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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

Readers Like Bike Lanes, Overlook Design Flaws

An overwhelming majority of readers like bike lanes, at least according to the unscientific poll last week:

Q: Which of the following best fits your view of bike lanes:

  1. Bike lanes are important, should be incorporated into street designs 75 [48.7%]
  2. Bike lanes are a great idea that needs to be taken to the next level 44 [28.57%]
  3. Bike lanes help keep cyclists out of my way when driving 16 [10.39%]
  4. Bikes are traffic, shouldn’t be segregated to the side 10 [6.49%]
  5. Bike lanes aren’t needed, give novice riders a false sense of security 3 [1.95%]
  6. Bicyclists should use sidewalks, not have their own lane 3 [1.95%]
  7. Doesn’t matter to me 2 [1.3%]
  8. Unsure/no answer 1 [0.65%]

This is despite some serious flaws in how they’re often implemented, especially in St. Louis.

Sign posted on westbound Lafayette Ave just before Jefferson Ave.
Sign posted on westbound Lafayette Ave just before Jefferson Ave.
Eastbound on Olive just before Jefferson the bike lane becomes part of the right turn lane
Eastbound on Olive just before Jefferson the bike lane becomes part of the right turn lane

The bike lane often becomes part of the automobile right turn lane, novice cyclists move over the right instead of holding their position. A cyclist going straight ahead shouldn’t be to the right of a car turning right — that’s a formula for conflict. Other cities do a much better job.

The places where cars are allowed to cross bike lanes for right turns are very clear in Portland OR.
The places where cars are allowed to cross bike lanes for right turns are very clear in Portland OR.

Bike lanes are great at keeping the cyclist to the right of vehicles, but leave the novice cyclist at a loss as to how to make a left turn. To turn left a skilled cyclist on the roads will make their way from the right lane, to left lane, to the left turn lane — just as you would if driving a car.  However, with bike lanes present, motorists get upset with cyclists who don’t stay in their bike lane.  How do you get from point to point without left turns?

If we’re going to have bike lanes I think they need to be designed far better, not just be a way to deal with excess roadway width.

— Steve Patterson

Lindell & Euclid: Worth the Wait

In April 2006 it looked like Opus Development would be moving forward on a high-rise condo tower at the NE corner of Lindell & Euclid. They’d revised the base and been granted a variance to permit the height. However, the project was abandoned even before the economy crashed.

Now Opus is back with a new proposal for the corner, Ald. Lyda Krewson tweeted on December 6th “Lindell Residences proposed for Lindell/Euclid – 217 first class apts.” with this pic attached:

Artist rendering of proposed building at Lindell & Euclid.
Artist rendering of proposed 12-story building at Lindell & Euclid. A later tweet in response to questions Ald. Krewson says they propose 240 parking spaces on three levels –two below grade, one above.
NextSTL then tweeted this image of the retail base.
NextSTL then tweeted this image of the retail base.
Revised proposal in April 2006
April 2006: Opus’ proposal for 26-story building, with a revised base from the Feb/March 2006 proposal.

Back in 2006 the historic code required heights to be relative to other buildings. The language, like many of our historic codes, was poorly written. Today the Central West End’s form-based code isn’t wishy-washy: maximum of 12 stories at this location.

The new form-based code and the mixed-use project one block south with apartments over a Whole Foods likely renewed interest in this conner. Ok, it is apartments instead of $300k condos. No big deal, when I rented an efficiency in The President 2 doors to the east in 1990 an A.G. Edwards VP rented the large apartment next door! Rental apartments aren’t a bad thing at all.

The NE corner of Lindell & Euclid was built in 1968. A high-rise was planned for this site when the economy crashed.
The NE corner of Lindell & Euclid was built in 1968.
The SW corner of Lindell & Euclid has been a parking lot for 20+ years
The SW corner of Lindell & Euclid has been a parking lot for 20+ years, will hopefully draw interest from developers for retail & residential.

