Archive for the ‘walkability’ Category

Tour the Iron Horse Trestle and Learn More About Reconnecting ONSL with the Mississippi River

Tuesday, July 5th, 2011

Illinois Terminal Railroad Trestle (STL Post Dispatch Image)

Although City to River has become associated with our advocacy and vision for downtown St. Louis, our mission remains

to improve the quality of life of the St.
Louis region by reconnecting its urban core to the Mississippi River through
the implementation of physical improvements and sustainable programs

In these efforts we are also devoting attention to improving connections between the North Riverfront and adjacent neighborhoods. City to River is pleased to announce that our associates at City Affair have put together a picnic event on Thursday, July 7th focusing on initiatives to reconnect the Mississippi River with St. Louis City.

The centerpiece of the event will be a walking tour of the Iron Horse Trestle, the electric rail viaduct slated to become the third elevated linear park in the world. In order to realize this vision and put St. Louis alongside Paris and New York Great Rivers Greenway faces significant challenges. Todd Antoine, Deputy Director of Planning for GRG, will discuss how they plan to connect downtown, Columbus Square, and Old North St. Louis to the Riverfront Trail.

Phil Valko, Active Living Program Manager at Trailnet, will discuss plans to rebuild Branch Street as a seamless at-grade connector between Old North St. Louis and Hyde Park and the Riverfront. City to River has previously mentioned community input sessions for the project, and we continue to offer assistance as the project progresses.

Jennifer Allen, Program Coordinator for Trailnet, will address St. Louis Development Corporation’s RFP (Request for Proposals) for 3,000 acres of the North Riverfront of St. Louis. This area represents over 1/3 of the entire Mississippi River riverfront and the $800,000 study will likely chart the course of development for the next generation. NextSTL has suggested setting aside 1% of the total study area for pedestrians and recreation, but an even larger portion would bring larger dividends for both residents and tourists.

A seamless connection between neighborhoods and the Mississippi

For more information on the picnic please see the City Affair Website or their Facebook Page

As a reminder, you can follow City to River on Twitter for updates on our work reconnecting St. Louis with its waterfront.

Why sever connections?

Friday, October 8th, 2010

Protecting current accessibility while creating more and better connections is the challenge currently faced by the winning design team of Michael Van Valkenburgh and Associates (MVVA). A primary mission of the effort to re-imagine the Arch grounds, and its surroundings, is to better connect the city to the Arch and riverfront. This is best accomplished by keeping the downtown street grid intact, and reconnecting it where connections have been broken.

The barrier presented to the downtown St. Louis pedestrian, driver, or bicyclist is the unpredictability of the current street grid. One-way streets, interruptions by I-70 (and other interstates,) and closed streets all create a less predictable, less inviting experience. City streets serve to connect. Storefronts, cafes, sidewalks and trees serve as attractors of pedestrian activity.  Every change from a basic grid makes it less functional, and more of an impediment to those who use it.

Now, it appears possible that the new design for the Arch grounds may remove no less than three current downtown streets, further severing connections between the City, Arch, and River. It has yet to be explained how fewer, less-predictable connections effectively weave these three elements together.

MVVA’s winning design proposes closing Lenor K. Sullivan Boulevard along the levee for the length of the Arch grounds. It also proposes closing Washington Avenue adjacent to the Eads Bridge, and now competition organizers are suggesting that Memorial Drive may be closed, an idea that MVVA did not propose.

The removal of three downtown streets represents a significant step backwards in the development of downtown. The solution to connectivity, additional real-estate development, and a more livable, attractive, and sustainable city is the introduction of more connections, more connected downtown streets, and a return to a connected street grid.

Currently, Lenor K. Sullivan Boulevard provides a north-south connection that allows visitors to avoid the unfriendly and confusing tangle of Memorial Drive and I-70. Its closure would place additional traffic on Memorial Drive. The closure of Washington Avenue would remove the last east-west connection that reaches our river for miles to the north and south. It would truncate the heart of downtown’s most vibrant district, introducing a new and unexpected barrier.  Finally, it would sever the historic, and spiritual link from east to west. While the Arch symbolizes the gateway to the West, the Eads Bridge and Washington Avenue served, and continue to serve, as the physical manifestation of that gateway.

The closure of Memorial Drive at the Gateway Mall would introduce the most significant, disruptive and negative result of the three. A traffic-free connection between Luther Ely Smith Square and the Arch grounds provides a dubious benefit to pedestrians while introducing a major barrier to vehicles.  Urban spaces with equal access for all forms of traffic, vehicular, bicycle, and pedestrian, are the most healthy, organic, and vibrant.  Experience has shown that segregating these forms of traffic into their own spheres promotes decay, and ultimately provides a disincentive for investment and development.

