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Utility Work on Washington Ave

January 3, 2014 Featured, Planning & Design, Public Transit Comments Off on Utility Work on Washington Ave

For a while now workers have been cutting a trench in Washington Ave to do utility work.

Utility work on Washington Ave 15th-17th
Utility work on Washington Ave 15th-17th

In the process it has been closed to eastbound traffic. Both directions of the #94 & #97  MetroBus routes have been rerouted to Locust St. Thankfully I haven’t needed to catch either of these for a while. I usually catch them at one of three stops between 14th-18th, I’ve not seen any temporary stops on the reroute. If I need the bus I’ll have to travel to a stop beyond the reroute, to the normal route or see online if Metro has posted temporary stop locations.

The noise has been loud during the day, I can only imagine how loud for those with windows facing Washington Ave. But new infrastructure doesn’t just pop into place — noise, dust, inconvenience, etc are part of the process.

Just looking forward to when the project is completed.

— Steve Patterson

 

We Don’t Need Sidewalks…Nobody Walks Here

For 9+ years now I’ve written thousands of posts advocating for a better St. Louis. I know that getting developers to just meet the minimum requirements of our local  building & zoning codes, the minimum guidelines of the American’s with Disabilities Act of 1990, etc. will not create great public & private spaces. That will, at best, make sure development won’t harm the public by collapse and not infringe the civil rights of the disabled.

To create great spaces it takes everyone (citizens, developers, business owners, architects, civil engineers, etc) looking at a site and thinking “what would make this great?” not, “what’s the least we can get away with?” We need a process in St. Louis to examine developments with respect to pedestrian access. If we did we’d see better connected projects — and more pedestrians. Let’s take Gravois Plaza as an example.

The old Gravois Plaza was razed and a new development built on the site, in December 2004 I wrote:

I’m in this area 2-3 times per week and I have always seen pedestrians taking this unfriendly route. I guess one could take the attitude that people are walking anyway so what is the big deal. However, the message to people is clear – if you don’t have a car we really don’t give a shit about you. Sure, we don’t mind if you walk here to spend your money but don’t expect us to go out of our way to do anything for you.

In the meantime the parking lot is way too big and has so few trees it is almost comical. How is it TIF financing can be used to finance a project that is closed to the neighborhood to the West & North, is anti-pedestrian and is mostly paving? Our city must not have any codes requiring a connection to the neighborhood, pedestrian access and even something so basic as a reasonable level of landscaping.

The old Gravois Plaza, for all its faults, was more accessible to neighbors to the North. People could enter at Potomac & Gustine and enter the courtyard space. So while the new Gravois Plaza is cleaner and features a nice Shop-N-Save store it is less pedestrian-friendly than the old Gravois Plaza.

So what would I have done you ask? Well, I would have destroyed the wall along Gustine and connected the development to the neighborhood by regrading the site. To achieve a true connection to the surrounding neighborhoods I would have divided the site back into separate blocks divided by public streets. Hydraulic Street, the South entrance along Gravois, would be cut through all the way North to Potomac Street. Oleatha & Miami streets would be cut though between Gustine on the West to Bamberger on the East. This, of course, is completely counter to conventional thinking about shopping areas.

With all these new streets plenty of on-street parking could have been provided. Several small parking lots could be provided as necessary. Arguably, less total parking could have been provided as you’d have more people willing to walk from the adjacent neighborhoods. Ideally, some new housing would have been provided above some of the retail stores. Big Box stores like the Shop-N-Save have been integrated into more urban shopping areas in other cities – it takes a willingness on the part of the city to show developers & retailers the way. The smaller stores would easily fit within a new street-grid development.

A substantial amount of money was spend rebuilding Gravois Plaza but the area is not really a part of the city. It is a suburban shopping center imposed upon the city. This could have been so much more.

I now know the site never had cross streets, the Sisters of the Good Shepherd convent was built on 11 acres in 1895.

A 1903 Sanborn map shows the convent pre-dated much of the housing. Click image to view on the UM Digital Liibrary
A 1903 Sanborn map shows the convent pre-dated much of the housing.
Click image to view on the UM Digital Library
We can see the east wing extended all the way to the property line at  Bamberger Ave., more connection than the two iterations of Gravois Plaza since
We can see the east wing extended all the way to the property line at
Bamberger Ave., more connection than the two iterations of Gravois Plaza since

The original Gravois Plaza, built in 1971, didn’t consider pedestrians from the surrounding neighbors or via bus on Gravois. Thirty years later the same mistake was repeated when the site was cleared and rebuilt. In 2001/2002 we knew better but with no formal policy on pedestrian access the new project got financial help to take place.

A pedestrian policy would require an analysis of pedestrian access points and a pedestrian circulation plan. Of the five buildings on the site of the convent only one, the Wendy’s built in 2010, connects to the sidewalk. None connect to each other.

