STL: Catch the tale of the TIGER!

A recent op-ed in the Boston Globe by the previously mentioned economist Edward Glaeser outlines the pervasive anti-urban bias in federal stimulus funding.

In 2009, America’s five least dense states were awarded $1,100 per capita in federal recovery grants while the five densest states, including Massachusetts, got $561 per capita. President Obama can change the tilt toward low density. The most urban president since Teddy Roosevelt, Obama needs to fight for cities, not just as a matter of justice, but because cities, and the creativity that comes when humans connect and learn from each other in dense areas, are the best hope for the country.

While Glaeser's Roosevelt assessment is mildly dubious, his summation of funding distribution has been accurate and reflects a lack of organization and coordinated voice on behalf of urban constituents. While it was once easy to overlook the stereotyped urban minorities in the age of cheap oil, in the next fifty years increasingly interrelated energy and economic constraints will increase the profile of urban areas and tilt this balance back towards urban issues. A country strapped for resources simply cannot continue dissipating funding over vast swaths of land for negligible economic gain; whether by hook or by crook, funding will be concentrated in defined areas to maximize investment.

While the 2009 statistics reflect conventional subsidization, there is an emerging shift in pattern that indicates that federal departments understand the allocation dilemma. The recent announcement of the 2010 recipients of the TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) Grants reveal the changing landscape of government subsidy. Of the top 20 largest grants (ranging from $105 million to $25 million):

FIVE went to Passenger rail and light rail stations and infrastructure
FIVE went to streetcar/express and bus rapid transit projects
FOUR went to complete streets/streetscape Improvements
THREE went to freight rail infrastructure improvements
THREE went to highway redesign/construction

TIGER Appropriation. Image by Rob Vargas/Fast Company.

The city of Saint Louis was passed over for five submitted projects.

The Delmar Loop streetcar (previously discussed here) lacked the distance, development impact, and matching funding promised by the Tucson Streetcar.

The applications for unnamed Chouteau Lake improvements and the rebuilt 22nd street 64/40 interchange were long-shot submittals to bolster long-term speculative projects that could not meet the "livability" paradigm.

Another proposal was for the addition of truck-only lanes on Interstate 70 . Wisely, federal TIGER stimulus was not used on a twentieth century project designed to support the unsustainable "rolling warehouse" supply model.

The final application for TIGER funds was for a dense mixed-use Transit Oriented Development at the Forest Park/DeBaliviere Metrolink station. In this case, the TIGER funding was to extend the development through the acquisition of an adjacent strip mall. While it is impossible to pontificate on what the grant reviewers were thinking, the relatively small scale of this project in comparison to other submissions probably contributed to its unfavorable review.

What can we learn from our failure?
1. Planning cannot be done in a vacuum and projects must be coordinated.
The projects that are now being subsidized are large scale and increase their impact by coordinating development focus across multiple areas.

2. Traditional projects no longer cut it.
To be successful all projects must promote alternatives to the automobile paradigm. One of the criteria of evaluation was “enhancing community livability” and the results seem to have balanced the priority for public transportation to enable automotive dependance and the physical infrastructure that creates complete and walkable streets.

3. Pay attention to your residents
Over 25% of Saint Louis residents do not even own a car, let alone use a car frequently, yet 60% of our most innovative public projects require automobile usage for access and benefit. Is this a responsible vision or the result of responsible oversight and governance?

We must start developing for the approximately 8,900 residents who have no car at all, for thousands more who struggle to afford one, and for those of us who prioritize neighborhoods where you don't need a car to live. Weaning our urban areas from automotive dependance will secure our civic futures. Not only will we be healthier, but a recent report notes that we will be wealthier as well. In the report, Walking the Walk: How Walkability Raises Housing Values in U.S. Cities, Joseph Cortright describes a direct correlation between walkability and value:

In the typical metropolitan area, a one-point increase in Walk Score was associated with an increase in value ranging from $700 to $3,000 depending on the market. The gains were larger in denser, urban areas like Chicago and San Francisco and smaller in less dense markets like Tucson and Fresno.

