Connected2045 Highlights Disconnect in St. Louis Transportation Planning

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Connected 2045

East-West Gateway Council of Governments, the region’s Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) issued its Connected2045 30-year transportation plan for the eight counties it oversees. It says all the right things concerning access, mobility, environment, freight movement, transportation alternatives, supporting neighborhoods and downtown, safety, etc. At the end it lists project priorities- what can be done under current funding streams in ten-year blocks and what would be done if additional funding sources can to be. That’s where the rubber meets the road.

I attended the public meetings at the History Museum that they held to inform the public and get feedback. Every time the crowd was asked, they said maintaining the current road network and expanding Metrolink/transit should be the highest priority.

The feedback received from the public and stakeholders shaped Connected2045 during every phase of its development. The primary message EWG heard from stakeholders and the public was that the region needs to prioritize its limited transportation resources in projects that preserve and maintain its existing infrastructure. Additionally, with regards to system expansion, there was a strong desire to invest in transportation projects that provide an alternative to single-occupancy automobile travel, primarily transit.

The plan recognizes current trends.

Similarly, attracting and retaining young talent is a concern among business leaders in the region. Even though St. Louis is known for its quality higher education options, the “brain drain” of skilled, college-educated students leaving St. Louis significantly affects the quality of the regional labor pool. Investing in alternative transportation options could help reverse this trend in the St. Louis region. An American Planning Association survey found that only eight percent of Millennials (those born between 1980 and 2001) would prefer to live in an auto-dependent suburb. By investing transportation dollars in walkable neighborhoods with bicycle facilities and transit options, St. Louis may encourage more college graduates to stay in the Region.

They highlight the costs of lives lost or ruined by wrecks. That’s 2.26% of regional GDP.

The economic impact of motor vehicle crashes in the St. Louis region alone was estimated at $3.2 billion in 2013.

Connect2045 East-West Gateway Transportation Plan{killing fields}

They recognize the spreading out of the region enabled by our infrastructure spending choices.

From 1950 through 2010 the population of the region grew by less than 50 percent, while the urbanized area more than quadrupled.

Connect2045 East-West Gateway Transportation Plan{Great success!}

And the poor land uses that resulted.

Recent land development patterns have increased the amount of developed land per capita, creating a larger, less dense region, and making those destinations more spread out.

They provide metrics to monitor our progress in reaching the goals of the plan.

One of them is housing + transportation costs. Tying them together is a mistake. The relative fraction of each that stays in the region is important to the local economy. Housing costs (labor to build/maintain it, wealth accrued by local ownership) stay in the region in greater proportion to driving costs (oil not pumped here, raw materials/labor for cars not made here) which largely leave the region.

Needless transportation costs (like enabling longer distance commutes) eat into housing, education, health, etc spending. Average commute distance should be a metric with the goal of reducing it. Shorter commutes need less infrastructure to support them, reducing community costs- lower taxes or taxes available to apply to other needs. Less fuel and vehicle wear and tear reduce costs for the private sector- more money to circulate around the local economy. Same goes for zero-car households by choice. The annual cost of car ownership in the region is $7,804. A household saving that each year and earning 5.25% real return ends up with $1M in 40 years.

Connect2045 East-West Gateway Transportation Plan

Under the safety section, the metrics are obviously number of fatalities and number of disabling injuries. Another metric should be VMT above 25 miles per hour with the goal of reducing it.

Impact of speed on pedestrian deaths

With proper goals and metrics to evaluate progress let’s look at how it’s reflected in the priorities and hopes for the next 30 years. Here’s where politics and funding realties factor in.

Maintaining our current road and transit systems are priority one for the next 30 years, reflecting public input.

Glaringly absent from the priority list is the North-South Metrolink alignment. Despite the fact it would contribute positively to the goals of 8 of the 10 guiding principles. It makes the tier 1 illustrative list- meaning we’ll do it if funding comes forth. But that’s an expansion; we said we wanted to maintain.

Next comes a grocery list of highway rebuilds. It becomes clear that there is a a crowding-out effect due to our over-built system. We have so much to take care of that it has outpaced our economy’s ability to maintain/rebuild it. We’ve enabled longer distance commutes, but has that grown our economy? We are house poor.

There’s some build, build, build insanity too. A new stroad in St. Charles County costing $81M. Adding lanes to I-55 in JeffCo for $278M; something St. Louis County should vehemently oppose as it will enable the emptying out of south county. The worst is $600M to relocate IL-3, which surely has no chance of a positive return on investment. How about a Metrolink line to Edwardsville instead? In fact there’s no attempt at an ROI evaluation of any of the projects. Neither in cost to build versus additional economic activity, nor their impact on the metrics to monitor outlined earlier. How are we to know which is a better bet?

