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Loughborough Commons Fails to Accommodate Pedestrians

No real surprise but the sprawl-centric new shopping center being constructed in the City of St. Louis lacks pedestrian connections. Loughborough Commons is the lowest form of development, suitable only for an auto-only exurb. Such clearly anti-urban development has no place in an established core of a region where pedestrians do exist.

And before the sprawl apologists tell me we need the sales tax revenue that Lowe’s and Schnuck’s will generate please read carefully:

It is entirely possible to construct sidewalks in and around big box stores. The big box and pedestrian access are not mutually exclusive. Just because you may not walk to the store does not mean we should prevent, by design, others from doing so. Got it?

But to developers like Desco the concept of pedestrians is completely foreign. Desco, if you will recall, is one of the developers that razed the historic Century Building in downtown St. Louis to construct a parking garage next door to the Old Post Office building. The argument was people using the Old Post Office needed an adjacent parking garage — they could not walk a block or two from numerous other garages or MetroLink. And if you take a look at many of the Schnuck’s they’ve built all over the region you’ll see pretty much the same thing — zero planning for pedestrians.

Using the same decades-old development formula in various sprawl areas is hard to question. With the various areas of suburbia being so isolated from each other by design it is virtually impossible to walk anywhere except in circles within your gated subdivision. But more urban areas are different. And this is another of those places where people get confused. Urban does not necessarily mean 6-story buildings in a gritty neighborhood. Urban generally means a grid pattern of interconnected streets that affords a high level of pedestrian access and multiple route choices. In this regard, much of suburban communities such as Ferguson, Kirkwood, Webster Groves, Maplewood, Alton, Edwardsville and Belleville are “urban.” While technically suburbs they do not, at least in their older areas, invoke the images of suburbia/sprawl. Downtown Webster Groves is more urban than Chesterfield.

So, with older urban municipalities such as Maplewood around the city I personally expect the entire City of St. Louis to be urban in design. Again, this does not mean everything should be high-density housing. Many areas can and should remain as single family and 2-family housing types. The area adjacent to Loughborough Commons is primarily single family homes but it is still very urban in nature — gridded streets that are all connected and walkable (the complete opposite of sprawl which has few access points and numerous streets that end).

Within a mile radius of Loughborough Commons we have over 7,000 households and nearly 17,000 people. That is quite urban relative to our sprawl areas. Granted, people aren’t to walk a mile but they will walk a quarter of a mile. That would still place several thousand people within walking distance of the development. Do we, as a society, really expect someone that can see the project to get in their car and drive to it?

So am I just bitching after the fact? Well, yes and no. I bitched beforehand as well. In fact, I attended and spoke out at the public meeting held on January 25, 2005. This meeting was a bit of a farce. The intention was not to get feedback to create a better project but a chance for Desco and Ald. Villa to say they went to the public. It was a cover your ass meeting. In addition to speaking publicly at the meeting I also talked one on one with Ald Villa and with a representative from Desco’s engineering consultant. Disingenuous claims of “we can’t show sidewalks at this scale of drawing” were said to give me the brush off. However, as I pointed out, they were able to show the thickness of the curb and parking lot strips — they could show sidewalks. The real issue is they didn’t plan any sidewalks. None. Zip. Nada. Not even along Loughborough and Grand where they would be removing existing sidewalks!

Again, this is the lowest form of design. The only way to make it any lower would be if the buildings were constructed only out of concrete blocks or faced with vinyl siding. Desco is basically scraping the bottom of the urban design barrel with Loughborough Commons. Are we as a city and region that desperate for new construction that we are not willing to insist that developers raise their standards just a tad? I’m not saying require a high-density mixed-used project (although that would have been great) but simply to allow a neighbor to walk from their home to the grocery store on a sidewalk. Is that really too much to require? Instead, this neighbor seeking a few items will either have to drive or walk in grass or in the entrances used by cars, SUVS and trucks. Schnuck’s claims to be the friendliest stores in town but walking to them is anything but friendly.

Loughborough Commons --- Main EntranceThis view is looking south from the new main entrance on Loughborough. The new Schnuck’s is down the hill but as you can see they’ve already planted grass next to the entrance. Pedestrians must walk in the drive or on the grass.

The curb cut does show provision for a sidewalk along Loughborough, something not even shown on their original drawings in January 2005. I suppose they assume that people just wander around on main streets but don’t actually walk to destinations such as a friendly neighborhood grocery store.


