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New $13 Million Villa Lighting HQ Lacks ADA Access Route

February 10, 2009 Accessibility 19 Comments

Walkability and accessibility do not happen overnight.  With strong leadership and a commitment to these goals, as new buildings are built we can incrementally improve both.  However, without the right leadership and tools in place to ensure improvements in walkability and accessibility, we will continue to invest in projects geared toward a single mode — the private auto.

I thought I had hammered this message home to Ald. Matt Villa over the poor accessibility of Loughborough Commons, a suburban style highway-centric big box/strip center in his ward (11th).  While that project has improved greatly in the last few years it is clear that was as a reaction to pressure from me.  To date, the Burger King & Lowes still lack an ADA access route.

I’ve had numerous conversations with Matt Vila over accessibility and walkability.  You’d think he would have learned something and ensured the new $13 million headquarters of his family business would have been accessible. With a reported 80 employees it would be reasonable to assume that some might arrive to work on foot — either walking directly from home or taking public transit.

This project is located in my ward, the 6th, where  Ald. Kacie Triplett has been on the job for just shy of two years.  Of course I don’t think walkability or accessibility should be left up to each of the 28 Aldermen. They clearly don’t know about these things.  We are a small city — only 61.9 square miles of land area.  This is less than two square miles larger than Columbia MO (60.1 sq. miles of land) and smaller than Springfield Missouri (73.2).  My hometown of Oklahoma City is a whopping 607.0 square miles of land area.  So we are small in terms of land area but we are fairly dense despite having lost a half million in population since our 1950 peak of 856,000.

But while Springfield Missouri only has 2,000 persons per square mile we have over 5,700.  San Francisco has over 17,000 persons in each of its  46.7 square miles of land area.  Manhattan, the prominent NYC Borough, has over 70,000 residents per square mile (22.96 square miles of land area).  At our 1950 peak, our density was slightly higher than Chicago’s density in 2000.

The point is the greater the density the greater the likelihood of having a population that walks and uses transit.  Regions such as NYC and San Francisco have dense walkable centers with less dense, less walkable fringes.  Here we continue to weaken our core.  Lowering the standard down to that might be acceptable 20 miles outside of the core.  I know of no growing region where the core being reduced to suburban fringe levels of density and non-walkability.

Which brings us back to Villa Lighting’s new facility.  It is great they stayed in the city.  It is unfortunate the building was made to be arrived at by private car only — not by foot or bicycle (no bike rack out front).  On the edge of the region it is more reasonable to do single mode development but not in the core.  This facility is a short walk from the #70 Grand bus route and the Grand Metrolink light rail station.

Villa Lighting HQ as seen from the corner of Chouteau & Ewing.
Villa Lighting HQ as seen from the corner of Chouteau & Ewing.

For those who physically can, climbing the hill is the most direct route to the front door.  Remember this is all new construction so they created the grades.

View looking West along Chouteau.  Note the new public sidewalk, too bad it isnt connected to the entrance
View looking West along Chouteau. Note the new public sidewalk, too bad it isn't connected to the entrance

There is sufficient room for a stair & ramp to the entrance so the new building can be brought into compliance.

View looking North along Ewing.  Note the lack of sidewalk on this side of Ewing.
View looking North along Ewing. Note the lack of sidewalk on this side of Ewing.

For anyone in a wheelchair this is a fortress.

The auto entrance is the only option for pedestrians.
The auto entrance is the only option for pedestrians.

So once again the pedestrian is relegated to the drive designed for autos.  So I’m thinking the architect, Clayco’s Forum Studio, must be out of touch on the ADA.  But then I switched from the East to West side of the building.

View of SW corner of building with leasable space.
View of SW corner of building with tenant space.

Here the new sidewalk continues on the side street.  They even included a street tree.  No curb though.

Accessible route from public sidewalk to entrance.
Accessible route from public sidewalk to entrance.