Even more atrocious are the dreams under the illustrative sections. Sought for are $3B in new roads in Madison and St. Clair Counties. Fixing up East St. Louis would cost much less and return much more, I’d wager. More lanes for I-270 of course. With ideas like these, we should be very wary of ideas for more transportation funding in Missouri and Illinois.

Missing is anything for air travel. A constant complaint among businesspeople and tourists is the lack of direct flights especially to Europe. There are no subsidies for direct or international flights. Seeding a flight to Europe would cost less than a highway interchange replacement. And if it doesn’t take off financially, we can just quit. It wouldn’t leave yet another piece of infrastructure representing a long-term liability for the region.

Are we looking for the highest return projects for what we can afford? Will these priorities keep St. Louis competitive for the next 30 years? Or will we find ourselves overtaken by places like Salt Lake City? The mistakes of the past are going to hamstring us from changing course in the future. And judging from the projects list this region’s decision-making process is still missing the mark.

East-West Gateway Connected2045: Long Range Transportation Plan for the St. Louis Region by nextSTL.com

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  • gmichaud

    The Connected 2045 Plan is stunning in its absurdity. What East West Gateway is saying St. Louis is going to have the same dysfunctional, inhumane, polluting, inefficient and dangerous transportation system we have now in 2045.
    Quality of life issues aside, which significant in their own right. There is also this little thing about climate change. And yes I would expect by 2045 major changes in transit and urban design, not only in the core where it is easily adaptable, but throughout the region.
    Instead the status quo is projected out for the next 30 years. It is incredible.
    MoDot and East West Gateway largely service the oil barons and associated industries as the 2045 Connected plan clearly demonstrates.
    Whatever the reason, whether ignorance, corruption or just laziness,Connected 2045 is a horrible document by a leadership that continues to fail the citizens of St. Louis.

  • Steve Kluth

    There will be a live chat at the Post-Dispatch’s stltoday site on Monday, May 4 at 11:45 AM discussing Connected 2045 with the East-West Gateway Council of Governments. The draft plan is at ewgateway.org. Link for chat at http://news.live.stltoday.com/Event/Give_us_your_thoughts_about_long-range_transportation_for_St_Louis_Join_Mondays_live_chat

  • Yojimbo

    Off topic: I thought NextStL readers might enjoy this:

    http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/mar/27/will-self-on-the-meaning-of-skyscrapers

    ~ Y

    • Guest

      Thanks for the link! Interesting read, even if off topic. The idea of skyscrapers as a business venture to visually dominate or outdo I accept hands down. The rest is conjecture. It starts off very interesting, and seemingly psychologically sensible. But really, to assume skyscrapers have their roots in some kind of symbolic phallic quest is a bit too Freudian for me.

      Many useful things have been branded by some as phallic symbols…cars, knives, etc. etc, so much so that they’ve become memes. (Female comparisons are occasionally given. I remember the ’59 Cadillac with their “titted bumpers”). For my money, I question the analysis that any group of functional devices, tools or structures are deemed sexually symbolic. Simply, form follows function. Perhaps the observer who makes such comparisons has sex on his/her mind too much (lol). Of course, there are those times when such reasoning makes sense…such as Springfield, Illinois tallest building. But is it really intended to be a phallic symbol? Maybe…maybe not. Give the architect a few drinks, get him in a corner and ask him.

    • Eric

      Are skyscrapers built because they look like penises? No.

      Are skyscrapers built because architects/investors have a “masculine” desire to compete and show off? Yes.

  • JeromeS

    I remember when Prop A passed and nextstl had a write up ushering a new era on transit in stl , promised where BRT lines, engineering and right of way for new metro link was going to start immediately. And 5 years later here we are with all those projects barried in the “we don’t have any plans to do those” aka the illustrative list, and metro put them there. This is by far the worst run transportation agency in the Midwest

  • tbatts666

    Wow thanks for doing the homework on this.

    It’s sad to see our strategists diagnose all the problems, then suggest doing more of the same.

  • matimal

    If economics are going to drive any improvement in

  • TruthBeTold

    Pedestrians and bicyclists need to follow the rules of the road just as vehicle drivers need to follow the rules of the road. Sad to say but many pedestrians and bicyclists bring their accidents upon themselves. They cause their own accidents. They did it to themselves.

    The point I am making is that there is typically bias against the so-called “the bad driver” in an accident involving a driver and, say, a pedestrian, which is the initial public reaction with no additional information provided. But if you dig a little deeper and obtain the facts leading up to the accident, what one will find is that pedestrians and bicyclists are,at times, at fault. My message: don’t always assume that “the bad driver” is at fault at all times in any accident situation that all you know involves a driver of a vehicle and a pedestrian/bicyclist. Dig a little deeper and find the evidence.

    • chaifetz10

      While I agree that people shouldn’t assume that drivers are 100% always at fault, I’d love to see some actual stats on pedestrian/cyclist accodents with cars and who is at fault. You seem to be presenting the opposite blanket statement here, that pedestrians and cyclists should always yield to cars. That I completely disagree with.

