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Carrollton: A Walkable Suburban Subdivision In 1956

Today cul-de-sac subdivisions are designed exclusively for the automobile. For example, my brother’s gated subdivision in Oklahoma City has internal sidewalks that don’t lead you outside the gates. A major grocery store occupies one corner on the outside, but you need a car to get there.

My brother's house is so close to a large grocery store, but you can't walk there. Source: Google maps
My brother’s house “A” is so close to a large grocery store, but you can’t walk there. One of the two gates is in the upper right corner. Source: Google maps

My parents built a new custom home in 1965-66, moving in just months before I was born. I was told the streets of the new subdivision in the former farm field were still getting paved as our house was being built. Unlike where my brother lives now, we could at least reach a convenience store from a street connected to our subdivision. Had more commercial been built on land set aside by the developers we would’ve had many more options.

I grew up in a 1960s subdivision that lacked sidewalks, but there was a store I could walk/bike to (upper left),
I grew up in a 1960s subdivision that lacked sidewalks, but there was a small store I could walk/bike to (upper left), and room for more commercial development that has never materialized.

However, many in the St. Louis region grew up in a 1950s subdivision that planned for walking, with sidewalks and a shopping center connected to the housing. I posted yesterday about the Carrollton subdivision decimated for runway expansion at Lambert International Airport, today is a look at the thought and planning that went into it.

The following is from page 547 of the 1970 book This is Our Saint Louis by Harry M. Hagen:

Ground breaking for the Carrollton Shopping Plaza in 1959
Ground breaking for the Carrollton Shopping Plaza in 1959, click image for map

When “Johnny Came Marching Home” at the close of World War II, he found one thing to his advantage, prosperity and jobs,  and one disadvantage, a tremendous shortage of housing. For many returning GI’s and their prides, their first home was a rented room or shared quarters with their in-laws.

The building industry, stopped by the priorities of war, was turned loose, and developers looked to the suburbs for the land they needed to build homes. There was land, lots of land, and many home builders built square little box-like homes marching in soldierly fashion down square little streets. These houses sold as fast as they could be completed since young marrieds and young families were desperate for adequate housing.

With the convenience of the automobile, no location in St. Louis County was too distant. Sub-division after sub-division sprung up and was quickly populated.

Out of this building frenzy, one team emerged with a visionary approach to suburbia. Ed and John Fischer, along with brother-in-law Lawrence Frichtel added a dimension to home building that won national acclaim for their firm, Fischer and Frichtel. Instead of building several blocks of homes in in regimented manner, they built a community.

The firm amassed a large tract of land in northwest St. Louis County and in 1956 opened Carrolton, a planned community with gently curving streets, cup-de-sacs and open space. Instead of one or two home models, they offered a variety so that every other home would not look the same. They did not utilize every square foot for homes –they planned areas for churches, schools and parks that were built and used as the population grew. To make the community as self-sufficient as possible, they constructed a small shopping center so that necessities of living could be purchased within walking distance. And to complete their community, they built a swimming pool and a large recreation building, bringing free-time activities practically to the front door of residents.

Carrollton had a mixture of award-winning homes–and it was a community that offered residents more than any other single housing development in the area at that time. It was planned to make living in the suburbs enjoyable for the entire family — and its departure from the conventional set the standards followed by other developers.

Fisher and Frichtel was probably the number one home-building firm of the post-war era — and the reason for its success was simply that it gave the grass-cutting, snow-shoveling, house-painting, leaf-burning, tree-pruning public a product that was both excellent in quality and different in setting. The firm has been recognized and published in every major magazine and newspaper relating to homes, neighborhoods and conventional living throughout the country. Unquestionably, these men and their organization represent and give tribute to the great spirit of St. Louis.

Self-sustaining? Walking distance to necessities? Yes, single-family homes on cul-de-sacs can be walkable. Well, at least they tried in 1956.

