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Improved Pedestrian Space Comes Before Pedestrians

November 18, 2010 Downtown, Walkability 12 Comments

Often readers comment that my pictures never show pedestrians.  They’ve said it is hard to justify improving the pedestrian environment given how few pedestrians we have.  To me the opposite is the case, we have so few pedestrians because our pedestrian spaces are so deficient.

ABOVE: A couple of pedestrians walk east toward the Amtrak/Greyhound station in August 2008.

My the logic of some we should have this dismal sidewalk bustling with pedestrians before investing in improving the area.  But if the area is teaming with pedestrians there would be little reason to make capital improvements.

- Steve Patterson

New Downtown Rain Garden Reduces Sidewalk Width Too Much

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ABOVE: New rain garden in the 11th St sidewalk between Pine & Olive

Here is an addition to downtown you may have missed, here was the press release:

ST. LOUIS, November 10, 2010 – The Downtown Community Improvement District (CID) has installed its first demonstration Rain Garden at the corner of 11th and Pines Streets. One of the CID’s goals for this project was to catalyze a trend toward more sustainable streetscapes in the city. The 11th Street pilot project employs a new segmental wall and curb system, called Freno, that offers a cost-effective, modular method of building an urban rain garden.

This rain garden was designed to capture rain water from the gutter and adjacent parking lot, prior to reaching the sewer system. This sustainable landscape does not require watering and gives back to the environment by specifically designated plants and soil mix that filter out 80-90% of the pollutants from car fluid and road treatment chemicals.

Rain gardens have been designated in the downtown St. Louis streetscape plan and they are gaining popularity in downtowns across the nation and abroad. With this in mind, the need for sustainable landscapes in downtown is becoming more and more important.

The materials and labor that went into the construction of this rain garden has been 100% donated by the City of St. Louis Department of Streets, HOK, Midwest Products, St. Louis Composting, Forrest Keeling Nursery, and the Downtown CID.

This Downtown Next priority is brought to you by the Downtown CID – dedicated to a cleaner, safer, more vibrant and greener Downtown. Downtown St. Louis is a regional leader in sustainable practices.

I like rain gardens, they do a great job of reducing water runoff.

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ABOVE: Close up look at the rain garden, which replaced a former driveway
ABOVE:
ABOVE: one of two places where water from the gutter will run into the rain garden

But I also like sidewalk space and this new rain garden consumes way too much of the width of the sidewalk.  Eliminating a driveway into the adjacent parking lot is a very good thing but with the reduced width of the sidewalk I’m concerned about cars parking too far forward.

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ABOVE: fencing around small parking lot at 10th & Olive

Ideally there would be fencing to prevent cars from parking so their front ends don’t further squeeze the sidewalk space.  Simple wheel stops in the parking lot would solve the problem on the cheap.  The rain gardens on 9th & Market (Citygarden) extend out from the curb line into what is normally the parking lane.  Here, on 11th, parking is not permitted next to the rain garden so the street width is excessive for the two travel lanes.  The curb to curb for the roadway is too wide but the sidewalk width was cut in half. Typical.

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ABOVE: trash accumulated in the rain garden on one visit

The problem of trash will be ongoing.  Good intentions, poor execution.

– Steve Patterson

Sidewalks Are Constantly Abused

ABOVE: Sign consumes much of sidewalk along Olive between 14th & 15th
ABOVE: Sign consumes much of sidewalk along Olive between 14th & 15th

Many see the public sidewalk as wasted space where they can do as they please.  Presumably that is the case of this for lease sign I spotted early yesterday morning. Hopefully the St. Louis Streets Dept didn’t grant them a permit to place this sign on the sidewalk.  Yes, the sidewalk is still passable but such things greatly reduce the pedestrian experience.  We do need more pedestrians in the city but we need to stop giving people reasons not to walk.

– Steve Patterson

Poorly Executed Pedestrian Access Around St. Louis Federal Reserve

Yesterday I posted about the challenges crossing 4th Street at Locust (Crosswalks & Curb Ramps Needed at 4th & Locust) to get to the Federal Reserve.  Today I want to share problems with crossing Broadway (5th) at Locust and St. Charles at Broadway to reach the Federal Reserve.

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ABOVE: view looking east across Broadway on the south side of Locust

The situation, above, differs from 4th in that here a crosswalk exists on the pavement.  However, there is no curb ramp on the far side. Like 4th, this was done when the Federal Reserve took over this block of Locust for their pedestrian plaza.

