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New shopping center in Des Peres not reachable by pedestrians, many to blame

I don’t get out to suburbia often but when I do I stop to photograph the new construction that I see. Recently I visited The Shoppes at Tallbrooke in Des Peres MO (11698 Manchester Rd): 

Pretty ordinary wouldn’t you say? These are a dime a dozen in auto-centric areas of our region.  What is consistent is the new sidewalk along the major road, in this case, Manchester Rd:

Projects that “we’re walkable” image.  But this sidewalk is only about image and not about actually being walkable.

You see the sidewalk runs along the side of the road but a pedestrian on the sidewalk doesn’t have a walk to use to enter the development to patronize the retailers.  The blame falls to several: the developer, the architect, the civil engineer and the City of Des Peres.

Image: NAI/Desco

The site plan clearly shows the walk in front of the businesses but nothing connecting to the main road or either side road leading to the residential neighborhood to the south.  I expect the architects and civil engineers to include an ADA Access Route from the public sidewalk to the business entrances but all too often they don’t.

I am most angry with the City of Des Peres. I looked up their most recent Comprehensive Plan, from the 2003 document you get a sense that walkability was important but it is such a weak document it is no wonder all they got was the useless window dressing sidewalk that doesn’t connect to anything.  The following is selected text under the section “Planning Goals:”  (Bold added for emphasis)

Land Use
1. Attain the highest quality development for all land use classifications.
2. Enhance the value of residential properties.
3. Enhance community identity in the existing areas of Des Peres and develop that identity in newly annexed areas.
4. Guide urbanization consistent with the ecological capabilities of the land.
12. Limit commercial uses exclusively to the Manchester Road Corridor.

4. Expand facilities for pedestrians and bicyclists.

Urban Design
1. Increase landscaping on both public and private properties along the Manchester Road streetscape.
2. Enhance the pedestrian facilities along the Manchester Road corridor.
4. Improve the quality of signage along Manchester Road.
5. Enhance architectural standards for buildings along the Manchester Road corridor.
6. Provide more human scale elements to the Manchester Road streetscape such as street furniture, art, lighting and signage.

Economic Development
4. Retain the retail sales and service identity of shopping centers in the City.
5. Increase employment within the City’s business district.
6. Promote the development of business establishments that service the needs of the local population.

Good stuff, they want pedestrian & bicycle facilities and they want to serve the local population — the folks that might actually walk to the businesses.  They want to expand sidewalks:

Residential area:

Objective 1: Expand the network of pedestrian sidewalks in the area.

You might think the document is very general and not that specific — until you read further:

When redevelopment or rehabilitation of commercial properties takes place, it is important that they follow architectural guidelines established for all buildings in the commercial area. The purpose of such guidelines is not to impose a certain architectural style on the area but to ensure that the varying styles of buildings in the area will be architecturally harmonious and pleasing. There should be a mixture of styles, colors and materials for each commercial building in the district. However the diversity among buildings should blend well throughout the district. The whole should be greater than the sum of its parts.

When either a new building is developed or an old building redeveloped, their design should be reviewed in the context of surrounding buildings and the area in general.

Architectural guidelines should focus on eliminating two areas of the architectural spectrum. They must eliminate designs on the extremes and designs in the center. The extremes represent cheap or unusual building materials, wide use of bright colors and odd design schemes. These buildings draw so much attention to themselves that the rest of the commercial district recedes into obscurity. The center of the spectrum represents the conformist, cookie-cutter building found in any suburban community. These buildings draw little attention to themselves because they can be found anywhere. They don’t add character or identity to a commercial district.

A lot of attention to architecture but nothing about being able to get anywhere on the expanded sidewalks.  I kept reading:

Ground signs are a separate structure located in the front yard of a site along Manchester Road. They primarily relate to the streetscape and not the building. The critical element in the design of these signs is ensuring that they are human scale and do not dominate the streetscape. These signs should be at the eye level of the motorist or the pedestrian. They should also be easy to read and understand. Excessive messages, font styles, small-scale lettering and colors unnecessarily clutter the appearance of a sign and make it confusing to motorists.

Oh I see, pedestrians get human scaled signs at eye level.  That is so much better than being able to walk to businesses on a sidewalk.  It gets better:

There should be some improvements to both the hardscape and landscaping along Manchester Road. More human scale elements need to be inserted into the area to make it more inviting for pedestrians. Although there is a sidewalk along both sides of Manchester Road, some segments are missing. The sidewalk needs to be extended in these areas. There should be a continuous sidewalk along both sides of Manchester Road throughout the planning area. The sidewalks along the roadway should be accented with pedestrian plazas at strategic intersections along the corridor. These small congregating areas would be approximately 500 sq. ft. in size. The area would be hard surfaced with a decorative material such as paving stones or stamped concrete. It would contain benches, trash receptacles and street art. The hard surface area would be ringed by plant material and accented with decorative street lamps. It is important for all of these plazas to be similar in design and materials to create continuity throughout the corridor.

Are they serious? Decorative lamps and “inserted” elements?  Some planners got paid good money to write this useless phrasing.

