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The Magic Continues at Loughborough Commons

It has been a while since I’ve written about Loughborough Commons, the big box retail center receiving something like $14 million in various tax incentives. They been busy building some more retail square footage and preparing for some new tenants to open soon. This is simply a teaser post to show you a couple of the things I’ve been watching for a while.

Above, a staircase leads you down to the parking lot for the multi-unit strip center from the public sidewalk along Loughborough. So we have an SSC — sunken strip center. Or is the center depressed rather than sunken? Or simply depressing? When this stair was announced in the Holly Hills neighborhood newsletter a while back, prior to construction, they made mention of a bike rack at the bottom of the stairs. And here it is — a bike rack at the bottom of stairs.

A bike rack at the bottom of stairs! Get it? Pretty convenient location if you are capable of biking down a set of stairs. So when you bike into the parking area from the complete opposite side you might decide to ride over here to lock up your bike — if you know it is there. And yes, the bike rack is the same width as the concrete pad so that on the off chance the front side is full and you need to use the back side you must push your bike through the grass and shrubs, assuming the sprinkler system is not on. I’m not sure how they expect you to bike back up the stairs.

Those that bike for transportation might have actually appreciated not having to lift their bike over the curb. Say you’ve got one of those handy kid holders on the back of your bike — suddenly the bike is a lot heavier and the kid is precious cargo. Those biking through the park with a kid trailer are simply out of luck as no place is big enough to park your bike & kid trailer. Well, unless you can pick up both over the curb and through the shrubs you can leave the trailer on the grass portion at the back.

I’m also really fond of the ADA ramp at the bottom of the stairs. That will actually come in quite handy for everyone taking their wheelchair up & down the stair. The red truncated domes serving as a “detectable warning” for those with visual impairments are meant to be felt under foot to alert someone when entering a road — not a parking area. That is communicating to someone the are entering a street situation. Clearly they should have consulted with someone with some actual knowledge about the ADA.
Speaking of ADA ramps.

Down the hillside closer to the Schnuck’s and Lowe’s some new stores are being built. In the foreground is a new sidewalk and ramps that to the right connect to the sidewalk along the edge of the main driveway (I say sidewalk but it is too steep to be considered a sidewalk per ADA). The original drawings for the center didn’t include this is the way to get to the Schnuck’s — they had pedestrians crossing the main drive earlier and then the side drive to where you see the back of the stop sign above. I think this could have been a better solution. OK, so you make your way down the hillside from the pubic street, you cross a drive that is just to the right, you make the 90 degree turn, you note the half buried fire hydrant, and you spot the ramp across the drive — they don’t line up.

This is entirely new construction and the ramps on each side of the main driveway do not align. This is all by the same people being built at the same time — am I being unreasonable expecting that they’d align ramps so the person in the mobility scooter, the child on their bike or the parent pushing a baby stroller can safely cross the main entrance to a busy shopping center? This is not complicated stuff here. Yeah yeah, they are not done yet. I don’t want to hear it —- they’ve poured the concrete so they are done with this portion.

I am waiting for a bit more to get done and I will bring you a more in depth review of the new areas and some changes in the old. It is clear to me they were making an effort to improve upon what they had previously done but from the looks of things they simply didn’t have the right people on the job.


Currently there are "30 comments" on this Article:

  1. toby says:

    This is a case of laughing through the tears.

    Thank you for staying on them about the Commons. There aren’t enough hours in a day to cover all the tragic offenses at all big box centers in the metropolitan area.

    When building commercial, there are a gazillion zoning rules to follow, yet when it comes to the parking lots and drive ways, it’s clear that traffic patterns are created AFTER they’ve met the minimum number of parking space requirements. And whatever space is left over is clearly configured by someone who knows/cares nothing of the subject.

    Every single shopping center built within the last 10 years is an absolute nightmare of confusion to traverse. They’ve had over 50 years to acclimate to car culture, yet they can’t be bothered to take a day or two to truly figure out a sensible traffic plan?

