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St. Louis’ Low Standards Turns A Once-Proud City Into A Suburban Office Park

We can all agree St. Louis must retain existing employers and attract new ones. Unfortunately, St. Louis has a habit of forgetting about urban design along the way.   Let’s take a look two examples; one within the proposed 100 acres site for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and one to the immediate West.

First is a warehouse currently occupied by Faultless Healthcare Linen.

This warehouse, built in 1991, will be razed if the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency picks the city site over three others in the region.
This warehouse, built in 1991, will be razed if the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency picks the city site over three others in the region.
This small building from 1899 helps hide the awful warehouse behind it.
This small building from 1899 helps hide the awful warehouse behind it.

I remember when this was built in 1991 — I’d just moved to Old North St. Louis and passed it daily on Jefferson.  One street was closed, the rest are faced with blank concrete block walls.

The next example is Pharmaceutical company Sensient Colors Inc., their 30-acre campus at 2515 N. Jefferson is to the West of the potential National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency site.

The Sensient building was built in 2004.
The newest Sensient building was built in 2004 faces Jefferson but no entrance here, no public sidewalks even.
Looking NE from Elliot Ave between N. Market & Benton. The company has removed public sidewalks from the public-right-of-way adjacent to their facility.
Looking NE from Elliot Ave between N. Market & Benton. The company has removed many public sidewalks from the public-right-of-way adjacent to their facility.

Never heard of Sensient? I hadn’t either, but you’ve likely seen their products — on your plate.

Most of the world’s largest food and beverage manufacturers use Sensient colors and flavors to make their household brand-name food and beverage products. (St. Louis Business Journal)

Now, the demand for natural colors is suddenly outpacing demand for synthetics, and Sensient, which makes both, is responding. It has sophisticated technology it won’t explain (it does mention doing “supercritical CO2 extraction”) to pull the coloring agents from botanicals. It has a Fusion Precise Natural Color system that lets customers specify not just a particular color, but also a subtle shade of that color. And it has a head start: 60 years’ experience with natural colors. (St. Louis Magazine)

I get it, they have trade secrets. Still, in a city people do walk to work — especially from public transit. I believe we can retain/attract employers without turning our city into a suburban office park.

— Steve Patterson

 

Good News Friday (#GNF): Improved Pedestrian Crossing On Olive

It’s Friday so that means a post with good news. Today’s good news is that the area of Midtown known as Grand Center is beginning to implement some of the improvements from their master plan. The blocks between Grand & Spring are very long — too long. They’d painted crosswalks at midpoints years ago, but these crossing points didn’t work for those of us in wheelchairs. Even the able-bodied could face difficulties with parked cars, motorists not stopping, etc.

So last month I was happy to see a new crossing on Olive between the Nine Network (KETC) and St. Louis Public Radio (KWMU)

Looking North
The curb gently bows out to narrow the crossing with of Olive. Looking North, the Nine Network on the left, St. Louis Public Radio on the right, the new Media Commons plaza center.
Looking South
Looking the other direction you can see both new ramps built within the parking lane.

In April 2010, while visiting the Pulitzer, I photographed the problem in Grand Center: paint but no ADA ramps, cars able to block the crosswalk. The following was very common in Grand Center so I’m very glad to see it getting addressed!

April 2010
The Subaru wagon is parked in line with other cars. but blocking the crosswalk. No ramp on either end of the crosswalk. April 2010

Pushing the ramps out into the parking lane puts pedestrians where they can look both directions and where motorists can see pedestrians entering the crosswalk so they can stop to let them cross. Tomorrow will be a nice day so get out and take a walk. See you Sunday with a new poll.

— Steve Patterson

 

Board Bill 198 Would Improve ‘Complete Streets’ Law

An incomplete street: The ramp is on the other side of the traffic signal base, opposite of the button. No crosswalk.
An incomplete street, Gravois @ McNair: The ramp is on the other side of the traffic signal base, opposite of the button. No crosswalk.

This morning I will testify before the Board of Aldermen’s Streets, Traffic and Refuse committee in favor of Board Bill 198:

BOARD BILL NO. 198 INTRODUCED BY ALDERMAN SCOTT OGILVIE, ALDERWOMAN LYDA KEWSON, ALDERWOMAN MEGAN GREEN, ALDERMAN SHANE COHN, ALDERWOMAN CHRISTINE INGRASSIA, ALDERWOMAN CAROL HOWARD An ordinance repealing Ordinance 68663, codified as Chapter 3.110.120 of the Revised Code of the City of St. Louis and in lieu thereof enacting a new ordinance relating to a “complete streets” policy for the City of St. Louis, stating guiding principles and practices so that transportation improvements are planned, designed and constructed to encourage walking, bicycling and transit use while promoting safe operations for all users.

