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County Market Near Downtown Springfield IL Retrofits A Pedestrian Route

In March I posted about a new grocery store on the edge of downtown Springfield IL (map) that anticipated many customers on foot, but they expected these pedestrians to either use the automobile driveways or walk over curbs and through grass & lots of parking.  A few days after my post, Springfield Journal-Register columnist Dave Bakke wrote Some criticisms of Springfield justified mentioning my criticism, later Bakke followed up with Critique of Springfield’s image touches nerve.

Here's what customers leaving the entrance facing Carpenter see now.
Here’s what customers leaving the entrance facing Carpenter see now.
Back in March the New County Market near downtown Springfield didn't have a route for pedestrians to/from the public sidewalk.
Back in March the New County Market near downtown Springfield didn’t have a route for pedestrians to/from the public sidewalk. The only provision was to reach disabled parking.

From this angle the change isn’t significant, no paint on asphalt will keep a distracted driver from hitting a pedestrian.  But look out toward the street and you’ll see new concrete.

From the public sidewalk you can see the new route they added.
From the public sidewalk you can see the new route they added so pedestrians don’t have to compete with cars.

I appreciate the after the fact gesture, but this is a good example why pedestrian access, just like automobile access, must be planned from the beginning. The new concrete walk does not meet ADA guidelines, it is too steep in places. I didn’t have my digital level with me on our Mother’s Day trip, but I could tell by walking it.

This route shown above is a consolation prize for pedestrians, it connects to Carpenter St only, not to 2nd St. Even if they retrofitted a route to 2nd it still wouldn’t be considered pedestrian-friendly. As I pointed out in my original post, the County Market in Champaign-Urbana is the model that should’ve been built in Springfield. It was built on a corner with direct access from both sidewalks. It also has a parking lot behind the building, with another entrance. Same number of entrances as the Springfield location, just arranged so customers arriving on foot or car are equally accommodated.

From the mezzanine you can see the route able-bodied pedestrians will likely take, cutting across the parking lot at a diagonal.
From the mezzanine you can see the route able-bodied pedestrians will likely take, cutting across the parking lot at a diagonal.

Springfield, like St. Louis and most cities, should not allow parking between the public sidewalk and buildings in areas where they seek to be pedestrian-friendly. In all other areas where public sidewalks are present/required they should require developers to actually connect to them. Public sidewalks are not window dressing, people actually use them.

If motorists were treated like pedestrians, no parking lot would have a driveway connecting to the public street. You’d be forced to drive over multiple curbs and through grass. All cars could be able to enter & exit, but 4X4 vehicles would have an easier time. While people could use parkings lot this way, they’d soon realize it wasn’t friendly and is potentially  damaging their vehicle. Those with high-clearance SUVs wouldn’t understand why a person driving a vintage MG Midget would complain, besides how often do you see one of those on the road… Why build costly driveways for the few people who have low cars?

Municipal zoning & building codes in cities coast to coast go to great lengths to detail every aspect of our arrival at developments by car: driveways, width of aisles, parking space dimensions, number of spaces, etc. Few say a word about arrival on foot.

It is no wonder so few people walk given our built environment.

— Steve Patterson


Currently there are "28 comments" on this Article:

  1. JZ71 says:

    First, congratulations on getting some semblance of compliance with existing ADA regulations. Second, given that you’re relying on civil rights legislation to achieve your goals, I’m surprised that you’re so focused on forcing separate access when it can never be equal access! To use your example, “If motorists were treated like pedestrians”, you would be just as incensed if motorists WERE driving down or over the “superior” pedestrian facilities to get to their designated parking facilities.

    Your closing statement is “It is no wonder so few people walk given our built environment.” I’ll counter with it is no wonder that our built environment is so pedestrian unfriendly given that so few people walk. Yes, to a certain degree, it is a chicken-or-egg question – the same arguments can be made about bicycle and equestrian facilities, as well. The reality is that, in the vast majority of the region, people CHOOSE to drive, over walking, cycling, riding a horse or using a pogo stick to get around, and the built environment reflects those preferences and the actual usage. If we put in more hitching posts, do you think would more people would buy horses? To commute and to go shopping? I seriously doubt it! Putting in better pedestrian facilities at Loughborough Commons, Brentwood Promenade or Gravois Bluffs won’t result in more people walking in from the surrounding neighborhoods (it’s simply too far), it’ll just result in more, little-used hardscape, “window dressing”, just like the bike racks you find at some big box stores.