    I would love to find out from auto insurance companies the stats on how many accidents take place within shopping centers like this. I would love to know exactly who configures shopping center black top space and what their qualifications are. And with on-line or independent mom-and-pop retail options readily available, I will continue to boycott these places in auto, on bike or on foot.

  2. Bridgett says:

    The ADA ramp at the bottom of the stairs. That really sums that whole project up, doesn’t it. I’m with Toby. Too easy to just not even go there.

  3. mark r says:

    I am still waiting for a boat ramp at te bottom of the stairs as well. Where can a shopper tie up a bass boat?

  4. Jim Zavist says:

    Hey guys, the ramp at the bottom of the stairs does make some sense, especially the raised truncated domes. The Starbucks drive-thru appears to be configured so that caffeine-starved motorists will be circling through this new section, so this part of the parking lot will act much like a roadway (and visually-impaired pedestrians will be at risk). Other than that, I agree with all the observations. In too many new projects (and not just in St. Louis), the idea of logical, safe, non-motorist access routes seem to get lost in stock ramp details, trying to cram as many cars on the site as possible and finding places for any required landscaping (as in the pathetic “shrubs” between the curb ramp and the bike rack). The half-buried fire hydrant is a nice touch too . . .

    [SLP — The ramp and domes do not make any sense — this is not an accessible route!  It is my understanding that those with visual impairments prefer curbs to ramps and domes.  A curb is far easier to understand for them.  Detectable warnings are debated.  They are important on accessible routes — that is part of what ramps & these warnings communicate.  Anyone that walked down that set of stairs can handle a 6 inch curb.]

  5. Tino says:

    Toby’s comment is right on. I too would like to know who plans these parking lots — because even if you leave aside the issues of pedestrian and disabled access at Loughborough Commons this thing is still an abomination. It’s bad enough to have something that’s unusable unless you’re in a car. At Loughborough Commons, they’ve gone the extra step and created something that’s nearly unusuable for everyone.

    Driving in from the main entrance was, amazingly, originally even worse as can be seen here: http://www.urbanreviewstl.com/?p=2924

    Ironically enough, I think that part of the problem might come from ham-handed attempts to apply ‘urbanist’ principles to these parking lots.

    The Schnucks at Hampton and Gravois, built in 1970, has a much more usable parking lot than Hampton Village (reconfigured in the 1980s) and the new Loughborough Commons.

    Both Hampton Village and Loughborough Commons funnel most incoming traffic right past the front of the buildings — the very place where you’re guaranteed to have the most pedestrian activity, no matter how people arrive in the first place. The Hampton & Gravois parking lot directs cars past parking spaces before they arrive at the building.

    It’s more convenient to park this way, and because the space directly in front of the store isn’t full of cars, it’s safer and more convenient for pedestrians as well.

    This shift seems to have taken place sometime in the 1970s. There are exceptions, of course, but most things built before the mid-1970s seem to have directed cars into the back of the parking lot, to get them parked before they would come into an area with a lot of pedestrians. Most things built since then seem to do the exact opposite. I’ve put together a little map here that shows some examples: http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?ie=UTF8&t=h&hl=en&om=1&msa=0&msid=101895517405255987392.000439a1dad8b92cf8c72&ll=38.556942,-90.261075&spn=0.010546,0.006942&z=17

  6. Jim Zavist says:

    My understanding is different. Raised truncated domes are required (per the ADAAG) at places other than along a defined accessible route (for instance, at the edge of light rail platforms):

    “4.29.5 Detectable Warnings at Hazardous Vehicular Areas. If a walk crosses or adjoins a vehicular way, and the walking surfaces are not separated by curbs, railings, or other elements between the pedestrian areas and vehicular areas, the boundary between the areas shall be defined by a continuous detectable warning which is 36 in (915 mm) wide, complying with 4.29.2.”

