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Commenter Defends Washington Ave Streetscape Design

One of the beautiful things about the internet is all the information that can be found, including old posts on this site. Today someone found a post I did over a year ago regarding the Washington Avenue streetscape between Tucker (12th) and 9th Street. My post was relatively short and focused mostly on the poor choice of bike racks. But here is what “Daisy” had to say:

I would like to remind a few particular people of what Washington Street used to look like. I have been working in and around the area for about the past 15 years now. I remember how the building rubble was all over the sidewalks and the sidewalks were uneven and broken. Mostly vacant buildings. No such thing as a bench to sit on, much less a place to lock your bike. You were constantly besieged by vagrants plying for money.

Okay, I’m in full agreement so far. Buildings were vacant, sidewalks were uneven and no benches or bike racks were in sight. For the record, we still have beggars seeking money.

She continues:

Broken glass that littered the road and the side walk made it mostly perilous to travel by any wheeled vehicle. Trees? Not a chance. Flower pots, no way. Trash cans? are you kidding me? The sidewalk and road were filled with litter. The stoplights were falling down. Whine if it makes you feel better, but hopefully people that are planning on visiting this area aren’t as disturbed by your opinions as they would have been had Washington Street been left the way it was.

The “it is better than it was” defense for bad planning always cracks me up. Of course it is better than it was, I should hope so after spending millions of tax dollars to improve the area! Do we, as citizens, not have the right to question the logic behind how our money is spent?

But, it gets worse:

BTW – did it ever occur to you that they used a bike rack that is versitile enough to be used by all the locks available. I personally know that the designers for this project worked diligently from all angles, for a very long time, verified all products with the available subsurfaces that they had to work with, and checked out the best solutions with what was available. A huge number of people were involved in these decisions, not just one designer.

So the defense of these inappropriate bike racks is that many people, not just one, make the wrong decision? And, for the record, a number of bike racks can be used with various locks. The simple inverted-U racks further west in the garish section of Washington Ave do the job better than any other rack design. Not only can you use multiple lock design but you can easily lock both wheels to the rack, if desired, and know the bike is supported in two places so it won’t fall over.

And “Daisy” concludes with the obligatory name calling:

Are you even aware of the vaults and tunnels below the surface of the road that they were dealing with? I guess being a couch designer is always the best way to point out someone elses faults, as long as you get them straight. Hey, maybe its another couch designer like you that continues to rip out the plantings and tear up the trees… Some people are just never happy.

Well, yes, I am aware of the vaults & tunnels downtown. I also know that most do not extend out to the curb line because if they did the trees would not have been able to be planted along the street. Tree roots, in my experience, consume more subsoil than bolts for a bike rack.

I love the “couch designer” comment. Great defense. The many designers made poor choices and when critiqued on functionality one attempts to belittle the reviewer. Sorry, but if you cannot handle constructive criticism then you should not be in the design business. I speak from experience since I also do double duty as a designer in addition to being a REALTOR®. The facts remain unchanged from a year ago: the relationship between the benches, bike racks and tress is horribly close. The bike racks require placing the bikes perpendicular to the curb and make access difficult. A simple inverted-U rack, like those used just down the street, would have been easier to use, less costly and would have had similar installation requirements. Product selection and placement was off in these blocks and no amount of name calling is going to change that.

This brings us to the issue of the planters. Uh, no, I not the kind to rip out plantings. But the logic behind the planters is a bit silly. Street trees should have been sufficient greenery for these blocks but someone thought they should have more so lots of money was spent on planters and and an irrigation system. I agree that if you are going to have planters you need to have irrigation but in the long run these will simply not be maintained by the city. The money spent on the planters and irrigation should have been spent on buying larger street trees.

And we have the “some people are just never happy” ending which is presumably an attempt reduce further public discourse of design matters. I guess if I were part of the design team responsible I’d not want anyone with a critical eye commenting either.

