Archive for the ‘traffic’ Category

Small Change in LKS Boulevard Should Bring Big Changes to Arch Grounds

Friday, January 20th, 2012

While much of the attention regarding the upcoming changes to the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial (Arch Grounds) that are being led by the CityArchRiver 2015 Foundation (CAR) have focused on the “lid” connection to Downtown and removal of the Arch parking garage to re-open the north end, important changes are also planned for the riverfront.

Due to fluctuations of the water level of the Mississippi River, Leonor K. Sullivan Boulevard is often under water during the spring and summer months when the Arch Grounds attracts the most people. This leaves the riverfront inaccessible and limits the experience to views from above or descending the grand staircase to the water. Image above and maps below courtesy of CAR & MVVA.

MVVA has developed a solution to this problem: Raise the elevation of the boulevard. The level of the roadway will be raised from two to three feet along the entire length of the JNEM from the Eads Bridge to Poplar Street. North and south of the bridges, the roadway will transition back to its existing level.

Beyond simply raising the roadbed, the raising and re-building of Leonor K. Sullivan will include an extension of the Confluence Greenway Riverfront Trail which currently starts just a few blocks north of the MLK Bridge at the Ashley Street power plant. Along with the extended trail will be pedestrian and lighting improvements.

The new raised boulevard will also allow the riverfront boats to remain in operation by allowing them to extend their ramps across the flooded levee to the sidewalk during high water.

Many details will need to be worked out with the plan to raise Leonor K. Sullivan. This earlier rendering from MVVA showed the levee seamlessly blending with the boulevard, eliminating the awkward level changes, second roadway and entirely eliminating parking from the levee. It is unclear now how whether level of the levee will change as well whether parking will be allowed along the new boulevard. The water marker pylons in the water though have apparently been eliminated. A public presentation by CAR and MVVA later this month will hopefully answer some of these questions, but so far, the concept seems to bring vast improvement to the existing conditions along the riverfront.

Arch Grounds: Less Parking, Improved Connectivity by 2015

Thursday, January 5th, 2012

Over the past couple months, City to River has focused on the single biggest way to improve the impact of MVVA’s plan for the Arch Ground’s in the context of improved connectivity, a key goal of the competition: removing I-70 through downtown, especially the elevated lanes north of Washington Avenue. The removal would be transformative for downtown and would improve quality of life immensely. But City to River is focused on much more than highway removal: we’re about reconnecting the urban core to the Mississippi River. Removing redundant and costly infrastructure is certainly one way to accomplish this, but MVVA should be commended and recognized for other strategies they have undertaken. We would like to take this opportunity to focus on the aspects of the MVVA plan that will undoubtedly upgrade connectivity between downtown and the river.

the vast majority of current visitors enter and exit the north end

The most transformative and least glamorous feature of the plan is the relocation of the arch grounds parking garage into downtown. By removing the obtrusive parking garage from the north end of the Arch grounds, people visiting the Arch will be funneled through downtown. This shift will inherently increase downtown pedestrian activity and will spread its associated benefits throughout downtown. More people will dine at restaurants and will patronize stores. The Arch’s couple million annual visitors will help fill the numerous grossly underutilized garages and surface lots currently occupying downtown. By simply making Arch visitors visit downtown before they venture towards the monument and river, the connections between each are improved drastically.

the MVVA proposal would create new points of access

By removing the monstrous parking garage from the grounds, MVVA will be able to gain the physical space required to address the extreme lack of accessibility that has plagued the Arch Grounds. Since the location of the new series of ramps falls within the footprint of the demolished garage, the design team is freed from the constraints of historic regulations. They have the freedom to mold the landscape to connect Washington Avenue elegantly to the Mississippi River. Along the path that ramps down to the river, various access points to Laclede’s Landing have been improved. The path for cars to travel down to the river may be gone, but in the pedestrian realm the connection to the river will be much nicer.

existing conditions - photo by Mark Groth

Both of these elements involve quality of life improvements and will undoubtedly improve the experience of visiting the Arch. The experience at the river, along Lenor K Sullivan Blvd will also be much improved, and will be covered in more detail in the coming days.

Are we Trading Park Amenities for Even More Highway Infrastructure?

