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Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Vote "Green" for St. Louis Mayor? The Green Party "Gets It" Re: Transit

While I am skeptical about the ability of any Green Party candidate to get in to office--much less successfully run it--I have to say that Green Party mayoral candidate Elston McCowan's platform intrigues me, especially as it relates to transit.

Here are some tidbits and my comments:

Cities across America, from Boston to Seattle and Miami to Minneapolis-St. Paul have developed or are developing creative ways of reducing their dependence on the automobile, a major cause of both air pollution and global warming, while making their communities healthier and more livable. It is past time that St. Louis join them. It is the goal of a Green administration to see that this happens.

Wonderful. Our next mayor, no matter who s/he is, must realize that St. Louis is falling well behind on the transit curve and that there are real benefits to subsidizing transit (to the environment).

Though Francis Slay advocated using public money to pay for a private stadium and for tax give-aways he could not find money to increase train and bus routes.

While this comment is excessively snarky for a campaign website (in my opinion), it does ask an important question: why, as a city, can we not find ways to finance public transit but we can discuss foregoing tax dollars for private developers of suburban retail centers?

The Slay administration has stood by while St. Louis’ transportation system has become embarrassingly outdated. Highway 64/40 is being rebuilt with no plans for bus lanes or “high occupancy vehicle” (HOV) lanes reserved for cars with three or more occupants. A Green mayor would actively work to ensure that every highway and thoroughfare in the St. Louis area has bus and HOV lanes.

This was a total no-brainer. Rebuild a highway with more lanes and new sound walls? For hundreds of millions? And with the need to sacrifice several homes along the right-of-way in Richmond Heights? The "New I-64" is a net loss to the region's quality of life. Adding HOV lanes would have been a small gesture towards sustainability.

Businesses are hurt by requiring more parking spaces than are necessary. The Slay administration has done nothing to reduce the vast areas dedicated to parking spaces and parking lots. Excessive parking spaces are dangerous for bicycles, interfere with commerce by increasing the walking distance between
shops, and degrade the attractiveness of neighborhoods.

Current rules require businesses to have 1 parking space for every 3 people in the occupancy permit. The Green Party would change this to 1 parking space for every 5 people immediately and 1 parking space for every 9 people in two years.

Wow! Are we in Portland, Oregon or St. Louis, Missouri? It is exciting to think that any potential leader of St. Louis would include this in his/her platform. St. Louis sorely needs parking reform if it is to retain its urban character.

Car-free zones

Improved mass transit and traffic light preemption will let St. Louisans get to work faster by public transportation than by driving cars. This will lead to more people using buses and trains. If St. Louisans could also get to neighborhood schools, shopping and recreation areas by foot and bicycle, the City could design car-free zones with no parking spaces for privately owned cars [but with parking for emergency, disabled, construction, delivery and shared vehicles].

The Green Party advocates the development of car-free, high-density, mixed residential/commercial areas. In these areas, citizens could do most of their shopping in their community and use mass transit for most of their remaining
trips. This should be promoted by developing demonstration neighborhoods which are (1) adjacent to mass transit routes, and (2) require commercial space to be set aside for neighborhood shops such as grocery stores, clothing stores, hardware stores, laundromats and barber shops. An essential part of such communities is that they have a vehicle sharing or renting program for the few trips when a car, truck or mini-van is truly needed. All such developments should dedicate at least 30% of homes for low income families.

Again, an impressive vision. However, I do not believe the demand for this type of development is foreseeable for St. Louis at this time. There's a reason the folks up in Old North are retrofitting North 14th Street into a through street after an ill-fated attempt to "mall" it.

I encourage you to read the entire platform, both for transit and all other areas that McCowan highlights. There are some truly progressive ideas contained within them. But transit really stuck out. Safe bicycle lanes, expanded Metrolink, safe streets for pedestrians, reduced parking mandates, "green" vehicles for city employees, etc....all of these ideas should be discussed. They author a welcome dialog in a city that rarely speaks to matters of supporting and sustaining urbanism.


Matt Kastner said...

I always find the devotion to party identity funny in St. Louis politics. Many local Democrats would probably be Republicans on the national level. I wish people would just quite following the brand names and listen to a candidates platform.

This guy has some interesting thoughts. Most are simple common sense, but that is language we don't seem to be able to speak. I agree with skepticism of the "car-free" zones. I heard a few people along Cherokee talking about pushing that idea (it would never pass of course) and I thought it was funny how willingly people commit economic suicide. I've been to developments like this in other cities, but St. Louis is not ready for that. Not by a long shot.

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