Home » St. Charles County » Recent Articles:

Readers support the rights of cyclists to use the roads

ABOVE: State Highway DD via Google Streetview
ABOVE: State Highway DD in St. Charles County. Image: Google Streetview

Readers that voted in the poll last week clearly favor the rights of bicyclist to use public roadways and thus opposing a proposed ban in St. Charles County on cycling on some state highways in the county.

Q: St Charles County is considering banning bikes from some state highways:

  1. Bikes are vehicles and have just as much right to use public roads. 114 [60.96%]
  2. Bikes are fine on local roads, but not on state highways lacking shoulders. 52 [27.81%]
  3. Bikes belong on sidewalks or trails, not roads. 13 [6.95%]
  4. Other answer… 7 [3.74%]
  5. Unsure/no opinion 1 [ 0.53%]

However, nearly 28% think cyclists have a right to the roads, but not highways lacking shoulders.  Almost 7% think cyclists belong on sidewalks and trails.  Seriously? Public roads are for vehicles and a bike is a vehicle.

The “other” answers were:

  1. Ban Cars
  2. Ban the cars and solve the obesity problem
  3. Daft Wankers!
  4. stl bikers need education on the laws – until they stop at stop signs ban bikers
  5. If a bicyclistg wants to risk life and limb on a state highway, go for it.
  6. They are state roads…St. Charles has no jurisdiction in banning bikes on them.
  7. Reduce speed limit to 35 from 55mph for the cars – why do the cars go so fast?

I’ll be interested to see how this issue plays out.

– Steve Patterson


The route to St. Charles

More and more I rely on Google Maps on my iPhone.  Sometimes it is for directions but recently it was to let me know the time to drive from downtown to visit friends in St. Charles.

I knew the route but wasn’t sure of the time.  Thirty-five minutes isn’t too bad, certainly seems longer! Once I had my answer I was curious about the other two route options offered by Google Maps: transit and walking.

As expected the transit option (above) returned with the message, “Transit directions could not be found between these locations.”  No surprise since I was headed far into suburbia.  But what about walking?

Great, a walking route.  But the route is over 70% longer than driving (29.5 miles vs 44.5 miles).  I’m not sure what I expected but it wasn’t such an out of the way route.  Some use walking routes to help find cycling routes and this is not a viable alternative. It must relate to safe ways to cross the Missouri River.

– Steve Patterson


Where Is Your Third Place?

There is one thing cities provide in much greater abundance than suburbs: the essential “third places” in our lives that provide respite and relaxation for us outside our homes or workplaces.

Third Place
Third places are defined as one of three places that meet fundamental human needs: home, a first place; work, a second place; and a third place, where we go to find community, relaxation, and simply “be” when we aren’t at home or working.

For all the people who work from home offices, the line between the first and second places, home and work space, may have blurred, but it makes the third place even more important. We all need a common place to hang out, see friends, find conversation, or simply watch the world go by. We seek a place that is separate from our homes or workplaces and all their attendant comforts and irritations.

Third places are very individual. In a family of four, there could be four different third places: church, coffeehouse, club or park. They are where you go to get away from your immediate responsibilities and expectations. You don’t have to do housework or laundry; you don’t have to finish that project or spar with your partner. You are (temporarily) free to indulge your own thoughts, talk or not talk, do or not do anything.

In the city of St. Louis there are many good third-places: local coffeehouses like The Hartford, Shaw Coffee or even the London Tea Room. There are neighborhood bars and cafes where they get to know you and you can stay as long as you like. There are libraries, drop-in centers and parks. There are churches and clubs, both social and athletic. There are museums and entertainment districts like The Loop on Delmar or Washington Avenue downtown. And there are intentional places like Left Bank Books with book groups, author readings and community events. These third places are close at hand, across the street or down the block, most of them within walking distance.

The suburbs of St. Louis are trickier, especially in second-ring suburbs. Newer, more affluent suburbs like Chesterfield and Wildwood have been built with more modern sensibilities about community gathering spots and the intentional communities created by mixed-use construction. You may be more likely to hang out at commercially sponsored third places like Starbucks or the mall, but they exist and are well used.

The second-ring suburbs are in a tougher spot. They belong to an earlier time, before we realized how much we would miss the communal third places that are so abundant in the city. Like the outer-ring suburbs, they may have some commercially-sponsored places like Starbucks, McDonalds or Dennys, but there may be only one or two in a municipality and they are rarely within walking distance. There is a real dearth of small, local businesses like independent coffeehouses, casual cafes or bookstores. Which pretty much leaves the bar, gym or possibly church and almost all of them require driving in your car.

There is a misplaced attempt to fulfill this need for third places in the construction of suburban great rooms, finished basements and fully-equipped media rooms, but all of these fall short. A third place requires distance from home and family. It also requires diversity and randomness in the people you might observe or start a conversation with.
When I lived in Seattle, I could easily walk a few blocks to any of six coffeehouses, each with its own ambience and crowd of regulars. There were bookstores with cafes where you could hang out from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. When I lived in the South Grand area, I had my choice of places to hang out.