Loughborough Commons --- Main EntranceTurning to the west we see the curb cut in the foreground for the sidewalk running along Loughborough although at this point it is not clear which side of the massive traffic signal controller the sidewalk will take. My hope is the sidewalk will go to the left so that it is set back from the curb and traffic. This would allow for street trees to be planted, although developments like this usually don’t like trees as they tend to block views of the buildings. The curve of the plantings suggests the sidewalk will be pushed out toward the street and to the right of the traffic control device.

The massive pile of dirt is where homes once stood. I certainly hope a stack of dirt is not the highest and best use of this land.


Loughborough Commons --- Grand Ave EntranceThis is a view of the other entrance to the project, off of South Grand. It should be noted that Grand south of the park and Loughborough is a very residential street — much different than most of Grand.

This is the most convenient entrance to the hundreds of people living immediately adjacent to this project and as you can see the Lowe’s is actually quite close so walking is not unreasonable. However, no provisions have been made for any pedestrians at this entrance — no curb cuts in the new entrance. No sidewalks for pedestrians.

We as a city should be embarrassed that we’ve allowed such a project to be built without even minimal (token) accommodations for pedestrian access. If we want to be a strong urban core city we’ve got to start acting like it at some point.

Prior Posts:

January 25, 2005 (Initial Public Meeting)
June 4, 2005 (Construction Begins)
September 27, 2005 (Alternate Development from Atlanta)
October 4, 2005 (A more Urban Lowe’s with rooftop parking)

– Steve

 

Currently there are "16 comments" on this Article:

  1. The Anasazi People says:

    The picture of the rear the Lowes shows interesting architecural details, influenced by the American Southwest.

    Those little brown thingies sticking out of the upper portion of the wall make the building look like one of those southwestern adobe buildings, often seen in old John Wayne movies.

     
  2. LisaS says:

    Sorry, TAP … that’s not Southwestern influence at work: that’s almost the cheapest outdoor building mounted fixture that you can buy. I only wonder about the light distribution–hopefully it’s down only to decrease light trespass on the adjacent residential area.

    The photos of Edgewood show what can be done. Is it perfect? no more so than Brentwood Promenade. Is it better than Loughborough Commons? Certainly.

    Two questions: does Edgewood serve a similar population (133,000 people of $54k average income within 5 miles)? I don’t know. I would think so.

    Can we use examples like this to pressure our politicans to help us maintain our city with development rather than destroy it? I don’t know, but I would hope so.

     
  3. StlMark says:

    I understand your points and they are valid. However, from an uneducated point of view, I don’t see this as being as much of an eye sore as say the Sams/Kmart development on Manchester. But I’m not here to argue. I too wish it was pedestrian friendly because I think that means safer. And, if the Panera resteraunt is included, that is more ammo for your arguement.

    There is hope, however for bike racks and walkways. I spoke with a key member of the Holly Hills Improvement Assn. who provided much of the design input on the River Des Peres bike trail. I will not share his name until I talk to him personally. But, he said he will be working with Janet Wilding from the Great Rivers Greenway to get an extension of the trail in Carondelet park, through Loughborough Commons toward the River Des Peres. That is where it would link up with the extension of the River Des Peres trail at MorganFord, heading east to the Mississippi by the planned casino in Lemay. I will talk with him and the president of the HHIA to confirm/deny this at a later date.

     
  4. Brent says:

    Living within biking distance of this place and in frequent need of home improvement supplies I have mixed feelings about this development.
    Some hapiness:
    Close Lowe’s (my preferred big box HI store)
    Improved Schnucks (ever try to get around the old ladies in the old one?)
    They fixed that screwy intersection with the shopping center, the park and Loughborough. A bit of a saving grace for pedestrians on Loughborough more than anything.
    It mainly looks out over the interstate, not, say, the park.

    Things that annoy me:
    The pedestrian access. I guess I’ll have to do my best to make sure the cars see me as I bike down the new roadway to the shopping center.
    The dirt. It has been decreasing over time, but it’s still there, sadly.
    Looks like big boxes only. I don’t mind them, I just wish there could be some thought for non-box stores closer to Loughborough. Maybe I’m just dreaming out loud.

     
  5. dave devore says:

    hmmm…maybe they want only people that have a car to shop there. Wake up.

     
  6. Jason Toon says:

    This is a great example of why Aldermanic recall should be used more often, not less.

     
  7. newsteve says:

    A walking customer cannot buy or carry home as much as a driving customer!

