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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

 

 

Pop-Up Retail Different Than Food Trucks?

Downtown and city leadership have long opposed food carts/trucks, citing the need to support brick & mortar restaurants over temporary operations with little overhead.  Retail, however, is viewed differently. “Pop-up retail”  gets the blessing of the Partnership  for Downtown St. Louis.

A pop-up retail event at the Old Post Office Plaza which is owned by the Partnership  for Downtown St. Louis
A pop-up retail event at the Old Post Office Plaza which is owned by the Partnership for Downtown St. Louis

Don’t get me wrong, I like pop-up retail and pop-up/drive-up restaurants. They seem the same to me, a business in a temporary location for a brief period. I’m in the camp that thinks more street vending would make downtown more vibrant, attracting more people. More people means more customers for brick & mortar retail & restaurants.

Conversely, dead sidewalks are a disincentive to walk and window shop.   A decade ago leaders wanted to make the Old Post Office District a 24/7 area, but they haven’t done much of anything to get there.  Culinaria initially stayed open until 10pm but now closes at 9pm.

Can anyone tell me why pop-up retail is OK but pop-up restaurants aren’t?

 

 

Historic Art Deco Storefronts Removed From Board of Education Building

The former St. Louis Board of Education Building was built in 1893, but in the late 1930s the storefront spaces on the ground floor were replaced with new Art Deco fronts. The National Register Nomination lists the period of significance for the building as 1893-1953, so these storefronts are considered historic even though they’re not original.  The building is now loft apartments.

The quotes in the post are from the nomination linked above:

Overall, most of the building retains a high degree of historic integrity. The primary elevations have seen few changes and most of the exterior storefront modifications took place during the period of significance. The only other major exterior change is the loss of the pressed metal cornice, removed in 1942 during the historic period.

In March I was worried when I saw the plywood up at the entrance to the main Art Deco storefront. But perhaps it was just to protect the vitrolite and curved glass…

In March I was worried when I saw the plywood up at the entrance to the main Art Deco storefront. But perhaps it was just to protect  the vitrolite and curved glass...
The curved glass, vitrolite tile, and aluminum details are visible above.
Earlier this month workers began removing the 75+ year old storefronts
Earlier this month workers began removing the 75+ year old storefronts
The main storefront during demolition
The main storefront during demolition
Workers demolishing the storefronts facing 9th Street
Workers demolishing the storefronts facing 9th Street
The 9th Street storefronts were tiny and not wheelchair accessible
The 9th Street storefronts were tiny and not wheelchair accessible

Here’s more detail on the exterior:

The remaining openings on the first floor (901-909 Locust and 401-409 North Ninth Street) are either display windows or entrances into the businesses that once occupied the first floor of this building. The original configuration of first floor openings generally alternated between display windows and recessed storefront entrances with display windows on one or both sides. Minor changes to these storefronts were noted in school board records as early as 1910. Major renovations in the 1930s transformed the original wood-framed first floor storefront entrances and display windows into distinctive examples of the Art Deco style with new Vitrolite storefronts and aluminum transom windows along the east elevation and in two bays (901, 903 Locust) on the south elevation. Art Deco modifications were completed on the 905 and 907 storefronts in 1937. An Art Deco entry, storefront and lobby was installed at 911 Locust in 1935, including a revolving door, but the revolving door was replaced in 1948 with paired glass doors within the revolving door enclosure. Additionally a single storefront was created at 905-907 Locust by removing the lower portion of the load-bearing pilaster and replacing it with a half-round, steel column. Modernization of the storefronts again took place in the 1960s, removing some of the Art Deco period features, mostly by replacing some of the doors and display window framing along Locust with the aluminum framed units seen today. The second floor windows of these bays are triple window units with fixed transoms.

The city’s Cultural Resources office attempted to get the owner to retain the storefronts but ultimately had no authority to prevent their removal.  While I loved the design of these Art Deco storefronts I also knew they were an obstacle to getting tenants in the spaces. It’ll be interesting to see new storefronts in this building.

Will they be wood like the 19th Century originals or a modern design? I’d favor a modern storefront system at this point, with busy retail stores or restaurants behind them.