In Maryland Heights, I’m stumped. I occasionally get in the car and drive to Starbucks at Westport or I go farther afield to Creve Couer or Chesterfield. More and more, I drive farther to Main Street in St. Charles or into the city to find a third place, but none of them are my third place.

City planners take note: vibrant cities or suburbs don’t exist without a multitude of viable third places. And if you want to attract the young, the creative, the socially engaged, that advice is doubly important.

What I’d like to know, especially if you’re a suburbanite, is where is your third place? Where do you regularly go to hang out, read a book, see friends, or just escape home and work responsibilities? What makes a place your third space? I look forward to what you have to say.

-Deborah Moulton


I’m Moving To Wentzville, MO

I’ve grown tired of living downtown in a walkable environment with a street grid of short blocks [mostly] filled with wonderful architectural gems.  So I’m moving to Wentzville MO (map) where I’m guaranteed to never encounter a street grid, interesting architecture, pedestrians, etc.

I don’t like having to decide how I’m going to get from place to place (walk, bike, transit, drive, etc).  In Wentzville the decision will be easy — the car!  I may have to get a Hummer to help save G.M.  Besides, with my new commute I’ll need a comfy vehicle.  Gas is cheap today so why not?

Plus no more eating at locally owned restaurants, I’m going for chains now.  That way when I leave Wentzville to travel I can be assured to get the exact same meals, regardless of what city I’m in. Don’t want to take a chance on anything different.  I’ll still go to the local pub,  Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill & Bar.  It is just down the street a few miles in front of Wal-Mart.

I love my new ranch home that features a 3-car garage and 14 gables.  Vinyl siding and a bit of brick on the front will be awesome!  The four bedrooms will come in handy because, as of today, I’m no longer gay.  I’m going to get me a wife and kids.  And with kids you must raise them in the “country.”  Wouldn’t dare expose them to those of different races or incomes.  Going to the Mexican chain off I-70 is diverse enough.

And you get so much house in Wentzville.  I’ll have the previously mentioned four bedrooms, three living areas and three dining areas plus the basement.  Granted none of the dining areas will seat more than eight for dinner but we’ll all be eating in the “family” room in front of the big screen.  I’m finally going to get that riding lawn mower I’ve always wanted so I can mow the 3 acre lot.  I’ll have plenty of trips to Home Depot in the Hummer to get fertilizer to keep the lawn perfectly green and free of weeds.  While I’m at Home Depot I’ll get a water purifier – how do chemicals get in our water supply?

I’ll take the whole family to events downtown, like wholesome concerts at the new Chaifetz arena on Compton.  Yeah, when you live in Wentzville, anything in the City is downtown.  Ah, the good life.

Happy April Fool’s day everyone!  Like I’m going to trade my life for the above.


Old Urbanism, Suburbia & New Urbanism

Here in the St. Louis region we have a little bit of everything — we have old urbanism in the inner core (the city of St Louis) as well as in the many older suburbs that ring the city on both sides of the river. Like every region in America, we have too much suburbia — that auto centric muck that has been growing since WWII.Your know what suburbia is — residential streets with big lawn, no street trees and an increasing number of garage doors. The big box centers with enough parking for the day after Thanksgiving. The indoor mall surrounded by acres of parking. The office park with similar looking buildings casually placed on lush green lawns all set between yet more parking. Being a suburb of the core city is fine — Webster Groves is an old suburb that is walkable in ways St Peters will never be. So my issue is not with suburbs but with suburbia — that very soulless form of building that has predominated America fot the last five or six decades.

So much of our good old urbanism has been destroyed remaking core cities with touches of suburbia.

Old urbanism was built for people on foot. Streets were narrow by today’s standards. Each neighborhood had a commercial area within a short walk. The streetcar was not far away which could get you to the bigger stores downtown. No zoning regulated this. It just was. And it worked well until we reached a tipping point with the car — fewer pedestrians and more cars through it all out of balance. While old urbanism was great for people it did a poor job accommodating the car.

The solution of the day was not to tweak our existing environments but to rip them out entirely. The new suburbia was proudly proclaimed as “progress.” Once narrow streets were widened and those neighborhood shops moved to the new strip centers or the open air mall.

In the early 1980s a few people began questioning the status quo and looks to the past for ways to make walkable communities while still making room for the car. The first result was Seaside, Florida — as seen in the movie The Truman Show. Widely dismissed due to its resort nature, many said the principals couldn’t be applied elsewhere — that we were basically stuck with suburbia as the model for future development both in core areas and on the edges.

