Gas stations. They're everywhere. They are as critical a component of infrastructure as schools, parks, and sewer treatment facilities. Their functional and design elements - signage, lighting, site access, etc. - have a profound impact on the character of our most visible corridors. So how can this necessary piece of the puzzle complement, or at least not deter from, local character? Let's look at a few examples.
This example is from East Lansing, MI. It demonstrates several site and building design characteristics that help it blend in with the commercial corridor, rather than being an eyesore competing for attention:
- The pumping stations are located to the rear of the site with the primary building toward the front corner, bringing vehicular access away from the intersection.
- The public sidewalk that is less disrupted by curb cuts (about one-quarter to one-third of the total lot frontage).
- Cross-access is provided to the lot to the east, removing the need to enter back into traffic to go next door.
- Signage is very low, and the building and front yard landscaping screen the pumping canopy and light.
And despite this design approach, people still find the pumps!
This is an example of a typical Chicago corner gas station. In this instance, the character of the development is more compromised for the sake of the automobile, although the urban setting dictates that the surrounding pedestrian network is maintained.
- The primary building is at the back corner of the site, and the pumps and canopy are front and center.
- Curb cuts occupy about two-thirds of the lot frontage, creating several vehicular/pedestrian conflict points (including at the location of a bus stop).
- A prominent monument sign is located at the primary corner, with another sign located at the southeast corner of the site.
- Alley access is completely unutilized and the glowing lights of the canopy impact adjacent residential development.
- Property edge landscaping and fencing provide at least some delineation between vehicular areas and the public sidewalk.
As a whole, this development model does the minimum required in terms of the overall functionality and character of the corridor.
This gas station (location removed to protect the guilty) demonstrates perhaps the worst practices in gas station development:
- The canopy is located almost to the front lot line. This results in one continuous curb cut along the entire front yard.
- Site access is both unclear and unsafe, as newly filled vehicles pull into traffic and arriving vehicles seek an open bay.
- The canopy is so prominent that, from the southern approach to the site, the large monument sign is not even visible.
- Though there is access to the side street to the north of the site, it is unused because access from the primary arterial is uncontrolled.
In this case, there is no consideration for the pedestrian network or the overall character of the corridor.
As planners, we must remain realistic about what can be expected of development. It is probably unreasonable to think that gas stations will ever recreate the character of our intimate town centers. However, a better product can be realized with relatively simple standards for site planning and access, signage, lighting, and landscaping. I mean, if we're going to be paying $5 a gallon, we at least deserve that much!