    4.29.2 Detectable Warnings on Walking Surfaces. Detectable warnings shall consist of raised truncated domes with a diameter of nominal 0.9 in (23 mm), a height of nominal 0.2 in (5 mm) and a center-to-center spacing of nominal 2.35 in (60 mm) and shall contrast visually with adjoining surfaces, either light-on-dark, or dark-on-light.

    The material used to provide contrast shall be an integral part of the walking surface. Detectable warnings used on interior surfaces shall differ from adjoining walking surfaces in resiliency or sound-on-cane contact.

    Plus, good practice (and too many lawyers) would be to go overboard on detectable warnings – better to have them and not need them than to get sued for inadequate notice. Granted, a ramp makes little sense in this example, but if it’s there, it needs a detectable surface.

    [SLP — “…and the walking surfaces are not separated by curbs…”  When you have an accessible route and areas such as transit platforms you need to warn people.  However, when you have a curb that is good notice.   I will confer with some experts on Monday to see what they say about detectable warns — when and where to use.  I think we’ve now given this more thought than Desco did.]

  7. Jim Zavist says:

    And, as you pointed out, the really stupid part is not connecting the bike parking pad to the ramp 3′ away!

  8. Southside Tim says:

    I hate to give away my secret…..but to access the Lowes I took to driving behind the Snoock’s (as Mike Shannon would say) hating to wait while potential shoppers dropped off their passenger. So when the latest round of construction began to block the rear I now exit 55 at Germania and come in through Steins or whatever that rear street is. It’s just a matter of time before some energetic Alderperson puts up Schoemel barriers to close down those streets due to neighborhood complaints about the traffic.

  9. ex-stl says:

    hey people, I think even our wheelchair-bound citizens should have access to a secure place to lock their bikes…

  10. john says:

    My nomination for the poorest design parking lot is still the one in Brentwood called the Promenade containing Trader Joes, Target, etc. Without going into great detail, it is a nightmare and of course the meaning of promenade is a public place for walking.

  11. dude says:

    as far as the stairs, bike rack, ada strip all go, is it fair to say “quality union workmanship” or does the blame for lack of common sense soley go further up the chain of command? Besides the fubar-ness of these “functioning” big box stores (like the Promenade which on weekends, is a nightmare) when they fail and are abandoned that really leaves a mark. Without the MO dept of revenue keeping Deer Creek Center in Maplewood going or K-Mart keeping the one in 6000 block of Manchester going, those would really be dead zones. As is, they serve as a spot for beggining motor cyclists and teen drivers as a place to practice.

    [SLP — Can’t blame the union workers for this — they are most likely just following the drawings provided to them.]  

  12. Jim Zavist says:

    I’d blame the civil engineers – they’re typically responsible for site detals like these . . .

  13. Ben H says:

    As nasty as it is to move around within the site at Loughborough common, perhaps worse IMO is the tangle of gravity block retaining walls. Those designers responsible decided?/assumed that the only way to go is to take a large plot of land and turn it into a table top, eliminating any trace that the land was but dead level asphalt before construction. Even the mini mall developers have assumed the relatively minor slope along Loughborough is just too much, leveled it and put up some walls separating it from the street. The site is sloped in places, so it naturally needs some retaining walls. My objection with them is that they’re ugly, especially when built that high, and they limit the ways to get in, separating the street from the commercial activity. A natural gradient to the parking lot would have cut down the size of these by half maybe. Its a prime example of retaining wall overkill, another example would be The Wall along Hanley at the Sams/Lowes. That kind of overkill is common practice in developments built in the last decade. The only exception I can think of is the Schnuck’s in Richmond Heights which seems to use the natural topography to advantage somewhat. The reasons are many im sure, but they may include the fact that developers are building more stuff on steep suburban sites that weren’t considered buildable before, combined with a mindset that nature is something to be tamed and scraped away to make it easier for progress to park there.