From the Post-Dispatch on December 11, 2003:

A $13 MILLION PLAN to restore the Security Building took an important step forward — and so it seems did a proposed $90 million investment by the 500-pound gorilla next door, the Federal Reserve. … The designs for the Security Building, by the way, revealed another interesting transformation: a Fed plan to replace Locust Street between Fourth and Broadway with a pedestrian plaza.

So the Federal Reserve spent $90 million but they couldn’t include a couple of curb ramps in newly poured concrete?  Unacceptable!  But in November 2005 the Downtown St. Louis Partnership (now Partnership for Downtown St. Louis) gave the Federal Reserve an award for the plaza.

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ABOVE: view looking east across Broadway on the north side of Locust

There is one spot where both ends of the crosswalk have curb ramps, shown above.  Recently the Federal Reserve completed their expansion, which included a new sidewalk along St. Charles St.

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ABOVE: view looking east across Broadway at St. Charles

On the right you will see a curb ramp at the corner of the new work by the Federal Reserve.  Not sure where someone is supposed to go from there.  The detectable warnings direct the blind into the middle of the intersection.  I suppose someone could cross Broadway since an exit from a parking garage could serve as a dangerous curb ramp on this side of Broadway.

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ABOVE: view looking south across St. Charles at Broadway

When trying to cross St. Charles there is a curb ramp on this side of the street, between the building corner and the traffic signal.  However, the ramp for the other side is way out at the corner, hidden from view by the blue & yellow boxes.  Brilliant!  I guess for only $90 million you can’t expect much?

Keep in mind that others, such as parents with strollers, use curb ramps.  These issues are personally frustrating to me but they make St. Louis less than ideal for all pedestrians.

– Steve Patterson

Crosswalks & Curb Ramps Needed at 4th & Locust

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ABOVE: view looking west across 4th on the north side of Locust

Pedestrians trying to cross 4th Street at Locust face an interesting combination of ramps and signals.  Neither side has a marked crosswalk.  On the north side of Locust there is an older ramp on the east side of 4th but when the St. Louis Federal Reserve didn’t bother to include a ramp on the west side.

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ABOVE: view looking west across 4th on the south side of Locust

The south side of Locust has the opposite problem, a ramp on the west side but not one on the east.  This side, however, does include a pedestrian signal.  However, a crosswalk is badly  needed here because motorists on the one-way street don’t know where to stop when they get a red light.  This is a dangerous intersection for the able-bodied pedestrian and impossible for the disabled pedestrian.

St. Louis vacated Locust between 4th & Broadway (5th) but nobody ensured that pedestrians could get to/from this one-block pedestrianized street.

– Steve Patterson

North 14th Street Finally Reopened To Vehicle Traffic

ABOVE: North 14th Street Pedestrian Mall 1991
ABOVE: North 14th Street Pedestrian Mall 1991

In March 1977 the North 14th Street Pedestrian Mall opened with high expectations.  However, the high expectations quickly turned to high vacancy as merchants closed up shop. Retailers have long known the importance of providing some on-street parking in front of their establishments but over 100 pedestrian malls had been built in North America by 1977 and St. Louis didn’t want to be left out of the trend.

ABOVE: 14th & Montgomery, 1972 (pre-mall), photo by Robert Spatz

Just fourteen years later, in 1991, the mall was nearly dead.  It had already been this way for a while.  It had, perhaps, one good year of life.

ABOVE:
ABOVE: Earlier this week the street was opened to auto traffic

In July a celebration was held to mark the completion of the street but delayed streetlights meant the city wouldn’t permit vehicles.  Prior to the mall the sidewalks were narrow and broken.  After the mall there was far more sidewalk than pedestrians.  Today the street offers a balance between pedestrian & motorist. With construction time, North 14th was out of balance for 34 years, a very long time when the failed urban planning experiment prevented organic revitalization of the street.

– Steve Patterson

Reaching My Polling Place

My polling place is just under a mile west of my loft, just west of Jefferson at the Heritage House senior housing building located at 2800 Olive.  In the past few elections I have driven my car but I decided to use transit for yesterday’s election.  The bus ride was direct and short.

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ABOVE: Looking west across Leffingwell Ave on the north side of Olive St

Exiting the bus at Leffingwell Ave & Olive St. I noticed the first problem, I couldn’t cross Leffingwell due to no curb ramp on the other side of the street. I needed to cross Olive St. anyway so I did that first.