While a tall tower makes the skyline more interesting, the latest proposal will have a bigger positive impact. The decision to go underground with most of the parking makes the base more appropriate.

I’m glad the 26-story building proposed in 2006 didn’t happen, the new proposal was worth the wait.

— Steve Patterson

Cortex District Needs A Pedestrian Circulation Plan Before IKEA Is Built

Cortex is a district created by a collaboration of numerous research institutions, self-described as:

Founded in 2002, Cortex is mid-America’s premiere hub for bioscience and technology research, development and commercialization, anchoring St. Louis’ growing ecosystem of innovative startups and established companies. Providing state-of-the-art facilities to support the nation’s most promising technological advances, Cortex offers custom lab and office space, proximity to world-class research institutions, a highly-trained tech workforce, access to venture capital…all surrounded by amenity-rich urban neighborhoods.

They describe the location like this:

Cortex is conveniently located next to I-64 and easily accessible via private or public transportation. The area is home to some of St. Louis’ most exciting attractions and neighborhoods. In addition to being neighbors with other leading science and technology companies, you are within easy reach of Forest Park, which is larger than New York’s Central Park, the St. Louis Science Center, the St. Louis Zoo, The Muny and many other cultural and entertainment centers. Midtown is also home to charming sidewalk cafes, galleries, antique shops, boutiques and pubs. The area has been described as a little European, a little New York, and totally St. Louis.

For a while now Cortex has been working to add a new transit station along the existing MetroLink light rail line. I don’t know if it has been given the green light, but it has been studied at great length. Here are some quotes from a June 2013 ULI Technical Assistance Panel Report:

By placing the station as close to Boyle as possible, riders would be welcomed to the District by the Commons, thereby creating an impressive and distinctive park-like ‘front door’ to the District. The station would be also easily visible from Boyle, making way-finding easier and promoting future ridership by virtue of its visibility to auto traffic.

While the station should be placed close to Boyle, the Panel still felt strongly that the station should be accessible to pedestrians and bicyclists via entrances at Boyle and Sarah, providing riders with two options for ingress/egress. Directional signage should also be placed on and highly visible from both streets to assist passengers with finding the station entrance. (p5)

Of immediate note was the current state of the streets and pedestrian experience in the District. There is a significant amount of overgrowth in the area, particularly along sidewalks, which leaves visitors with a sense that the area is largely ignored or abandoned. To truly operate as a District, care should be taken to maintain the sidewalks and streetscapes throughout the area, not just those in the immediate vicinity of current or complete development. (p10)

With the station nearing reality and additional businesses planning to bring innovation and employees to the District, the members of Cortex are faced with another opportunity to come together once again to solve a need. In this instance, the challenge is parking in the District. By creating a parking district or ownership/management entity consisting of the five Cortex members, a more thoughtful and comprehensive strategy can be put in place which will address future parking needs, create a unified parking solution that is in keeping with the design and operational principles of the District, and help determine the most advantageous pricing strategy that will meet the needs of the consumer, fund the parking entity, and ultimately provide for a system of parking that is successful and sustainable. (p12)

The report also talks about Cortex’s plan to make Duncan Ave a pedestrian-oriented street. I know from personal experience it’ll need a lot of work to get to that point. Cutting off Duncan before it reaches Vandeventer isn’t a good idea, though IKEA could be used a nice terminus.

However, St. Louis has more than two decades of experience with light rail stations surrounded by anything but good transit-oriented development (TOD). Now’s the opportunity to change. I’ve yet to see any evidence, ULI study included, that anyone has looked at the route(s) pedestrians would take to get to/from this proposed station and all the building sites within the district.

What needs to happen immediately is the development of a pedestrian plan for the district and just beyond its borders. This would be similar to a traffic circulation study, but for people. See Seattle’s Pedestrian Master Plan (h/t to Exploring St. Louis).

