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

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.

3 Responses to “Would Chicago Let A Highway Divide the Windy City from Millennium Park?”

  1. Miranda says:

    Keep up the good work. You guys are awesome!

  2. Mary Linhares says:

    This is exactly the kind of enlightened discussion that needs to happen in St. Louis. Whatever the cost will be to connect the Gateway Arch National Park to downtown St. Louis will be much less than the revenue that St. Louis continues to lose because people, especially tourists, are afraid to venture across I-70. Great article.

  3. Chris says:

    I think the Kennedy on the west side of the Chicago Loop is much more analogous to I-70 in St. Louis. Chicago destroyed huge swaths of the city building interstates; let’s not consider Daley enlightened.

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