  14. Jim Zavist says:

    The retaining walls are a classic example of the Law of Unintended Consequences. The easiset way to provide continuous access within a site (to meet ADA requirements) IS to make the site flat. Maintaining the existing topography would have required multiple ramps between store entrances, complicated the parking layout and increased the cost of constructing the individual structures. Maintaining the existing topography would have also made for a much-more visually interesting solution and would have tied the new project into the existing adjacent areas more seamlessly.

    [SLP —- Interestingly enough that within the site they are still not meeting ADA requirements — for example the lack of a compliant access route between the Schnuck’s & Lowe’s.  The site isn’t as flat as it looks.  Ironically, one of the best ways to meet ADA is to NOT make it flat but to retain natural contours and dedicate public streets.  This reduces access distance — an access route from Loughborough all the way to Lowe’s for example.  And while ramps are not cheap neither are all those retaining walls!  The amount of land wasted is shameful.]

  15. participate says:

    We have become regulars at the new Lowe’s, and much prefer to the Kingshighway Home Depot. The Loughborough Commons may not be up to the standards of urbanists, but it’s appearance on the Southside is a welcomed addition for most area residents. It would be interesting to survey people as the enter the center from the parking lot. I suspect most would consider the project as a “highly favorable” improvement. Considering most shopping centers around the country fit the LC formula, and most people like their communities to fit the “norm”, most would be quite satisfied with the rather ordinary results at LC. Put another way, are there lots of places around the metro that would be jealous to have their own LC? You bet there are.

  16. Adam says:

    “I suspect most would consider the project as a ‘highly favorable’ improvement.”

    i also suspect that if it HAD been built in an urban (i.e. pedestrian-oriented) fashion, people would be just as, if not more, favorable. of course people will use it as is (for a few years at least), but that doesn’t mean the alderman should be in charge the planning, or that the developer had any intention to even comply with basic ADA requirements (as is pretty obvious from discussions on this blog). please take some pride in your city!

  17. participate says:

    Hey Adam,

    The hypothesis of the last comment is that most area residents would consider LC a “highly favorable” improvement. What more pride do you want?

    [SLP — “Most” people means what exactly?  51%?  A majority?  And so what?  I’d say most people simply want a clean and convenient place to shop.  So sure, it is clean and convenient.  Is that our only criteria for granting major public funding?  The pride comes from actually building something we can be proud as being something that builds up a community rather than turning its back (along with dock doors, outdoor storage, roof ac units, etc..) to the neighborhood just so the thin front can appeal to motorists on the interstate highway.  We’ll see how proud people are once the new wears off or after their first accident from the traffic flow in and out of the new strip center section.   What a total clusterfuck!]

  18. Ben H says:

    dont mean to join the tag team but…
    –most people like their communities to fit the “norm”–
    Don’t know if thats true but i can think of many local communities that are actively trying to differentiate themselves from the “norm”, even conservative suburban communities. Wildwood, Lake St Louis, Dardene Prarie — all trying at the community government level to get some downtown-esque development. The norm does nothing to attract people to a place over any other place, and in the STL region 100+ municipalities are in competition with one another for residents and revenue, and the City is competing too though it only sometimes seems to understand that. Whether or not most people in those communities want it or would just settle for the norm is a tough question. Unless youre a pollster or politician, “most people” means just what you and your friends think. Were all just talking about personal opinions here on their own merit, I think claiming your opinion has the weight of the majority is a false argument.

  19. Jason says:

    Regarding the issue with the ramp at the bottom of the stairs- did they need the ramp? NO- but if they put the ramp there it must have domes for cane/visual impairment detection. Had they just left it as a curb they would have saved themselves some $$ and not looked like an idiot in the process. I wont start with the bike rack- you covered that one easily!