The original Carrollton Shopping Plaza has had face lifts since the early 60s and the neighborhood it served is now vacant
The original Carrollton Shopping Plaza has had face lifts since the early 60s and the neighborhood it served is now vacant
This bowling alley was built at the same time as the original Carrollton Shopping Plaza
This bowling alley & retail space (now a pizza parlor) was built at the same time as the original Carrollton Shopping Plaza
A couple of years later a new Schnucks grocery store was built
A couple of years later a Schnucks grocery store was added to the shopping center
The sidewalks connecting the houses to the commercial remain.
The sidewalks connecting the houses to the commercial remain. Though not ideal, or ADA-compliant, this was way better than most subdivisions of the 1950s
In 2005 Schnucks closed the Carrollton store and opened a bigger store on St. Charles Rock Rd at Lindbergh
In 2005 Schnucks closed the Carrollton store and opened a bigger store on St. Charles Rock Rd at Lindbergh

However, decade after decade since Carrollton was platted, subdivisions have gotten progressively more hostile to pedestrians. I’m not sure how this happened, my guess is each subsequent generation got used to their environment and eventually only grandpa remembered walking to the store for milk.

Thanks for the book Sheila!

— Steve Patterson

 

Jefferson Commons: Very Good ADA Access With One Big Exception

Jefferson Commons has done an amazing job retrofitting new tenant spaces into the old Foodland building on Jefferson (see Reurbanizing Jefferson & Lafayette Pt 2: Foodland). As I had hoped

One of two newly created ADA access routes into Jefferson Commons, this is the south one.
One of two newly created ADA access routes into Jefferson Commons, this is the south one.
From this access route you can see the newly constructed outlot building with two tenant spaces.
From this access route you can see the front of the newly constructed outlot building with two tenant spaces.
Turning to the north at the bottom of the route you can see pedestrian access was given considerable thought.
Turning to the north at the bottom of the route you can see pedestrian access was given considerable thought.
View from the new outlot building toward the ADA access route
View from the new outlot building toward the ADA access route
But approaching the building it was clear to me in May one detail was overlooked. Last month the problem remained.
But approaching the building it was clear to me during construction in May one detail was overlooked, but I wanted to wait to see just in case something was planned. Last month the problem remained.

UIC/Greenstreet Properties did a great job and, as required by the ADA, provided a non-drivewalk access route from each public transit stop. Shopping centers must do so, whereas stand-alone properties can provide access through a driveway. Yet an important detail for compliance was overlooked. It may have been shown on the drawings but overlooked during construction, or left off the drawings by mistake.

I’ve not seen any crossing paint here, drawing that in on construction plans can greatly reduce a design or construction error. I’ll be sending this to my contacts at the companies responsible and to city officials.

— Steve Patterson

 

Jefferson Avenue Needs A Road Diet, Corridor Study Part 1

Jefferson Avenue is a 5+ mile north-south arterial road in south, central, and north St. Louis (map). Along this stretch the road has 4-6 travel lanes, a center turn lane, and sometimes 2 parking lanes. What’s pretty consistent is the public right-of-way and curb to curb widths are excessively wide.

A female pedestrian makes her way across Jefferson at Russell
A female pedestrian makes her way across Jefferson at Russell

Here are some examples of the right-of-way width in locations you might be familiar:

  • Jefferson @ Russell: 120 feet
  • Lindell @ Euclid: 100 feet
  • Kingshighway @ Delmar: 100 feet
  • Grand @ Hardford: 80 feet
  • Chouteau @ Mississippi: 80 feet
  • Manchester @ Taylor: 70 feet

The above figures are from Sanborn Maps, mostly from 1909. Again, these are the public right-of-way (PROW), which includes the road and sidewalks. In an urban context this is measured from the face of a building to the face of the building on the opposite side. The road & sidewalk widths can vary within the PROW.

At Russell, Jefferson has a wider PROW than streets like Grand, Lindell, and yes — Kingshighway! This partly explains why Jefferson doesn’t have the same “feel” as South Grand. The wider the curb to curb, the faster traffic travels. The faster the traffic, the fewer the pedestrians. Fewer pedestrians & faster traffic means businesses will focus on customers in cars, not pedestrians. This reality conflicts with adjacent neighborhoods that seek a more urban environment, like McKinley Heights whose code required Family Dollar to build more urban than usual.