Hallelujah, an accessible route for tenant spaces on the West side of the building.  So this has me even more confused.  They are obviously aware of the requirement as they complied here.  My only guess is they didn’t do it on the East side claiming it wasn’t feasible due to the grades —- grades they created.  We should do better.


Green? Yes. Accessible? No.

Green building is all the rage these days.  That is a good thing, but I wished walkability was given the same importance.  Walking, after all, is one of the most green & healthy things we can do.

So last year when the old Sym’s clothing store in the St. Louis suburb of Brentwood was converted into an Office Depot & Westlake Ace Hardware I was hopeful that pedestrian access would make it into the renovation plans.  I periodically scooted by and saw the nifty bioswales being carved out of the existing parking lot but no accessible route connecting the public sidewalk to the accessible entrance of the two stores..

Office Depot & Ace Hardware on Manchester Rd.
Office Depot & Ace Hardware on Manchester Rd.

The parking lot was completely redone so there was plenty of opportunity to do the greenest thing of all — welcome pedestrians.

Detail of bio-swale
Detail view of "bioswale"

I love the green bioswales which catch and use water runoff.

Public sidewalk along Manchester Rd. at entry to Office Depot/Ace Hardware.
Public sidewalk along Manchester Rd. at entry to Office Depot/Ace Hardware.

But when we’ve got major reconstruction of both building and site and no priority is given to connect to the existing public sidewalk we have a problem.  When “green” ignores pedestrians, we have a problem.  When developers and large retailers are able to ignore the basic right of accessibility we have a problem.

You might be saying to yourself, “npobody walks that stretch of Manchester Rd.”  First, not true.  Some do walk here.  But given the lack of consideration for the pedestrian it is no wonder too few walk.  This property is surrounded by residential properties and is only a mile from the Maplewood MetroLink light rail station to the East.

Which comes first the pedestrian or the sidewalk?


Snow Presents Access Challenges for the Disabled

February 3, 2009 Accessibility 17 Comments

Having a physical disability which limits one’s mobility can be bad enough.  Add snow and/or ice and mobility.  I have fortunately been able to drive again since July 2008.  But just becaise I can drive somewhere doesn’t guarantee I’ll be able to exit my car once I arrive.

Snow packed sidewalk along Kingshighway on 1/29 after snow on 1/27.
Snow packed sidewalk along Kingshighway on 1/29 after snow on 1/27.

Visiting Straub’s for groceries  was able to get from the disabled parking to the store because they had done a good job clearing the parking lot.  However, for those not fortunate enough to have the freedom to drive a sidewalk like the one above means staying at home.

Sidewalks have been cleared in many places but getting from on-street parking to the destination remains an impossibility for many of us.
Sidewalks have been cleared in many places but getting from on-street parking to the destination remains an impossibility for many of us.

In many cases the sidewalk is cleared but getting to the sidewalk on foot or in a wheelchair can be nearly impossible.  In the case of Saint Louis University (above) I’ve asked them to give more thought to how & where they clear the sidewalks.

Nearly a wek later piles of snow remain as obstacles to wheelchair users.
Nearly a wek later piles of snow remain as obstacles to wheelchair users.

I took the above image on Sunday morning as I headed to brunch in my wheelchair.  Normally I’d take the sidewalk to the left to get to Washington Ave.  However, the public sidewalk became the storage place for a big pile of snow.  I rode in the street longer than I like and entered the sidewalk on the right via the parking garage curb cut.  My normal route was also blocked by snow from another parking lot on the foreground.    For me the above was a minor inconvenience.  For others, say trying to get 6 blocks to MetroLink, they may be forced to stay home rather than go to work, school, doctor, etc.

I can’t imagine living in a place where snow is more common.  Although those places may do a better job ensuring the disabled have continued access.


Town & Country Crossing A Marked Improvement Over The Typical Strip Center in Our Region

Last week, after a meeting, I took a drive out West along Clayton Road with the destination being the new Town & Country Crossing shopping center at Clayton & Woods Mill (map).

