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New Sidewalks in the Suburbs: A Good Thing or a Waste of Money?

Regular readers of Urban Review know I am a huge fan of sidewalks and accessibility. However, my focus is mostly around areas where we have a more urban form such as in the city and older suburban downtowns like Maplewood, Ferguson, Webster Groves or Edwardsville IL.

But what about the vast majority of highly auto-centric areas? I would certainly advocate as new areas are built they include sidewalks, as unlikely as they are to be used given the context. This leaves one area, retrofitting sidewalks in our older auto-centric sprawl mess.

One such example is along St. Charles Rock Road between roughly I-170 and Lindbergh through municipalities such as St. Ann, Breckenridge Hills and St. John. To be fair I think SCRR always had some sort of left over pavement designated as a token sidewalk but with so many driveway crossings and electrical polls it was pretty useless.

st. charles rock road - 1.jpg

I must be on some turn of the 20th Century street, just look at the retro lamps on the bright pink concrete sidewalks. Inviting huh?

st. charles rock road - 2.jpg

Yes, money well spent. In truth it does help provide accessibility for those who need to but the overall result is almost more ridiculous than it looked before the improvements. Do we think colored concrete and some black lamp posts are going to really make this stretch of road inviting enough to gain more pedestrians?

Over on Lindbergh (speedway) Blvd we’ve got similar attempts going in.

lindbergh - 06.jpg

Except on Lindbergh they only get asphalt sidewalks (nice huh?), the pink concrete is reserved for special areas at crossings. Doesn’t this make you feel safer as a pedestrian. So now when the car flying off the exit ramp hits you the news crews will have a nice new sidewalk to stand on as they film your body being taken away. The other side of this crossing, in case you are wondering, is past the street light in the background.

The opposite view. Pedestrian-friendly, suburban-style. To be fair, I took these pictures in June but it did appear as all the work had pretty much wrapped up. The last of the concrete and asphalt was being set — I did not see anymore areas being dug out. In the picture above, I cannot imagine walking on the pavement to get to the next sidewalk area — this is a high-speed exit! My guess is they did not have the right-of-way to place a sidewalk along the area to the right and get closer to the next crossing.
But maybe when this is redone it can be corrected? It is not as far off as you might think. Turns out MoDot screwed up the specifications for these pretty-in-pink ramps and all 300 of them are being removed and redone at taxpayers expense! Don’t believe it? Watch the You Paid For It segment yourself.
Again, I love sidewalks and making areas pedestrian-friendly. But, just putting a sidewalk along a major street does not make things necessarily accessible or friendly. We need street trees or other fixed objects separating the pedestrian from the passing traffic. We need zoning codes that will require adjacent buildings to have sidewalks connecting to the public sidewalk or, even better, constructing the new building adjacent to the sidewalk.


Currently there are "8 comments" on this Article:

  1. john says:

    MoDOT can’t even design a sidewalk correctly and we trust our transportation designs to these experts? Yes, this is another clear example of how local leadership is deficient and neglect pedestrians and cyclists. MetroLink also eliminated a sidewalk in my neighborhood thus requiring my children to walk on the street to school. We finally got them to replace the sidewalk even though their plans didn’t contain one. Truly amazing! Oh well, at least MoDOT still knows that sidewalks do exist.

  2. Jon Galloway says:

    It makes no sense Steve. In Columbia, Mo., the city is going to spend $22 million adding sidewalks to nowhere. They will be expensive and highly underused because zoning will remain the same. The best part is that most will be added along MoDot roads. And, MoDot roads are built with a 13-foot clear zone so cars can run off the road and not hit anything. Well, except for the pedestrians that will supposedly walk on the sidewalk in the 13-foot clear zone.

  3. Joe Frank says:

    I support sidewalks anywhere, myself, especially along bus lines. There is a bus route on Lindbergh. I’ve spent enough time trying to walk along roads like Telegraph Road in Oakville with inconsistent or non-existent sidewalks to appreciate any efforts like this.

    Not everybody can afford to drive everywhere, even in car-centric suburbs. So sidewalks on major roads are a good first step. For the longest time, MODOT refused to install sidewalks on these roads; so only County arterial roads, when upgraded, got sidewalks. But the wider, faster state roads they fed, and where most shops and schools were located, did not.

    Still, when they’re poorly designed or too out-of-the-way, I may as well walk in the drainage ditch or on the shoulder.

    Joe Frank

  4. Kara says:

    I am in favor of redesigning suburban areas if the population of such areas tends to be increasing and calls for a more urban approach. However, things such as sidewalks need to be considered in the context of a comprehensive plan that considers sidewalk width and building height and setback in proportion to the street width and traffic speed. Physical connections for pedestrians also need to be planned between the commercial areas and the residential areas (where sidewalks are also needed). Until such plans are in place this is not the best use of money.

  5. Jeff Jackson says:

    What gets me “peeved” is that they just think these sidewalks will be used for just people with disablities. I am all for meeting and exceeding the ADA requirements but they should understand that there are other’s who love to walk and do choose to walk / bus to work and other places.

    Thanks for covering this!

    [UrbanReviewSTL — Yes, well too often those with disabilities get overlooked.  This area is well traveled by those in wheelchairs so the concern is valid.  But not a single bike rack or bench was shown.  No detail discussion of the sidewalk width and where the bike racks might get placed relative to parking meters (or the Pay-N-Display which was discussed).  The phrase “reducing clutter” was used which I often take as concentrate all the bike parking into one out of the way spot nobody uses.  I’m also afraid they are going to have the artists design odd bike racks that need more space than necessary and therefore they’ll be placed in an out of the way spot, not where cyclists need them to be.]

  6. Sidewalks are important for bus routes and those who do not have cars, yet the built environment limits their viability for the masses. Only those who must use them will because they serve little utility. They are generally disconnected, unsafe, and get one nowhere.

    We need a complete redesign of the older suburban areas like the ones you mentioned. The commercial areas especially lack vision. Residents have no loyalty to the area as St. Charles does it cheaper and newer. A quick drive across Page or 70 and is the same but newer. For people to stay in these areas there must be a true urban experience which gives a sense of place. Otherwise the middle class will continue its flight west along with their tax dollars. What will remain is the poor with inadequate pedestrian access and more “Hoods” discount warehouse (Natural Bridge and 170). There needs to be a draw that attracts residents while maintaining existing ones. This is nothing new and has been talked about for a long time. Why are we not getting the message!

  7. Sidewalks are important for bus routes and those who do not have cars.

  8. […] work MoDOT has performed is mostly commendable. Following a widely reported fiasco on an earlier sidewalk project along Lindbergh Blvd that took 3 attempts and 4 […]


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