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Florida Changing The Redevelopment Plan To Allow Drive-Thrus

This post was going to be about the city’s Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority (aka LCRA) amending the Gravois/South Grand/Meramec redevelopment area at their meeting next week on the 25th. But, guess what, the LCRA amended the redevelopment plan at their April 4th meeting. The next step is the Board of Aldermen. The public notice given: an agenda posted of the lobby at 1015 Locust. No notice to property owners within the blighted area or even a posting in the City Journal (whose sole purpose is to provide public notice).

The LCRA Board consists of the following:

Judith Doss (Chair) of St. Louis Hills
Artie Whitmore of the Central West End
Chris Goodson of Lafayette Square (major developer doing projects such as the City Hospital & Eden Lofts)
Larry Williams, Treasurer for the City of St. Louis.

Today I spoke with Chairwoman Judith Doss. I asked her if she was aware of the opposition to the McDonald’s. She was not. Doss indicated they had a letter of support from the Alderwoman and therefore assumed the residents of the area were OK with the change since they did not have a letter of opposition from anyone. When I mentioned that none of us were aware of the April 4th meeting she said our Alderman should have told us. Well, Ald. Craig Schmid who represents the bulk of the Gravois Park neighborhood where the McDonald’s is proposed was unaware the LCRA had amended the redevelopment plan — I gave him a copy of the paperwork! Back to Doss. When I said the Alderwoman intentionally wouldn’t tell anyone about the change and that we don’t frequent the lobby of 1015 Locust (where the LCRA agenda is posted) she said they can’t do anything about that. How convenient.

I’m sure Doss wouldn’t want this kind of development along Hampton near her St. Louis Hills home. Nor would Mr. Whitmore want this in the CWE or heaven forbid we even suggest such a thing near Goodson’s Lafayette Square. Even Florida’s own neighborhood of Tower Grove would not permit such a thing a half a mile to the North. But it seems to be OK in less affluent areas of the city.
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St. Louis Not Prepared for Oil Crisis

SustainLane has created a ranking of “50 Largest cities Ranked by Readiness for an Oil Crisis” (see list at right). St. Louis didn’t even make the list! My hometown of Oklahoma City, known for its massive sprawl, was ranked ahead of St. Louis at #50.

From SustainLane:

SustainLane analyzed commute trend data within major cities–how many people rode, drove, carpooled, walked, or biked to work. Then we looked at how much people rode public transit in the general metro area, and metro area road congestion. Sprawl, local food, and wireless connectivity made up our final areas of data analysis (see chart below for weighting of these criteria). The index did not take into consideration energy impacts associated with heating or electricity, which would be largely dependent on non-oil energy sources, such as coal, natural gas, and nuclear energy. Only one U.S. city in our study, Boston, uses a significant amount of heating oil. For this reason Boston, ranked #2, gets an asterisk: if heating oil usage were used as a criteria its rank would be somewhat lower.

As fuel prices continue to rise the St. Louis region will lag behind these other regions. The time to act is now.

What Can The Most Vulnerable Cities Do?
It’s not impossible for cities that are now the most vulnerable to an oil crisis to become more prepared.

One city that is taking comprehensive actions to lessen its economic and physical dependence on the automobile is Denver. Ranked #15 on our oil crisis preparedness index, Denver has bet its future on new multi-modal public transportation as part of an economic strategy known as Transit Oriented Development.

The city passed the largest regional transportation funding measure in America’s history in 2003. The measure, which was led by Mayor John Hickenlooper and regional mayors, garnered 73 percent voter approval for a $4.7 billion initiative that combines funding for multiple new light rail, commuter rail, and bus rapid transit lines. There will even be a ski train to zip adventurers into the nearby constellation of Rockies resorts.

While other regions are funding and building state of the art transportation systems we are looking at spending massive sums on rebuilding an existing highway and building a new bridge. Our priorities need to be changed. We also need a leader to help guide the region to a more sustainable model.

Full Story here. Thanks to reader Jim Zavist for the link.

UPDATE 4/11/06 @ 6:45pm
The rankings have been called into question for this study. From the methodology on their related US City Rankings we know they considered all cities with a population greater than 100,000. With the City of St. Louis in the mid-300s we would have part of the study group but simply failed to make a showing on the top 50 list. As evidence, the City of Arlington TX has a population less than the City of St. Louis but appears as #43 on the list. I’ve sent SustainLane an email asking to clarify the ranking of St. Louis.

UPDATE 4/12/06 @ 7:45am
Well, turns out I was wrong and Publiceye was correct. Warren from SustainLane added a comment below to clarify the methodology for their sustainable cities project was different than that used to rank cities for oil crisis preparedness. In short they took the top 50 cities by population figures. Arlington TX was behind St. Louis in the 2000 Census but by the 2004 update that was used they had pulled ahead. So we don’t really know where we’d rank because we are too small to be counted.

– Steve


Removing Highways to Restructure the St. Louis Region

Rather than spend hundreds of millions on rebuilding highway 40 (I-64 to the rest of the map reading world) we should just tear it out completely. Don’t look so confused, I’m totally serious. This is not a belated April fools joke.

Our highways in the middle of urban areas are relics to the cheap gas economy that is quickly coming to an end. In addition to removing highway 40, we should remove all the highways within our I-270/I-255 Loop: I-55, I-70, I-44, and I-170

I’ve not gone crazy nor have I been smoking anything.