The first reading of the bill was in November, this will be the first hearing on it. The full Bill, as introduced, can be viewed here (5 page PDF).  As noted in the summary above, it repeals & replaces Ordinance 68663 — a “Complete Streets” law adopted a few years ago.  This new bill is more — complete.

The best part is the creation of a Complete Streets Steering Committee, comprised of:

Directors or their designees from the Departments of Streets, Planning and Urban Design, Board of Public Service, Health Department, Department of Parks, Recreation, and Forestry, and the Office of the Disabled.

This committee would meet quarterly and:

  • Develop short-term and long-term steps and planning necessary to create a comprehensive and integrated transportation network serving the needs of all users;
  • Assess potential obstacles to implementing Complete Streets practices;
  • Develop an action plan to more fully integrate complete streets principles into appropriate policy documents, plans, project selection processes, design manuals and  maintenance procedures;
  • Provide an annual written report and presentation to the Board of Aldermen showing progress made in implementing this policy.

We can do better, I’m glad some aldermen are trying. For more information see the National Complete Streets Coalition.

— Steve Patterson

 

Three Infill Projects Accomodate Pedestrians and Motorists

I’m a huge fan of Retrofitting Suburbia, the redevelopment of formerly auto-centric suburban retail sites. In late September, while on my honeymoon, I got to see three different examples in the Denver area. Two site once had traditional enclosed malls, the third was previously an airport. We started with the oldest and finished with the newest.

Englewood, CO

In June 2000 the CityCenter Englewood project opened, replacing Cinderella City mall that had opened just 32 years earlier:

The mall was completed and officially opened for business on 7 March 1968 and once held the distinction of being the largest covered shopping center west of the Mississippi River. It featured four sections: Rose Mall, Gold Mall, Shamrock Mall and Cinder Alley. In addition, the Center Court area was known as the Blue Mall. It was demolished in 1999. (Wikipedia)

Englewood was founded in the 19th Century but largely developed in the Post-WWII era. Like many post-war suburbs, it lacked a downtown. By the 1980s newer malls had eclipsed Cinderella City. In the late 1990s they saw the replacement of the mall and the coming of light rail as an opportunity to build a downtown:

CityCenter Englewood replaced Cinderella City with a transit-oriented development (TOD).  This TOD is a pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use concept that includes retail, entertainment, residential, office, civic and open space elements with a transit focal point.  The former Foley’s building was renovated into the new Englewood Civic Center, which houses the City Hall offices, the Library, Municipal Court, and the Museum of Outdoor Arts.  The Civic Center was the first feature of CityCenter Englewood to open when it made its debut in June 2000.

The Civic Center creates the cornerstone of the redevelopment of Cinderella City that includes Wal-Mart, Trammell Crow apartments with first floor retail, Office Depot, the Sports Authority, IHOP, Qdoba, and other retail and commercial businesses, second floor office with first floor retail, an RTD light rail station, and a Bally’s Fitness Center.  (City of Englewood)

You can see a current aerial here, and a 1991 aerial here. In the Southwest corner of the site an anchor store building was retained, as was part of the structured parking. The adjacent street grid was brought through the site. Apartments were added nearest the new light rail station, big box stores added to the east end of the site. All connected by a grid of streets and sidewalks.

The former anchor store that remained is nope the Englewood Civic Center
The former anchor store that remained is nope the Englewood Civic Center
The light rail station is to the left, the Walmart down the road to the right. Yes, a Walmart is across the street from a large 3-story apartment building that has street-level retail.
The light rail station is to the left, the Walmart down the road to the right. Yes, a Walmart is across the street from a large 3-story apartment building that has street-level retail.

Not bad for an early example of such a project. We saw people walking as we drove through, others can be seen in Google Street View.

Lakewood, CO

The Villa Italia mall opened two years before Cinderella City, in 1966. By the 1990s Lakewood officials saw both malls dying off, they didn’t want a vacant mall in their city.

A referendum was held in 1997, which authorized “urban renewal” to redevelop Villa Italia into a more conventional downtown district, something that the post-war suburb had never had.

In 1998, Lakewood entered into a joint venture with Denver-based Continuum Development. Continuum purchased the land beneath the mall from the Bonfils-Stanton Foundation in September 1999 and acquired the buildings and ground leases from Equitable in early 2001. The site was rezoned (from that of an enclosed shopping center to a mixed-use development) and the redevelopment plan put in motion.