Closing Memorial Drive has been studied, and its impact is generally understood. However, alternatives have not been studied. The impact of returning downtown streets to two-way traffic, the potential to reconnect streets, the reorganization of confusing intersections, and the removal of the I-70 trench and elevated lanes have not been considered. Only a comprehensive understanding of all issues and options at hand should inform decisions. To this end, City to River continues to advocate for a comprehensive transportation study of downtown and the I-70 corridor, before any binding decisions are made regarding street closures.

Predictability and accommodation are the best attributes for encouraging pedestrian activity. The closure of Memorial Drive may provide a dedicated pedestrian space, but it introduces other problems. To encourage visitors to explore the Arch grounds and downtown St. Louis, connections should be many and similar. The removal of I-70 and its replacement with an urban boulevard accomplishes this by providing predictable, accommodating pedestrian and vehicle access throughout the entire length of the Arch grounds and further north.

The closure of Memorial Drive creates barriers. Drivers must negotiate four 90-degree turns, additional stop lights, and several blocks to simply drive north-south. All traffic wishing to use Memorial Drive is diverted onto Market, 4th and Chestnut streets.  Severely disrupting vehicular connectivity to allow pedestrians to cross one street makes little sense when any pedestrian visiting the Arch will have to cross one or more of these other streets in any event. A visitor walking the Gateway Mall from Union Station to the Arch will cross 14 city streets. Will the prospect of crossing a 15th prevent visitors from reaching the Arch?

One MVVA idea lauded by the competition jury was the placing of remote ticketing kiosks around downtown. This would allow visitors to purchase a tram ticket and spend any time waiting to explore downtown, get a bite to eat and do some shopping. Obviously, this would require crossing many downtown streets. Crossing streets is not something that can, or should, be avoided in downtown St. Louis, or any urban environment.  While City to River advocates for a better pedestrian experience, the elimination of downtown streets is an old and failed idea. The introduction of new barriers can and should be avoided in downtown St. Louis.

In many respects, MVVA has created an exciting and compelling vision for the future of the Arch grounds and downtown St. Louis.  In our view, though, refining of the team’s plan for street connections is necessary.  In fewer than 90 days, the MVVA winning design plan will be converted into a more final construction plan. City to River continues to focus on creating more and better connections between our City, Arch, and River.  We look forward to working with those considering how best to accomplish those connections.

Would Chicago Let A Highway Divide the Windy City from Millennium Park?

Friday, June 11th, 2010

Michigan Avenue in downtown Chicago is the connection between the central business district and Millennium Park.  On the city side there are retail shops facing the street and more than 16,000 daily pedestrians.  On the park side, there’re award winning attractions that draw in more tourists than any site in Chicago save Navy Pier and more than 6,000 daily pedestrians just on the adjacent sidewalk.  The avenue itself carries 46,000 vehicles a day.

Millennium Park connected to CBD by pedestrian friendly Michigan 

St. Louis is in the middle of an international design competition that will transform the nation’s only urban national park around the Gateway Arch into something as ambitious as Millennium Park.  These ambitions will only succeed however if the barriers at the edges of the park can be overcome.  The monster that is I-70 currently makes it a very difficult and unpleasant experience for anyone to travel between the city and the park.  The highway also reduces the desirability and inhibits the improvement of adjacent real estate.

I-70 today, preventing access to and from the Arch grounds

Slicing down the middle of Memorial Drive, I-70 creates a physical and psychological barrier dividing Downtown St. Louis from its front door, one of the few urban national parks in the U.S.  Access to the Arch grounds is restricted to a few points by the transitions between the depressed and elevated lanes to the north and the PSB ramps to the south, creating a “Berlin Wall” effect between the disparate points of entry.

Millennium Park imagined with an elevated Interstate dividing it 
from downtown Chicago
Millennium Park imagined with an elevated Interstate dividing it 
from downtown Chicago

Michigan Avenue at Millennium Park on the other hand is a vibrant street with streetside retail, and 23,000 pedestrians a day, but what if Michigan Avenue looked like Memorial Drive in St. Louis, with a highway running down the middle?  If this was reality, Michigan Avenue would be a dark desolate place to walk and adjacent real estate would not be as valuable due to the noise and visual pollution of the highway.

Pedestrians crossing Michigan Avenue to and from the park

Michigan Avenue as a boulevard doesn’t divide the city and the park, but connects and holds them together in a way that I-70 in the middle of Memorial Drive in St. Louis absolutely does not.  If there was a giant elevated interstate above Michigan Avenue, would fewer people would bother to cross under to get to amenities of Millennium Park?

An Interstate presents a barrier that discourages pedestrian activity

Conversely, if the highway remains between the city and our new improved Arch grounds and riverfront, will people bother to subject themselves to crossing through an inhospitable environment to got there?  St. Louis has seen failures such as this before.  If they build it, people may not necessarily come if getting there is an unpleasant experience.

A highway transition cutting through a view of Millennium Park from the Chicago Cultural Center

St. Louis and the City+Arch+River Design Competition teams should learn from Chicago’s success and choose to build a vibrant boulevard that becomes an attractive place in itself, just like Michigan Avenue, and reconnects the City to the Arch and to the River.