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Understanding the Needs of Pedestrians

This week I’ve hit Loughborough Commons pretty hard with my criticisms over their lack of any pedestrian accommodations from the public street to the front door of Schnuck’s, Lowe’s and most likely the rest of the retail spaces. The City, including Ald. Matt Villa, is also at fault here for not having higher standards. It is not about the aesthetics of the building(s) but how people get to and from them. I wanted to share some information to help understand some of these issues, the needs of pedestrians.

The following is brief list of some online sources for more reading on the subject of pedestrian friendly/walkable communities. [Note: If you are a member of the Board of Aldermen or with Desco you probably need to read each of these so you can get caught up]
Walkable Communities
Smart Growth Online: Creating Walkable Communities
Sierra Club: Livable Communities
Walking Info: How to Develop a Pedestrian Action Safety Plan

And finally the Project for Public Spaces. Fred Kent and his staff are simply amazing at communicating why spaces should be built for people and how to get there. This non-profit is probably the leading group in the world working to improve public space (and streets are public space). They also work to improve private spaces such as corporate plazas and shopping areas.

The Project for Public Spaces got their start as research assistants with the legendary William H. Whyte:

In 1969 Whyte assisted the New York City Planning Commission in drafting a comprehensive plan for the city. Having been critically involved in the planning of new city spaces, he came to wonder how these spaces were actually working out. No one had researched this before. He applied for and received a grant to study the street life in New York and other cities in what became known as the Street Life Project. With a group of young research assistants, and camera and notebook in hand, he conducted pioneering studies on pedestrian behavior and breakthrough research on city dynamics.All told, Whyte walked the city streets for more than 16 years. As unobtrusively as possible, he watched people and used time-lapse photography to chart the meanderings of pedestrians. What emerged through his intuitive analysis is an extremely human, often amusing view of what is staggeringly obvious about people’s behavior in public spaces, but seemingly invisible to the inobservant.

Whyte’s last book before his death in 1999, City: Rediscovering the Center, is a classic. First published in 1989 I bought it just as I was leaving architecture school. The insights this man discovers through years of painstaking research is so enlightening. The sad reality is he is not required reading for most architects, planners, civil engineers or aldermen. Our built environment continues to be lacking as a result.

But one not need read Whyte’s detailed research to know much of what needs to be done to make St. Louis more livable. All you need to do is walk places yourself — what streets do you like walking on and which do you not? My guess is you’ll take say Euclid in the West End over Hampton at I-44. And when you walk do you follow the path or do you take the shortest route even if that means walking on grass? Look around and you’ll see worn grass around City Hall, Gravois Plaza and other places where sidewalks are either in the wrong places or lacking altogether.

None of this is new information. None of it is anything I’ve dreamed up on my own. None of this is rocket science. In fact, it is largely simple common sense. Yet, we are failing miserably to recognize basic human behavior.

I can look at many developments from the 1950s and newer and see failings. I don’t talk about past projects much as they were a product of their era when we first fell in love with the automobile, pedestrians be damned. But over time we’ve learned society went too far and ruined spaces for people. We have the knowledge of how to balance seemingly conflicting criteria — make spaces interesting for people and still accept the reality of the car but our elected officials and developers simply don’t get it.

My expectations for a brand new project that included some public financing, took 18 homes and moved a mountain of dirt is indeed high. In the case of Loughborough Commons, they didn’t even meet my lowest expectation of connectedness to the city. Our city will not grow and prosper based on such shoddy planning and development practices.

– Steve


Currently there are "20 comments" on this Article:

  1. Jim Zavist says:

    I agree – what will it take? An ordinance requiring sidewalks along every street when new development occurs? Residential & commercial? What about industrial areas? Parks? What about a process (a fund?) for retrofitting existing areas? What type of positive poltical argument can be made in support of an ordinance? (Remember, you’re “preaching to the choir here” – how do you get the “unwashed” on board, the folks who don’t want the government meddling in their lives and raising taxes?)