— Steve Patterson

 

Readers: Ban Pet Stores From Selling Puppy Mill Dogs

November 13, 2013 Board of Aldermen, Politics/Policy, Retail Comments Off on Readers: Ban Pet Stores From Selling Puppy Mill Dogs
Kennels at Stray Rescue
Kennels at Stray Rescue

Readers that voted in the unscientific poll last week made it clear they’d support a ban on puppy mill dogs:

Q: Would you support a municipal/county ban on pet stores selling dogs from puppy mills?

  1. Yes 61 [78.21%]
  2. No 9 [11.54%]
  3. Unsure/no opinion 6 [7.69%]
  4. Possibly 2 [2.56%]

Such bans aren’t new:

Thirty-one cities have passed ordinances that ban pet stores from selling animals that come from commercial breeders. They are only allowed to offer rescued animals from shelters. (KMOV)

Maybe an alderman will introduce bill to ban pets stores in St. Louis from selling puppy mill dogs.

— Steve Patterson

 

Roberts Market Place at Kingshighway & Delmar Hostile to Pedestrians

The Roberts Market Place has opened at Kingshighway & Delmar, the site of a former Schnucks. Discount grocer ALDI, the only business so far, is the anchor. Unfortunately, it is designed to be driven to, not walked to.

Roberts Market Place on the NE corner of Kingshighway & Delmar
Roberts Market Place on the NE corner of Kingshighway & Delmar, click image for map link
The same corner back in April
The same corner back in April
Looking east along Delmar
Looking east along Delmar
Looking north along Kingshighway, a stop for the #95 MetroBus is circled in red
Looking north along Kingshighway, a stop for the #95 MetroBus is circled in red. Concrete barriers block the auto driveway.
The fencing blocks pedestrian access, except at the auto driveways
The fencing blocks pedestrian access, except at the auto driveways. Not welcoming at all
Looking east along Enright we see a family leaving ALDI
Looking east along Enright Ave we see a family leaving ALDI
An opening in the fence at the auto driveway.
An opening in the fence at the auto driveway.
At least a walkway was provided at one point
At least a walkway was provided at one point
Not a straight shot or wide enough if you meet someone, but as a bare minimum it works...except...
Not a straight shot or wide enough if you meet someone, but as a bare minimum it works…except…
Who fits between the carts & bollard? Certainly nobody using a cane, walker, scooter, or wheelchair! #adafail
Who fits between the carts & bollard? Certainly nobody using a cane, walker, scooter, or wheelchair! #adafail
Looking back at the problem from the opposite side
Looking back at the problem from the opposite side
Looking west toward Kingshighway
Looking west toward Kingshighway
Looking south toward Delmar
Looking south toward Delmar
Getting closer toward Delmar we can see the fence forces pedestrians to enter/exit via the auto driveway
Getting closer toward Delmar we can see the fence forces pedestrians to enter/exit via the auto driveway

Seriously? The one minimal pedestrian route from a secondary road is blocked by a bollard!?! As I mentioned in April, the site has been divided into three parcels.

Outline of the parcel Aldi purchased.
Outline of the ALDI parcel, the other two are just parking right now.
A hearing will be held on the 20th for a drive-thru fast-food restaurant at the Kingshighway & Enright parcel
A hearing will be held on the 20th for a drive-thru fast-food restaurant at the Kingshighway & Enright parcel

It would’ve been relatively easy to plan a north-south sidewalk through the site connecting Enright to Delmar, with a perpendicular walk connecting to the bus stop on Kingshighway. This would’ve provided a pedestrian route to all three adjacent streets and to all three parcels. Instead we’ve got another development that ignores pedestrians almost entirely.

The #97 (Delmar) bus and #95 (Kingshighway) bus generate lots of pedestrian traffic at this location. Many customers & employees of ALDI, a new drive-thru, and a third place will arrive on foot. Development in our neighborhoods should be designed to welcome motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians. This must be mandated, developers aren’t going to do it on their own — especially not in low-income areas where they do as little as possible.

— Steve Patterson

 

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