The municipality of Town & Country is home to many well to do types. Their city, however, is neither town nor country. It is a collection of big homes on streets with pretentious names yet lacking of sidewalks. The closest they get to country is having deer and that is something they’ve been trying to get rid of. A little too country I suppose?

A few years ago Lucent Technologies left a large building and site vacant at the SW corner of Woods Mill and Clayton:

While the existing uninspiring building could have been remodeled for new tenants a developer saw an opportunity for more suburban development. In particular a more upscale development anchored by a Target and Whole Foods.

In the site plan above you get the Target in the bottom left of the development while the Whole Foods is the letter “E” on the right. A large pond/lake is in the upper right near the intersection. A large section of the total site (left) is designated for residential development.

Nothing says upscale like stone and the entry marker has plenty. I actually like the way the signage for the stores is worked into this wall. The above is the Clayton Rd entrance. Note the presence of sidewalks, an unusual sight along Clayton Rd.

Many might think who needs sidewalks because nobody walks out here. The counter argument, of course, is that nobody walks because they have no sidewalks. However, they do have sidewalks in places.

Above is looking North along Woods Mill from the entrance to the residential area to the South of the new Town & Country Crossings. Clearly when this was built some 20 or so years ago they had walking in mind. However the other commercial developments at this intersection are hostile to pedestrians by their design. The center with a Schnuck’s just to the East of this new development is not easily accessible by foot. They claim to be the “friendliest stores in town” but not if you are a pedestrian. OK, enough about them let’s get back to Town & Country Crossing.

Above is the sidewalk coming from Woods Mill. The entrance from Clayton also has a proper sidewalk.

Walking around the lake is also encouraged. The above view is looking East from the Whole Foods outdoor patio. This sidewalk provides another pedestrian access point into the development off of Woods Mill.

So far they’ve done a decent job of connecting various buildings on the site via sidewalks (thus complying with the ADA Access Route requirement). Above is the sidewalk from in front of the Whole Foods turning the corner to the left and eventually connecting to a couple of buildings that will have smaller stores.

Above is looking back the other direction at the entrance to Whole Foods (the only store completed & open on the day I visited). From this vantage point the center looks pretty typical of suburban strip centers.

Out in the middle of the parking area we see another departure from typical centers — an access route dead center. At the other end of the above sidewalk is the main entry to the new target.

Turning around we see that the previous sidewalk connects to a sidewalk that takes you to the strip buildings along the North (Clayton Rd) side if the development. It remains to be seen just how connected the entire site will be once completed.

For example the above is taken from in front of the Whole Foods looking West. Way in the background is a small strip building near the Clayton Rd entrance. At this time I don’t see an obvious route to get from here to there. I’ll have to return in a few months when they are further along, when it is cooler outside, and I can walk farther.

This is not the project I would have placed on this site. I would have done a commercial street lined on both sides by shops. Like the Boulevard off Brentwood near the Galleria although not so cutsie. The lifestyle center I saw last Fall in West Palm Beach (see post) is a good example of the upscale level of urbanism that would have been ideal for this site. Such a plan would require costly structured parking but offered more lease able space in return. It would have given this section of Town & Country a bit of that missing town.

Still as a big box (Target) strip center it is probably the best in the region. I can think of no other on this scale that does such a nice job of bringing the outside pedestrian into the site and then giving then the option to walk internally.

From a March 2007 Post-Dispatch article:

The shopping-center plans drew opposition from some residents who worried that the local streets were not wide enough for the traffic, while others complained that Target seemed a bit lowbrow for the well-to-do community. Residents signed petitions to block the center in its earlier versions, and they sued TNC. The dispute was settled out of court.

Work was done on both Woods Mill and Clayton, widening and adding turn lanes.  Perhaps the resulting project is better as a result of objections from neighbors?  They probably wouldn’t have liked my quasi-urban lifestyle center either.  Hopefully they’ll start adding more sidewalks so that more people can walk to this shopping center.  Hopefully other developers will stop by to see how strip centers should be designed to meet minimum standards of connectivity.


