Go Fund Me: An Accessible City

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Two recent stories of trouble commuting without a car have elicited much sympathy and charity. The first came to light last fall when we learned James Robertson of Detroit had to take a bus to the end of the line then walk 21 miles to his $11 per hr job. A Go Fund Me page was set up, got some national attention, and raised $350,000 for him.

Most recently and in our backyard is David Autrey. He was assaulted on a MetroLink train March 23. The crime was recorded and no one came to his aid. The video made the press and the rounds on the internet. A Go Fund Me page was set up with the goal of $5,000 for him to help pay for a motorcycle and give a portion of the proceeds to victims of violent crimes in the St. Louis area.

Our charity should be celebrated, but it’s missing the mark. We can pat ourselves on the back for helping these two individuals, but it won’t help the circumstances leading to these situations.

Not having motorized individual transportation is seen as less-than, second-class citizen status. We must help them join the rest of us. As a bonus, the assault on MetroLink fulfills our fear-based fantasies of the dangers of the city, dense places, public transit, being poor and vulnerable forced to use transit, strangers, and Black people. We must save our fellow man from this.

We forget that the man in Detroit not only couldn’t afford a car, but also can’t afford car ownership. Thousands of people in the St. Louis area can’t afford car ownership either (an average of $7,800 per year), yet our car-only development patterns make it impractical to live without one. So poor households must waste money on auto transportation that could be going to housing, health care, and education. These tend to be cars in poor condition, making them easy targets for the insatiable appetite of our fragmented municipalities. The St. Louis man is wise to go for a cheaper-to-own motorcycle.

{Connected2045 EW Gateway}

The St. Louis man’s situation goes beyond relieving him of a particular hardship, as in the Detroit case, we have to save him from danger. We ignore that auto transportation is much more dangerous than transit use; motorcycle use even more. Deaths and injuries cost the regional economy 2.25% of GDP each year.

{Connected2045 EW Gateway}

What do we do for the people shot at on the highways? Or those killed or disabled in highway crashes? A Go Fund Me: Helicopter Transport? Nothing really, they are being normal and prudent so it’s just an accident, bad luck, nothing to do about it. We’ve already forgotten about the shooting spree along I-70 last week. Or the horrific crashes at I-44 and Grand. We really want to forget the racially-driven sucker punch of Curt Ford at a gas station in Fenton, where the perp arrived and fled in a car. We haven’t seen the video even once, let alone played it ad nauseum.

We don’t know much about the background of the assailants on MetroLink yet. I’m going to guess they don’t see much of a future for themselves. One is 20 residing in Spanish Lake. The main attacker a juvenile is all of 15. Shall we isolate ourselves further from these type of people all the while burdening ourselves with even more infrastructure we can’t afford? We’ve been trying that since the early 1900s. It hasn’t worked very well at creating better people.

{Brookings Institute – The growing distance between people and jobs in metropolitan America}

{New FedEx Ground facility in Sauget, IL – Google Maps}

Regional policies encourage and subsidize putting jobs and people further away from each other. Numerous jobs that that 20-year-old might be able to do are far away from Spanish Lake. St. Clair County celebrated the opening of a 181,000 sf FedEx Ground distribution center on 32 acres employing 175 in Sauget. It’s 3000 feet from the nearest bus stop. This couldn’t have been in downtown East St. Louis? It has plenty of cheap land near a highway. There are numerous worse examples around the region. Any job in St. Charles County is near impossible to reach.

Instead of giving $350k to a man with a inhumanely long commute, why not build places where jobs and people are closer together so a car-less person can commute with dignity? Instead of giving a man a motorcycle so he can avoid MetroLink, build places where opportunity is accessible rather than creating places of despair. Or at least stop using our resources to keep running.

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  • Greg

    I’m a native St. Louisian but I’ve been working throughout Southeast Asia for the past 5 months. One thing I’ve been amazed by is how oh so very logical public transportation is over here. While I won’t hold my breath for a state of the art subway system like they have in several cities over here, St. Louis could take a page from Taipei’s book.