    The only places where you find a significant number of pedestrians is where you have significant density – downtown, inside shopping malls and at special events, and all of these areas are primarily connected to the rest of the region with vehicles and roads, and in most cases, surrounded by parking facilities. If you want people to choose to walk or bike, over driving, the number one priority needs to be density, not getting sidewalks built through the parking lot at a supermarket in Springfield, a low-density density development in a low-density “city”. You’re fighting the reality that adding a drive-thru results in more sales while not having “enough”, “convenient” parking results in fewer sales. Downtown Maplewood should be the perfect place for a supermarket that doesn’t need parking, yet most of the shoppers there drive. Even Culinaria, in the heart of downtown, sees a large number of customers who choose to drive, in spite of the parking challenges and the high walkability score. It’s simple, you see more people walking when distances are short and there are multiple destinations in one place. Just putting in sidewalks, alone, isn’t enough.

    • You’re convinced people choose to drive and the free market has responded accordingly. That’s pure hogwash to me! Decades of government forcing the built environment to favor autos at the expense of walking & transit has left generations with little choice in the matter.

      • mark says:

        Heck I can tell you that that is true, even through we live
        only a few block away from the downtown Culinaria, many residents in my
        building still drive rather than walk. And you only have to observe a large parking
        lot for a short time before you will observe that the vast majority of vehicles
        will circle endlessly in order to park as close as possible, even if most of
        the parking lot further out is empty. I don’t get it myself, but building more
        sidewalks is not going to change human nature. The only things that will change
        this is if driving becomes to expensive for most people.

        • Scott Jones says:

          I’d wager that almost everyone who you describe is accustomed to the suburban style of shopping where you buy large amounts of groceries at a time to avoid having to drive back and forth to the store several times a week. In this case you have so many heavy bags that you need a car to haul them–unless you want to buy one of those old-lady handcarts and push that around.

          Alternatively, they could do just a few days shopping at a time and leave the car at home.

    • Scott Jones says:

      ” If you want people to choose to walk or bike, over driving, the number
      one priority needs to be density, not getting sidewalks built through
      the parking lot at a supermarket in Springfield, a low-density density
      development in a low-density “city”.”

      I totally agree. If you look back at the original post on this subject Steve was pointing out how the building itself was not built to the urban/dense/walkable ideal that the Springfield downtown plan aspired to. He was trying to show publicly via the blog that Springfield city officials were ignoring their own plan and to hopefully embarrass them into enforcing the plan better (or at all) in the future. The addition of the walkway was, as Steve admits above, only a consolation prize and not the ultimate goal.

      As for the free market responding I’d say this is true to a point. This was not a organically occurring thing though. The US car culture/sprawl is a cancerous, self-perpetuating growth sparked by the artificial injection of billions of dollars of federal and state highway funding, misguided or corrupt regulations (zoning & loan requirements), the proven conspiracy to destroy the nation’s street car system, and billions of dollars in subsidies/defense spending to keep the cost of oil artificially low. If we had just let the “free market” reign, I suspect that the urban layout of US cities of today would more closely resemble those of Europe than modern Springfield.

      The good news is that (in a bizarre way) this sort of government manipulation has been proven to be effective! Now what we need to do is to ensure that subsidies are transferred from unhelpful things to helpful things and that regulations are re-written to *discourage* auto dependency. We also need to be vigilant about making sure that government officials follow through with their plans and they don’t just become window-dressing. That’s what Steve was trying to do with this.

      One last point: we see a lot of conservative talking-heads saying that the free market has spoken and it wants sprawl and that urbanists are trying to use “big government” to force everyone to live in apartment blocks and bike everywhere (or whatever). This is cynical to the extreme and ignores the history of how we got here (see above). “Big government” colluding with monied auto and oil interests created the current (profitable) status quo but now that a self-perpetuating system has been established they start crowing for “let the free market reign!”.

