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No Overnight Parking

My brother’s subdivision, located in a far sprawling area within Oklahoma City’s huge city limits, is a curiosity to me.  No doubt we have similar subdivisions in the St. Louis region.  Every region in the US likely has a similar situation.

The subdivision is gated.  Not just to outsiders but from one part to another – wouldn’t want the Riff Raff from 3 blocks away in our part of the same subdivision.

The sidewalks don’t leave the subdivision because the major roads outside the subdivision lack sidewalks.  I can see the grocery store from his front walk but to get there requires a car trip.

Although they have plenty of room between the curbs & sidewalks, they have zero street trees.  Apparently tree-lined streets are a bad thing?  The one decorative tree in each front lawn is kept back so it can’t won’t shade the sidewalk.

The streets are not public but are privately owned & maintained by the home owners.  All houses have 3-car garages – the minimum allowed.  You can leave a non-commercial vehicle on your driveway but don’t think of leaving your car on the too wide subdivision streets overnight.  Commercial vehicles (company SUV with name on the side, for example) must be kept in the garage.

The logic goes that parked cars on the street overnight is low class and tacky.  To protect their home values, the streets must be free of vehicles.  They live in an environment where the car is a must but they don’t want to see the cars at night.

I don’t get the logic at all.

New Town at St. Charles
New Town at St. Charles, June 2005

To me the narrower tree-lined streets in older areas or New Urbanist areas like New Town at St. Charles (above) are so much more appealing, visually & functionally.

The 3-car wide driveways and the series of garage doors is much more an issue for me.  Narrow streets with parked cars help slow traffic.

Are people selecting the suburban subdivision because they is what they want or are people buying in them because they are the current perception of the ideal living environment?  Has anyone given it much thought?

Clearly the developers, in writing the rules for subdivisions, have set out guidelines that are counter to my way of thinking.  It is not like buyers have any real choice — all the new development follows the same formula – except for the New Urbanist developments which are hard to build because zoning mandates the suburban/sprawl ideal.

I’d love to buy a house in such a subdivision and plant street trees after removing the original lawn ornament tree.  I wouldn’t want to live there, just challenge their view of an ideal place to call home.  But seriously, we’ve got a major sticking issue if people don’t want cars on the street overnight.

– Steve Patterson


‘Dish Drainer’ Bike Racks Least Functional

May 28, 2009 Bicycling, Parking 12 Comments

Bike racks come in all shapes & sizes.  Some are more useful/functional than others.  Unfortunately those who specify bike racks for facilities often fail to understand what makes a bike rack useful.

Above: Saint Louis University

Take the above examples spotted at Saint Louis University yesterday on my way into class.  Both are the “dish drainer” type.  The farthest one has been there a while but the near one just recently appeared.  Note where the bikes are locked on each rack — at the end.  These racks offer many slots for bikes yet these two bikers instead used the rack frames at the end rather than the designated slots.  There are two reasons for this.

First, many modern bikes lack a kickstand.  Second, security.

Kickstands add weight and when you are riding serve no purpose.  A goood bike rack design, such as the simple inverted-U, allow the bike’s frame to be supported.  The near bike above has no kickstand.  By sliding the front wheel through one of the verticle slots that would be the sole support for the bike.  Even with a kickstand winds can knock over a bike or row of bikes that are not fully supported.  By locking to the end of the racks these riders were able to support their bikes in a way the center of the racks do not.

The second issue is security.  Modern bikes come with quick release hubs to make wheel removal easy.  Nice when changing a flat tire but also nice for thieves that may take a fancy to the rims on your bike.  Good locking practice includes running your lock/cable through your bike’s frame and at least through your front rim.  This is nearly impossible to do if you use the dish  drainer type rack unless you have a very long cable.

The dish drainer racks are often selected by facilities managers, I suspect, because they indicate they can hold a high number of bikes.  The far rack was probably listed in the product catalog as holding 20 or more bikes.  In reality it is 3-4.  One per end and a couple parallel with the rack.  I can only imagine the second rack was added because the other is often full with 4 bikes.

The inverted-U rack shown above is best.  In this case my bike does have a kickstand and it is not locked in the above picture.  But you get the idea, I’d easily be able to secure the front rim and the frame.  My urban commuter bike lacks a kickstand and has been “uglified” with stickers to the point you can no longer tell what color the frame was painted.  With such a bike leaning it against the rack for support is of no concern because scratches to a perfect paint job are mute.