    Several of the main city streets in Taipei are about the same size as Jefferson, Grand etc. but they’re laid out in a much more pedestrian/public transportation friendly fashion. Instead of three lanes of traffic on a side, you have two lanes of traffic on each side and two middle lanes devoted to public buses. In St. Louis, the public buses run on the rightmost and slowest lane of traffic, because that’s where the bus stops are. In Taipei, the middle two bus lanes and the four outer car lanes (two on a side) are separated by a median is fits bus shelters and wait for it..Trees! So that’s kind of cool.

    The many advantages of this system as I see it are; public buses move extremely efficiently, crossing the road on foot easier because if you can’t make it to the other of the street before the light changes you can at least get to the median and because people drive slower since there’s two lanes of traffic in each direction as opposed to three.

    The only disadvantage that I can immediately think up is that such a system would make turning left into a strip mall or drive thru fast food place on the other side of the street a pain in the ass. Strip malls and drive thrus aren’t really a thing in Taipei so its kind of non issue over here but in St. Louis, I can see how that might piss a lot of people off.

    It’s sorta like this

    S |S |S |M |S |N |M |N |N |S
    I |O |O |E |O |O |E |O |O |I
    D |U |U |D |U |R |D |R |R |D
    E |T |T |I |T |T |I |T |T |E
    W|H |H |A |H |H |A |H |H |W
    A |B |B |N |B |B |N |B |B |A
    L |O |O |M |O |O |M |O |O |L
    K |U |U |E |U |U |E |U |U |K
    S |N |N |D |N |N |D |N |N |S
    I |D |D |I |D |D |I |D |D |I
    D |C |C |A |B |B |A |C |C |D
    E |A |A |N |U |U |N |A |A |E
    W|R |R |M |S |S |M |R |R |W
    A |L |L |E |L |L |E |L |L |A
    L |A |A |D|A |A |D |A |A |L
    K |N |N |I |N |N |I |N |N |K
    S |E |E |A |E |E |A |E |E |S

    The median is sort of like the middle line below


    Seems like such a system would work great on Grand, Kingshighway or Jefferson and since a north south metro line seems like it might not happen anytime soon, this might be a nice alternative.

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  • Trident

    Take last night’s shooting on the UMSL Mertrolink platform for example, no one wanted to be a cooperating witness. Black, white, yellow, brown, rich, poor etc., no one wants to go where they don’t feel safe. Car accidents do cause more deaths than riding the Metrolink but it’s people’s feeling that count. They feel safer in their own car and more in control. Being dismissive to others feelings will get you nowhere.

    • Adam

      But why should illusory feelings of safety be regarded as sacrosanct? This particular variety of such feelings is stifling our transit system and our region.

      • Trident

        They are regarded as sacrosanct because America is a free country and everyone is entitled to their own opinions, feelings and everyone is allowed 1 vote. You can’t force someone to feel differnt than they do. I don’t disagree with your 2nd sentence but Inwouls love to know your thoughts on the post. I always see you commenting negatively and rather argumentative on others comments, where does that come from? How are these posts affecting you? As someone with a sociology background I’m genuinely interested in your story.

  • Sauget Ballet

    Have you been by this new site? The business park it is in is very close to the downtown airport and has the infastructure for the roads to accommodate semi trucks. Downtown ESTL doesn’t have that. While the downtown airport isn’t the only airport they could have built close to, it was the one on the state that was offering the most tax incentives. Why rag on FedEx instead of taking it up with Illinois government. At the end of the day it’s a business not a charity.

  • Thomas

    Good analysis, one thought I had was that in a city like STL where there are areas in the city reasonably well served by public transit and those mostly in the surrounding counties very poorly served by it, would there be a possibility that projecting current trends in increasing desirability of walkable transit connected dense urban neighborhoods, the poor in our region would get priced out of the very areas that have the best opportunity to live car free. We already kind of see this in CWE, a dense area of residential near lots of jobs served by transit that is also the most expensive part of the city to live in. How do you resolve that?

    • A strong transit network presents options, options present opportunities, opportunities present success.

      St. Louis does not have a strong transit network. If it did, yes, you may see affordable areas become less so. At the same time though, you may see a decrease in poverty levels as options/opportunities/success becomes more achievable for those who previously suffered it.

  • kjohnson04

    Everytime I see maps like these, I can’t help but notice the clusters of homes that need mass transit in the outer counties that have none. We need to address that.