The ADA route from the public sidewalk to the suburban-style Wendy's
The ADA route from the public sidewalk to the suburban-style Wendy’s

Some people, those who champion the lowest common denominator, seem to think everyone drives everywhere. They’ll point to awful anti-pedestrian areas and say “See, I told you nobody walks here.” They ignore the path worn in the grass of pedestrians finding their way to their destinations. People walk, especially to buy groceries, even if the environment isn’t designed for walking.

We live in a city where many use public transit and walk daily, why not design new development to accommodate them as well as the motorist?

gravoisplazasite2013
The red arrows are how pedestrians access  the site and needed internal connections. The green circle is the walkway to Wendy’s.  Original image: Apple Maps, click to view in Google Maps.

It starts when a site is targeted for development. It might be an old industrial site or a place that’s been vacant for decades, so no pedestrian traffic exists. But the point of new development is to attract people — to jobs and retail services. Some will walk.

Questions to ask at the start:

  • What direction(s) will pedestrians come from to reach the site? Can we anticipate more pedestrisns at some arrival points versus others?
  • Will the site have more than one building when fully built out? How will each be reached from outside the site and from each other?
  • Can we make the design pleasant enough that people walk to the site rather than drive, allowing for a reduction in the amount of surface parking needed?
  • Can we arrange the building(s) so those who arrive via car to park and walk from store to store?
  • Can planter areas next to the pedestrian route(s) be used to catch & retain storm runoff?

It costs little, does no harm, to ask these questions at the earliest stages of a project. Asked later and the answer is likely to costly to make changes. Never asking them risks a ADA discrimination complaint.

We can build better developments that are welcoming to everyone, and don’t need a new government incentives to be razed and replaced 10-30 years later!

— Steve Patterson

 

6th Street Facade of One Financial Building is Retail Ready

In November I suggested that Stifel missed an opportunity for good urbanism by putting a sculpture at Broadway & Washington corner of their building, One Financial, rather than corner a corner retail space. Here’s how the corner looks now:

Bear vs. Bull sculpture by  Harry Weber
Bear vs. Bull sculpture by Harry Weber at Broadway & Washington

I finished that post with “They can still create an active corner on the west side, at 6th — facing MetroLink.” I still wish something more active was on the front corner, but the 6th Street side is made for retail.

The NW corner of One Financial at 6th & Washington, adjacent to the Convention Center MetroLink station
The NW corner of One Financial at 6th & Washington, adjacent to the Convention Center MetroLink station
At a back door we can tell the interior floor is even with the sidewalk making access easy.
At a back door we can tell the interior floor is even with the sidewalk making access easy.
The 6th Street facade was designed new to have  retail space
The 6th Street facade was designed new to have retail space
Entrance to the retail space has existed since 1984
Entrance to the retail space has existed since 1983, before St. Louis Centre opened across the street
This retail space is very visible from the new 600 Washington lobby.
This retail space is very visible from the new 600 Washington lobby across 6th St
Same point looking toward Washington Ave we see the MX with Pi Pizzeria on the ground floor, mote MetroLink entrances, The Laurel Apts, Embassy Suites, and the future Blues Hall of Fame.
Same point looking toward Washington Ave we see the MX with Pi Pizzeria on the ground floor, mote MetroLink entrances, The Laurel Apts, Embassy Suites, and the future Blues Hall of Fame.
One Financial's 6th St facade as seen from across the street at the top of the MetroLink stairs
One Financial’s 6th St facade as seen from across the street at the top of the MetroLink stairs
Next door  the base of the parking garage was also designed for retail uses
Next door the base of the parking garage was also designed for retail uses

I’m very aware there’s already lots of vacant retail space available, but this large space in One Financial has great visibility at a corner busy with locals and visitors: location, location, location! Retailers looking for the right space are going to hire a commercial broker to search listings to find the right location, it it’s not listed they’re not going to consider it.

I’d much rather see a “retail space for lease” sign than closed office blinds. Stifel needs to relocate anyone in this space to another floor in the building and get this space on the market.

— Steve Patterson

 

Fields Foods Has Blatant ADA Violation, Shouldn’t Get Occupancy Permit Until Corrected (UPDATED)

In early November I visited the site of a new grocery store opening on January 4th, Fields Foods.  I was disappointed with respect to pedestrian access:

I’m very glad to see the store nearing completion. It’ll provide needed jobs, though jobs may be lost elsewhere as people change where they buy groceries. Sadly, it doesn’t appear any consideration to the many who will arrive daily on foot, some pushing strollers, and even the occasional wheelchair user. <snip>

Hopefully, somehow, I’ll be proven wrong when the grocery store opens January 4th.

I visited again last Thursday, and with the site work done I can say it isn’t what I expected: it’s both better and worse!

