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Opinion: Recent Flooding An Act of Mankind, Not A Deity

May 10, 2017 Featured, Planning & Design, Politics/Policy Comments Off on Opinion: Recent Flooding An Act of Mankind, Not A Deity

The afternoon of Sunday April 29th I posted a news story to this blog’s Facebook page with a title that read: “MoDot: Very good chance Route 141 at I-44 underwater by Monday morning.” It was. Route 141 didn’t reopen again until late Monday May 8th. When posting the article I’d said: “Sprawl is to blame.”

Two comments stood out:

  1. Maybe rain is to blame. Not everything needs to be blamed folks.
  2. Poor design is to blame – how hard is it to to (re) build a road higher than known flood levels?! Higher than the adjacent flood wall?!

These two comments, both from individuals I know personally, demonstrate why the region is in this mess in the first place. The “it rains, it floods” and “just build higher” is exactly why such a major flood happened again so soon after the December 2015 flood.  We’ve been building higher which helps some initially — but water must go somewhere. More on this later.

Those who believe in a diety might say something like “It’s all part of his plan.” This is the “I can’t understand it so God must have done it” response.

Flooding on the St. Louis riverfront is a common occurrence. At least now the light fixtures stayed dry by being on raised concrete piers. May 7, 2017

The phrase “act of God” does have legal meaning:

act of God
n. a natural catastrophe which no one can prevent such as an earthquake, a tidal wave, a volcanic eruption, a hurricane or a tornado. Acts of God are significant for two reasons 1) for the havoc and damage they wreak, and 2) because often contracts state that “acts of God” are an excuse for delay or failure to fulfill a commitment or to complete a construction project. Many insurance policies exempt coverage for damage caused by acts of God, which is one time an insurance company gets religion. At times disputes arise as to whether a violent storm or other disaster was an act of God (and therefore exempt from a claim) or a foreseeable natural event. God knows the answer! (Law.com)

Note that flooding isn’t in the above definition. To be fair, other definitions do include flooding. As an atheist, I prefer the term, “act of nature.” But our recent flooding was neither — it was manmade.

“Land use is really a huge factor in flooding,” Holmes said. “From what I’ve seen, it trumps climate change in some areas.”

It’s definitely “a bigger game-changer,” he says, in urban areas, where paved surfaces drive more runoff into waterways and still more water is diverted by levee systems.

Bob Criss, a professor at Washington University’s Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences who studies flooding, agrees that the cumulative impact of diverted water — and not rainfall — best explains the region’s recent major floods.

The problem, he says, was especially apparent with last week’s crest of the Mississippi River. Such a big river, he says, should not normally be so sensitive to similar episodes of rain. But he says it’s increasingly behaving like a small basin “because it’s far too squeezed” by levees that amplify flood severity. (Post-Dispatch)

The City of St. Louis divorced itself from the largely rural St. Louis Count in 1876. In the 20th century population began to spread out — consuming more land per person. Just in the nearly 27 years I’ve lived in the region I’ve seen lots of low flood plain get developed.

Chesterfield Commons has over 2 million square feet, this site was flooded in 1993.

In the recent non-scientific Sunday Poll most didn’t think flooding was an “Act of God.”

Q: Agree or disagree: Recent flooding in the St. Louis region was an “Act of God.”

  • Strongly agree 0 [0%]
  • Agree 5 [14.71%]
  • Somewhat agree 2 [5.88%]
  • Neither agree or disagree 3 [8.82%]
  • Somewhat disagree 4 [11.76%]
  • Disagree 3 [8.82%]
  • Strongly disagree 16 [47.06%]
  • Unsure/No Answer 1 [2.94%]

Flooding throughout the region will continue until we take the necessary steps to undo the causes. This means we must remove considerable non-poutous paving, and un-develop flood plains. This line of thought led me to again watch Ellen Dunham-Jones’s 2010 TED Talk on Retrofitting Suburbia.

At the 16 minute mark she talks about regreening parts of Atlanta — pulling development back from waterways. The St. Louis region desperately needs to do this. I doubt anything like this will take place, regular flooding will continue.

— Steve Patterson

 

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

April 24, 2017 Books, Featured, 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

 

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