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Reading: Within Walking Distance: Creating Livable Communities For All by Philip Langdon

April 24, 2017 Featured, Reading, Walkability Comments Off on Reading: Within Walking Distance: Creating Livable Communities For All by Philip Langdon

Last week I received a new book that immediately caught my attention. Within Walking Distance: Creating Livable Communities For All speaks to a core personal issue for me — walkability. Before the personal automobile displaced public transit, most everything in American cities was within walking distance. For nearly a century now Euclidean, AKA single-use, zoning has actively created places that are well beyond walking distance.

I’m not alone in seeking out walkable places:

For five thousand years, human settlements were nearly always compact places. Everything a person needed on a regular basis lay within walking distance. But then the great project of the twentieth century—sorting people, businesses, and activities into separate zones, scattered across vast metropolises—took hold, exacting its toll on human health, natural resources, and the climate. Living where things were beyond walking distance ultimately became, for many people, a recipe for frustration. As a result, many Americans have begun seeking compact, walkable communities or looking for ways to make their current neighborhood better connected, more self-sufficient, and more pleasurable.

In Within Walking Distance, journalist and urban critic Philip Langdon looks at why and how Americans are shifting toward a more human-scale way of building and living. He shows how people are creating, improving, and caring for walkable communities. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. Starting conditions differ radically, as do the attitudes and interests of residents. To draw the most important lessons, Langdon spent time in six communities that differ in size, history, wealth, diversity, and education, yet share crucial traits: compactness, a mix of uses and activities, and human scale. The six are Center City Philadelphia; the East Rock section of New Haven, Connecticut; Brattleboro, Vermont; the Little Village section of Chicago; the Pearl District in Portland, Oregon; and the Cotton District in Starkville, Mississippi. In these communities, Langdon examines safe, comfortable streets; sociable sidewalks; how buildings connect to the public realm; bicycling; public transportation; and incorporation of nature and parks into city or town life. In all these varied settings, he pays special attention to a vital ingredient: local commitment.

To improve conditions and opportunities for everyone, Langdon argues that places where the best of life is within walking distance ought to be at the core of our thinking. This book is for anyone who wants to understand what can be done to build, rebuild, or improve a community while retaining the things that make it distinctive. (Island Press)

I’ve visited Portland’s Perl District and Philadelphia’s Center City, in July we’ll go to Chicago’s Little Village. Learning from other places is one of the smartest ways to get the inspiration to tackle neighborhoods that have great potential.

Within Walking Distance: Creating Livable Communities For All by Philip Langdon, releasing next month, is available via Island Press, Left Bank Books, and Amazon.

— Steve Patterson

 

Some Drivers Get Confused On Locust Street at Tucker

April 17, 2017 Featured, Planning & Design Comments Off on Some Drivers Get Confused On Locust Street at Tucker

Many people get confused by one-way streets. At least once per week I see this on display at Locust & Tucker. Locust St is one-way Westbound as it approaches Tucker. Those of us familiar with the area know both lanes can continues straight and cross Tucker; the left lane can also turn left onto Southbound Tucker, the right lane can also turn right onto Northbound Tucker. Simple enough.

Looking West toward Tucker
Same view with cars in both lanes

So what’s the confusion? I often see the first car to the light be in the right lane but signaling to turn left. If nobody stops to their left I’ve seen them turn left from the right lane. I’ve seen then try to do a double left from the right lane — even though cars in the left lane can go straight.

Clearly it isn’t obvious to some motorists that wish to turn left that they should be in the left lane. When we drive here we’re usually in the right lane going straight — less likely to get hit by a confused motorist than if we went straight in the left lane. .

Signs &/or pavement markings might help clarify this intersection.

— Steve Patterson

 

Safety Expert Killed Crossing 4th Street 15 Years Ago Today.

March 20, 2017 Downtown, Featured, Walkability Comments Off on Safety Expert Killed Crossing 4th Street 15 Years Ago Today.

