Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Yes, You Can Walk Right into Retail Hell!

Yes, You Can Walk Right into Retail Hell!

I discovered yesterday there is indeed a pedestrian route to access the infamous Maplewood Commons Shopping Center (aka Lowe's, Wal-Mart, Sam's, etc. where several hundred houses and a contaminated industrial site used to be) from the Manchester-Maplewood MetroLink station.

(Side Note: despite the urban legend / email rumors that may circulate within the progressive community, there's no evidence that Lowe's is owned by Wal-Mart. They are separate firms on the NYSE [Lowe's main shareholders | Wal-Mart main shareholders]. Also, Lowe's was not started by the angry ex-wife of the owner of Home Depot. Geez, where do people get this stuff?)

I spent far too much time in that area yesterday about 11:30 AM, because the (nearly empty) Shrewsbury-bound train had to wait for easily 10 minutes (!) because a construction project necessitated single-track operations between Maplewood-Manchester and Shrewsbury-Lansdowne I-44 stations.

The interlock is located just south of the overpass at the nearly completed Strassner Drive extension in Brentwood, which bisects the Hanley Station development whose construction is also well underway. So that's where we sat, waiting for the eastbound train to breeze past.

This section of the MetroLink tracks is on a very long structure, much more than I'd think was needed to create an underpass for Strassner. However, it probably was cheaper than trucking in a bunch of new fill dirt given that adequate clearances over new Strassner and existing South Hanley Road itself were needed. I think also the Hanley overpass had to be extended a bit, to accommodate the intersection of Hanley Industrial / Corcoran Drives.

The Strassner Drive extension will probably be used by the #01 WUSTL-Gold and #02 WUSTL-Red MetroBus routes once it opens. It will shorten their route noticeably. So bus stop bays adjacent to the Hanley Station condos have been included in the Strassner extension, along with sidewalks on both sides of the street. This project is financed by a Transportation Development District that involves an additional sales tax levy on purchases at the various stores along Eager Road in Brentwood. Of course, Maplewood Commons shoppers don't pay for it, although they'll probably benefit from this new shortcut route too.

The odd angle at which the two parts of Hanley Industrial intersect on the western end of the Strassner extension will need to be changed to make traffic flow better. And at the eastern end, while it does arrive at the now signalized intersection at Bruno Avenue, if through-traffic is to be permitted, the current right-turn-only configuration for westbound Bruno at Hanley will need to be changed. Indeed, the concrete barrier there looks sort of temporary.

I was struck by the rolling topography of the area; you can see the signs for Whole Foods and Borders in Brentwood Square way over on Brentwood Blvd. while sitting on a stopped train over the Strassner extension near Hanley Rd.

But other than the Hanley Station development, this area is still just utter crap big-box sprawl development in the midst of otherwise pretty attractive, somewhat historic inner-ring suburban housing stock.

However, it does provide jobs. The folks who work at Maplewood Commons don't make much and so they need transit access. So there is a completely unmarked, hard-to-find pedestrian path to/from the Manchester-Maplewood station.

Upon exiting the platform, ordinarily you'd go south, taking the stairs down towards Manchester. Instead, head northwest, where there's a long walkway on the elevated structure adjacent to the tracks high above a small creek, eventually ending in a parking lot/dock area behind an industrial-office park building. This building is occupied by Sunnen Products (the owner), Enterprise Rent-A-Car, and various other tenants. Its other side is behind the AmerenUE substation along Hanley.

Believe it or not, if you continue northwest through this endless dock / parking area, you'll find a newly-built concrete walkway crossing the MetroLink tracks at-grade! It's similar to the one at the foot of S. 11th Street downtown, immediately south of the elevated I-64/US 40, that provides a connection from the Cupples Station / Robert A. Young Building area to that huge surface parking lot eventually slated to become Chouteau's Pond (again).

After you make it across the MetroLink tracks, you're on... another parking lot! Aerial photos suggest this parking lot existed prior to MetroLink construction, and supported that Sunnen, et al office complex (across the tracks). There was a driveway connecting the two, now gone. So the main purpose of the walkway is to connect the parking to the buildings it serves.

But it also provides an indirect access route (albeit across private property) north into Maplewood Commons. Maplewood Commons Drive was extended south to end in this parking lot, although the parcel address for this lot (owned, of course, by Sunnen) on county records is 7820 Maplewood Industrial Court.

Continuing north from this parking lot you see an old warehouse building -- the only one left in this area. It's now the City of Maplewood Department of Public Works. It has a new address placard proclaiming it's located on Maplewood Commons Drive.

This section of the drive has no sidewalks at all and is a bit tight to navigate around the Maplewood city trucks, but eventually you'll come over a little knoll and see the massive Lowe's store and its parking lot on the right, and the outparcels with Red Lobster and Olive Garden off to the left, immediately adjacent to the MetroLink tracks.

If you are so inclined, at some point Maplewood Commons Drive gains an actual sidewalk (on the western side only), or you can continue north walking across the parking lanes. Crossing Folk Avenue is a bit tricky, as it is not only a shopping center access route but also a neighborhood collector street, and it has a bit of a ridge on it that's hard to see over.

I still did not go inside the Lowe's, Sam's, or Wal-Mart. I just wanted to see if it was possible to get there without going all the way . As I said, the route is completely unmarked; I happened to be lucky enough to trail behind somebody who already knew the route.

While I think the Wal-Mart location is a little closer to the Brentwood I-64 station, the walking route is more hazardous given the high-speed, high-volume traffic on Hanley. While there are sidewalks along Hanley and signalized intersections at West Bruno (entirely too wide an intersection to cross safely) and at Elinor Avenue (east side)/ Brentwood Home Depot entrance (west side), it's still not anything close to a pedestrian-oriented environment.

And to access the Brentwood stop from this angle, you have to use the 'street' behind The Meridian development, which is really more of a driveway to access the docks for Best Buy and Sports Authority. It's not a real street. At one point you're directed to "use sidewalk on other side of street" to avoid the construction zone for the new Metro park-ride garage; but crossing there actually dumps you into the docks.

So if I ever do need to visit that shopping center (mmmm.... Red Lobster.....) I will at least know how to get there from the MetroLink platform near Manchester Road.


Travis Reems said...

Regarding your comment about the nearly empty train, I saw for the first time a train crossing the bridge over I-44 the other day and the train looked to have about 3 passengers. I hope that this is not the extent of the use of the new branch.

Joe said...

To be fair, this was at 11:30 AM on a Tuesday. I really would not expect the train to be full at that hour. So, at least the delays were scheduled at a time when they'd inconvenience the fewest people.

But since I now use MetroLink heavily to shuttle back and forth between destinations and to run errands, it's a little annoying. Transit ridership is generally low at midday, because most people aren't like me. Most go to work and stay in one place all day. My schedule is not like that.

Anonymous said...

I ride the new branch from the CWE to get my bike a little closer to the Grant's Farm trail on Sundays. Usually, it's just the driver, me, and the bike.

I sometimes feel like I ought to pay the $6,000 the ride actually costs (instead of the $2 I paid) -- or at least offer to drive the train.