    One problem may be simply dollars on the government side, primarily for maintenance. I think (but I’m definitely not sure) that the city is responsible for sidewalk maintenance here, once they’ve been installed. If so, that’s actually a disincentive for installing more of them.

    In Denver, the adjacent property owner has responsibility for all maintenance (including snow removal), so while there’s still resistance to installing sidewalks, the city can a) make sure that they’re being maintained (hey, it’s not “their” money) and b) because it’s a consistent requirement, it’s a LOT harder to plead hardship and to try and get an exemption.

    [REPLY Jim I personally believe we are only going to prosper by creating a true city — one that is walkable and supportive of many modes of transporation, not just the car. By creating the right environments we can attract people that will help in the long term sustainability of the city.

    But what is happening in much of our new development in the city and county is we are getting the minimal sidewalk along the public street — but it goes nowhere. The developer that builds in a true urban fashion simply places the building at the public sidewalk and they don’t need to worry about internal sidewalks. But, start building this over-scaled suburban crap and suddenly the front door is a long way from the public sidewalk.

    Other cities, some bigger and some smaller, are able to muster design guidelines to prevent mistakes such as Loughborough Commons. After all, what does a lawyer that inherited his aldemanic seat because of his family name know about this stuff? – SLP]

  2. Dustin says:

    In the City of St. Louis it is also the adjacent property owner who is responsible for sidewalk maintenance. There is a limited 50/50 fund with the city for replacement but I think — depending on ward — funds are limited and the wait is very long.

  3. Jason says:

    With the ease at which technology can produce a 3-D image of any particular development during the design phase, I think it should be mandatory that for a development like this, the city planners require more than just a site plan. Multiple views at access points to and from the site, as well as views of the development from other off site locations. They should show all trees in these views as well as showing views of the back from residential areas.

  4. Brian says:

    If the City of Chesterfield could require internal sidewalks for their middle-of-nowhere (non-residential flood plain), self-touted “world’s largest strip mall,” then the City of St. Louis certainly should be able to require internal sidewalks on any big-box development within its limits.

    Ideally, additional big boxes would be minimized regionally. There are enough existing strip centers in South City and sales-tax-chasing, fragmented St. Louis County to provide sites for redevelopment, rather than create even more asphalt-covered superblocks. But while the City’s codes fortunately list drive-thrus as a conditional use in any zone, other urban design principles such as sidewalk requirements, parking reductions, and minimized front setbacks (if not zero lot-line) are all missing.

    Trouble is that the City still has a 1940s zoning code made for the postwar auto era applied to a built environment predating such era. Ironically, much of the City’s great urban fabric is then non-conforming to its codes. Thus, it’s not surprising that much new construction following these codes still on the books would then end up contrasting their older surroundings.

    In response to this problem, City Planning will tell you that their new strategic land use plan is a more developer-friendly overlay to the antiquated zoning. But if you’re a developer, would you take the added time of a hearing and risk approval on variances to build more urban, or would you just follow the old codes still on the books that actually dictate a suburban building envelope and say nothing of sidewalks? Unless you’re a developer that gets the importance of urban design, you’re likely not going to risk time and money (architectural and holding costs) to fight zoning bureaucrats (who still work independently of City Planning, another flaw in the system) or any low-density NIMBY residents showing up at a hearing, despite the strategic land use plan favoring your urban concept.

    [REPLY Yes, thank you! Our system is designed to create these failures while, as Brian points out, places like Chesterfield are waking up to the fact things need to be more walkable. – SLP]

  5. jen says:

    Please check your information before posting, Matt is not a lawyer, his wife however is. Yes, Matt carries the Villa name, but, he was elected each term. Matt is a good, hard working and very well respected Alderman in St. Louis because he works tiredlessly to improve the city by actually doing and not talking (not because of the Villa name). He is a man of principle and values and although you disagree with him, please stop making personal attacks at him which is very unprofessional and childlike. Every single person I know in the city (and I’ve talked to a lot of people none of which read this blog, so, don’t expect them to take the time to comment, I can’t believe I am writing this myself) is very excited to have a nice place to grocery shop and buy hardware instead of driving in to the county to do so. I applaud the efforts Matt has made to bring more revenue in to the city.