"These findings are significant for policy makers,” said Carol Coletta, President and CEO of CEOs for Cities, which commissioned the research. “They tell us that if urban leaders are intentional about developing and redeveloping their cities to make them more walkable, it will not only enhance the local tax base but will also contribute to individual wealth by increasing the value of what is, for most people, their biggest asset."

A new round of TIGER Grant is on the horizon. Will we forge intergovernmental partnerships to create coordinated projects that increase walkable streets, enable Transit Oriented Development, and expand a resilient multi-modal infrastructure to support commerce and industry?

The stakes are high and every round we lose puts our metropolitan competition further ahead of us.

A view of the future?
A View of the Future? Image by Andrew J. Faulkner.

Of course, any amount of Transit Oriented Development will be meaningless if we allow our public transportation system to be crippled. If you or your family and friends are a registered voter in Saint Louis County Support Proposition A in April.

6 reactions:

Daron said...

The Indy Culture Trail is pretty cool,

I can easily understand why it got funding that we didn't.

What if City to River got a TIGER grant. Could the DOT help remove a highway?

Andrew said...

I was wondering about whether an effort to reconfigure Memorial Drive could win a TIGER grant. I was originally going to write this post from the angle of "this is what we're missing out on by perpetuating out of date policy". As I looked into TIGER more I changed my assessment. TIGER clearly prioritizes projects that create results at a regional level. I believe a current project like the Great River Ring would be successful with additional alternative transportation components. A project that should be proposed would be a West Florissant/Tucker/Gravois streetcar implementation with dedicated bike lanes and sustainable stormwater management spanning from Jennings to Sappington. I might have to develop that idea further in the future!

Daron said...

Kansas City is moving ahead with two BRT routes. I'm very happy for them. I think their Green Impact Zone shows a lot of understanding of the stimulus priorities. NorthSide could be very similar is it had real leadership.

Daron said...

The arch competition is going to be transformative for the region, especially the Illinois side. We did get TIGER funding for an Illinois project.

Very related to the Great River Ring is Chouteau Island,

It's in Illinois, but is important for the larger vision of the confluence area. Connect the Katy Trail, the North Riverfront Trail, and the Madison County trails to the Confluence Point though Alton and Chouteau Island.
Make Broadway from Jefferson Barracks (Grant Library?) to Riverview Dr (near Chouteau Island) more bike friendly and interactive. The recreation potential for the area is huge: bike/rollar blade rentals, water skiing, guest houses for katy trail users, etc.

That's STL City, STL County, St. Charles County, and Madison County. One confluence, quite regional.

Daron said...

Maybe we can work the admiral into this as a bicycle toting pleasure cruiser. There's no reason why we couldn't use ships for transit in the area. Hong Kong has an awesome boat transit system. What could be more multi-modal that taking the metrolink to the landing, biking to a nearby ship, going up to the confluence, then biking to alton. We could eat lunch on board the Admiral.

Check out the new bike maps on Google Earth, you'll see the confluence lacks green lines. The Katy Trail needs a huge extension to reach the confluence or Alton.

Your streetcar would be great for the region, fantastic actually. Perhaps cheaper than all that I just typed on about. I'd support either. What would go into applying for TIGER funds?

I'd support a coalition in either direction.

Daron said...

Andrew, how far up West Florissant would you plan to go? Why Jennings, I mean?

If you turned before going too far north and took it down the length of Natural Bridge to the other Florissant Road and then up to Normandy, Fergusan, and Florissant you'd still go through some run down sections of North St. Louis, but you'd also anchor them at the end with the UMSL North Metro stop, the active town of Fergusan, and St. Vincent's Greenway.

Take Fairgrounds Park over O'Fallon Park, and tie it into UMSL's recent bid to make their section of Natural Bridge a Great Street.

If you're getting good bike routes along this route, some UMSL students might bike downtown. Many residents of Fergusan would. They're part of Trailnet's healthy community initiative and they've got a great farmer's market.

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