Some of the questions that need to be asked are:

  1. Are there barriers to pedestrian circulation within the district? (hint, yes)
  2. Is the pedestrian network sized and designed to handle expected foot traffic at build out?  (no)
  3. Does the existing pedestrian network have ADA-compliance issues? (Big YES)
  4. Does the existing pedestrian network encourage transit use and/or walking? (no)
  5. How will pedestrians get from the proposed MetroLink station to the proposed Midtown Station retail development across Vandeventer? (see below)

With these asked and identified new work can be built to reduce problems, not create new ones, and gradually improve the area. Let’s take a look at some specifics:

Proposed site plan for the IKEA, I marked the area to the east to indicate the proposed retail development. Click image to view larger.
Proposed site plan for the IKEA, I marked the area to the east to indicate the proposed retail development. Click image to view larger version.
Looking east from in front of the grain silo toward the future IKEA. A sidewalk exists currently.
Looking east from in front of the grain silo toward the future IKEA. A sidewalk exists currently.
Current site plan doesn't show pedestrian access from the south side of Duncan Ave., intersection at Sarah needs to be addressed to connect IKEA to MetroLink.
Current site plan doesn’t show pedestrian access from the south side of Duncan Ave., intersection at Sarah needs to be addressed to connect IKEA to MetroLink. Click image to view larger version.
For pedestrians going from MetroLink or other locations to Midtown Station is means taking a convoluted route in front of IKEA.  For SLU students arriving at the corner of Forest Park & Vandeventer they'll likely cut through the parking lot rather than use the ADA accessible routes. Click image to view larger version.
For pedestrians going from MetroLink or other locations to Midtown Station is means taking a convoluted route in front of IKEA. For SLU students arriving at the corner of Forest Park & Vandeventer they’ll likely cut through the parking lot rather than use the ADA accessible routes.
Click image to view larger version.

IKEA’s Reed Lyons told me they tried different configurations, including pushing the building out to the corner so it would be more urban. I believe him, but this is the “show-me” state so I’d like to see these rejected configurations. It’s like in school when you had complicated math problems — you had to show your work.

I also want to explore the width of Forest Park and Vandeventer. Both have a parking lane, roughly 10ft wide, that will become useless since there isn’t a reason to park on the street. Will this lane but used to direct traffic into the IKEA or can we do curb bulbs or other treatments to reduce the width of the roadway? There’s no reason to leave unused paving.

I do have one idea on how to get pedestrians from the proposed MetroLink to Vandeventer and the proposed Midtown Station retail project — a pedestrian route next to the tracks.

Overview of pedestrian routes that need examination. A direct path next to the track down to Vandeventer could help increase the walkability of the area, serving as another way for SLU students to reach a light rail station. Click image to view a larger version.
Overview of pedestrian routes that need examination. A direct path next to the track down to Vandeventer could help increase the walkability of the area, serving as another way for SLU students to reach a light rail station. Click image to view a larger version.
MetroLink train crossing over Vandeventer.
MetroLink train crossing over Vandeventer. A pedestrian path next to the tracks is not unlike the bike/ped peth in St. Clair County, click for information.

I’m excited about IKEA and realize it and Cortex have a lot of potential for St. Louis and the region. I also know just plopping in a light rail station doesn’t automatically create a vibrant & walkable neighborhood/district.  Planning today will pay off in the long run.

— Steve Patterson

 

IKEA St. Louis: The Good & Bad

I’ll never forget the first time I stepped into an IKEA store, in August 1990. At that time IKEA only had a handful of stores in the US, I visited the 2nd located in Woodbridge VA outside Washington D.C. All were on the east coast. Since then I’ve shopped at five more IKEA locations, including the two Chicago-area locations: Schaumburg (opened in 1998) and Bolingbrook (opened in 2005).

Today every room in our loft includes products from IKEA:

  • Kitchen: Shelves, serving dishes, silverware, gadgets, bar stools, etc
  • Dining Room: table, art
  • Living Room: sofa, tv stand, wall shelves, end tables,
  • Office: Wall of bookshelves, lighting
  • Bedroom: bed, nightstands, chests, shelving, sheets, duvet, lighting
  • Closet: wood hangers (no wire hangers!)
  • Bathrooms: cart for toiletries, towels, art

We’re happy with the quality of all the items except the sofa — it was the cheapest one they sold about 8 years ago and it needs to be replaced. Was a good value though.