    P.S. Clearly construction is not complete by the obvious big piles of dirt. As Matt has tried to explain to you, when the site is complete it will be pedestrian friendly. Again, please get your facts straight before posting.

    [REPLYJen, I’ve known you for a long time and I understand as Matt’s sister in law you don’t like reading criticisms. However, the facts are quite clear — the drawings do not lie. The manner in which things are being built do not lie.

    I agree, Matt is hard working and a decent man. But, he does not know what he is talking about. He claimed in January 2005 this site had nothing to do with MetroLink yet everyone knows it was being looked at for the southside study. Again, I don’t think this was anything deceptive simpy a lack of knowledge in the subject matter.

    My attacks are not personal, but relevant to the development issue for which the Schnuck’s say he was instrumental. That makes the final outcome and his involvement open for discussion.

    Yes, he has been elected. In 2005 he was unchallenged. In 2001 he faced trivial opposition from a republican that still managed 14% of the vote. The results from 1997 are not online. – SLP]

  6. maggie says:

    In 1997 Matt Villa ran against an incumbent alderman in a primary. Not sure if the general was contested.

  7. jen says:

    It’s not personal to say “After all, what does a lawyer that inherited his aldemanic seat because of his family name know about this stuff?” You make it sound like he sits around and gets handed an election (and again, he is NOT a laywer). Please! He goes door to door and works very hard at winning each election. People like Matt and vote for him because he is genuine and is very concerned about the people and the welfare of the people in his ward and in the city. During the recent black out he took in an elderly woman in to his house for several days because she had no one to care for her. He is constantly thinking of others (and doing for others) and what is best for them and the city they live in. That’s why he gets elected.

    Matt has been involved in the city (he is actually from here) his whole life and has worked very hard in every term he has served as Alderman to improve all aspects of the city. He does what he feels is best for the city and people in the city and sister-in-law or not, that’s all I could ever hope a politician would do for me. Think of me, my family and needs first. That’s all I have to say. This is where I “blog out”.

  8. Adam says:

    jen wrote –

    Every single person I know in the city … is very excited to have a nice place to grocery shop and buy hardware instead of driving in to the county to do so.

    absurd. why would i want to drive out to the county to buy groceries and hardware when there are plenty of grocery and hardware stores in the city WHERE I LIVE. jen, if you would like a list i’d be happy to compile one for you, but please stop trying to turn the city into the county. we already have LOTS of county.

  9. B.J. says:

    Jen, If Matt cares so much for his ward than why has he continued to encourage sub par developers like Eagle and Rothschild to control so much property in Carondelet. Just look at how disgraceful the Ivory Triangle/St. Boniface area has become over the past few years. Because of poor design and inferior construction our neighborhood will suffer the consequences for decades to come. Our community needs real leadership not an Alderman that willy-nilly rubberstamps any new projects that comes along. Carondelet has tremendous potential, unfortunately it is being lost because Alderman Villa doesn’t have either the guts or the good sense to guide it.

  10. jen says:

    I didn’t say every single person in the city, I said “every single person in the city I KNOW” and yes, I know a lot that are happy about it – would you like a list of their names and you can call them absure to their face?? You once said that you were upset that there was only 1 home deopt in the city and now there is a Lowes in your backyard and you still complain. It seems that’s all you do. I really don’t have time for this sort of blog thing or to explain myself to you nor do I want to. I was just writing in this one time to defend Matt as he deserves to be defended.

    B.J. If you would use your real name so I could address you, I’d have a conversation with you about it. Better yet, write a letter to your alderman if you have so many problems, not a blog.