      • Alex Ihnen

        Can’t agree with either one of these. The hierarchy should be to yield to the person most likely to be severely injured or die in an accident – the most vulnerable. One simply must be burdened with more responsibility when driving a two-ton piece of machinery, than when walking across a street. with I’d love to see no right turns on red anywhere in the city. Streets should be modified to mirror the desired (lower, in my opinion) speed limit. You can put a 30mph sign on Forest Park Avenue, but it’s a 40mph arterial and drivers will drive that way. The prioritization of getting as many cars through an area as quickly as possible is ruining the urban experience, and so its economic sustainability as well.

        • JZ71

          By that logic, trains should yield to motor vehicles. The simple laws of physics makes this truly a fantasy.

      • TruthBeTold

        Go ask insurance claims adjusters that typically go out and inspect car damage caused by bicyclists that ram rod through an intersection without looking forward and are involved in an accident with a car. Go ask city court judges that throw out cases against “the bad driver” when the “bad driver” is vindicated and the bicyclist is a no-show at court and runs away from liability and responsibility. All I am saying is that people tend to have snap judgment bias or the automatic assumption that it is the “bad driver”‘s fault. What I emphasize is to base your decision on evidence by digging a little deeper into the facts. A pedestrian can be liable just as a bicyclist. They can be at fault, even when an accident causes them harm.

        I’m trying to balance out the perspective that “all drivers are bad drivers” or that any accidents are typically the fault of the driver. It’s not. You can’t always assume that if there is an accident between a car and a pedestrian, that it is automatically the “bad driver’s” fault. Look both ways is what I am saying. Look and think both ways both literally and figuratively.

        • Adam

          “Go ask insurance claims adjusters that typically go out and inspect car damage caused by bicyclists… Go ask city court judges that throw out cases against “the bad driver” when the “bad driver” is vindicated…”

          ^ That’s called “confirmation bias”.

          Nobody here has insinuated that “all drivers are bad drivers.” The unfortunate reality is that drivers have the potential to inflict considerably more damage on pedestrians and cyclists than vice versa, and so should be held to a higher safety standard.

        • Steve Kluth

          Your argument reminds me of those 1960’s police reports where the protesters were using their groins to attack the police officers’ knees.

    • Michael C.

      Pedestrians first, bicyclists second, motorcyclists third, automobiles fourth, buses and trucks fifth. The most vulnerable wayfinder should always have the right of way no matter what. And yes, rules should be followed and signals must be given. We should have more cross walks for pedestrians that is for sure. Problems occur when cars do not stop for pedestrians at cross walks and pedestrians jay-walk when there are many cars on the road.

      I believe the two countries which have very good system are The Netherlands and Belgium. Study these countries’ systems thoroughly. They really have it figured out.

      • JZ71

        Then let’s just lower the speed limit, statewide, to 20 mph, trains included – think of all the lives and fuel that we’d save! Nevermind that 98% of of our industry (jobs & taxes) would flee to saner areas . . .

        • chaifetz10

          You’re taking rational ideas and extrapolating them to the extreme to make an argument that isn’t logical. And by doing so you’re completely skimming past the facts that trains have their own safety systems (crossing lights and gates) and do not have freedom to make right turns, switch lanes, or stop instantaneously.

          • JZ71

            And we already have lower speed limits on city streets . . . I was responding to Michael C’s absolute statement that “The most vulnerable wayfinder should always have the right of way no matter what.” We have a hierarchy on every urban (and rural) transportation path for very valid reasons – we have to balance what each of us wants to do, individually, against the greater good. No, trains, can’t stop instantaneously, but they don’t operate in a vacuum, either. The same goes for motor vehicles, bicycles, skateboards, Segways, pedestrians and pogo sticks. Yes, we should all watch out for each other, including “the most vulnerable”. But we all each need to accept some personal responsibility, as well – it’s all about balance.

          • Alex Ihnen

            But it’s so fun to make extreme arguments!

    • weatherman

      Yes, pedestrians and cyclists obviously need to follow the rules of the road. But drivers need to be careful too. I have very limited experience riding my bike on public roads, but literally the 2nd time I did was on Clayton road at 6 pm on a Sunday evening. There was minimal traffic and a reckless driver pulled up 2 feet behind my wife and I, honked the horn, sped around us, cussed at us, and cut us off. Now maybe that’s just bad luck, but ive seen way more instances of road rage from motorists than I have from pedestrians and cyclists.

      • Adam

        Yep. Motorists often perceive cyclists as invading their territory and (over)react correspondingly. I had a bunch of *ssholes throw their car door open (intentionally, as they were cursing at me before it happened) a couple years ago and cause me to wipe out and go to the emergency room. And I was even riding in the bike lane. Not surprisingly they weren’t too worried about “liability and responsibility” as they didn’t stick around.