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SLU Parking Lot Violates City Rules Governing Location and Materials

January 24, 2008 Parking, SLU 10 Comments

IMG_9612.JPGAs Joni Mitchell sang, “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” Last year Saint Louis University (aka SLU) razed a building along Lindell Blvd. The former mansion next door was spared for the moment, likely while they finish raising funds for the expanded law school. In the meantime the university has used the site of the razed building for a parking lot.

This parking lot, an extension of what existed behind the now razed structure, has two characteristics which put it at odds with city regulations on parking lots — first, it extends beyond the established building line and two it is gravel.

This is the same issue we saw over on Halliday St. — with all the buildings aligned the last thing we want to see is a parking lot projecting out in the space between the building line and the public street (sidewalk & roadway). Now, you might say, “hey this is only temporary” and you’d be right. But temporary for how long, a couple of years? So what happens when a business person in the city wants to put in a temporary parking lot also in front of the building line until they can make other arrangements?

Also at issue here is the material. Numerous others have tried to get away with having gravel only parking lots. Environmentally speaking, the gravel is better than typical asphalt because storm water can seep back into the ground rather than creating more runoff. However, it also looks a bit tacky, especially in such a prominent location.

Here are a few additional pictures:

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Perhaps SLU got a variance from the city to allow the parking to extend beyond the building line and be of gravel for a limited period of time. While I’d like to think that SLU would take such steps when not complying with the rules I’m guessing that is not the case. I’d also like the think the city would not allow SLU to step out of line given they don’t allow others to do the same.  The main SLU campus is located in the city’s 19th Ward.

 

Despite Changes, Intersection Next to St. Louis University Still Dangerous

IMG_0517.JPGLast month I posted about the intersection of Vandeventer & West Pine where, at the request of Saint Louis University and Grand Center, the pedestrian signals had been turned off and the Vandeventer traffic given a flashing yellow. This left pedestrians coming to/from SLU from the neighborhood or parking lots to the West of Vandeventer were left on their own to find a break in traffic to make their way to the pedestrianized former West Pine on SLU’s campus. To be fair, I don’t think they sought out eliminating the pedestrian signals but that was a consequence of the action to give motorists on Vandeventer the flashing yellow.

Last week the lights were suddenly back to a typical red, yellow, green cycle. Sorta. I’d noticed some odd things with the intersection in the last week and a couple of days ago, right before the Young Democrats meeting a block away, I shot a few video clips to show the problems.

Here is some of what I have observed and that you will see in the rather boring video (5 minutes of watching signals change!):

  • Pressing the pedestrian crossing button from the SW corner does not activate the pedestrian signal. The light is green for roughly 5 seconds — not enough time to safely cross the busy street.
  • Pedestrians I observed do not seem willing to wait for the signals to change.
  • From the NW corner the pedestrian signal button does activate the “walk” signal. This gives all motorists a red light and gives the walk signal across both streets.
  • The walk signal is only on for 5 seconds before switching to “don’t walk.” The total time is 15 seconds. The signal for West Pine switches to green while the pedestrian signal is still flashing “don’t walk.”
  • Only the crossing along the north side is accessible for users of wheelchairs & mobility scooters. While the SW corner has a curb ramp the crosswalk on the east side at SLU leads to a solid curb rather than a ramp.
  • At 3:45 in the video you’ll see a man on the SLU side of Vandeventer press the pedestrian button. He seems impatient and appears to hold the button. I pan to the south to see that part of the intersection and the man crosses during a break in traffic — tired of waiting for the signal to change. It does appear that the button on that corner does activate the pedestrian signal.
  • I did not test the button at the SE corner to see if it would activate the signal. Again, from the SW corner it does not work.
  • Toward the very end (roughly 5:15) you’ll see how the pedestrian signal crossing West Pine stays on “walk” until the moment when the light changes — potentially catching a pedestrian in the intersection when the motorists are given the green. The pedestrian you see walking southbound on Vandeventer is Tim Schoemehl, son of former Mayor & director of Grand Center, Vince Schoemehl.

Here is the video:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E8UNBnYBJxQ[/youtube]

Hopefully the city and SLU are planning signal improvements for the intersection, as you can see it is certainly needed.

