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Bus Tour of Dilapitated McKee-owned Properties Ignored Other Issues

This past Thursday morning I attended, as did many others, the press conference and bus tour relating to 500+ properties owned by Paul McKee through various companies in his control. For those of you living under a rock for the last year, McKee had quietly bought hundreds of properties mostly in the city’s 5th ward through companies with names like “Blairmont Associates, LLC” and “Dodier Investors LLC” (see list). Blair and Dodier are both street names in the area. In the last Missouri State legislative session McKee’s attorney Steve Stone wrote a tax credit bill worth $100 million for anyone that assembled large acres of land in distressed areas. All sounds good so far, right?

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Walk-ins Welcome, Well Not Literally

As part of my monthly ‘appreciate the city day’ I visited a friend out in the older ring suburb of Richmond Heights. I’m working on a highly detailed post about the reconstruction of I-64 (aka highway 40) but in the meantime I wanted to share just one bit of what I saw yesterday. It is these little trips out to the burbs that help me remember that no matter how bad things are in the city they are usually worse in suburban areas.


So walking along Clayton Road between Hanley and Brentwood I spotted the above sign, “Walk Ins Welcome.” I immediately smiled when I saw the sign…

Despite all the cute architectural elements of this building, meant to evoke images of home, is as auto-centric as everything else. Sure, walk ins are welcome but only from the parking lot — they don’t provide a sidewalk to the front door from the public sidewalk. Oh the irony that someone had to walk through the grass to put out the welcome sign.

While I appreciate the care this facility offers I am continually amazed that the simple notion of providing a means for someone to walk to a facility is omitted. Conveniently they placed their phone number on the board so I pulled out my cell phone and called. The nice receptionist was a bit taken aback when I asked how I was supposed to walk in without a sidewalk. She said, “Are you in the parking lot?” “No” I replied, “I’m on the public sidewalk.” “Oh, I see you now.” I left a message for their director but I’ve not heard back.

So they are certainly not going to let those in their care, especially those with memory issues, out for an afternoon walk along a busy street. However, family and friends of those in the facility might live nearby and it would be convenient for someone to walk or bike over.

When planning new facilities we should make sure walk ins truly are welcomed.


MoDOT’s Pete Rahn on a ‘Pefect Storm’ in Transportation Funding

In the July 2007 issue of the Missouri Municipal Review the director of the Missouri Department of Transportation, Pete Rahn, has a one page commentary entitled “Perfect Storm Brewing in Transportation”, (view PDF). Rahn argues that over the next 20 years and based on the current funding formula, they’ll have a funding gap of roughly $18 billion “without future inflation factored into the calculation.” MoDot is estimating a need for $37 billion and that we’ll have “only 19 billion.Only?

IMG_0472.JPG Rahn is correct when he talks about gasoline taxes being on a per gallon basis thus not “being set up to keep pace with rising costs.” True enough, material and labor costs can rise but more funding is dependent upon increased sales of gasoline which likely means either less fuel efficient vehicles or increased miles driven — both arguably bad for our society.

The disturbing part is that Rahn believes we should just continue to fund project after project, with no end in sight. He talks about their efforts to manage projects well to save money but that we have “looming financial woes” because of things like “stagnant funding” and “lagging federal funding.” Uh, no, we have financial woes because we’ve made foolish decisions over the last 50 years to build a road network that only encourages more driving and more road network. We’ve built a system that now outstrips our ability to even fund the safe maintenance of what we have in place today and yet every more miles of road and bridges are planned.

Our roads are no longer for our convenience. They are now controlling and abusing us but we are the victims in the relationship. That which we thought would be good for us turned out to be far more demanding and costly than we ever imagined when we first entered the relationship. Anytime we threaten to leave the abuser hits us with a big traffic jam or a tragic bridge collapse. Year after year we spend more and more money hoping to improve our relationship but it only gets worse. As a national I think we all have Stockholm Syndrome relative to highways and bridges.
But Rahn, an apologist for the abuser, is encouraging voters to support more funding for the road building:

It’s up to our General Assembly to decide how to fund transportation. It’s up to MoDOT to show we’re good stewards of Missourians’ money. It’s up to the voters to decide if they want to invest in their children and grandchildren’s future through the foundation of our modern economy…transportation.

Oh please, what doesn’t get argued in this city and state without pulling in the children and grandchildren. We need to hunt more deer for the future of our grandchildren, we need to pack concealed weapons for the future of our grandchildren, we need to ban abortions so that we have more grandchildren. We need to keep gays from having long-term marriages because they can’t produce any grandchildren. It is more like we need to build more roads for ourselves today but it will be up to our grandchildren to figure out how to pay to maintain them!

Sure Pete, let’s invest in transportation! Let’s invest in localized transit (aka streetcar/quality local bus service) in urban core areas. Let’s invest in making it easier and safer for Missouri citizens to bicycle. Let’s invest in high-speed rail to connect our cities and towns so that people can forgo the single occupancy vehicle. Let’s invest in commuter rail lines to get suburbanites into employment centers. Let’s invest in rail lines for shipping goods so we can remove these semis from our existing roads. But let’s not just keep building mile after mile of expensive roads and bridges and then saddling future generations with the bond payments.


Newly Constructed Starbucks and Others Lack Mandated ADA Access Route

I want to see St. Louis reach its potential and be a much more pedestrian friendly place to live. I see many people out walking and jogging but we could have so much more sidewalk activity. I’m seeing more and more couples with babies out in strollers trying to navigate our sometimes unfriendly environments. I’ve written many times about the lack of an ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) access route at Loughborough Commons to which people say someone is not going to walk to Lowe’s to buy drywall. Well, no sh*t. But people do still walk or use mobility devices to buy smaller items. I’m not suggesting we ban cars, simply make places accessible via various means. The ADA is federal civil rights legislation and, if actually followed, would make places more accessible to everyone including those elusive families we seek to attract to the city.