Construction of the new SouthSide Early Childhood Center is underway on the SE corner
Construction of the new SouthSide Early Childhood Center is underway on the SE corner

Jefferson passes by many neighborhoods and political wards, with different ones on the east & west sides. With schools & residents on both sides crossing the street is important. Some intersections have pedestrian signals, others, like Russell, do not.  The east side is the McKinley Heights neighborhood & 7th Ward while the west side is the Fox Park neighborhood and the 6th ward, such fragmentation makes it challenging to get projects done.

Hopefully enough residents from both neighborhoods can convince Phyllis Young (7) and Christine Ingrassia (6) to take a closer look at Jefferson Ave.

I’d like to see the following in the short-term:

  1. Stripe Jefferson to just 4 travel lanes end to end
  2. Include a solid white outside line separating the right travel lane from the parking lane as MoDOT did on Gravois
  3. Add pedestrian signals with countdown timers at existing signalized intersections currently lacking pedestrian signals
  4. Stripe crosswalks in the more visible “Continental” pattern

In the longer term I’d like to see:

  1. A detailed corridor study looking at all transportation modes (car, bike, transit, pedestrian), development patterns & potential, etc
  2. A charrette to look at designing a new streetscape.

In the coming weeks & months I’ll post more about problems & solutions for Jefferson Ave.

— Steve Patterson

 

Independence & Pedestrian Access

September 19, 2013 Accessibility, Featured, Planning & Design, St. Louis County, Walkability Comments Off on Independence & Pedestrian Access

As a disabled person, my independence is very important. I assume no matter the disability. independence is important. Thus it isn’t a surprise to me to see it mentioned in mission a statement:

St. Louis Society for the Blind and Visually Impaired enhances independence, empowers individuals and enriches the lives of people who are blind or visually impaired and their families.

Yet their website illustrates auto-centric thinking, not independence:

The Society is located at the southeast corner of Brentwood Blvd. and Manchester Road. The corner of Brentwood and Manchester is approximately 2 miles south of the Galleria shopping mall. The Society’s facility is approximately 12 miles west of downtown St. Louis.

There are signs visible from all four directions at that corner indicating the “Society For The Blind Building”, with all addresses (8764 – 8798) of occupants of the building below the name. The Society’s entry is clearly marked above the main entrance.

There are reserved parking places in front of the main entrance, as well as handicapped parking next to the building.

Where’s the information from  public transit? I often encounter blind & visually impaired riders on transit.

The eastbound #57 MetroBus stops directly in front of their building on the SE corner of Manchester & Brentwood
The eastbound #57 MetroBus stops directly in front of their building on the SE corner of Manchester & Brentwood

It would help their independence if the Society made a slight modification to provide an pedestrian access route separate from the auto driveway. It would be fairly straightforward:

Blue lines mark the ideal path an ADA access route would take
Blue lines mark the ideal path an ADA access route would take

As you can see from the image above, building a pedestrian route would be a fairly simple proposition for them. I sent them a message a couple of days ago suggesting this. I’ll keep you posted if anything happens.

— Steve Patterson

 

Recycling Dumpsters Completely Block Sidewalk, Hopefully Just Temporarily

I’m a huge advocate of recycling. I also know making it easier will get more people to recycle. But that convenience shouldn’t come at the expense of walkability. Unfortunately that’s what happened in south St. Louis recently.

Trying to reach Chippewa along Clifton Ave behind Target I encountered a big blue obstacle blocking the sidewalk.
Trying to reach Chippewa along Clifton Ave behind Target I encountered a big blue obstacle blocking the sidewalk.
I had to go off into the grass to get around the bins. Not all wheelchairs/scooters are as capable. Someone walking with a cane or walker would have trouble walking on the grass.
I had to go off into the grass to get around the bins. Not all wheelchairs/scooters are as capable. Someone walking with a cane or walker would have trouble walking on the grass.
The six recycling bins, oriented to the street, viewed from across Clifton Ave
The six recycling bins, oriented to the street, viewed from across Clifton Ave

It wasn’t until  this point in writing this post that I realized the dumpsters probably sit on the road most of the time, they likely got moved to the sidewalk while Clifton Ave was being resurfaced. I’m going to verify with city officials to ensure this was only temporary.

— Steve Patterson

 

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