 

Fall Rehabber’s Club Classes Begin This Week

September 24, 2007 Events/Meetings, Midtown, SLU 5 Comments

The first class looks really interesting:

Fall 2007 Rehabbers Club classes begin on Wednesday, September 26 from 7-8:30 p.m. in Saint Louis University’s Humanities Building, 3800 Lindell Blvd., Room TBA! Tentatively, we will have separate classes on:

Sept. 26: Acquiring, Planning and Designing Your Rehab Project Confirmed speakers are: Dustin Bopp, architect, and Steve Patterson, REALTOR®

Future class dates and topics with speakers TBA:

  • Oct. 3: Ask a Lender: Choosing the Right Financing for You
  • Oct. 10: Historic Tax Credits: What Are They & How To Get Them
  • Oct. 17: Rehabbing a Live / Work Space & Green Rehabbing
  • Oct. 24: Ask a Lawyer, Ask an Accountant
  • Oct. 31: No class on Halloween
  • Nov. 7: Focus on City Neighborhood Revitalization with Rollin Stanley, Director of St. Louis’ Planning & Urban Design Agency
  • Nov. 14: Rehabbing a Property in a Redevelopment Area: What Does This Mean? (This class will also address the ins and outs of TIF, tax abatement and eminent domain.)
  • Nov. 21, No class, the day before Thanksgiving
  • Nov. 28: Working with Contractors
  • Dec. 5: Working with the City: permits, building inspections, occupancy inspections, local historic districts, LRA
  • Dec. 12: Panel of Experienced Developers

$10 per class, $90 for ten class series or $180 for twenty class series (Fall 2007 and Spring 2008)!

Parking: Onstreet, metered parking is available along Lindell. You may also park in the garage behind the Moolah Theatre and Lounge which is across Lindell Blvd from the SLU Humanities Building. The charge is $1 per hour for garage parking. However, you can park in the garage for your class and then go over the the Moolah after class to get a free parking ticket with the purchase of something at the bar or concession stand.

You may pre-register by mailing your check to our post office box: ReVitalize St. Louis, P.O. Box 63062, St. Louis, MO 63163 We will accept checks and cash at the door; sorry no credit cards. All donations are tax deductible since ReVitalize St. Louis is a 501c3 non-profit organization. More details will be posted on the Rehabbers Club website and listserve this week. Thank you for participating in the Rehabbers Club and ReVitalize St. Louis! Claralyn Bollinger Treasurer, ReVitalize St. Louis Rehabbers Club Czarina/Owner/Moderator c: 314.604.1570

I should add that bicycle parking is plentiful at the Humanities Building. However, despite having a Lindell address the building entrance faces south. The bike racks are near the building entrance. Signs will indicate where to find the class.

This will be my third time giving this class which includes many design do’s & don’ts such as a drop-in stainless sink with granite countertops (that would be a don’t). We’ll also cover bigger issues such as searching for the right property to meet your needs and managing the design process. For those that don’t know, most of my experience is in residential design. For example, at right is a kitchen I designed as part of a complete home make over in Frontenac while employed at Kirkwood’s Mosby Building Arts (you may know Scott Mosby as KMOX’s Home Improvement guru).

Co-presenting this first class is Dustin Bopp, AIA, is a personal friend of mine and an Architect with many years of experience in mixed-use design as well as historic tax credit projects. He will help shed light on how to work with an architect as well as some of the design issues faced around rehabbing old historic buildings. Bopp is a Project Director with TR,i Architects and is on the Board of Directors of the St. Louis Chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

I look forward to seeing you Wednesday evening!

 

SLU’s New Pedestrian Mall to be an “Urban Oasis”

Saint Louis University is continuing its quest to completely screw up the city’s historic grid system of streets by closing yet another street. From the sound of it, the city could solve our crime problems simply by removing streets. Here is the full press release:

August 21, 2007

Matt McEuen
314.977.8370
[email protected]

Green Space, Flowers to be Added to Medical Center
Saint Louis University soon will increase beauty, safety and accessibility to the Medical Center with a new pedestrian mall.

The area along Vista Avenue between Grand Boulevard and Carr Lane Avenue will be transformed into an urban oasis that mimics green space near the Doisy College of Health Sciences building as well as parts of campus north of I-64/Hwy. 40. The section will be bordered by the School of Medicine complex on the north and the building that now houses the department of neurology and psychiatry on the south.

Pedestrians will be welcomed to the mall [by] one of SLU’s signature red brick monuments, and beautiful landscaping, trees and flowers will provide a parklike atmosphere. Safety also will be enhanced, as city streetlights will be replaced by upgraded lighting that will shine brightly on the mall.