The newest Starbucks in the City of Saint Louis is located where Chippewa St (aka Watson, formerly Route 66) and Lansdowne Ave intersect — just east of both the well known Ted Drewes Frozen Custard Stand and a MetroLink light rail station. It recently opened but unfortunately it is about as auto focused as you can get.

The drive through lane, above, is front and center as seen from the public sidewalk. In the above image the front door is basically behind the right most umbrella. I’m not sure how they expect people from the very nice adjacent neighoborhood to walk there from the sidewalk — through the drive lane and over the shrubs? Someone in a wheelchair is out of luck.

Above, the situation is the same from the other side. You can stand on the sidewalk and read the menu of the drive-thru but you cannot access the door!


View from public sidewalk.


Basically anyone using a wheelchair to access the site must use the auto drive to get to the accessible area just beyond the maroon SUV and then backtrack to the door.


Not only is this dangerous, it is not ADA compliant. Regardless of ADA, this type of poor planning simply assumes everyone will arrive by car. I was unable to spot a bike rack anywhere on the site or in the public right of way. The public sidewalk completely lacks street trees. Sure, the building is nice and new but poorly planned. By contrast, the dated Arby’s location in the next block to the West has an access route to their entrance from the sidewalk. Although it does not meet current ADA standards, it complies with the intent which is more than I can say for Starbucks.

The City of Saint Louis is not alone in permitting poorly planned projects to be built. The adjacent suburb, quite dense and pedestrian friendly, is allowing new construction to erode what there good urban roots. One such project, is another new Starbucks which opened within the last month or so.

Located on the SE corner of Delmar and North & South this new Starbucks drive-thru is more geared toward motorists than the many pedestrians in the area. Despite a high level of pedestrians in the area, this new Starbucks shrugs off any notion of complying with the federal ADA requirement for an accessible entrance from the public street.


Above, a new Bentley, valued at roughly $170K, waits at a red light while a young couple with dog and twins in stroller cross the street.

The couple from above enter the site of the Starbucks via the outgoing auto lane and head toward the back of the building to access the ADA ramp to get their kids out of the parking lot. As others leave, a minivan attempts to back out of a space.The Royal Banks branch diagonally across from the Starbucks, built recently, also suffers from the same issue. From the sidewalk we can see the entrance and an accessible parking space but if you are on the sidewalk (and not driving a black Porsche) you are not welcomed.


Some might say this is better than the gas station that used to be on the site to which I would agree. But, when building brand new from scratch shouldn’t these businesses do a better job attempting to connect people to their front door? The best way is to build up to the street but short of that they need to provide an access route.


Those trying to enter the bank on foot (or mobility device) end up facing the outgoing auto traffic. Those able to can jump onto the sidewalk adjacent to the building but others are forced to risk it in the auto lane until they reach the ramp from the drive to entry.

Given this bank’s sidewalks and ramps I don’t think they’d get an access route right anyway. The red ‘truncated domes’ are used to help those who are visually impaired to know when they are crossing a drive/street. Their direction is meant to guide them, by feel under foot, to the other side. However, here we can see that these will send them out into the street.


The two remaining corners each have older buildings that are urban in form — butting up to the sidewalk. This makes it much easier for pedestrians to access local businesses and spend money. Of course, they must first get past the Post-Dispatch newspaper box blocking the top of the wheelchair ramp.

Back to the city we see the new big box store, The Restaurant Depot, on Manchester Road across from St. Louis Marketplace.

This store is not open to the general public, you must be a restaurant owner to get in. Still, this facility should have an ADA route from the public sidewalk as an employee might use a wheelchair or simply decide to take transit and walk from the nearest bus stop to their job.


Above is yet another new Starbucks being constructed between Broadway and 7th at Russel, just east of Soulard.  An adjacent building will have a new Bread Co (Panera for you non St. Louis readers).  I’m guessing they will lack an ADA compliant access route to both of these locations.

We cannot continue this cycle of building places hostile to pedestrians and then say there are not pedestrians as a justification to build ever more hostile environments.  People arriving at these sites on foot, bike, wheelchair, scooter or car can all be accomodated if we as a city/region make it a priority.  Our leadership in the city and in adjacent municipalities have failed to look out for the interests for whom they are supposed to serve.


Gotta Hurry to Get that Loaf of Bread

Earlier today, around 11am, I was heading eastbound on Loughborough, a 2-lane street with on-street parking on both sides.  I was roughly near the middle of Carondalet Park and all of a sudden a Chevy Caprice passes me.  It took me a second to realize I had just been passed.  I looked down at my speedometer on my scooter — I was doing roughly 32mph.  I look up at a speed limit sign and it is posted at 30mph.  Then I flip the guy the bird.

I ended up being right behind him at the traffic signal entrance to Loughborough Commons.  I tooted my horn and yelled “hurry up” as he had a back window down a bit.  Once he parked I asked why he passed me, stating that that was dangerous and what was his hurry.  His only response, “Are you a cop?”

Folks, before you get in such a hurry to pass those of us on two wheels take a look at the speed limit and check to see what speed we are traveling.  If we are going slow on a 4-lane road then simply use the other lane (although don’t cut back in front of us and then turn right).   If we are on a 2-lane road and traveling at the posted speed limit just wonder if you really need to get to your destination a second or two before we do.  The bread will still be on the shelves when you get there.