Paving stones of a consistent style and color should be inserted in the area of the streetscape between the sidewalk and the street curb. These areas vary in width along the corridor from 2-10 ft. They usually contain either asphalt or sod. The asphalt is unattractive and lacks flexibility as a material. These strips usually contain underground utilities where excavations are necessary. Asphalt does not lend itself well to surface patching, as it tends to fade over time. Sod is more attractive but not hearty enough to survive the difficult conditions present along a major arterial roadway. Salt, exhaust, debris and other materials destroy the sod over time.

They can go into this level of detail but the idea of suggesting that developments along Manchester Rd actually connect to the sidewalk isn’t mentioned.  Instead they’ve covered all those things that help create the appearance of walkability without, you know, actually being walkable.  It is no wonder this new strip center is so disconnected.

– Steve Patterson


Currently there are "9 comments" on this Article:

  1. Mike says:

    The City of Des Peres is one of the most difficult and short sighted cities to work with when it comes to opening or operating a business. Their rules are seemingly arbitrary, their review process is certainly arbitrary and their rules on signage, etc are downright draconian. It is little wonder that the quality of businesses actually staying in Des Peres is diminishing in favor of areas further west.

  2. DavidL says:

    Manchester Rd. is an urban planning disaster from a pedestrian standpoint. I take the 57 down Manchester to Des Peres to get to work everyday and the road is a mess–the sidewalks come and go, sometimes they cross the street where there isn't a crosswalk. West of 270, Manchester splits (East and West have about a quarter mile of business development between them) and becomes a highway without sidewalks or stoplights. In this area, I sometimes have to walk along Manchester and end up walking in the breakdown lane since there is no sidewalk–I've seen others doing this too. It's only a matter of time before someone gets killed like this.

  3. Herbie says:

    Don't forget the new Schnucks in Des Peres, as well. It's almost as bad.

  4. I Have The Answer says:

    Anything called “Shoppes” is automatically annoying.

  5. JZ71 says:

    Steve, you know I agree with you, philosophically, on this, but I'm going to play devil's advocate on this one . . . the ADA requires 1 (one!) pedestrian connection; this site has 4 (four!) potential, logical pedestrian access points, one on each corner. This is also a multi-tenant center, so there are multiple destinations and multiple front doors. So even if the developer and the city met/meet the letter of the law, defined access for pedestrians will remain pretty poor, from both the site's perimeter AND from most parking spaces. Remember, defined access for most people parking in the parking lot is also nonexistent, as well – you have to cross drive lanes to get from the majority of the parking spaces to any front door.

    People driving in suburban parking lots expect to find pedestrians “wandering” in their drive aisles. Pedestrians are also notorious for walking “outside the lines”, jaywalking, and taking the shortest path between Point A and Point B. So while having a painted crosswalk adds another level of legal “protection”, and some added notice that pedestrians might be present, it does very little in adding real protection. Drivers are supposed to watch out for, and avoid hitting, ALL pedestrians, everywhere. Most do, some don't. Pedestrians need to “look both ways before crossing”, since they WILL lose if they get hit by a moving vehicle. Most do, some don't.

    Finally, outside of dense urban areas, shopping malls and theme parks, real pedestrians are a distinct minority in America. Our environment is autocentric. You drive, I drive, and the vast majority of americans drive or are driven. Adding more sidewalks, while relatively inexpensive in the bigger scheme of things, will do very little to change our daily behaviors. The real culprit is low density. We can debate whether we have to drive because of low density or we have low density because we can drive (instead of walk), but it is our reality today. Until that changes, adding more sidewalks and crosswalks in suburban shopping centers will just be putting lipstick on a pig . . .

    • ADA minimums and walkable environments are different. I didn't focus on the ADA — it should be better for everyone. This is actually two sites — the bank on the corner is a separate parcel. Access via a walk from Manchester to each building is not unreasonable. Ditto for access to the side street to the west. I'd also expect a connection between each building. Anything less is unacceptable where you want pedestrians.

  6. prfsnlwannabe says:

    Reading something like this is very interesting, since I notice this sort of construction all the time when it comes to suburban shopping centers in the Chicago area. We may not share the same opinion on the issue of smoking bans, but great job on this article!

    Even more amazing to me the side streets don't have sidewalks connecting those residents to this shopping center, and to Manchester Road. You'd think that wouldn't take a lot of effort to do!


  7. Andrew J Faulkner says:

    Early in the conceptual design phase a coffee shop was supposed to anchor the corner of this shopping center. The architects involved proposed a sidewalk/stair connecting the subdivision up the hill to the center so neighbors could walk. While this seems like a commonsense proposal and seems to create a local amenity, the architect was met with vociferous opposition at the planning hearing. The neighbors stated that a sidewalk connection would increase crime and put their children at risk. Basically it comes down to two core guidelines:
    1) You can't fix stupid
    2) You get what you deserve

    Perhaps readers of this blog can keep tabs on values in Des Peres over the next 30 years relative to downtown and then we can see who made the right choice.

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