    Seriously, I am not coming back to this site, it is ridiculous and I don’t have the time for it. There are bigger issues in this city and thing to do!

  11. Jason Toon says:

    [i]Every single person I know in the city … is very excited to have a nice place to grocery shop and buy hardware instead of driving in to the county to do so.[/i]

    Hi, I’m Jason Toon. I’m married with two kids, I’ve written a bit for the RFT (although not much lately), I went to Metro HS and Webster U, and I live in the city. Now you know me.

    And I’m NOT excited about the new Schnuck’s- Lowe’s development at Loughborough. So there’s one.

    You know, there are still some independently-owned hardware stores located in the city that all your excited friends could’ve shopped at all along: Oak Hill and Hanneke’s are two just off the top of my head.

    About Matt Villa’s hard work and kindness: that’s great. And also completely irrelevant to the Loughborough Commons disaster.

  12. Jim Zavist says:

    Sooo . . . is the question why are there no sidewalks at LC or does LC suck in an urban environment, and a lack of sidewalks is just the poster child for a larger discussion?

    I agree, sidewalks SHOULD be included in any new development. I also believe that there needs to be a system / program to get them in place where development isn’t happening or planned, especially along existing commercial corridors. Politically, you can’t just tell a property owner that he or she has x number of years to “git ‘er done”. There needs to be either some real incentives or government funding to make it happen. In my mind, it’s much more importatnt to fill in the gaps wherever possible, to create continuous routes/paths, than it is to invest significant dollars in upgrading a few new projects to include 8’ detached sidewalks with landscaping that won’t be maintained over time.

    I also agree that the time to get improvements like these included, especially on commercial projects, is when they’re being designed and built. It’s also going to be a whole lot easier if a city ordinance simply states that public sidewalks shall be provided and maintained adjacent to all city and state streets, roads and highways. That way, there’s no “negotiating”, they just get put in and are considered to be the cost of doing business in the City of St. Louis.

    As for LC being appropriate as a project, I’m going to defer to the locals – it’s not my neighborhood and it’s further away than the Lowe’s in Maplewood (for me). The reality is you’re never going to see your version of “urban” on every arterial in town, so we need to get the best we can out of every project, and keep pushing in the most appropriate areas (and I don’t think this is a prime candidate for a hard street edge).

  13. Adam says:

    jen, i quoted directly from your post. i never said that you said “every single person in the city.” and although i think you are probably exaggerating your claim that all the people you know in the city are happy about the commons, that wasn’t what i found absurd. What i found absurd was your suggestion that stores in the city are not nice enough for you and those people you know, so that you have to drive to the county to shop for groceries and hardware. i apologize for using the word “absurd” as i was not trying to offend you, but i also found your comment derogatory and a little offensive. furthermore i’ve never made a comment about Home Depot on this or any other blog so i think you have me confused with someone else, although i did make a comment that one should not confuse enjoyment with patronage at strip malls when shopping options are limited. again my apologies for any offense but please realize that some of us have different opinions about what is “nice.” The problem is, we already have plenty of suburban-style “niceness,” so how about allowing the rest of us a little urban-style “niceness.”

  14. dave says:

    I don’t understand why jen seems to think that having new retail as well as proper urban design are mutually exclusive. Yeah, so you know people who are happy to have the new store-How much better would it be if the layout was a walkable, urban one with interesting architecture? Nobody’s saying, “we don’t want Schnucks” or “we don’t want Lowe’s”; people are just demanding higher quality and more thoughtful design.

    Besides, do you know the best way to have lots of nice retail close to your house? Live in a dense, walkable, urban neighborhood. If you want a neighborhood full of monstrocities like Loughborough Commons (complete with ridiculously windy entrances, seas of over-sized parking lots, and stores as far back away from the street as possible), then you might as well live somewhere like Farmington, not St. Louis.