    Thank goodness there is at least a bit of elevation change over the site. I am assuming they probably would have made the whole thing flat had it not been for the 45′ retaining wall they would have wound up with at Grand and Loughborough, not to mention at the angle those things are built they wouldnt have room left over for parking. What they need is a switch back ramp (granted it would take about 3 switchbacks to get from top to bottom) near the retaining wall on the backside of the building. That still doesn’t get you from the intersection to the parking lot of the Starbucks building. They still have a way to go before they are compliant. And to think that this is a new development. Lets hope they start adding some nice long ramps with handrails to create some skatable surfaces. I could see about a 90′ stretch of ramps with landings and handrails. Maybe some teflon paint on them so grinds would last from top to bottom. They would really get some publicity then! Check this one out… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ptDZceYz8o8

    Anyway- thanks for keeping us abreast of these issues- any idea what is going in to the corner with the funky entrance? The angles look like a Best Buy or FYE. Or anyone know when the Quizno’s is opening?

    Finally- There supposedly is a guy in California who makes about $450,000 a year in lawsuits against inaccessible businesses and developments. If anyone knows the details I would love to hear them. I cannot find anything concrete on it though.

  20. participate says:

    Maybe we should meet at Carondelet Park, get a reverse directory, and make 100 random calls to households around the site and ask them one simple question: The Loughborough Commons Shopping Center has been open for approximately one year. Please rate your opinion of the shopping center on a 1-5 scale with 1 being completely unfavorable and 5 being completely favorable. My predicition? 2/3 + would rate the center a 3 or higher.

  21. Jim Zavist says:

    My bet on the corner would be Noodles & Company (another chain with Colorado roots, with locations here in Hampton Village and South County Mall, among others) . . .

  22. participate says:

    Part of the problem is the market is at work with developments like Loughborough Commons. Government’s approve ’em, developers build ’em, tenants lease ’em, people shop ’em. It’s hard to argue with success, and investors tend to be very risk averse. Give ’em a high-rated borrower, a high rated tenant mix, good neighborhood demographics, and they’ll make a low risk loan or equity investment.

  23. Ben H says:

    Participate, go for it, sounds interesting. I wouldn’t limit your poll to the immediate area, seeing as this is one of only 2 big box hardware stores in the City. I’m just gonna speak for myself for a bit here:
    The market isnt the problem in this situation. Governments approve ’em, yes, but that is outside the market, and that is a big part of why the site is so mangled. Big developments like this are going to happen, thats a given, and the developers will be as sloppy as the market lets them be. Its the city’s job to provide the leadership that will make the project integrate with the city, and the vision that will make the project a draw for the region. The whole metro area wont be coming to Lowes in South City, but depending on its success it should help attract people who want to live there. I hope it does. Speaking from personal experience it doesnt move me, but then again I already live here.

  24. Greg says:

    I’ll add a little of my knowledge to this discussion. Steve is correct in stating that curbs are preferred to truncated domes. This information has not made it’s way to the public literature but if you contact the ADA help desk they will confirm this.

    Being in the construction industry, I can confirm the obvious, that ADA is a mixed bag, everyone is aware of it, most try and conform to it, and some just try and skate by with the basics which will lead to the type of situation that we’re all discussing. In my years I’ve yet to ever see anyone ever try and get around ADA regulations, in fact the better inspectors in the city and county LOOK for ADA when they step foot onto a job site, so even if it was missed in plan review or design it should be caught at this level.

    If the inspector would say “im not signing off on this until x,y,z are complete” that would start the ball rolling in the right direction, eventually pointing back to the engineer as the source of the poor (i.e. – lazy) design, but it would get fixed. I’ve seen this happen numerous times.

    Last, there is a reason that developers keep lots on a very fine grade, carts. If your lot is over 3% in grade then the carts tend to roll (into cars). 3% is also the min when it comes to decent drainage. While it’s nice to dream about lots that contour to the site.Sometimes, there is a method behind the madness of designers… sometimes.