Villa Italia closed in July 2001, demolition began the following January. Belmar opened in 2004. Like CityCenter Englewood, streets were cut through the site. Not private driveways, public streets with public sidewalks. The pedestrian grid was as equally important as the vehicular grid, not an afterthought.

You can view an old aerial here and a current one here.

A new street at Belmar
A new street at Belmar
The new buildings have a variety of uses and architectural styles
The new buildings have a variety of uses and architectural styles
It too has big boxes, this is the side view of Target.
It too has big boxes, this is the side view of Target.

A former anchor department store building was kept, it’s now a Dick’s Sporting Goods store. New housing is on the perimeter of the site, surrounding the retail core.

Stapleton

When Denver decided to build a new airport east of the developed region the question became what to do with the old airport.

b

A wide variety of new housing is part of Stapleton, including single family homes, apartments, townhouses, etc
A wide variety of new housing is part of Stapleton, including single family homes, apartments, townhouses, etc
An internal street in the venter of the retail area
An internal street in the center of the main retail area called The Shops at Northfield Stapleton
Another view
Another view
Another street in the core of the retail area
Another street in the core of the retail area, note the on-street parking
Despite plenty of free parking on the perimeter, to park in the center requires payment. The silver Ford Focus was our rental for 3 days of our 7-day honeymoon
Despite plenty of free parking on the perimeter, to park in the center requires payment. The silver Ford Focus was our rental for 3 days of our 7-day honeymoon
Looking out at the street from our lunch table
Looking out at the street from our lunch table
Just beyond the center you can see big box stores and large parking lots.
Just beyond the center you can see big box stores and large parking lots.
Like the two previous examples, pedestrian connectivity was planned from the start to connect everything together.
Like the two previous examples, pedestrian connectivity was planned from the start to connect everything together.
The urban-ish area on the left, big box to the right. All walkable & drivable.
The urban-ish area on the left, big box to the right. All walkable & drivable.
Another view from the retail center looking toward the big boxes on the perimeter.
Another view from the retail center looking toward the big boxes on the perimeter.
Target is among the many big box stores at Stapleton
Target is among the many big box stores at Stapleton
Looking out from Target, their walkway connects to the Stapleton pedestrian network beyond Target's parking lot.
Looking out from Target, their walkway connects to the Stapleton pedestrian network beyond Target’s parking lot.
The street where we parked terminated in
The street where we parked terminated in a Bass Pro Shops store, also connected to the sidewalk system

The overall site is massive, as you might expect from a former airport. It has many residential neighborhoods, distinct retail areas, and a business park.

Final thoughts

All three are variations on the New Urbanist/Retrofitting Suburbia theme. While I wouldn’t want to live at any of the three I know someone like me, who uses a wheelchair often, can get to businesses at each development on a sidewalk network. All three remain very car friendly, I drove to all three. Providing the option to walk doesn’t make them less appealing to motorists. Some pedestrians probably arrived by car but decide to explore on foot rather than drive from store to store.

— Steve Patterson

 

Accessibility Error at Yorkshire Village Shopping Center Addressed

Back on July I posted about a problem accessing Yorkshire Village Shopping Center, recently completed construction had created a new obstacle! I contacted the property owner about the problem, we even met at the site once.

A new curb!?!
July 2014: a new curb kept the path between buildings from being accessible. I don’t know how stuff like this gets built more than two decades after the ADA, but it does all too often
The developer fixed the problem on October 23rd, I visited again on the 31st.
The developer fixed the problem on October 23rd, I visited again on the 31st.
Looking the other way, toward the new CVS
Looking the other way, toward the new CVS

It’s a small change, but was much more expensive after the fact than if it had been done correctly in the first place. Their architect/engineer still insists it was compliant the way it was first built, but it wasn’t. The fact the building was existing is irrelevant:

Because barrier removal under the ADA is a continuing obligation, an accessible route may need to be provided at a later date, if a route for the general public develops or is created, and the provision of an accessible route is readily achievable. For instance, if a new bus stop is established near a site, an accessible route may have to be provided if pedestrians commonly walk between the new bus stop and the entrance to the facility. Similarly, if a sidewalk or walkway is provided between the facility and the new bus stop, an accessible route may be required. (Dept of Justice)

I’ve taken readings of the ramp, based on the slope it needs handrails on both sides to be fully compliant with ADA guidelines. If it weren’t as steep handrails wouldn’t be necessary.

Thanks to Matthew Stack of Koch Development for recognizing the problem and taking corrective action.

— Steve Patterson

 

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