City Fails to Capitalize on Big Events to Improve Transit for Everyone

Cities need exercise just as much as people. St. Louis exercises through her big events like Earth Day, Fair St. Louis, and First Night. Such events should enhance civic life beyond the event itself, just as exercise enhances our bodies. Huge public events should leave the city feeling good and ready for more activity in the future. They should not hit like a heart attack or a blood clot.

The more big events we hold, the better our circulation should be. People should discover something about the city, public transportation should work better as more people are introduced to the system and regular users experience little disruption, and the least appealing aspects of public parties should be minimized. Stress on the system should introduce new experiences and improve the city’s capacity to invite regular visitors throughout the year. Perhaps St. Louis needs a personal trainer.

{regular route of the 73 Carondelet in green and the route of the Run for your Beads 5K in blue}

This Saturday, February 26th, the Mardi Gras Run for your Beads 5K will close 12th Street through Soulard. On the event website attendees are encouraged to show up at 12th and Lynch and informed that abundant parking exists in several nearby lots.

The 73 Carondelet will need to be rerouted for this event, but that information has not yet been announced by Metro on their website or blog. People in Soulard using Google Transit Saturday morning on their smart phones will probably not feel so smart when the bus never shows up to collect them. If the event renders the bus undependable, how could anyone be expected to take the bus to the event?

{the Beggin’ Pet Parade is accessible by the 8, 10, 30, 40, 73, and 40X}

The following day, Sunday the 27th, is the Beggin’ Pet Parade. This event will not interfere with bus routes and will be accessible by the 8, 10, 30, 40, 73, and 40X busses. However, busses generally run with less frequency on Sundays.

Both of these events, the 5K run and the pet parade, should be warm-up stretches to the big workout. People attending these events should get an idea of the neighborhood and how to get there by bus. Organizers should be able to see how people are arriving and in what kind of numbers. Metro should be able to practice the alternate bus routes. Bus riders should see that something big is happening and that it affects their commutes.

{you will have no luck riding a bus through Soulard on March 5th}

The following Saturday, March 5th, the River City Grand Parade will shut down the northern half of Soulard. Cars and busses will not be allowed. Hundreds of people will be driving around trying to figure out where to park. Four buses will be diverted away from the neighborhood along new routes. The 73 Carondelet will follow I-55. A shuttle (run by Metro) will replace those buses, and suburbanites following instructions from the event’s website will be scratching their heads looking for the Soulard MetroLink station because as the website states: “The Metro Link also drops off at 10th and Marrion.”

As the night progresses, people will be leaving litter, vomit, urine, and worse on the streets and stumbling to their cars to drive home and crash. Months later, those who successfully figured out the MetroLink shuttle combination might find themselves downtown asking, “How do I get to Soulard from here? That shuttle I learned to use is gone, and all I see are busses… Meh, I guess I have to drive.”

{this event is accessible by MetroLink}

The Tuesday night following the big parade, March 8th, the Lumiere Place Light Up the Night Fat Tuesday Parade will block Broadway through downtown and all busses from Illinois in the process.

{red indicates closed streets – MetroLink will be unaffected}

March 12th, the St. Patrick’s Day Parade and Run will reroute every downtown bus. Commuters trying to get to the parade may be able to take MetroLink. Commuters trying to make their normal bus transfers will be disappointed.

{what will happen to the 59 Dogtown, and does the parade begin in Forest Park?}

March 17th, the Ancient Order of Hibernians will hold the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Dogtown, and Clayton Avenue will be closed (and perhaps part of Oakland Avenue as well). Where will the 59 Dogtown bus go? It isn’t clear. It could be rerouted to Oakland. If so it would be a very good way to get to the event. Otherwise, maybe it will have to use Manchester Avenue or perhaps travel through Forest Park to Skinker and back south to resume the normal route.

We can do better. St. Louis as a city deserves better event planning. Public transportation is an essential part of good urban circulation, and large events make it even more essential. All of these locations are very accessible by bus, yet organizers ignore that fact and actively work against it. Events like Mardi Gras should have tens of thousands of people, not ten thousand cars. Drunk people should be driven, not driving.

It is very possible to rework our parades and festivals in the coming years into more transit friendly events. Key bus routes can be invested in with advertisements leading up to the event and increased frequency during. Volunteers can guide people from bus stops. Cars can be parked at Metro’s many commuter lots. Regular commuters that are not attending the event will not need to be frustrated. Attendees who drive to the event can find parking because the majority of people came without their cars. In the wake of the event more people can feel comfortable riding the bus. They will know that the 73 Carondelet will take them to Soulard. They will know the 59 Dogtown takes them to Tamm.

Like the legacy of the 1904 World’s Fair, St. Louis should be a better place in the wake of large events. Our events should leave annual gifts and legacies that accumulate in an ever improving civic space. Businesses involved in large parades and festivals should find new customers in the future as event attendees return throughout the year. Public art like the Mosaic Bunny or the Eifel Tower should debut. Metro’s budget could be buffeted by increased ridership and advertising revenue. Phone numbers should be exchanged and hands should be shaken.

Anybody can throw a block party, but the city’s flagship events require genuine leadership and collective ownership to truly be assets to the city and its residents beyond the day of the event.