But a diverse group of Architects and Planners refused to accept suburbia as the only way, founding the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) in 1993. Today people are still foolishly dismissive of New Urbanism — saying it is just nostalgia in the corn field. This view is so narrow it looks at a few projects but doesn’t take into account the depth of the guiding principals found in the Charter of the CNU.

About a decade ago there started being talk of a big New Urbanist project in our region. The resulting project was Paul McKee’s Winghaven (yes, that Paul McKee). In August 2001 Peter Downs authored a story on Winghaven for the RFT; The Gospel According to Paul.

Though the experiment is barely half-done, some people are already proclaiming it a stunning success. “WingHaven will be cited for the next 25 years as a great example of a new form of urban development,” says Richard Fleming, president and chief executive officer of the St. Louis Regional Chamber and Growth Association.

By this point we had seen enough to know that Winghaven was not New Urbanism, despite what Fleming had to say. At the time I was part of a casual group of architects and planners known as New Urban St Louis. After this article appeared architect John Hoag, planner Todd Antoine and I drafted a letter to the editor on behalf of our group. We wrote, in part:

While we applaud Paul McKee’s efforts to break the current mold of suburban development in the St. Louis region, several points are worth mentioning.

New Urbanists identify with one of two camps: developments in suburban “greenfields” or revitalizing existing neighborhoods in the urban core and inner suburbs. New Urbanists believe strengthening the urban core is vital to sustaining long- term regional growth while acknowledging that greenfield development will continue. New development, whether in the urban core or in greenfields, benefits by incorporating New Urbanist principles. New Urbanism does not imply a strict return to nostalgic remembrances of the past. Instead, it is based on design and planning principles nurtured and refined over centuries of town- building that have been largely forgotten over the last 50 years. Problems such as affordable housing, lack of connectiveness and inadequate public transportation plague many suburban areas. Solutions include pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use and transit-oriented development which offers real alternatives to auto-oriented sprawl.

The St. Louis region is blessed with fine older examples of traditional neighborhoods exhibiting many aspects of New Urbanist designs. However, the region is lacking the breakthrough projects seen in Memphis, Dallas and Minneapolis. We encourage developers, bankers and local government officials to explore the rich variety of New Urbanist developments in the U.S. already completed or in the planning process.

Since this time we’ve seen real New Urbanism come to our region via New Town at St Charles. New Town is a project of Whittaker Builders. I’ve had the good fortune to have spent some good one on one time with Greg Whittaker talking about the project and what led him in this direction. Whittaker, like most large home builders in our region, was responsible for a number of the typical subdivisions that define suburbia. Greg Whittaker spent vacation time at Seaside Florida and he began to wonder if they could do something different than they had. The answer was yes.

Building new (or old) urbanism is not a simple task. First of all, based on current zoning, it is illegal —- even in the City of St Louis. Zoning in much of the country mandates suburbia — be it in the old urban core or on corn fields at the edge of each region. The site where New Town is located was zoned for industrial park development. If someone wanted to recreate the intersection of Euclid & Maryland (old urbanism) on the long vacant Pruitt-Igoe site they could not do so based on our current zoning code which dates to 1947.

Our zoning code is like most in the U.S. — it is what is known as use based zoning. That is the code tells you where certain uses are allowed (so much for mixed use areas) and finally how much parking each use much have. Always back to parking — this is why instead of contiguous commercial districts as in the old urbanism newer areas have each building surrounded by parking. With all this parking between buildings you lose that connected feel of a truly walkable environment.

New Urbanist developments like New Town use their own codes — with the city or county adopting that code as an overlay for that site. These codes are not use based — they don’t care if you want to put a hardware store or an insurance company in a storefront space — they are more concerned with the design of the storefront. This is not to say that you can open a slaughterhouse on a street of single family homes. But having commercial spaces with residential units above just around the corner from single family homes is to be expected — something you don’t see in residential subdivisions today.

Codes in new urbanist projects are “form-based” codes — these control how the buildings relate to each other and to the public street. Cities such as Denver are also using form-based codes to regulate how urban infill will be built in various parts of town.

While New Urbanism is not perfect it is a starting point for building communities that respect people while also accommodating the car. New Urbanists such as Peter Calthorpe tend to have a much more modern aesthetic as opposed to DPZ (planners behind New Town) that rely on a more familiar vernacular aesthetic. Aesthetics aside they all seek to mix uses, provide a walkable environment and reduce dependence on the car. Rather than dismiss New Urbanism we should embrace it as a means for ending the mandated suburbia we have now.

Keep in mind I personally would not want to live in a New Urbanist place on the outer edges of a region. However as a model for sites such as the former Pruitt_Igoe it is ideal. I could live there as I’d be close to the old urbanism that remains in the city. Nobody should have to live in zoning mandated suburbia.




Notice of Open Meeting: Parking Commission of the City of St. Louis
Tomorrow at 12pm CST.
The meeting will be live-streamed via the STL Treasurer Facebook page.
... See MoreSee Less

2 days ago  ·