      • JZ71 says:

        People choose many things based on flawed, skewed or downright wrong information, but in the end, we all make the choices we make. If you want to believe that a giant conspiracy resulted in today’s built environment, so be it. I just don’t remember that part in history class where people were placed in chains and handcuffs and hauled off to the suburbs, to spend the rest of their lives in silent suffering . . . .

        • Scott Jones says:

          Americans definitely moved willingly. The US was once the world’s China and our cities were filled with polluting factories and were seen as dirty, industrial places. Add to that a huge influx of hundreds of thousands southern blacks moving to northern cities from 3rd-world poverty conditions in the Jim Crow south and many middle-class white folks wanted to get out.

          However, the suburbia they moved into was formed largely by government largess and manipulation. You can say that this was the result of democratic process–what the voters wanted–and you’re partly right.

          My point was that the American suburbia we have today is largely a result of “big government” and not the “free market”. I imagine that without this artificial intervention suburbia today would look much different. Far fewer people would have left the city and the suburbs that were built would’ve been more dense, less sprawling.

          • Moe says:

            Disagree…Government has the nasty habit of following and always years late, not leading the way. The free market were the businesses that wanted cheap land (esp for parking lots) and the suburbs followed. Look at St. Charles….it was small town until the big ones like Master card moved there, then the workers followed.

          • Scott Jones says:

            Yes but it was the interstate highways 70 & 64 that opened up the area for development. Then you had housing, zoning, and lending policy + artificially cheap gasoline that largely determined the development pattern.

            Do you really think the St. Charles area would be as developed without the massive federal investment in the form of two interstate highways?

          • Plus the initial phase of the Page Ave Extension opened in December 2003, literally paving the way for St. Louis County to lose population to Dst. Charles County.

          • JZ71 says:

            Steve & Scott – you’re both conveniently ignoring a) the fact that the original streetcar suburbs of a century ago also relied on “massive” investments, from both the public and private sectors, and b) that home buyers, renters and businesses CHOSE to take advantage of all of these investments. If people didn’t embrace commuting by streetcars in the 1920’s and 1930’s, or commuting by single occupant vehicles over the past six decades, none of this sprawl would have happened. YES! EVERY time we build a new freeway, widen an existing highway, build a new transit line or improve service on a bus route, we make it easier for people to get around, increasing their options. And just because it’s cheap and easy does NOT guarantee that people will choose that option. East St. Louis and much of north city offer great access to downtown, have very affordable land costs, a robust, walkable public infrastructure and better transit options than many other parts of the region, yet few people are choosing to live and/or work in these areas. Putting in better sidewalks will do little to make these areas more appealing – less crime, better schools and appreciating real estate values might.

          • I’m ignoring nothing. Investments in infrastructure have always steered development. Private companies paid cities to use public right of way and invested in private streetcar lines. Then government decided to compete with these private systems with public funding of road building. In St. Louis Harland Bartholomew worked hard to widen streets to carry more and more cars, at great public expense.

          • moe says:

            This is chicken and the egg. You believe the chicken came first (federal investment), some believe the egg came first (private, free market). Afterall for years St. Charles was served by those 2 highways and it wasn’t till after the voters arrived in force that investment was made to widen, expand, etc the highways.

            And when one is investing hundreds of millions in public transportation (such as Metro has) or even tens of millions like the Delmar Loop….just because the majority of the funding is federal, does not make it free or cheap by any means. When one compares dollar to person per mile, the single car roads will trump public transportation every time.

          • Scott Jones says:

            No, it’s not a “chicken & egg” scenario. The highways came first, this made the area accessible to the rest of STL. The development followed which quickly overwhelmed the highways and they were widened.

          • JZ71 says:

            How far back do you want to go? Before there were roads, there were rivers and trails. Before there were Europeans in North America, there were our indigenous peoples. Our population continues to grow, we spread both out and up. There have been people in the region for centuries, the only difference is in how many and how they’re dispersed, including in “the city”. How we transport ourselves and our goods has evolved, and continues to evolve, over time, and that informs our built environment. If you want to pick some specific point in time and/or some specific form of built environment and proclaim it as the ideal / perfect / only solution, feel free to do so. Just don’t expect everyone else to agree 100% with you.

