Archive for September, 2011

No news is bad news: It’s time to consider best available options for Arch grounds

Thursday, September 22nd, 2011

After nine months of little news, the plan to redevelop and renew the
Arch grounds was presented by Michael Van Valkenburg at an American
Society for Landscape Architects (ASLA) – St. Louis Chapter event
Tuesday at the Forest Park Visitor’s Center. The roughly 25-minute
presentation provided no new information. Though the presentation was
not made available to the press or public, Van Valkenburg stated that
several slides had been presented previously. All images offered
appeared to be the same as those offered at the January public
presentation.

A slide at that presentation depicted reversed I-70 ramps at
Washington Avenue, the removal of the north parking garage, closure of
Washington Avenue adjacent to the Eads, the “lid” over the depressed
Interstate lanes, ADA ramps to the riverfront, and the reconfiguration
of Third Street at Laclede’s Landing. In addition, the south gateway
adjacent to the Poplar Street Bridge and addition of land on the east
side were shown as not being completed by October 2015.

Although these elements were shown in January, they were not
explained. Several elements, such as the removal of the water gauges, remain unexplained. The headline from that event was the announcement that a
gondola over the Mississippi River, originally offered by the Behnisch
design team, had been added to the design plan in lieu of other
considered south gateway options. Now the news, as reported by the St.
Louis Beacon
and Post-Dispatch, seems to be that what we saw in
January has been confirmed. Aspirations for 2015 have been officially
scaled back.

This isn’t necessarily a negative, as it should allow us to more fully
consider the unique opportunity to recreate our city’s relationship
with our iconic monument and river. It is a positive step for the
CityArchRiver organization to have Michael Van Valkenburg
communicating with the St. Louis community. However, the lack of any
additional information after nine months begs more questions.

The initial rejection by competition organizers of the City to River
presented plan to convert I-70 between the PSB and new Mississippi
River Bridge to an urban boulevard focused on the project’s assumed
inability to be completed by October, 2015. CityArchRiver has now
confirmed that much of the initial design plan, including very
significant elements such as expansion of the east side park, south
gateway and gondola will not be completed by October 2015. Why, then,
does the City to River option, supported by many St. Louis businesses
and organizations, and all five of the competition’s finalist design
teams, remain unconsidered?

Has there, in fact, been any revision or refinement of the design plan
first presented in January 2011? Why not spell out any changes and
explain the process involved? How has the design team arrived at the
decision to close city streets, reinvest in Interstate infrastructure
and reconfigure traffic patterns? Is this choice based on a
longitudinal traffic study?

The standing $578M effort to reinvigorate the Arch grounds could not
have more significant public implications. Why then, does the process
continue to be opaque and uninviting to public input? What incredible
contrast to the very public Forest Park Forever process that has
rewarded the St. Louis region with one of the very best large urban
parks in the nation.

It’s time to consider not only the most expedient, but the best
available options in the remaking of our region’s front door.

Arch Program and Timing Concerns: Roulette with Consequences

Wednesday, September 21st, 2011

Since the completion of the design competition and selection of MVVA as the winning team, the specifics of the Arch improvement program and the timing of implementation have been unclear. While there is still no definitive plan for the Arch grounds, pieces of the overall program seem to be designed on an ad-hoc basis.

Without explanation, the East Side area has been removed completely from the environmental review underway for the Arch improvement program. Initially, improving the connection to the East Side was a major emphasis of both the overall National Park Service General Management Plan and the CityArchRiver competition. At this time, the East Side appears to have been completely removed from the proposal for the October 2015 deadline. Furthermore, while details of plans for the actual Arch grounds and its adjacent streets are not known, major changes to Kiener Plaza are being proposed, including removal of the popular waterfall feature, community gathering space, and main stage. The future of the circular pond and statue is unknown. This raises a fundamental question: if funding cannot be found to examine the most comprehensive connectivity solution, then why should we spend resources to erase and rebuild Kiener Plaza for the third time in half a century?

While not included in the design competition, MODOT is proposing major changes to Memorial Drive and the depressed lanes, including adding two freeway ramps between the Mansion House and the Arch Grounds. Before opening the concept to public comment and completing environmental review, MODOT has scheduled the new freeway ramps for construction beginning in Spring 2012.

At the same time, funding for improving the Arch grounds themselves is not yet in place. Is it possible that MODOT will be building new highway ramps and widening the depressed lanes while others are still trying to identify funding sources to build the lid and redo Kiener Plaza?

The effort to improve the Arch grounds is complex and very expensive. Funding is tight and plans remain in flux. A self-imposed deadline is rapidly approaching. City to River is concerned that the project is moving forward without acceptable strategies for improvements, funding, traffic circulation, completed environmental review, transparency and community involvement.

In a worst case scenario, it is conceivable that the arch would be further isolated from downtown with expansive new highway ramps next year, and a lack of funding would force the elimination of the cap. If that were to happen the outcome would be far worse than the initial condition.

Upcoming Event Seeks to Re-envision the Mississippi Riverfront

Tuesday, September 6th, 2011

Although it has been a busy month for City to River, we want to take a moment to redirect attention from the situation at the Arch Grounds to a process that has great potential to achieve reconnections between St. Louis and the Mississippi River. Most St. Louisians are undoubtedly familiar with the North Riverfront Trail. This single trail is currently responsible for 60% of the length of currently accessible connections between St. Louis City and the Mississippi. City to River is supporting current efforts to improve connections to the Riverfront Trail and to transform an abandoned viaduct into the third elevated linear park in the world.

This of course begs the question: what about the South Riverfront?

Nextstl.com recently did a thorough write-up of the challenges and opportunities surrounding a South Riverfront Trail. It is interesting to note from that article that the entire Riverfront Trail was planned in 1987 as the St. Louis Riverfront Bikeway. At that time it was believed that a bikeway along the entire riverfront would “create demand for more extensive access to the river” and serve as “the first step towards the evolution of the St. Louis Riverfront”.

STL River Front Bikeway Feasibility Study 1987

Fortuitously, Great Rivers Greenway is currently planning to complete the Riverfront Trail from the Arch Grounds to the South Bank of the River Des Peres. At this point there is still understandable ambiguity surrounding precise alignments, but this project has the promise to open up a significant stretch of inaccessible riverfront to the citizens of St. Louis. Two open houses will be held this week to explain the goals of the project and update the public on the process. This is not an event to miss!

For those of you interested in the intimate connectivity between riverine systems and neighborhoods, there will also be a region-wide clean up of the much-maligned River Des Peres watershed on October 8th. A T-shirt and snacks will be provided.