A guest editorial by Jim Zavist, AIA
This is a post about urban artifacts, connections made, broken and the potential to reconnect, and about the curiosity of a relative newcomer . . . As an older city, St. Louis has more than its fair share of urban artifacts, things in the built environment that no longer serve the purpose for which they were originally constructed. The downtown loft district contains many examples, the caves under some of the old and extinct breweries are another example, and the Spring Avenue viaduct will be the focus of this post. The what, you may ask? Itâ€™s the remaining portion of a multilane viaduct over the rail yards a couple of blocks east of Grand Boulevard, south of Forest Park Parkway and SLUâ€˜s main campus.
Apparently, at one time (from the early 1900â€˜s through the 1950â€˜s), Spring Avenue had been “improved”, widened and streamlined to provide a bypass around the congestion at Grand and Lindell. By the 1950â€™s and â€˜60â€™s, other priorities became more important, namely double-decking Highway 40 to create the I-64 freeway that we have today. Something had to give, and a 2-3 block section of the viaduct was removed a block south of Forest Park Parkway and either end blocked off. For some reason, more than half (the southern half) was left in place, over the railroad. And in a token gesture to urbanity, one of those wonderful Highway Department pedestrian bridges was added over/under the freeway, that, surprisingly, remains open today. SLU also took advantage of the viaduct closure to also close Spring Avenue on their campus (where the clock tower stands today).
A few months back, Steve was pushing the idea of making the Grand Boulevard viaduct more pedestrian friendly. While I agreed that the Grand viaduct is a terrible place to be a pedestrian, I couldn’t see the financial viability of the concepts being proposed. However, in poking around this area, to try and “understand” the Spring Avenue viaduct, I see much more potential for a similar concept a block west of Grand. [See 'Grand Bridge Should Follow Columbus Ohio Example' from January 2006 - SLP]
This map helps give some context.
I’m not the graphics whiz that Steve is when it comes to online mapping, but this is the basic concept: The line north on either side of Forest Park Parkway, between SLU and I-64 is my “Northern Segment”.
The line just south of I-64 is my “Middle Segment”.
Off the right is my “Metro Connector”.
The next segment (with no line) is the actual remaining viaduct.
And the final line is my “Southern Segment”, on either side of Chouteau Avenue.
To repeat some of the previous assumptions: SLUâ€™s two campuses are separated by some inhospitable terrain. Both campuses are growing, and students are receptive to the pedestrian environments currently in place. The Aquinas Center recently relocated into new quarters on the NW corner of Spring & Forest Park Parkway. Thereâ€™s a new redevelopment on the SE corner of Spring and Chouteau. The Grand Metrolink station isnâ€™t very friendly or accessible to either campus. And, we have unused urban artifacts.
Which brings me to (I think) a relatively simple concept — letâ€™s just fill in the gaps and create a pedestrian- (and bike- and skateboard-) friendly connection between both campuses and the Metrolink station. Taking it a block by block, starting at the north . . .
Laclede to Forest Park Parkway – just wider sidewalks
Forest Park Parkway to I-64 – remove the trailers, make a connection to the existing pedestrian bridge.
I-64 to Scott Avenue (Metrolink, north end of existing viaduct) — this is actually one of the two toughest stretches — in an ideal world, it could be great to return to an elevated connection, connecting the pedestrian bridge on the north and the viaduct on the south. The two big downsides are a) the cost, and b) what it would do to any potential street-level activity (at the old armory to the east and/or the old Macyâ€™s warehouse to the west)
Scott Avenue to Gratiot Street – clean up, fix up and put the old viaduct back into useful service! Besides a great pedestrian and bike connection, it could become a skateboard park, farmersâ€™ market, year-round tacky midway (like an oceanside boardwalk), homeless encampment or a SLU-sponsored sculpture garden – itâ€™s essentially a blank canvas.
Gratiot to Chouteau – lose a traffic lane or two, widen the sidewalks, and replace the truck dealer and other industrial uses with more pedestrian-friendly uses.
Chouteau to Rutger Street – just better sidewalks and more of a focus to and from the SLU Hospital campus – someoneâ€™s obviously doing a major project already on the southeast corner of Spring & Chouteau.
East from Spring, between Scott and the Metrolink tracks — a block long, gradual ramp down to grade, to access the existing Grand Metrolink Station platform (the other “tough” segment).
This is one of the truly fun things about the Urban Review STL website — the ability to ask questions and to dream big dreams. At this point I have a lot of both – Iâ€™d like to hear what the rest of you think can and should be done to flesh out this vision . . . Or to tell me why it simply canâ€™t work here . . .
Local architect Jim Zavist was born in upstate New York, raised in Louisville KY, spent 30 years in Denver Colorado and relocated to St. Louis in 2005.
SLP – I just had to add some additional thoughts. First, I want to thank Jim for his contribution — much appreciated!Â On the Grand viaduct/bridge, it should be noted the city is planning a major renovation of the bridge to make it more pedestrian friendly — by widening the bridge and placing planters in the center.Â My suggestion was to construct buildings on the ground on either side of the bridge and plan them so a main floor is aligned with the public sidewalk – quite feasible in my view.Â Having said that, I am interested in Jim’s concept for Spring in addition to efforts on Grand.Â OK folks, what do you think?