            Suburbia may not “work” for you, but it apparently works for many others. Suburbanites may not understand the allure and the benefits of urban living, and some even fear the city, but most have little interest in trying to tell you that you’re wrong. In contrast, many advocates for urban living and public transit have no qualms about trying to “change the world” and telling other people how they need to live their lives (whether they agree or not). Maybe it’s because we see ourselves as a minority, maybe it’s because we “know” that we’re right. The question is how to best achieve our goals? The hammer or the stick? If you want less spent on highways and more spent on sidewalks and transit, convince the people doing the spending, of OUR money, to spend it the “right” way – that’s how those on the “other side” get it done . . .

          • Scott Jones says:

            I’m not sure how this is a response to what I’ve been saying.

          • JZ71 says:

            You said: “The highways came first, this made the area accessible to the rest of STL. The development followed which quickly overwhelmed the highways and they were widened.” Yes, improving transportation options encourages development. That’s why the fur traders set up a trading post here in the 1700’s, why steamboats stopped here in the 1800’s and why industry flourished here in the 1900’s. Are you saying that, sure, it’s OK that the forests were cut down along the banks of the Mississippi in the 18th Century, family farms were converted to streetcar subdivisions in the 19th Century and the city became a thriving urban area in the 20th Century, and that it’s somehow not OK for St. Charles County to do the same thing a century later? Does the city need to be “protected” from competition?! Competition that is autocentric, not transit based? Transportation, no matter what form it takes, at its core, moves people and/or their stuff. You apparently think that one form/group is inherently superior to all others (and should be forced on people). I’m of the opinion that transportation is a tool, and I/you/everyone else should pick whichever tool/mode is best suited for the task that you’re trying to accomplish. I’m not anti-transit, anti-walking or anti-biking – I use all modes – I just don’t believe that they are the only or best option in every situation!

          • Scott Jones says:

            No I don’t think it’s OK to equate the pre-war style of development with the post-war-auto-dependent style. I think one is objectively better than the other.

            I think that driving is bad for the environment and our health and should be accommodated but discouraged. Sometimes driving is the best option: to transport a group of people, to transport things too big to drag on the bus or a bike, or if you have no other option. The problem is, the way most of Suburban St. Louis is built you never have any other option.

            I don’t think people move to the suburbs because they love sprawl or love having to drive 1/2 an hour to get to anything. They move for better schools, lower crime, less-expensive housing, because it’s newer, because they think that’s the only safe place to raise children, and to live around people more like them. Studies show that Americans want walkability & access to transit but in St. Louis it’s not usually an option to have that as well as the items listed above.

            I don’t think that we should be subsidizing FURTHER car-dependent development. I don’t think that zoning should make it difficult or impossible to build anything but car-dependent development.

            You obviously disagree with me on many things and I’m not going to convince you on all points and that’s fine.

          • JZ71 says:

            We actually agree on many points. First, an article that supports many of your arguments: http://www.denverpost.com/business/ci_23357823/walkable-communities-driving-western-mountain-housing-market . . . Second, urban growth boundaries can be an effective tool, IF they’re properly implemented and properly managed. The one I’m most familiar with is Boulder, Colorado’s. It was implemented in the1970’s, and for the first 20 years or so it worked well / as intended. Since then, it’s probably done more harm than good – housing costs have skyrocketed, making them unaffordable for many average workers. This, in turn, has increased commuting pressures, with many workers living in surrounding, less-regulated communities and driving or taking the bus into Boulder to work each day, then out again, each night.

            I also don’t disagree that walkable urban communities offer many inherent advantages. The place where we disagree is how to make them reality. Take some of the better examples around here – the CWE, the Loop, Webster Groves, Kirkwood – how did they get to be the desirable places they are today? Was there a detailed master plan, implemented by local government, that made them reality? No! Developers rolled the dice, buyers saw that it was good, and success happened. In addition, all of them relied heavily on contemporary, state of the art transportation systems to meet their buyers’ (and customers’) mobility requirements.