Thursday, August 11th, 2011

When MVVA’s winning design for the City + Arch + River Design Competition was announced, there were many elements to look forward to at the 50th anniversary of the completion of the Gateway Arch. While City to River was disappointed that an urban boulevard would not replace the soon-to be duplicated section of Interstate 70 by the end of 2015, there were many elements of MVVA’s plan that we believed would bring substantial improvement to the park. These included among other features; drawing visitors to the South end of the Arch Grounds by displacing an existing maintenance building with a new beer garden and skating rink, Extending the parks green space into the wasteland under the Poplar Street Bridge to better connect with Chouteau’s Landing, and substantially increasing park land and activity areas around the Malcolm Martin Memorial Park on the east riverfront.

Since the completion of the design competition it has become increasingly apparent that the private interests in charge of implementing the results have pushed their own agenda, distorting portions of the design to the detriment of other elements and to the project as a whole. Last October it was announced that Memorial Drive might be closed so that visitors coming to the Arch Grounds from the west would not need to traverse two cross-walks at signalled intersections. The plan to close and remove several blocks of Memorial was confirmed in the single public event since the announcement of the competition winner. That plan, unveiled on January 26th of this year was said to cost around $578,000,000.00

On top of the costs of the one block lid over the depressed lanes (The Danforth Foundation estimated between $34-37 Million in 2006), the closure of Memorial Drive resulted in a need to spend disproportionally more more money on new highway infrastructure to accommodate changed traffic patterns. The existing ramps on and off the highway north of the depressed lanes will now have to be demolished and rebuilt, reversing the direction of traffic flow on each so that southbound traffic Memorial traffic is diverted onto the highway and northbound traffic diverted from Memorial can exit the highway to access destinations north of Washington Avenue.

The introduction of new highway ramps only exacerbates the myriad urban design problems presented by the existence of the highway separating the Arch Grounds from Downtown St. Louis. Based on current regulations, the ramps will have to be considerably longer and will be at least 1,000 feet in length. This means that newly expanded highway infrastructure will now irrevocably wall off the four city blocks between Pine and Washington from the arch grounds in order to “Weave connections and transitions from the City and the Arch grounds to the River” and “Mitigate the impact of transportation systems”.

The removal of several blocks of north bound Memorial Drive along the west edge of the park may have been done with the intentions to increase parkland and bring the park closer to Downtown. The actual result however will be a very uneasy feeling along the western boundary of the park which will no longer be fronted by a street, but will now be fronted by the chasm of the depressed lanes of the highway. There will have to be tall fencing to keep people from falling into the chasm as well as some kind of landscape buffer which will only increase the feeling of isolation from the adjacent urban core of the City.

Coming soon to the symbolic heart of the region: some shrubbery hiding a highway

The most-recent public plan including the new highway ramp infrastructure has also been revised with the removal of the beer garden and skating rink at the south end of the park as well as monumental river gauges. Additionally many of the slides from the January presentation are ambiguous about what will be accomplished by October 2015 deadline. Slide 4 of the presentation below shows both the “underpass park” under the Poplar Street Bridge and the expansion of parkland on the east riverfront as light green hatched areas instead of fully rendered parts of the overall design. Does this mean that these areas might be phased-in after 2015? It is instructive to remember that the highway removal was discouraged in the initial design concepts specifically because it would be impossible by the 2015 deadline. Now that many more pieces of the MVVA plan have been cast into doubt, it is arguably unclear that enough of the the project itself is attainable within four years to justify the deadline. Should the City to River boulevard concept be reconsidered in light of a protracted implementation? The lack of any public communication about the project from the CityArch River 2015 Foundation for almost seven months has not helped with the ambiguity.

City Arch River 2015 – MVVA Update Public Presentation 01-26-11

The events that have unfolded in Washington DC around the debt crisis in the last several weeks have brought us to realize the reality of our nation’s financial situation. It is a safe bet that the federal government will not be able to finance huge portions of the improvements in and around the Arch Grounds. The leadership behind the current plan will need to figure out where the money is going to come from and whether it will come at all. If belt tightening comes to the budget for the plan, the St. Louis must voice our opinions about where our priorities are.

Do we want to spend our limited dollars on park improvements and park expansion or highway infrastructure and unnecessary street removal?