A new sidewalk connects to the public sidewalk along Lafayete, something I didn't see on my prior site visit.
A new walkway connects to the public sidewalk along Lafayete, something I didn’t see on my prior site visit. Could I have been wrong, is this a proper ADA-compliant access route?
Unfortunately this walkway is only for the able-bodied because at the end there isn't a curb ramp, nor one across the driveway
Unfortunately this walkway is only for the able-bodied because at the end there isn’t a curb ramp, nor one across the driveway
The non-ADA walkway seen from the driveway looking back toward 14th & Lafayette
The non-ADA walkway seen from the driveway looking back toward 14th & Lafayette
The green line represents what would be a logical point for a crosswalk, the red line is the route wheelchair users, like myself, will be forced to use after entering via the main automobile drive, formerly 14th Street. This is a major conflict with cars.
The green line represents what would be a logical point for a crosswalk, the red line is the route wheelchair users, like myself, will be forced to use after entering via the main automobile drive, formerly 14th Street. This is a major conflict with cars.
The sidewalk remains from when 14th was a public street. Pedestrians entering via 14th will have to walk in the grass since the sidewalk wasn't continued.
The sidewalk remains from when 14th was a public street. Pedestrians entering via 14th will have to walk in the grass since the sidewalk wasn’t continued. A BSI employee confirmed the concrete work was complete, the rest of this area will be grass or plantings.
Anyone thinking about pedestrian access would've connected to the 14th & Lafayette intersection.
Anyone thinking about pedestrian access would’ve connected to the 14th & Lafayette intersection.
The able-bodied not pushing a stroller or walking  with a small child and approaching from the west will likely but through the parking lot (right) rather than use the walkway where the red sign is located.
The able-bodied not pushing a stroller or walking with a small child, and approaching from the west, will likely cut through the parking lot (right) rather than use the walkway where the red sign is located.
As I previously noted, no provisions are provided for pedestrians to the east.
As I previously noted, no provisions are provided for pedestrians to the east. St. Louis has or will be vacating Soulard St between 13th and the former 14th
The ADA also requires a pedestrian route between buildings within the same development, which wasn't considered here at all.
The ADA also requires a pedestrian route between buildings within the same development, which wasn’t considered here at all. Another building(s) is planned for the land bounded by Lafayete, 13th, Soulard (former), and 14th (former).
Not sure who's a fault for the failure to comply with the spirit and letter of the ADA: owner, designer, contractor?
Not sure who’s a fault for the failure to comply with the spirit and letter of the ADA: owner, architect, contractor?
Or perhaps the developer is to blame?  My guess is a combination of all of these as well as the City of St. Louis.
Or perhaps the master developer is to blame? My guess is a combination of all of these as well as the City of St. Louis. Pace is the developer behind the proposed Midtown Station and served as IKEA’s commercial broker

Last Thursday I contacted several St. Louis officials to alert them to the issues I discovered. I suggested they withhold the occupancy permit until the walkway is retrofitted to be ADA-compliant with a curb ramp, crosswalk, and curb ramp on the building side. Providing pedestrian access not accessible to all is a very clear ADA violation.  I gave my card to the BSI employee I talked to last week, he said he’d give it to the owner. I’ve not heard back from anyone.

It would’ve been fairly easy to design & build this to be highly accessible/walkable from all directions, new construction shouldn’t need to be retrofitted. When the city is vacating public streets pedestrian access from that direction should be provided.

The parties involved in the project are collectively incompetent with respect to pedestrian access. The ADA is more than grab bars in the bathroom. I’ll be there on January 4th to see if the situation is improved.

— Steve Patterson

UPDATE 12/23/2013 @ 9:45am — I just talked with Fields Foods owner Chris Goodson, he said workers are correcting the situation. The sidewalk shown wasn’t part of the original design, it was added after the fact after my November post.

 

Temporary ADA Ramp At Park Pacific, Final Wood Ramp Planned

In August I posted about An Infuriatingly Avoidable Accessibility Issue while trying to visit Art Saint Louis + Mississippi Mud, shared tenants at the Park Place building. Here are a couple of photos from that post:

I snapped this shot in late April showing the step into the retail space. New door, new step, new sidewalk -- all from 2011.
April 2013. New door, new step, new sidewalk — all from 2011.
Since April the step got yellow paint so guests don't trip.
August 2013: the tenant space finally leased but only yellow paint to highlight the glaring ADA issue

I’ve been checking to see any change and finally the other day something was different: a temporary ramp. I snapped the following photo and continued.

Temporary ramp
Temporary ramp first spotted on 12/17
Two days later I returned with my digital level, the maximum slope is 8.3% (1:12).
Two days later I returned with my digital level, the maximum slope is 8.3% (1:12) but this is 23.4% (100-76.6).

I was told by a tenant employee the building’s owner, The Lawrence Group, is “curing wood” to be used for their final solution.  It’ll need to extend three times as far out to be ADA-compliant, the sides will also need to be sloped. This is necessary because the architects at The Lawrence Group forgot it was necessary to make this tenant space accessible as part of the $70 million dollar renovation of the building that opened in 2011.

Once I spot the next wood ramp in place I’ll check the slopes, take pics, and post again.

— Steve Patterson

 

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