– Steve


Ride With Traffic & Other Bike Safety Tips

May is bike month with the 15th-19th designated as Bike Week (next week) and finally on Friday May 19th the official Bike to Work Day. Of course, biking in other months can be just as fun.

Since the weather has gotten nicer I’ve been seeing considerably more cyclists out on the roads. Unfortunately, I’ve also been seeing an increase in dangerous cycling habits:

Riding Against Traffic:

This is one of the best ways to get injured or killed. A bicycle is a vehicle and as such is supposed to be ridden with traffic as you would any other vehicle. Some fear not seeing traffic from behind yet the bulk of accidents happen at intersections where a wrong-way cyclist is simply not expected. Please ride with traffic.

Wrong Position on the Road:

Lane position is one of the most important aspects of bike safety. Riding too far to the right and you risk getting into the curb gutter, a drain grate or hitting an opening car door. Many new cyclists make the mistake of riding too far to the right. Narrow traffic lanes, not wide enough for a car and a cyclist, should not be shared. In cases where a really narrow lane exists a cyclist should “take the lane” by riding in the center. This sends a strong message to drivers to pass in a different lane. Wider lanes can be safely shared.

Wrong Position at Intersections:

Novice cyclists make a very common mistake of positioning themselves at the extreme right of an intersection, often placing their right foot on the curb at a red light (I just saw someone do this the other day at Chippewa & Grand). This can be very dangerous as it places the cyclist to the right of cars turning right. This is not a big deal if you as the cyclist are also turning right but if you are going straight ahead your position on the road needs to reflect this intention. If you intend to go straight ahead be in the lane that goes straight ahead — not the right turn lane.

Not Wearing A Helmet:

All it takes is one blow to the head to cause serious injury or death. It just isn’t worth it. And compared to the motorcycle helmet I wear when riding my scooter the bicycle helmet is nothing.

Wearing a Helmet Improperly:

If we can see your forehead the helmet is not properly positioned. Sometimes it is a matter of adjusting the helmet and in other cases you may need a different size. I see many adults wearing helmets tilted way back. Click Here to see examples of right and wrong fits — they are children but the rules are the same.

A few links of interest:

  • Urban Biker’s Tips & Tricks – excerpts from the book of the same name. An excellent resource.
  • St. Louis Regional Bike Federation – great local organization.
  • League of American Bicyclists – national organization, trains League Certified Instructors (LCI’s) like myself.
  • Missouri Bike Federation – excellent advocacy group for the entire state.
  • Cycling is a great means of transportation provided you follow some basic rules of the road.

    – Steve


    Old North House Tour & Bike Ride on May 13th

    This coming Saturday, May 13, 2006, will be a busy one in Old North St. Louis.

    Join us for the Old North St. Louis 2006 House and Community Tour. On May 13, ten of these homes, community gardens, and the old Municipal Bath House #6 will be open to the public from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. Named one of the city’s “Best Places to Live” in the “up-and-coming” category by St. Louis Magazine and a “new Mecca for home renovators” by the Post-Dispatch, Old North St. Louis is a warm, diverse community full of neighborhood gardens, beautiful, historic buildings, and new, historically sensitive homes.
    More Info

    But why not get in a bike ride of the area before the house tour? Conveniently enough, such a ride is planned from 9:00 a.m to 11:00 a.m.

    The St. Louis Regional Bicycle Federation in conjunction with the Old North St. Louis House Tour is sponsoring an Old North Bicycle Tour. Ride leisurely as your tour guide leads you through largely forgotten and hidden architectural gems in Old North St. Louis. Nearly all of these beautiful homes, churches, schools and businesses were built in the 1800s in architectural styles not seen anywhere else in St. Louis. We will include brief stops at some of the more historically worthy buildings, providing the rider with a bit of history and appreciation of the area’s character. Tour participants should meet at the old Laclede Power Building parking lot at the Riverfront Trail’s south end at the corners of Lenor K. Sullivan and Biddle streets (map). A nominal fee for non- Bike Fed members will apply. Flyer

    Having lived in Old North for a few years in the early 90s, and a frequent visitor since then, I can tell you this area has long been overlooked. But, that is quickly changing as people realize how close you can live to downtown and still have a yard. Remaining homes are getting rehabbed, new homes are being built and plans are underway to improve the commercial district near the famous Crown Candy Kitchen. The warehouse district along Broadway between Old North & the Mississippi is also receiving renewed attention.