There are so many bike racks on the market.  Wild custom frames seem to be all the rage locally.  I use the same criteria to judge them: does it support the bike and can you secure the frame and front rim.  Bonus if both rims can be secured.  The ability to use a U-lock is important.  The dish drainer fails on these.


Poll, Do You Pay for Parking?

The poll this week comes to us from regular reader Jim “Jimmy Z” Zavist:

One major challenge to creating a more-urban St. Louis is reducing our dependence on the single-occupant vehicle, and one of the major challenges with reducing that dependence is the perception that we have “free” parking, pretty much any place we want to go.  Sure, places like downtown St. Louis and downtown Clayton have both parking meters and garages where you pay by the hour or the month, but there are many more places where parking is “free” – just drive in and find a spot.  Currently, the cheapest bus fare is $2.00, the cheapest Metrolink fare is $2.25 and a monthly Metro pass is now $68.00.  People who choose to drive themselves, over taking Metro, do so for two big reasons, comfort and convenience.  Metro will never to be able to beat that combination, but most people also pay attention to the bottom line.

Motorists pay approximately 50 cents per mile for the privilege of having a private vehicle.  That includes the purchase price, depreciation, maintenance, repairs, fuel, insurance, taxes and fees.  Constructing parking costs roughly $10,000 per space for a surface lot, $20,000 per space for structured parking and $30,000 for below-grade parking.  Tuff-Shed will build you a two-car garage, on your own land, for $8,000.  Annual maintenance is extra, for both the commercial lots and for your own garage.  And about the only places where you see the real price for parking on the residential side is if you live in a downtown loft, where you either need to buy a space in addition to your unit or you pay a monthly fee to park in a garage or lot.  In pretty much every other case, whether you rent or own, the garage or the off-street parking is viewed as just another amenity, not an expense, and/or on-street parking is something you learn to live with and share with your neighbors.

My observation is that few people will change how they use their automobiles and live their lives until we change how we value the convenience of the SOV.  I doubt we’ll be able to do much to get people to realize the true cost both “free” parking and their SOV’s, much like how our cell phones and internet access are now just another monthly bill.  But, for the sake of argument, let’s crunch the numbers.  Assume a 15-mile round trip for the daily commute and a 2-mile drive to the nearest Metro park-and-ride lot, along with 20 work days in a month and “free” parking at your place of work or education:

Option One – use Metro:  4 miles x 20 days x $0.50/mile = $40.00 + $68.00 Metro pass = $108.00

Option Two – drive yourself:  15 miles x 20 days x $0.50/mile = $150.00

Bottom line, it costs you $42.00 per month (or $2.10 per day) or means working an extra 10 or 15 minutes to come and go when you want, with whomever you want, and likely spending much less time “in transit”.  The math speaks for itself – unless you’re an idealist, a masochist, very poor or can’t drive, that extra couple of bucks a day seems like money well spent.  But that changes, drastically, as soon as you have to pay to park that SOV, at one or both ends:

Option Three – drive yourself:  15 miles x 20 days x $0.50/mile = $150.00 + $75.00 monthly parking = $225.00

Bottom line, the difference is now $117.00 per month (or $5.85 per day) and means working nearly an extra hour per day.  The cost-benefit analysis shifts significantly, especially if it means writing another check just for the privilege of parking all day.  What’s most problematic, especially around here, are the next steps.  For many employers, and even some employees, the choice is not transit, but to seek out cheaper or “free” parking – Metro, especially in its current condition, really only works well if you work in downtown St. Louis or Clayton, the Barnes medical complex or attend Wash. U. or UMSL.  As a region, we’re blessed (or cursed) with a lot of vacant and underutilized land and buildings.  There’s little incentive to build new, structured parking, and because of this, we get little significant new density, the kind that can support “good” public transit.

We end up repeating the suburban, autocentric model, even in the city, simply because there’s no economic reason to do otherwise.  Based on some very limited research, the highest land cost I was able to find downtown is $650/sq. ft. (and much is well below $200/sq. ft.)  Compare that to Manhattan, where land sells for more than $12,000/sq. ft.  We can talk urbanism, but until we embrace it, buy into it, and land values start to make surface parking look irrational, we’re going to continue to get more of the same.  And no, we can’t legislate our way out of this – we can’t just impose significantly higher real estate taxes on parking lots or reduce parking requirements.  If the economics make sense (and your competitors are or will be doing it), retailers, employers and residential developers will all continue to build the number of parking spaces they perceive their customers or employees demand.  This equation will only change, locally, when the cost of providing parking gets to be too great, for everyone, and that will only happen when land values increase, significantly.