I post often about the poor pedestrian conditions in downtown St. Louis — such as these from last year:

Fifteen years ago this morning a safety expert was killed while walking across 4th street.

ST. LOUIS — A Washington state woman who was one of the country’s top experts on bicycle and pedestrian safety was killed yesterday morning when she was struck by a tour bus while crossing a downtown intersection here.

Susie Stephens, 36, of Winthrop, Wash., was struck shortly after 8:30 a.m. 

The driver of the Vandalia Bus Lines vehicle told police he did not see Stephens as he made a left turn.

Stephens, a consultant, was in St. Louis to help stage a conference on innovative approaches to transportation sponsored by the Forest Service, said William “Bill” Wilkinson of the National Center for Bicycling and Walking in Washington.

Stevens was just a year older than me.

This intersection has been improved, the crosswalk length shortened. However, pedestrians don’t get an advance signal to give them a head start.

There have been numerous events remembering her since she was killed here, this one from 2015 is touching:

The 2015 Stihl Tour des Trees began in Orlando Oct. 25. From there the group cycled 103 miles to Ruskin. Then 70 miles to Sarasota and 93 miles to Punta Gorda. Wednesday morning the group left for the 70 mile ride to Matlacha Park where they planned to plant a Live Oak Tree.

“In the course of this tour we will plant 13 new trees,” DiCarlo said. “Today’s tree is dedicated to Susie Stevens and The Susie Forest. Sadly Susie Stevens was struck and killed by a bus crossing the street in St. Louis in 2002. Her mother, Nancy McCarrow, has been volunteering for many years with the Stihl Tour des Trees planting trees in remembrance of her daughter. We call this collection of trees ‘The Susie Forest’. (Source)

Hopefully the next mayor will take pedestrian experience & safety seriously.

— Steve Patterson

 

Accessibility To Food Trucks Is Often Lacking Due To Location Issues

January 30, 2017 Accessibility, Featured, Planning & Design, Popular Culture Comments Off on Accessibility To Food Trucks Is Often Lacking Due To Location Issues

More than two decades after the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed, the ongoing food truck revolution remains largely inaccessible to those of us who use wheelchairs. Not because of the tricks themselves, but because of where they park.

From a 2013 post — Foods trucks at Third Degree’s open house require lining up on grass — a challenge for some.

In early September a proposed food truck park was in the news:

St. Louis may soon get its first food truck park — a regular gathering spot for some of the area’s best-regarded mobile kitchens. The proposed site is on a stretch of South Vandeventer Avenue — not far from the popular Grove entertainment district — that officials hope to regenerate with new businesses.

Some planning remains, and the park’s developers have yet to choose the project’s name. But they have a site and hope to conduct a food truck pop-up event there this fall.

If plans work out, next spring a rotating assemblage of food trucks will begin to operate daily on what is now an overgrown lot next to the long-ago home of Liberty Bell Oil Co. The vacant building at 1430 South Vandeventer will be redone as the joint commissary for the food trucks. (Post-Dispatch)

My hope is if this moves forward it’ll be designed so everyone can patronize the food trucks. Often I can’t reach the trucks parked downtown at one of my favorite spots: Citygarden.

Even downtown many access problems exist. Just walk up right?
Even downtown many access problems exist. Just walk up right?
No, in this case the window isn't lined up with the walk shown in the previous picture.
No, in this case the window isn’t lined up with the walk shown in the previous picture.
Market next to Citygarden is a very narrow strip of concrete. Enough to stand on but not enough for a wheelchair.
Even when the window is lined up it can still be a challenge if there are others in line.

When I started blogging 12+ years ago I argued for more food carts to activate streets — food trucks weren’t a thing yet. I still wish food carts were more common because they trend to be easier to access in a wheelchair. But trucks have replaced carts so now we need to ensure the public can access them.