    • Peach

      I respectfully disagree. There are major serious issues to address besides the outlying counties. Many of the counties were added in just recently to the definition of the “metro area”. Some day this spring I encourage you to take the ferry over to Jersey county and spend some driving around Macoupin (which most residents consider themselves closer to Springfield) and Calhoun county if you haven’t already. These are rural farming communities that have no interest in urbanizing not spending their already high taxes on public transportation. You actullybe surprised the amount of people that live in these counties that already do carpool to jobs in downtown STL and Chesterfield. As for residents that are carless and need rides to dr.’s appt. etc, you ‘d be surprised at the local private network of churches and community efforts to get those citizens rides. And the state of Illinois does provide year round free ferry service between Calhoun and Jersey counties, that’s some major public transport $$ right there.

      • jhoff1257

        There is quite a bit of middle ground between the inner core and Jersey and Calhoun counties. I don’t think kjohnson04 was saying we need to urbanize those places. St. Charles County, northern parts of Jefferson County, Madison County, and eastern parts of Franklin County are all “outer counties” that could use improved mass transit in some form. Whether that transit be in the form of buses, or trains, or call-a-rides, or even an OATS van can be left up to those that live there. Mass transit doesn’t mean urbanization. Amtrak is mass transit and you don’t see the many rural counties it stops in booming with growth. Different types of transit can have different results.

        • Peach

          My apologizes, I thought he was referring to the Brookings institute photos. Have you spent anytime in Madison county? It is well served by MCT public transportation and has new well maintained bus stations along with Bi-State service coordinated to SIUE, community colleges and their branches and the SIUE dental school. The voters of Madison and St. Charles did reject a tax to fund Metrolink so it’s tough to force issues that residents have already rejected.

          • jhoff1257

            Good point. I did forget about Madison County Transit. That is a great system that integrates well with Metro. Plus I hear some express routes have wifi.

            Regardless, I don’t think anyone is forcing any issues. Maybe he was speaking to the far far away areas, the point can still be made (using those maps) that outer areas that aren’t on the fringe could still use better service. Either way, it’s all hypothetical. No one is actually pushing for transit in any of these areas. Just an observation on the overall region’s poor transit coverage.

            As for the votes…you can always try again. St. Louis County voted yes on Prop A in 2010, only two years after voting no on Prop M. Though St. Charles County would almost certainly be a no.

        • Madison County has a completely serviceable bus system in place.

          When I was living in Edwardsville without a car (and working in St. Louis — and occasionally Alton), I had no issue getting where I needed to go.

          I *would* love to see a heavy rail passenger line running out of Union Station, across the Merchants Bridge (or McKinley?), up past Horseshoe Lake, Granite City, etc. and into E-ville.

          Edit: Proximity to the Edwardsville bus station (and the main street bars) was my primary interest when picking an apartment. Walked two blocks to the station and the bus dropped me off right at the door of my office building in downtown STL. Perfect.

          • jhoff1257

            Yeah I mentioned in a lower comment that I had forgotten Madison County Transit. A great system indeed.

            Thank you for mentioning heavy rail. I don’t really know where else to say it so I’ll say it here, might not be the right place but oh well.

            Why isn’t St. Louis pursuing commuter rail lines? I recently rode Amtrak into St. Louis from Kansas City and the whole time I’m thinking “why isn’t Metro or anyone else pushing for commuter rail lines?” The infrastructure is already in place, buy some cars (you can even lease them) and use Prop A funds to build some stations. Obviously the lines are suitable for passenger traffic as they already service passenger traffic. We could have three going right now if we were smart. Out to Eureka-Pacific, down to Festus and Crystal City, and up to Alton. All current Amtrak alignments.

            Metro’s Long Range Plan calls for the study of commuter rail only after Missouri and or Illinois build “high-speed intercity rail.” Why are we waiting for that? First of all this is Missouri, fat chance of ever seeing a high speed train across this state with the current makeup of the State Legislature. And the US Government has it’s head so far up it’s ass we’ll most likely never see a nationwide system either. Lots and lots of cities (some smaller then us) have heavy rail commuter lines. None of them, outside of the NEC are high speed. Metro’s Long Range Plan even identified both the Eureka and Alton commuter rail lines as the most cost effective expansion.

            So in times like this with a state government very hostile to not only anything “public,” but St. Louis itself, shouldn’t we be pushing the most cost effective expansion plans?