            I also agree, “the way most of Suburban St. Louis is built you never have any other option” other than driving. The two big problems, other than the obvious ones, I see, is that public transit is not PERCEIVED to be a viable option to way too many suburban residents (whether it actually is or is not) AND investments in trails (aka bike freeways) are aimed, far too often, at the recreational rider, and not the commuter. I also agree completely with your third paragraph, and don’t really have a problem many of the points in your second paragraph. Our biggest disagreement is in your fourth paragraph – you seem to favor the “stick” approach – force people to do what you believe is the “right” thing to do – while I favor the carrot scenario – give people better options and many people will actually choose them. The big problem we have, locally, is that we don’t have a lot of better or different options – New Town St. Charles, the Boulevard opposite the Galleria and a few random apartment projects are the best we have, and it’s nowhere near what we see in other cities (including all of the ones you list as having urban growth boundaries).

          • JZ71 says:

            Huh? I agree, “Investments in infrastructure have always steered development. Private companies paid cities to use public right of way and invested in private streetcar lines.” They did not, however, pay for the EXCLUSIVE use of the PUBLIC right of way, infrastructure that was acquired, improved, maintained and, yes, sometimes widened, at public expense, so how can you define this as “competition”?! At their peak, there were multiple streetcar companies competing with each other in St. Louis, along with horses, teamsters, buses, taxis and private vehicles. These franchises did not guarantee success, they granted the right to compete for customers! Fast forward to today – in most subdivisions, developers pay to put in the streets and utilities and either deed the streets over to the city or county at no cost or the streets remain the responsibility of the homeowners’ association to maintain – there are no guarantees that the lots (and homes) will sell, and for what price. In both cases, investments happen(ed), some people embrace(d) them, some people diss(ed) them and some people fear(ed) them. The public right of way is there for all members of the public to use, not just one “special” class, and the reason that roads are widened and freeways are built (and willingly funded by the majority of the taxpayers) is precisely because they become “too crowded”, by many modes, including transit!

        • moe says:

          Oh great. Next you’ll be telling us that Obama really isn’t the cause of the tornados in Oklahoma

    • And yes, density in a urban form to make walking a pleasure should be more important. Springfield stated pedestrians were important for their downtown and County Market expected pedestrian customers — but the physical design of the new market is counter to the community desire and the owner’s expectations. This is an example of a failure of government, once again relying on the free market to voluntarily do the right thing while contributing to the failure through a TIF.
      After the fact, all that can be done is mitigation efforts like the route they added.

      • JZ71 says:

        “Counter to the owner’s expectations”?! Did the owner not look at and approve any plans before writing a huge check to the contractor?! The owner wanted a traditional super market with a big parking lot in front because the owner believed/believes that that model will generate the most money from that parcel of land in that location! This may be “a failure of government” to follow their stated objectives, but I seriously doubt that what was built wasn’t what the owner expected to see!

        • moe says:

          failure of government? there are many, many tea partiers and conservatives that think the Government says too much as it is. This is a very very slippery slope.

          • JZ71 says:

            Steve’s characterization, not mine: “Springfield stated pedestrians were important for their downtown . . . . but the physical design of the new market is counter to the community desires . . . . This is an example of a failure of government . . . .”

  2. Scott Jones says:

    “This route shown above is a consolation prize for pedestrians” Exactly. In my ideal world forms of transportation (walking, biking, taking public transportation) that don’t ruin the environment and make us all fat and lazy would get preferential treatment. Driving would be accommodated but subtly discouraged–the opposite of what we have in most of the US now.

  3. Brian Wittling says:

    Perhaps the message would be clearer if they just painted a giant hand giving the bird in the middle of the lot?

  4. gmichaud says:

    Steve, your previous arguments that led to these changes show the value of your efforts here and for discussion in general. You are also right that better solutions will be found if the client/designers make ADA and pedestrian access a priority from the beginning.

    The underlying story is a completely auto centric approach to urban design that is repeated over and over ad nauseam until you and everyone else are exhausted.

    I feel like the situation reflects monopoly capitalism and not free markets. Government policy is the facilitator.

    And government (theoretically the people) can facilitate far different approaches than shown above, which, even with the improvements is an insult to humanity.


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