— Steve Patterson

 

Senior Apartments To Be Built Adjacent To Swansea MetroLink Station Parking Lot

January 9, 2017 Featured, Metro East, Planning & Design, Public Transit, Transportation Comments Off on Senior Apartments To Be Built Adjacent To Swansea MetroLink Station Parking Lot

Back in September 2016, on the 20th,  I received a press release from our transit agency Metro — aka Bi-State Development:

SWANSEA, IL, SEPT. 20, 2016…  Southwestern Illinois Development Authority (SWIDA), in partnership with Bywater Development Group and Bi-State Development (BSD), is pleased to announce a new, $10.5 million development that will bring senior apartment living adjacent to the Swansea MetroLink Station in Swansea, Ill. The transit-oriented development (TOD) project, which will be developed by SWIDA and Bywater, was approved by the Illinois Housing Development Authority (IHDA) in Chicago on September 16. 

This new development, called Metro Landing of Swansea, will feature a handsome three-story building with 62 affordable one- and two-bedroom apartments for older adults seeking an independent lifestyle. Located adjacent to the Swansea MetroLink Station, residents will have car-free transportation options via MetroLink and MetroBus to conveniently access restaurants, retail, entertainment venues, recreational locations, employment centers, and medical facilities around the bi-state region. The Swansea Station is located on the Metro East Park and Recreation District BikeLink trail system, so seniors will be able to utilize the trail for exercise and recreation.

This development would not have occurred without the collaboration of a number of groups including IHDA, the St. Clair County Transit District and the Village of Swansea.  The Village has been a vital asset in the predevelopment planning process.  “It is truly an example of how public and private partnerships can lead to an important community investment,” James Nations, SWIDA’s Chairman said. “This is an excellent opportunity for SWIDA and Bywater Development Group to contribute to active senior housing as this segment of the population continues to grow.” The SWIDA Board of Directors is seeking other markets in the region in need of comparable developments.

Mike Lundy, Executive Director of SWIDA said, “It has been great working with Bi-State Development. We are very pleased with the new senior housing development and worked extremely hard to move this development forward.”

“This new development to be positioned next to the Swansea MetroLink Station reflects other successful transit-oriented projects in our area, and is a testament to the positive benefits the Metro transit system brings to the region,” said John Nations, President and CEO of Bi- State Development (BSD). BSD operates the metro public transportation system for the St. Louis region. 

“Metro Landing of Swansea is reflective of a very strong and effective public/private partnership and stands to serve as a model for transit oriented senior housing. It will create both a positive impact on the community and an ideal living environment for its residents.  Our organization is highly honored to be a part of this collective effort,” said Aaron Burnett, President of Bywater Development Group.

Metro Landing of Swansea is scheduled for construction commencement in the summer of 2017 with full completion by late summer of 2018. 

 

About SWIDA

The Southwestern Illinois Development Authority is a special-purpose, municipal corporation and local governmental unit whose purpose is to promote and enhance economic development within the counties of Bond, Clinton, Madison and St. Clair Ill. To learn more, visit www.swida.org. 

About Bi-State Development

Bi-State Development (BSD) operates the St. Louis Regional Freightway, the region’s freight district, and the Bi-State Development Research Institute. BSD is the operator of the Metro public transportation system for the St. Louis region, which includes the 87 vehicle, 46-mile MetroLink light rail system; 391 MetroBus vehicle fleet that serves 77 MetroBus routes; and Metro Call-A-Ride, a paratransit fleet of 120 vans. BSD owns and operates St. Louis Downtown Airport and the Gateway Arch Riverboats, as well as operates the Gateway Arch Revenue Collections Center and Gateway Arch trams. 

Within 90 minutes of receiving the press release I emailed Mike Lundy of SWIDA and Aaron Burnett of Bywater Development volunteering to help with accessibility, pedestrian issues, etc. I wanted to make sure they avoided common problems I’ve found throughout the region.Unfortunately, I’ve yet to hear back from either.