What is an Accessible Route?

I often write about an “accessible route” (or lack thereof), but what constitutes an accessible route? In the days of walkable urbanism and streetcar suburbs you didn’t have wheelchair access but you also didn’t have multiple stores on 20+ acre sites connected only by large surface parking lots. In those days all were connected by this thing we call a sidewalk.

Decades now of building for the car and not humans has destroyed the ability for a pedestrian, disabled or not, to reach the main entry of many businesses from the public sidewalk without having to traverse space occupied by cars. However guidelines relating to the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) intended to make all future establishments reachable from the public sidewalk without having to walk though driveways where cars are coming and going.

The ADA itself just establishes the fundamental civil right to be granted full access to where the general public is permitted. However, through the “Access Board” the rules are established. The rules (guidelines) are known as ADAAG (pronounced A-Dag) — The ADA Guidelines for Accessible Buildings and Facilities. Enforcement of the ADA falls to the federal Department of Justice. However, municipalities, counties and states are free to adopt the ADAAG guidelines as part of their own requirements.

This brings me to my original question, what is an accessible route? For the answer we go to section 4.3 of ADAAG. Much of this section deals with halls and other routes. But one section, if enforced, would change the face of sprawl development:

4.3.2 Location.

(1) At least one accessible route within the boundary of the site shall be provided from public transportation stops, accessible parking, and accessible passenger loading zones, and public streets or sidewalks to the accessible building entrance they serve. The accessible route shall, to the maximum extent feasible, coincide with the route for the general public.

(2) At least one accessible route shall connect accessible buildings, facilities, elements, and spaces that are on the same site.

Developers & cities on which they work have down the route from accessible parking. They just tend to ignore the rest. But “and public streets or sidewalks” is pretty clear. In part #2 above the guidelines require all an accessible route between locations on the same site. This is really just basic sound planning but sadly it is ignored more often than followed.

I’ve shown you numerous examples before. The new Lowe’s in Loughborough Commons is not reachable along an accessible route from a public street. New free-standing Starbuck’s facilities in the area such as the one on Watson and the latest on Broadway lack accessible routes from the adjacent public sidewalk. The entire development at Gravois Plaza lacks an accessible route to any of the store entrances much less all of them. It is just as bad if not worse out in sprawl-ville. For example Brentwood Promenade is just west of a MetroLink station yet none of its stores are accessible from the public sidewalk and even once you are there going from one store to the next cannot be done on an accessible route. Sometimes it is a mixed bag. The new shopping center in Dardene Prairie has a connection from one public sidewalk to the Target & JCPenny but it then fails to connect to other buildings within the site. The typical fast food joint or strip center in an out parcel is often just an island in a sea of asphalt for cars.

If cities required developers, especially those receiving tax incentives, to follow the ‘accessible route’ requirement it would actually make the developments better for all the customers not just those who happen to be disabled. The parent with a five year old and a baby in a stroller could easily get from store A to store B without having to brave the dangers of taking their two offspring through a busy & crowded parking lot or having to load them back in the car to drive closer to a store within sight. Even if it is just a nice day and you’d rather walk than drive, following this guideline makes that a more pleasant possibility.

Compliance is not an impossibility but rather a shift in thinking away from the auto only status quo. Examples I’ve found include a former mall site in Bloomington-Normal,and an Arby’s on Lindell. One of the best examples is a mixed-use project in the bay area that I found in December 2006.

Walkable need not exclude cars.  Sadly so much time is spent by Architects and Civil Engineers figuring out traffic patterns into and out of shopping centers that pedestrian traffic concerns is short changed.  People will say that nobody walks in suburbia so why bother.  If we look deeper we can see that the design of the spaces is largely unfriendly to pedestrians so it is no wonder that nobody walks.  People do want to walk but they need connecting sidewalks to do so.