     
  8. university city resident says:

    Hi there, I read your blog occasionally and think it is great. Thanks for pointing out the un-pedestrian-friendly sections of St. Louis. I have always felt that compared to many cities I have lived in (in Asia and Europe), St. Louis leaves a sad impression to people trying to get around car-less, with public transportation and walking. Yesterday was a typical example of the frustration as I tried to walk from the new Brentwood station to Target and Trader Joe’s– no place for me to walk! Now, walking on a road where you know people rush through with their cars was quite an experience… Anyway, thanks for what you do.

     
  9. Craig says:

    Believe me, the executives at DESCO, Lowes, and Schnucks are not stupid. If they could make money by installing more sidewalks and pedestrian-friendly structures, they would do so. The fact is that, as much as Steve tries to convince us otherwise, there simply are not enough people who want to walk to these stores.

     
  10. Carrie says:

    I think you’ve missed the point, Craig, in your comment. There’s probably not more money to be made installing sidewalks. The people who need to or want to walk to the stores will do so without them.

    I fear it will take someone getting injured or killed while walking in the driveway in order for them to deem sidewalks a necessary expense.

     
  11. toby says:

    I live real close to this development. I bike to it 45% of the time, walk to it 20% of the time, and see/pass all the people who DO walk to it. In this part of town, the foot and bike traffic IS considerable.

    But the previous development on this site didn’t have sidewalks or (grumble, hiss) bike racks (I always used the the phone booth to chain up my bike; I’m sure the new Schnucks won’t even HAVE a phone booth). But it’s a neighborhood store with lots of regulars, and when in cars, we’re all accustomed to working around bikers and pedestrians in the path.

    So, yes, DESCO (grumble, hiss) is always intent on saving the extra $8,000 to pour sidewalks. They didn’t have them at this site before, why should they budget for it now? And as much as I loathe that mind set, lack of pedistrian ammenities will NOT keep anyone from walking and biking to the place.

    As a street punk pedaler, the thought that always goes through my head is: If someone hits me, they are in deep shit with their insurance company. And if someone hits me at a DESCO site, it will be my first instance of corporate litigation. And this is the only language they understand. All other utterances are useless, hence the frustration.

     
  12. jdstl1977 says:

    Craig,

    No one’s saying they’re stupid. They just know how to do one thing: throw up big boxes. The more feeders that you can get to pass through your store, the more customers can come in. If you get car, bike, and foot traffic all easily and comfortably accessing your establishment, then everyone wins.

    Again, it’s not stupidity, it might be not knowing any better.

     
  13. This is a real shame. I think MetroLink expansions are still being considered to end near there.

     
  14. Paul says:

    As an architect for a development company that does the majority of its work in the City of St. Louis, I find this very frustrating and appalling. Many of the residential developments we have built have had some subsidy through the City, just like this large development. With that subsidy comes a long list of requirements about how houses are designed to blend with existing residences, their materials, site layout and orientation, landscaping, etc. In one case, someone from SLDC even specified which faux historic corbel to use on the cornice of several new infill houses. There is always a requirement for new sidewalks, a street tree (in the tree lawn), and a shade tree in the front lawn, etc.

    I generally think these standards are a good thing, and promote good development (although I would prefer that they leaned less towards copying historic architecture). My problem is that it appears that there are no similar standards when someone builds a large retail development such as this and gets subsidy to do it. I would think it would be pretty simple to have an ordinance that requires things like sidewalks, bike racks, scooter parking, street trees, etc. for any development that receives public subsidy. Yet as Steve points out, its painfully obvious there isnÂ’t one. Maybe several of us could convince an alderman to sponsor such a bill?

     
  15. Craig says:

    jdstl1977,

    You don’t think DESCO is aware that they can build sidewalks making it convenient for pedestrians to access their developments? Of course they are aware of this.

    They choose not too because it is more expensive in a number of ways. It costs money to have sidewalks poured. Increased pedestrians would screw up the flow of cars to and from the development. Increased pedestrians means increased liability.

    To toby, the street punk pedaler, I don’t know how you’ll win a dime from DESCO if you get hit. It will be pretty clear that you choose to ride your bike in the area, thus assuming the risks of riding your bike in a parking lot.

     
  16. pk says:

    Toby could win more than a dime, DESCO/Schnucks/Lowe’s has a duty to provide safe acess, and it would be forseeable that a pedestrian and/or cyclisist would be injured being hit by a car due to lack of sidewalk. If there was a sidewalk, and Toby rode in the street anyway, that is a different story.

    [REPLY Actually, I would argue that an adult cyclist needs to ride in traffic, not on a pedestrian sidewalk. – SLP]

     

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