In addition, SLU’s design and construction team is extending the “green” attributes of the Edward A. Doisy Research Center to the mall project. By removing heat-soaked pavement and adding more grass, the area will become more environmentally friendly.

Work on the new pedestrian mall is scheduled to begin soon and has been approved by both SLU and St. Louis City. In preparation, Vista Avenue between Grand Boulevard and Carr Lane Avenue will close permanently the morning of Friday, Aug. 24, and all parking meters will be removed. Parking still will be available along other city streets, and patients visiting the neurology and psychiatry department may park in the rear of that building.

I’m not sure where to start exactly. I know, let’s start on Vista Avenue a couple of blocks to the East.

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While these blocks have had some demolition, most likely by SLU buying up properties and razing the buildings, the area is solid and enjoys lovely tree-lined streets. You don’t think you are in the CWE by any means but it is pleasant enough.

However, the institutions are invading the area. Rather than use the neglect tactic offered by Paul McKee, SLU and others use the cut of their street access method to de-value an area. Vista, the last remaining street between Park and Chouteau open to Grand, is the 5th such street to be closed. Earlier projects have eroded the grid and forced traffic onto other roads. With each closed street the power and control of a single institution grows and neighbors can see the writing on the wall — don’t bother investing in the home and neighborhood because we will be next. And so it goes…

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Bicyclists and others that prefer low-speed side streets are increasingly forced onto bigger and bigger roads. Motorists too are forced onto the same streets as well, adding to congestion that at one time was mitigated by a variety of choices. So now cars that might be on seven east-west streets have only two. This is why suburbia doesn’t work well — all the traffic is forced onto big roads. With each street closing we make our city less and less bike friendly. The above cyclist, with his helmet tilted too far back and not protecting his forehead, is riding northbound on Carr Lane Ave (yes, Lane + Ave). The block of Vista to be closed is the background.

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Above, this woman walked along Carr Ln as did many others — all heading to the above entrance where Carr Ln used to continue north.

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Again, many are headed into this “front” entrance where Carr Ln once existed. As you can see, many arrive by bike.
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Rather than remaking Vista into an “oasis” it would be nice to see somebody do something with Carr Ln. Above is looking southbound from Vista. This is one block east of and parallel with Grand. Carr Ln gets considerable bike & pedestrian traffic yet it is a horrible street — rough pavement and lacking sidewalks on both sides! It seems many SLU Medical school folks are parking on Park Ave for free rather than use SLU’s oversized parking garages.

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OK, I lied. Carr Ln does have a sidewalk on the west side of the street, shown above. I’m sure as people continue to walk in the street, soon to have more traffic due to the closing of Vista, they will be comforted knowing that on Vista they will have flowers and a ubiquitous SLU brick marker.

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They walk in the street because the debris from SLU’s retaining wall and overgrown weeks block what little remains of the one sidewalk.

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Getting closer to the corner with Vista the plants are quite large and the sidewalk area is completely un-passable. No wonder people walk in the streets. But, I can’t see SLU or the city fixing this small section of street as it is likely next on their list to close. Like McKee they have a master plan kept hidden from public view.

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Vista Ave, above, is an ordinary street. Nothing special about it really other than it serves its purpose of connecting people and places. Removing the street and adding in a wide sidewalk and some greenery is not going to make it special. Improved lighting is good but without people passing by on cars or bikes the pedestrian is vulnerable. Security would be enhanced by improving lighting and having actual building entrances onto the street. This block contains 19 short-term and convenient parking spaces.
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The above building is on the south side of the upcoming oasis. This modern building is attractive enough but the side facing Vista is lifeless. The side facing Grand is lifeless too —- the entrance has been closed off.

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Yes, in one of the classic ways to kill a street the entrance has been cut off. Both sides of Grand have seen entrances removed for years — gradually removing people from the sidewalks.

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Signs, such as the one on the above entry, encourage you to use the parking lot entrance. Nice.  Yesterday, the day before the street closing, no signs were posted alerting the public about the planned change.  It will likely come as a complete surprise to many. 
Very deliberate actions have been and are being taken which reduce pedestrian friendliness, make cycling less accessible, force cars onto fewer and fewer through streets and signal to neighbors that they are next to be forced out. All this is done in the guise of improving an area and making it better. Over a long period of time this university’s “investment” is welcomed by everyone. Clever, very clever.