Some of the IKEA trips I’ve had over the years I bought very little — even their compact flat packages are too big for the overhead bins! I can, however, recall 4-5 trips to Schaumburg/Bolingbrook, either by myself or with a friend, where we left with our vehicle packed so tight we barely fit inside to drive back to St. Louis. The time I bought the sofa we were driving a Jeep Grand Cherokee — we tied the sofa to the roof rack because the inside was full. I’ve also made two purchases through a local company that brings back items for a fee. Why share all this? To show I’ve been a customer for many years.

In March I posted that distribution was key to IKEA’s midwest expansion, that we’d see a store only after the Joliet IL distribution center, announced in 2007, was actually open. When it became clear recently that IKEA was going to announce plans for a St. Louis location I wondered if I was off in my assessment so before the press conference last week I asked Joseph Roth about the long-stalled Joliet distribution center. Turns out the St. Louis location is the “tipping point” to justify the new distribution center! When the Kansas City-area IKEA opens next fall it’ll be stocked from an east coast distribution center like the two Chicago area stores have been. Roth said they’re not sure which will open open first: the new distribution center or the St. Louis store. If the St. Louis location opens before the distribution center, it won’t be far behind.   

Last week IKEA officials announced plans to seek approval for a store at Forest Park & Vandeventer:

IKEA, the world’s leading home furnishings retailer, today announced it is submitting plans to the City of St. Louis, Missouri for a store that would increase the Swedish retailer’s presence in the Midwestern United States. The application marks the beginning of the governmental approval process. Until the store opens in Fall 2015, customers can shop at the closest IKEA stores: the Chicago-area IKEA Bolingbrook and IKEA Schaumburg; or online at IKEA-USA.com. Additionally, a Kansas City-area store is under construction and on track to open Fall 2014 in Merriam, KS.

Located in the heart of Midtown St. Louis, the 380,000-square-foot proposed IKEA store would be built along the northern side of Interstate-64 near the Vandeventer Avenue exit. It would sit on nearly 21 acres purchased in the Cortex Innovation District, a vibrant technology community created to commercialize the benefits of university and regional corporate research in St. Louis. One level of parking below the store and spaces accessible at-grade would provide approximately 1,250 parking spaces on-site. Store plans reflect the same unique architectural design for which IKEA stores are known worldwide. IKEA also will evaluate potential on-site power generation to complement its current U.S. renewable energy presence at nearly 90% of its U.S. locations. (IKEA)

IKEA doesn’t own the land yet, that’ll happen if they get approvals to proceed.

Location of the proposed IKEA in St. Louis.
Location of the proposed IKEA in St. Louis. Source: IKEA

The good news:

  1. A lackluster corner will have lots of activity
  2. Adjacent to light rail (MetroLink) and on the #42 MetroBus route.
  3. The store will draw customers from over 100 miles away
  4. Tax revenue generated for the city will be substantial.
  5. 300 permanent jobs will be created
  6. Will likely spur adjacent development consisting of more retail, hotel(s), and restaurants.

The bad news:

  1. Most of the activity generated on Vandeventer & Forest Park will be motorists coming and going.  Traffic will be a nightmare if signals aren’t well timed.
  2. Despite being near public transit, many customers and some employees will drive.
  3. Getting out of town visitors to stay and spend more money will be a challenge.
  4. What will be the sales tax rate we’ll have to pay? Bolingbrook IL is 8%, Schaumburg is 10%.
  5. Many of the jobs will be low paying.
  6.  Adjacent development, such as the proposed Midtown Station, will be low-density sprawl.

On Thursday I’ll look at design issues that need to be addressed by IKEA, CORTEX, and the city.

— Steve Patterson

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