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Forced into the street to reach the bus stop

Last Saturday I decided to catch the #30 Soulard bus northbound to go to Old North St. Louis.  For new readers, I often use a motorized wheelchair to get around.

ABOVE: 14th & Lucas
ABOVE: 14th & Lucas

So you can imagine the challenge of getting past 14th & Lucas to reach the bus stop  on the curve, just before the building in the background.  I ended up going in the street until I got to a drive just before the stop.  My only alternative was to go several blocks further in the opposite direction. The lack of accessibility was no fault of the transit agency.  No, the blame is squarely on the city.  Just a hundred feet away is Washington Ave where tons of money was spent some years ago on a fancy streetscape.  So if I stay on one street the accessibility is decent.

– Steve Patterson


A trip to Belleville Illinois

On Monday I was on our MetroLink light rail system heading eastbound into downtown St. Louis to return home.  I had bought a 2-hour pass to give me the freedom to stop along the way to explore, as a I done the week before when I stopped at Grand. But then it hit me, I should visit Belleville, IL.

I’d been to Belleville only a few times in the last 20 years, always as a motorist. I’d only gone into the downtown once and that was probably 15 years ago.  It was a nice day and I knew from others that the light rail station was close to their downtown.  When I arrived it was unclear which way I should head so I boarded the “Main Street” bus after confirming with the driver it would get me to their Public Square. Fares paid on the Metro system are good in St. Clair County where Belleville is located. Metro East cities like Granite City, Collinsville and Edwardsville are served by Madison Country Transit and require additional fees.

The sidewalks along Main Street and around the large traffic circle in the center of the Public Square have been redone recently. Folks from other municipalities in our region should visit Belleville to see first hand.  Even better, visit in a wheelchair to see how the ramps and crosswalks work compared to most — which don’t work well.

Aligning ramps opposite each other seems obvious but to often engineers miss this.  The width of the ramp is nice too because it prevents a conflict when meeting others that need the ramp (wheelchair, stroller, etc).

In the City of St. Louis, for example, ramps are often placed at the apex of the corner.  In the above picture that would be the area between the two black bollards.   The problem with that is pedestrian traffic in both directions are squeezed into the apex.  Often when I cross a street I must go outside the crosswalk area to line up with the ramp and then ask people who are waiting to go the other direction to move aside. I’ve found the able-bodied like to use the ramps rather than stepping down from a curb.

Belleville’s solution solves those issues. Not every intersection had the above full corner ramp — others had a ramp for each crosswalk. Navigating the sidewalks of Beleville was much easier as a result.

I didn’t see any spectacular individual buildings but that was fine with me, the sum of the ordinary buildings along Main Street was greater than the parts.  The scale was pleasing and I saw many pedestrians — I was there at lunchtime.  I stopped in a Quizno’s and there was a neighbor of mine from two floors down.  Small world.

Like every Main Street Belleville has some bad buildings from the second half of the last century as well as a gap or two. Hopefully the corner spot shown above will get new construction soon.

One of the best things they did was bring out the curb at some corners to block the end of the on-street parking.  This reduces the length of crosswalks and slows down motorists.

In other cases this extra sidewalk was put to good use as a place for outdoor seating for the adjacent restaurant.

From my short bus ride to downtown I knew Charles Street would take me directly to the station. On the bus ride I was looking to see if I thought it would be accessible for me — it was indeed.

The above ramp is a type that St. Louis should have in many places. I was able to stay in line with the crosswalk and just continue on my path.  In St. Louis the ramp would have been directed at a 45° angle to the curb/crosswalk, requiring me to leave the crosswalk to get onto the ramp.  St. Louis does ramps that way because those can serve two directions at once.  But in the above case there is no where to cross the street in the other direction — there is only one way anyone would approach this ramp.  Belleville made sure the ramp faced that one direction, St. Louis has had a habit of doing the same treatment for ramps regardless of different conditions.

Approaching the station, a little less than a mile later, the pedestrian sidewalk continues.

Pedestrians don’t have to walk through a parking lot behind cars.  Crossing drive areas are minimized and marked.  Even those who drive to this station can use the central sidewalk to walk into the station rather than just in the parking area.

I bought enough bus & MetroLink passes in May & June that I went ahead and bought a monthly pass for July. So look for more posts from throughout the region as I explore via transit.

– Steve Patterson


New Wendy’s on Gravois includes ADA accessible route and bike parking

A newly built Wendy’s has opened on Gravois next to the non-walkable Gravois Plaza shopping center (Dec 2004: Gravois Plaza Less Pedestrian-Friendly than previous center).  The Wendy’s replaces a former Shoney’s restaurant most recently used as a daycare facility (map)

gravoisplazawendysNaturally the Wendy’s is your typical cheap suburban (auto centric) design — far from the street, surrounded by too much parking, etc.  Something you’d expect off a freeway exit ramp but not what I’d want in an urban context.  Although as we keep building more of this crap our once walkable urban neighborhoods will look just like the ugly ring around the outside of our region and most regions in America.

I watched the build the location and I fully expected them to not include an accessible route from the public sidewalk on Gravois. I got a pleasant surprise when they did do the minimum required by the ADA.  I’ve seen too many fast food joints pop up that completely ignore the requirement.

A bonus is a bike rack that can hold three bikes.  Although the rack design is not my favorite because it is hard to secure a bike in two places, it was installed right out front where it is easily seen and used.

– Steve Patterson


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


A mom sets bad example for her kids

Even before I was a teenager I’d tell the librarians at my local branch when someone would park in a disabled parking space without the proper permit.  This was a good 15 years before the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 as well as before I became disabled in 2008.  These days most drivers seldom park in a disabled parking spot without a permit.

But the loading space next to the disabled parking spot is another story. On Friday I was in the St. Louis suburb of Warson Woods Missouri (Manchester & Sappington).  When I left the store I was visiting I see a mom unloading two kids from her car.  One was a baby in a stroller and they other maybe 4-5 years old.  My car was parked not in the disabled space to the left of her car but in the regular space to the right. I parked to the right of the loading zone because getting in and out of my car requires me to open my driver’s door fully.

As I made my way to my car I had to pass right by her.  I said something like, “You know that is not a parking space?” She replied, “Oh, yeah.” I then told her that space is very helpful for those using wheelchairs and that she was setting a bad example for her kids.  I  was very upset.  Perhaps I should get stickers printed to slap on a window — one of those that is hard to remove? But that would probably be considered an act of property damage or something.

The loading zone is critical for a ramp from a van but also a must when helping a passenger to get in and out of a manual wheelchair or even using a walker. As the Baby Boomers age we will see more and more people who need a bit of assistance — and space.

What really upsets me is she had the choice of two space nearly as close — the one in front of her car and the one in front of the disabled space.  There was no shortage of parking, she just felt that she was entitled.  I think when someone parks as she did they don’t expect to get called out by some who is disabled.  Hopefully she will remember me.

– Steve Patterson