    [REPLY Agreed! The argument that people are happy with the new store completely misses the point about access. I’ve been in the store a couple of times now (and made small purchases) and it is clean, bright and well stocked. I can still find more things to purchase at a Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s which are a half to third the size but that too is not the point. $14 million in tax incentives yet no pedestrian access is the point. – SLP]

  15. jen says:

    for the last time, i mean it this time, i am not coming back, so, please stop addressing me in this blog, email me if you want to say something to me. better yet, don’t. i don’t have time for this. email Matt or your alderman if you have a problem.

    my post was simply to correct Steve: “After all, what does a lawyer that inherited his aldemanic seat because of his family name know about this stuff?”

    1) Matt is not a lawyer.
    2) I think it is an ignorant statement to say that Matt inherited his seat simply because of his last name and not because he was ELECTED in to office.

    you guys can blog all you want about the commons or about big suburban-style niceness. i said my piece and i’m out. have fun. blog on. blog on.

  16. jen says:

    ok. for the last last time – rest assured those of you who are tired of me here won’t see me again. i am calm now (all of this he said she said angry political blogging isn’t my thing or my stlye, so, i am done here).

    i wish everyone who is out to do the city good, who are trying to make it a better place for everyone the best of luck on their endevors. maybe i am still buzzing from the flaming lips show and seeing st. louisians come together in one room – how powerful it can be when people unite that i leave this blog hoping that people can carry that positivity to the streets – in this fine city we choose to live in.

  17. Adam says:


    1) you don’t have time yet you keep coming back

    2) to repeat the same thing over and over even though

    3) no one has mentioned the lawyer thing or the inheritance thing since your original post.

    your point on those issues has been received. but you didn’t just stick to those issues in your post. so now instead of being condescending why don’t you explain why you feel that the current development at loughborough commons is better than a more walkable, less car-oriented development. or is blogging too far beneath you? or maybe you just wanted the last word, in which case i take back this entire post and you win.

    by the way feel free to email me as well.

  18. john says:

    Thanks for the links.

    It is obvious here that our local elected leaders (and their appointed agents) lack vision and are particularly in favor of motorized transportation. Even MetroLink officials failed to incorporate plans to replace sidewalks in my neighborhood after tearing them out. These sidewalks were used daily by my children to walk to school.

    Even MetroLink officials favor autos over pedestrians. Sounds bizarre but true!

  19. Jeff Jackson says:

    Very heated blog topic! I will bring up some issues that I believe are of relevance.

    1. ADA compiance (How does this development meet
    ADA without having the proper sidewalks?)

    2. Portland Or. We need to do the same thing they did. Make it law everywhere that any new development requires facilities for ALL MODES of transport!

    3. TIF (Government is helping to make it easy for developments to be put in). Require the government and public oversight committee to see the plans and approve them. Since it is OUR money they are dealing with! WE THE PEOPLE should have more say in this process.

    4. No development should be opened to the public until ALL required infrastructure has been put into place (i.e. sidewalks, traffic lights, ADA compiance etc…)

    5. THE FUTURE. It is much cheaper now to put in the proper facilities than later. We are taking our childrens future and making it a mockery.

    Thanks for letting me make some comments. I live in the County but have a heart for the CITY. After becoming a transportational cyclist and a sometimes pedestrian I have learned more how much we have given over to the automobile. I believe each car has 7 parking spaces just sitting idle. Why must we continue to develop for the auto and make the pedestrian more at risk just because they choose a more economical, environmental mode etc? Why can’t we give them a price reduction at the check out? A small reduction since they aren’t using a parking space. The more people that start to think outside the box (car) the more we will start having proper development that allows for all people to feel safe while trying to purchase the same goods / services.

    Keep Cycling!

  20. Jeff Jackson says:

    My official term for this concept above is: “Transportational Discrimination”

    The balance must be changed. Cars are too highly placed above everything else (two wheels, buses, feet)



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