 

City Makes Intersection Dangerous at Request of Grand Center and Saint Louis University

Crossing busy four lane streets as a pedestrian can be a dangerous proposition even at intersections with good crosswalks and proper signals. Change that intersection so that traffic doesn’t have to stop and simply turn off the pedestrian signals and you’ve created a situation just waiting for a tragic accident. This is exactly what has happened at Vandeventer and West Pine at the request of Grand Center and SLU (this is confirmed via internal email, not speculation on my part).

I’m not suggesting they intentionally sought to make the area more dangerous for pedestrians but in the quest to make it easier for motorists they’ve made it much more challenging for pedestrians and bicyclists in the area. Motorists leaving the SLU parking lots at the intersection may also have to risk an accident to find a break in traffic for a left turn.

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Above, the pedestrian oasis of the former West Pine closed by SLU in the 1990s awaits the pedestrian if they can make it across the street. The traffic signal is flashing red in this direction and the pedestrian signals are unplugged. Press the walk buttons that still remain in place and nothing happens.

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Look both ways before crossing. From here you can see a continual line of cars heading northbound on Vandeventer where they have a flashing yellow light allowing them to continue through the intersection. One of the two parking lots for SLU can be seen at the right.

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Stepping back from the intersection we see parking lots for SLU on both sides of West Pine. Students, faculty and staff using these parking lots daily as well as people coming from the adjacent neighborhood or a bus stop must all attempt to cross Vandeventer. These pedestrian do, I suppose, have the option to go south to Laclede to cross. However, at Laclede the intersection does not have any pedestrian signals like those turned off at West Pine. Lindell, which is closer anyway, does have working pedestrian signals. Still, many campus buildings are along this pedestrian spine so having a good connection for pedestrians would make sense.

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From the opposite view, above, we see three women attempting to cross Vandeventer to reach their car parked on the other side of the street. Classes resume later this month but already we see cars from SLU faculty/staff or students. As you can see, SLU has their own branding on the street sign and some traffic signals are painted blue. For more pictures click here.

It is amazing how similar this intersection is to a one in Kansas City. In KC, a university removed vehicular traffic from a street to create a pedestrian only street. However, the city failed, the court found recently, to properly control the remaining intersection and unfortunately a student was struck and killed. From the court opinion:

Opinion modified by court’s own motion on May 1, 2007. This substitution does not constitute a new opinion.
Appeal of a judgment on a jury verdict in a wrongful death action against the City of Kansas City. The plaintiffs, parents of a deceased student struck by a vehicle while crossing Troost Avenue in a pedestrian crosswalk, contended that the City negligently created a dangerous condition of property at the intersection of 53rd and Troost Avenue by installing a pedestrian crosswalk and then failing to adequately control traffic and failing to adequately warn vehicles of the existence of the crosswalk. The City contended the claim was barred by governmental immunity pursuant to Section 537.600 RSMo 2000.

AFFIRMED.
Division holds: (1) The plaintiffs showed that the City waived immunity by creating a dangerous intersection and by failing to take appropriate action to mitigate the danger to pedestrians, although the City had notice of the danger caused by the inadequate warnings and controls at the intersection; (2) The plaintiffs also showed that the death of the deceased directly resulted from the City’s negligence, and that the City remained proximately at fault, although the City’s negligence concurred with the negligence of the driver whose vehicle struck the deceased; and (3) the waiver of immunity in 537.600 is an absolute waiver of immunity, regardless of whether the City’s actions would otherwise have been protected by “discretionary immunity.”

In short, a city cannot be immune to negligence for an intersection they control. Several options exist for this intersection.

One ‘solution’ is to leave the dangerous situation exactly as it is and we simply wait until someone is seriously injured or killed before correcting the situation. As you might imagine, I’m not fond of doing nothing. The simplest and least costly solution is to take the traffic lights off flash mode and turn the pedestrian signals back on. This could be done via regular cycles or on a 3-way red flash mode so that traffic stops at the intersection but doesn’t have to wait for the light to turn green if they have the right of way. A good compromise to keeping traffic moving along Vandeventer but allowing for pedestrians is to allow them to activate the signal so that traffic stops when pedestrians are present. This, however, doesn’t help motorists, bicyclists or scooterists trying to turn left onto Vandeventer from West Pine. If we can stop traffic along Grand for a pedestrian crossing on the other end of the pedestrianized West Pine we can find a way to be as considerate on this end as well.

 

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