations.

A big victory came last year when the Partnership for Downtown St. Louis, a business group that is funding a comprehensive study of connections between downtown and the riverfront, insisted that the teardown concept be examined.

But advocates were dealt a blow this week when the planning firm Bernardin, Lochmueller and Associates, which conducting the study, announced it would not produce an in-depth analysis of the teardown that could lead to further action. Otis Williams of the St. Louis Development Corporation, which is overseeing the study, told the St. Louis Post Dispatch that consultants had not completed the overall access study by the deadline and would need some additional funding and another six months to complete it. Williams blamed the delay on the highway teardown concept. “We had to stop and have a discussion about that,” he said. The budget for the study, $90,000, was insufficient to properly evaluate the highway teardown as well as the other concerns, he said.

City to River’s Alex Ihnen said the move was shortsighted. “What they’re doing is eliminating conversation about this for 20 years,” he told the Post Dispatch. But Ihnen’s group hasn’t given up. They may seek funding to conduct their own study. Alternatively, he told Streetsblog, they may just work to keep the issue on a “slow boil” in the community’s consciousness until a political opportunity presents itself. Ihnen said urban officials are very focused on the redesign of the Gateway Arch Grounds on the riverfront at the moment.

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St. Louis Mayoral Contender Lewis Reed Hopes to Bike to City Hall

Via the Kansas Cyclist, here’s a campaign ad from St. Louis mayoral hopeful Lewis Reed that would seem strangely inconceivable in NYC’s current political climate.

Reed, currently president of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen (the equivalent of being City Council speaker in NYC), is challenging three-term incumbent Francis Slay in a primary election coming up on March 5.

Reed’s online campaign bio prominently features his role in launching Bike St. Louis, an effort to create safer streets for bike commuting and to connect the city’s parks with bike routes. This 30-second spot, though, has nothing to do with policy specifics. It’s all about imagery, and the predominant images are Lewis Reed biking the streets of St. Louis and hauling his bike up the stairs in the halls of municipal power (and high-fiving people). Do you think his team focus-grouped the spot?

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Transit Blamed for Suburban St. Louis Crime

1316834466_9ccbd09338.jpgLast week Freakonomics picked up a story from the Riverfront Times that connects an uptick in shoplifting, fighting and other crimes in the St. Louis suburbs to a two-year-old expansion of the city's MetroLink rail system.

Ask virtually any store manager at the Saint Louis Galleria about shoplifting, and you'll invariably get two responses: One, it's out of control; and two, it's gotten exceedingly worse since August 2006, when MetroLink opened a stop just 500 yards from the high-end shopping center.

In the first six months of this year, Richmond Heights police made 345 arrests at the mall. That's nearly double the number of arrests made in all of 2005, before MetroLink opened its Shrewsbury line.

More alarming are the numbers of juveniles (kids under the age of seventeen) arrested at the mall. This year police are on pace to take 276 juveniles into custody for shoplifting and other offenses — a sevenfold increase over the 39 kids arrested at the Galleria in 2005.

"I know it's not politically correct, but how else do you explain it?" comments a frustrated Galleria store manager.

Not everyone is as reactionary. A police officer who regularly patrols the mall, asked to explain the "surge," replied: "Who knows? Perhaps it's the downturn in the economy. Or maybe it's the need for teens to feel like they have to wear the latest fashions."

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