And before you scroll down to the comments section to explain all the conventional wisdom reasons why this won’t work I ask that you hear me out first. I know we cannot just remove the highways and leave the balance of our political entities, zoning and other systems in place and expect this to make a lick of sense. Therefore, I have some basic assumptions & qualifications that would need to accompany the removal of any or all highways in our main urbanized area of the region. The likelihood of this coming together in our lifetime is slim but as the economy changes we will need to change and adapt to remain competitive with other regions.

Keep in mind that 60 years ago men took maps and drew lines where we’d wipe out entire neighborhoods for highways and housing projects. In hindsight, huge mistakes were made that disrupted lives and cost millions. Today we are still dealing with the aftermath of these poor decisions. So I’m taking a map and looking at ways we can undo damage previously done without inflicting new damage.
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Target Bike Rack Completely Useless

Target - Brentwood MORecently I was heading into the fairly new Target Greatland at Brentwood Promenade and noticed the bike rack adjacent to the entry (left of entry in photo).

I’m always happy to see businesses include a bike rack, however, it is nice when they actually install it in a place where someone might actually be able to use it.

Target bike rackThe only way this bike rack, a unit designed to hold five (5) bicycles, can actually be used by someone is to lock a single bike parallel to the rack. So the five-bike rack becomes a single bike rack.

The reason it cannot be used as designed is the rack is mounted too close the back wall. If it were pulled out from the wall a foot or so it would allow the front wheel of a bike to go beyond the rack. This would allow for three bikes — the two outer positions and the center — to be secured. The other two spaces are designed to be approached from the opposite side. But even pulling the rack forward by a foot leaves little room for a cyclist to get around the bike to lock the frame and wheel to the rack.

This facility was professionally designed and professionally built. Someone thought to include a bike rack, perhaps that was a Target requirement. But the professionals, somewhere along the line, failed to make sure the proper rack was specified for the location. Yet another example where someone knowledgeable of such issues should have been reviewing the drawings, specifications and monitoring the construction process.

– Steve


Proposed McDonald’s To Be Most Suburban Among Fast Food on Grand

Unfortunately the seven blocks or so along South Grand between Potomac St and Alberta St are littered with fast food establishments, many with drive-thru service. North of this area is quite nice with urban storefronts. South of the area you get a nice urban feeling again with storefronts and homes facing Grand. It is the one section, centered between Gravois & Chippewa, that has been ravaged over the years by inappropriate development.

I decided to take a closer look at the existing drive-thru establishments to see how they compared to the proposed McDonald’s (view site plan). The numbers were startling.

First, only the 1996 White Castle and the proposed McDonald’s have any sort of auto drive separating the public sidewalk from the building. The Taco Bell, KFC, Burger King, Arby’s and existing McDonald’s all have no autos between the sidewalk and building. This places the building closer to the building line and is therefore more accommodating to pedestrians. The proposed McDonald’s will follow the newer White Castle by setting back the building and separating it from the sidewalk with an auto drive, making it less accommodating to pedestrians.

Fast Food on Grand

Here are some quick observations:

  • The Taco Bell has the smallest site. The proposed McDonald’s site is 223% larger than the Taco Bell site!
  • The Taco Bell and KFC sites combined are the same size as the current McDonald’s site.
  • The proposed McDonald’s site is 38% larger than the current McDonald’s site.
  • The site of the proposed McDonald’s is 64% larger than the next biggest site, White Castle.
  • The proposed McDonald’s will have 62% more parking spaces than the current location (29 vs. 47).
  • The mixed-use project just South of the Grand View Arcade includes a Wing Stop, a Subway a Papa John’s Pizza and a Head Start program. This project includes, for all four business, a total of 42 parking spaces. This is five less than the proposed McDonald’s. Keep in mind the McDonald’s owner is saying this move is necessary to increase his drive-thru business.

    The existing McDonald’s location, built in 1974, is the oldest of all the locations. One could argue it is due for replacement but I say it was the one that started the trend of suburban fast food in the area. However, the White Castle that was razed in 1996 may have pre-dated the 1974 McDonald’s.

    The proposed McDonald’s is less urban than the current location in that it will be set back from the public sidewalk and will have a lower building to land ratio (10.7% vs. 7.1%). Truly urban development would occupy a minimum of 30-40% of the parcel with buildings.

    All signs indicate the proposed McDonald’s is not only out of scale with the idea of a pedestrian friendly neighborhood but also relative to other fast-food drive-thru establishments in the immediate vicinity. Nobody involved has their act together. The city’s zoning is ancient with no guidelines to make drive-thrus more urban. The elected officials, alderwoman and mayor, seem glad to help McDonald’s more than help the area residents work toward a good compromise. The developer, Pyramid, seems convinced they are doing the city a good service. McDonald’s will generally push the standard formula unless they are forced to do something better which brings us back to zoning.

    Here is what I’d like to see happen:

  • An immediate moratorium on new projects on Grand between Potomac & Alberta with the exception of the SSNB & Melba/Grandview Arcade.
  • A community planning workshop to envision the potential of the area. Property owners, neighbors, aldermen, and the city’s planning staff should be involved in the process.
  • Ald. Florida & Ald. Schmid co-sponsor a bill enacting a special zoning overlay for the area. Zoning does not prohibit drive-thru restaurants but it does establish guidelines which mitigates the negative aspects associated with these building types. Drive-thru guidelines might follow this example from Toronto.
  • Moratorium is lifted with everyone now on the same playing field. Developers know if they invest in the area in an urban fashion that others will also be held to similar standards.
  • Will this happen? Probably not. This would require some leadership and frankly I don’t think Ald. Florida has either the will or ability to do it.

    – Steve