The stories online that day from the Post-Dispatch & other media outlets was a rephrasing of the press release along with the image provided.  Rather than do the same as others, I visited the Swansea MetroLink station and surrounding area a few days later  — on the morning of September 23rd. I was in the area nearly 2 hours — taking 158 photos in that time.

Go back up and read the press release again, you’ll see buzz words/phrases like ‘car-free’, ‘transit-oriented senior housing’, and ‘ideal living environment.’ Yeah…not so much.

The main thing these independent seniors will be buying is groceries. The nearest grocery store is al Aldi about a half a mile walk to the South, a Schnucks just over a half mile to the North. Before we go to the grocery stores let’s take a look at the station.

From the station looking out we see a drive for buses, a drive for cars, and surface parking for cars.
From the station looking out we see a drive for buses, a drive for cars, and surface parking for cars.
Out looking back we see the main parking lot -- another is to the left out of frame. Most likely the new building will be built on the grassy area to the right.
Out looking back we see the main parking lot — another is to the left out of frame. Most likely the new building will be built on the grassy area to the right.
A more direct look at the likely spot where the building whirl be built. Other than the parking lots, this is the largest land owned by Metro at this station.
A more direct look at the likely spot where the building whirl be built. Other than the parking lots, this is the largest land owned by Metro at this station.
Further away firom the station we see the secondary parking lot on the left
Further away firom the station we see the secondary parking lot on the left

Let’s go to the Aldi first since it is slightly closer and we’re almost out to the main road, IL-159/N. Illinois St.

Looking back from near the main road.
Looking back from near the main road.
Looking South at IL-159, but no sidewalk on this side. Metro also owns owns this land and building, so perhaps they plan to build senior housing here?
Looking South at IL-159, but no sidewalk on this side. Metro also owns owns this land and building, so perhaps they plan to build senior housing here?
I went back to the station and used the circuitous trail to head South. The trail goes under Belt (left), a spur comes up (right)
I went back to the station and used the circuitous trail to head South. The trail goes under Belt (left), a spur comes up (right)
Heading toward the side of the Aldi
Heading toward the side of the Aldi
Getting closer
Getting closer
At this point you're dumped into the parking lot where you risk getting hit by cars. The store entry is to the left out of the frame.
At this point you’re dumped into the parking lot where you risk getting hit by cars. The store entry is to the left out of the frame.

Let’s return to the station entrance and go North to try to access the Schnucks. Though the Schnucks is also on the West side of IL-159, there’s no sidewalk so we must cross to the West to head North.

Not exactly friendly
Not exactly friendly
Looking back West we see an office park that includes medical offices -- not reachable as a pedestrian though
Looking back West we see an office park that includes medical offices — not reachable as a pedestrian though
Catching a bus at the station would save some distance, the Schnucks is behind the Mcdonald's
Catching a bus at the station would save some distance, the Schnucks is behind the Mcdonald’s
On the NW corner of 159 & Fullerton Rd we see the bus stop needed if we wanted to catch the bus back to the station. There's no sidewalk here, how do we reach the store?
On the NW corner of 159 & Fullerton Rd we see the bus stop needed if we wanted to catch the bus back to the station. There’s no sidewalk here, how do we reach the store?
The North side of Fullerton Rd has a sidewalk, but theres no connection to the Schnucks or other businesses.
The North side of Fullerton Rd has a sidewalk, but theres no connection to the Schnucks or other businesses.

Seniors living here might not be able to carry a bag or two of groceries, so an inexpensive folding shopping cart is a good option. But traversing parking lots are dangerous and trying to get the cart up & over many curbs is a challenge at any age/ability. My experience confirms the WalkScore of 33 out of 100 for the MetroLink light rail station — car dependent.

Metro and its partners want everyone to believe seniors will be able to live here car-free. I realize pedestrian-friendly development doesn’t happen around transit immediacy — it takes time. This station has only been open since…May 5th…2001 — over 15 years!

— Steve Patterson

 

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