  25. Adam says:

    “The hypothesis of the last comment is that most area residents would consider LC a ‘highly favorable’ improvement. What more pride do you want?”
    i don’t see how considering a strip mall an improvement over a pile of dirt translates into pride… “now i can go shopping at this development that cares so little about the neighborhood they didn’t even provide sidewalks until they started getting bad publicity! and our alderman didn’t even care! i’m so proud!” anyway, as part of the survey those 100 folks should be asked to compare LC to a more pedestrian-friendly alternative (steve, any suggestions?). then i bet you 2/3+ vote in favor of the alternative.

  26. GMichaud says:

    Of course it is a horrible design. Yet I will agree many people will probably welcome it. It is like asking do you prefer Russian or English? People will go with what they know, and as Adam points out above people are not aware of alternatives.
    If there was a demonstration project that was designed for walking, was a pleasure to visit, a destination so to speak, was attractive and respected it’s neighbors, then people would have a better idea of their options.
    A more important question is what happens to this 17 million dollars? That is like winning the lottery, and I guess it is a lottery for developers. Is that bribe money to get Schnucks to build a new store?
    And how does this giveaway impact the small business?, the little grocery, the hardware stores along South Broadway, the small coffee shops? Certainly it gives a competitive advantage to stores that already are going to be profitable.
    If there is no effort to explore urban solutions then what is this money for?, to duplicate their hideous formulas they use for the suburbs?
    Developers are the robber barons of this age. If they won’t build without the money, let them go elsewhere. The city is better off without them. Small and medium size business will thrive in their place. The 17 million will supply a lot of help for small business formation.

  27. Gina says:

    Just a note – the Access Board recently posted on their website a Special Report prepared by the Public Rights of Way Access Advisory Committee which provides a fair amount of useful technical assistance and FAQ for designers. One item that the committee tried to clarify was the “where” on detectable warnings. The general answer being: at vehicular intersections, mid-block crossings and signalized driveways and entrances. In Chapter 5 – Model Sidewalks, it repeatly states that “detectable warnings at the pedestrian crossing should be provided only if the driveway or alley is signalized.” I would encourage interested folks to take a look at the document and download it. (access-board.gov).

    Sorry about the lateness of my comment – I never got to my computer yesterday –

  28. Jason says:

    Greg- for the record- accessible parking stalls should be at 2% or less. I am correcting alot of these now that are 3% PLUS because of poor site grading work. Ramps cannot be more than 8% for 30′ and require a handrail. It also depends upon pre or post ADA as to what are acceptable tolerances. Finally ADA is not enforced throught the code department- ANSI is the national standard that most municipalities use because they adopt the Internation Building Code. In that particular code they reference section A117.1 which is code enforcible. Other municipalities and states adopt their own codes. Illinois has their own as well as Texas and California.

    [SLP — Of course we know that the ADA is federally mandated civil rights law, not an optional building code that may or may not be adopted by a municipality, county or state.]

  29. Jim Zavist says:

    Building Officials can ONLY enforce the locally-adopted Building Code. They can’t enforce Parking Regulations, Liquor Regulation or the Federal ADA. As Jason points out, the current International Building Codes reference ANSI standards that mirror the ADAAG requirements. If local inspectors are not enforcing the ANSI standards (assuming the current codes have been locally adopted, which is not always the case [as I found out in Richmond Heights]), then they are derelict in their duties. The fundamental problem at LC is not-so-great site design combined with not-so-great local oversight. Fix one or both and the city will be much better off.

  30. stlmama says:

    Not even the Bread Co. and Starbucks will get me to shop at LC; as a south city resident I’ll still go to Kingshighway for Home Depot before I support this mess for which we stole people’s homes. (getting paid for it doesn’t make a forced sale any better–and no, I wasn’t one of the people directly affected). Unfortunately, as long as there are cars in that parking lot there is no incentive for the powers that be to feel they’ve screwed this up.


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