    Get to Old North on Saturday and witness the transformation that is taking place.

    – Steve


    BicycleWORKS Offers Great Programs & Great Bikes

    Gas prices got you down? Try bicycling either to work or for errands. If you need a good & inexpensive used bike I know just the place: BicycleWORKS.

    Located in the Shaw neighborhood at the corner of Shenandoah & Thurman (map), this non-profit teaches kids to rebuild bicycles through the Earn-A-Bike program. Their mission statement:

    Saint Louis BicycleWORKS was founded in 1988 by a Shaw Neighborhood resident who saw the need to provide area youth with the opportunity to develop a skill and to challenge them to test the limits of their abilities. This vision combined with the universal appeal of the bicycle became the building block of this innovative organization. BicycleWORKS is the first St. Louis program to use the bicycle as a vehicle to teach youth responsibility and good work habits. Its programs are structured and work-intensive. BicycleWORKS combines vocational training with educational enrichment and challenging physical and mental activity. Bicycle Works is located in the Shaw neighborhood at the southwest corner of Shenandoah and Thurman and welcomes applications from youth ages 9-17 from any St. Louis neighborhood.

    Adults seeking a good used bike will have luck there as well as the volunteer staff rebuilds bikes to sell to help fund the work they do with kids. I know many of the people involved in the group and trust me, they know bikes!

    Their main hours are 10am to 1pm on Saturdays. Volunteers are needed if you are interested.

    Even if you are not in the market for a bike I suggest you check out their new website — it is really well done with some great photos.

    – Steve


    St. Louis Region Needs to Address Parking for Scooters & Motorcycles

    Last week I did a post where I bemoaned about getting a tow warning from Saint Louis University after I parked my tiny & cute 49cc moped/scooter on the city’s public sidewalk. In doing so I fully expected the debate that followed. Some agreed that SLU should have no control over the sidewalk and that as a society we need to provide parking for motorcycles & scooters. Others agreed SLU had no control over the sidewalk but that the city should have been the one to give me a warning because I shouldn’t have parked on the sidewalk.

    I think the debate was healthy and got people more energized for this post on scooter & motorcycle parking. Scooters and motorcycles are a valid means of transportation. Ditto for bicycles. I believe it is important for our region to make at least the urban core friendly to these environmentally friendly methods of transportation by providing appropriate parking. The City of St. Louis along with urban schools like Saint Louis University, Washington University, Webster University (due to Old Post Office Location), and Harris-Stowe University should be having a conversation and taking a pro-active position on parking needs for more efficient modes of transportation.

    Here is just a small sample of efforts I found throughout the country:

    University of Wisconsin-Madison:

    Scooter drivers at UW-Madison will find new, designated parking areas in the heart of campus when the academic year begins, and parking outside of those areas could result in $40 fines, officials say.

    The new parking system was created in response to the proliferation of the motorized two-wheelers and the need for scooters to coexist safely with pedestrians on a bustling campus.

    “When we had 10 or 100 mopeds on campus, it was fine to have no real rules,” says Rob Kennedy, senior transportation planner. “But now we have 1,000 scooter drivers on campus and, at any one time, 600 are parked on campus.”

    In an effort to reduce the number of pedestrian-scooter conflicts on campus sidewalks and to improve safety, officials are creating 665 marked moped parking spaces scattered in about 25 areas. Previously, there were about 100 marked scooter parking spaces on campus.
    … Continue Reading