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ABOVE: Looking west across Leffingwell Ave on the south side of Olive St, the eastbound bus shelter is visible on the sidewalk

Unfortunately, the same problem existed when trying to cross Leffingwell on this side of Olive.  Since I needed  to cross the street to vote I had to look for alternate places to cross.

img_1126Halfway down the block I found a place to cross, on the east side of Leffingwell was a drive from an alley and the other side was a driveway for my destination.  My first preference to cross a street is a signalized intersection.  Second is a 4-way stop and the least desirable is mid-block. I was well aware that

I have reported this lack of curb ramps to St. Louis’ Citizens Service Bureau via Twitter (@csbSTL).

- Steve Patterson

Update on Taxi Stand on Sidewalk

ABOVE: Rams fans are forced around taxis on Sunday Oct 31, 2010
ABOVE: Rams fans are forced around taxis on Sunday Oct 31, 2010, taking the narrow path next to the curb or the circle driveway

I’ve been blogging about the placement of a taxi stand on the sidewalk in front of the convention center for years, with few results. In January 2007 I posted this video of a taxi exiting the stand via the pedestrian crosswalk:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GRusfBYJ-_8

That prompted the Convention & Visitors Commission (CVC) to add bollards at the two crosswalk locations across Washington Ave.  This prevented the taxis from exiting onto the crosswalk but it didn’t address the primary problem: the former sidewalk was now occupied by taxis.  Where should the pedestrians walk?

Pedestrian traffic on the sidewalk in front of America’s Center has increased since the old St. Louis Centre pedestrian bridge came down but it has still been hard to capture the problem in still images or video.  But Sunday after the Rams game the sidewalks were packed and it became easy to photograph & video the problem with parking taxis smack dab in the middle of the pedestrian sidewalk.

The following video is seven minutes of people walking around the taxis, not riveting but telling of the problem.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1CQb8asXp3A

Happily I think a solution is near, I will meet with the CVC next week to see a drawing of their concept on how to return the sidewalk space to pedestrians. I’m finally optimistic about the situation.

– Steve Patterson

Most Readers Keen On Sunken Public Spaces, But Many Not

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ABOVE: sunken amphitheater at Kiener Plaza

Readers like the changes of level offered by sunken spaces, here are the results from last week’s poll:

Q: How do you feel about sunken public spaces like the May Amphitheater?

  1. I like the change of levels. 62 [52.1%]
  2. Not good, it is hard to see activity going on. 36 [30.25%]
  3. Unsure/no opinion 12 [10.08%]
  4. Other answer… 9 [7.56%]

The other answers were:

  • I don’t care for them; they are just plain ulgy!
  • Ok for certain uses, like an amphitheatre, but not really a good idea otherwise
  • Not sure, this needs a refresh on its look.
  • great for events like Macy’s Holiday Celebration
  • Doesn’t work unless their is natural contours to work with
  • Nice to have elevations as long as one elevation feeds to street level
  • It depends on context
  • It makes a great place to skateboard.
  • Love em, they draw my attention right to em
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ABOVE: sunken amphitheater at Kiener Plaza during an anti Prop A rally

So you can see people around the edge during an event but you have no clue how many are inside.

img_0983From the outside you can’t see the stage or get any sense of the activity happening within.  Some changes of level, such as at Citygarden, is good but  a hidden hole is bad.

– Steve Patterson

The Schlafly Bottleworks Lacks Pedestrian Route To Front Door

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ABOVE: One of two automobile entrances at Bottleworks with the entrance in the background

Twice now I have visited Schlafly’s Bottleworks in Maplewood (map) using public transit. Being disabled, I arrived at the site in my power wheelchair after departing the bus. The issue of access is the same for the able-bodied using transit or by walking from the surrounding area.

While it is great Schlafly reused an old grocery store building it is unfortunate their architect/engineer didn’t include a walkway to connect to the public sidewalk on Southwest.  During the $5 million construction work, in 2003, a patio was added out front and the parking lot was reconfigured. It is at this time that a walkway should have been added to connect the public sidewalk to the front door.

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ABOVE: pedestrians can see, but not reach, the front door from the sidewalk

As you can see from the above photo the distance to reach the walk next to the patio just isn’t that great. From an aerial view it looks like this:

bottleworksaerial
ABOVE: the blue line represents the short path to connect to the public sidewalk

The amount of effort that would have been required, at the time the work was done, would have been minimal.  Even today the effort isn’t much, including the loss of one auto parking space.

Hopefully Schlafly’s will see fit to correct their pedestrian access deficiency. Based on my conversation with the manager last night I think they will.

– Steve Patterson

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