The poll is in the upper right of the main page.  Thanks Jim for the interesting question.  For me my garage space at home is “free” but I pay to park at Saint Louis University.


KMOX NewsRadio Used My Photo Without Attribution (Updated 2X)

When I first read KMOX’s May 13th story, Paul McKee — What’s his plan for north St. Louis? I thought something, the image used, looked familiar.  Here is how the story looked on KMOX’s website:

I reviewed my 160+ published images from an August 16, 2007 bus tour of Paul McKee’s properties and there was the image used in KMOX’s online story:

I published the above image and the others from the bus tour to Flickr that same day, 8/16/2007.  On August 21, 2007 I published  Bus Tour of Dilapitated McKee-owned Properties Ignored Other Issues using 20 images from the 160 I took that day.  The above image was among the 20 used.

I have 15,000+ images published on the photo sharing site Flickr, all using a Creative Commons license which grants the right to use the image provided attribution is listed:

Attribution — You must attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor (but not in any way that suggests that they endorse you or your use of the work).

But CBS-owned KMOX 1120AM used my photo as if it was their own with no attribution to the source.

My photos are part of my work.  I want them used but I want the credit.

I’ve emailed numerous persons on KMOX’s website asking for attribution or for them to cease using my image.    Hopefully they will see fit to give me credit.

UPDATE 5/18/09 @ 9:10AM — In the last hour KMOX has removed my image from their story.

UPDATE 5/18/09 @10:30AM — Just received phone call from KMOX Reporter Kevin Killeen apologizing for the uncredited use of my image.


Stealing a Sidewalk

April 29, 2009 Downtown, Parking 14 Comments

For decades the NW corner of 11th & Locust was known not for the parking lot that we see today, but Miss Hullings Cafeteria on the ground floor of the building. Miss Hullings closed in late 1993 and the building was razed.

But lately neighbors have questioned the line between the public sidewalk and surface parking lot:

Looking South along 11th. Note the different with of the sidewalks.

Buildings were built up to the property line to maximize the land. Thus the public right-of-way was well defined by the fronts of the buildings.

The opposite view looking North.

Based on the photos you’d think the ROW made a jog at the alley line, but it doesn’t. From the city’s Geo St. Louis site we see the right-of-way is aligned with the adjacent blocks:


The parcel in question is shown in blue.

The boundaries of city blocks and the widths of public rights of way have been documented for years. So what happened here? Our public space has been stolen, that’s what. The same condition applies along Locust.

1909 Sanborn Map.
1909 Sanborn Map.

In the 1909 Sanborn map we can clearly see the consistent 60 foot right-of-way for both Locust & 11th. This map predates the Miss Hullings building on the NW corner as well as the Louderman building on the SW corner. The structures have changed but the line between public and private has not. Well, in practice it has.

This parking lot owner, an LLC based in Arizona, can park more cars by using part of the public right of way. It is bad enough we have these vast surface lots in our downtown. The lack of any sort of landscaping, wall or fence makes it worse. But to have the sidewalk area stolen from the public is just wrong.

The city now has better rules regarding the separation & screening. But we can’t go back and apply those rules retroactively. But couldn’t the city construct a wall or fence on the edge of the ROW? This surface parking lot is not the only one downtown lacking screening but as far as I know it is the only one that has stolen park of the public space. We need our sidewalk back and we need to keep cars off the public space intended for pedestrians.

I do not know if the current owner created this situation or not.  Maybe when it was done it was a ploy to take the public land through adverse possession? Although I don’t think private parties can get public land this way?

Several in the area have been working behind the scenes to adress the theft of this sidewalk for a while now. I found it an interesting situation worthy of being shared. I know we have bigger thibgs (economy, swine flu, etc) but someone has to look out for the little things. To me the theft of a public sidewalk is not so little.

Update 4/29/09 @ 12:30pm — Michael Allen of The Ecology of Absense just finished a post on the Miss Hullings building.  Check it out here.

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