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Spring in Summertime

June 29, 2007 Guest, Midtown, Planning & Design, SLU, Transportation 16 Comments

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? It’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 SLU‘s main campus.


Apparently, at one time (from the early 1900‘s through the 1950‘s), Spring Avenue had been “improved”, widened and streamlined to provide a bypass around the congestion at Grand and Lindell. By the 1950’s and ‘60’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: SLU’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. There’s a new redevelopment on the SE corner of Spring and Chouteau. The Grand Metrolink station isn’t very friendly or accessible to either campus. And, we have unused urban artifacts.

Which brings me to (I think) a relatively simple concept — let’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 Macy’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, farmers’ market, year-round tacky midway (like an oceanside boardwalk), homeless encampment or a SLU-sponsored sculpture garden – it’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 – someone’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 – I’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 can’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!  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.  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.  Having said that, I am interested in Jim’s concept for Spring in addition to efforts on Grand.  OK folks, what do you think?


Currently there are "16 comments" on this Article:

  1. C says:

    A homeless “encampment”!?!? You must be joking.

    Nothing better than some bums to encourage pedestrians in useless space in the middle of nowhere.

  2. Jim Zavist says:

    no, not seriously, although it looks like a few already call the place home . . .

  3. LisaS says:

    I had always wondered about that but never got around to investigating it seriously. Some good ideas there, Jim ….

  4. Anthony Coffin says:

    Thanks JZ,
    We could dedicate a whole blog with years worth of entries concerning street closures and disconnectivity in St Louis. I am glad you posted on this specific closure because I drive by it everyday and I think your ideas are right on. I have often thought this viaduct should be rebuild for pedestrian use, though if SLU had not taken over Spring it would be an important addition to our few north/south connectors. My idea would be to rebuild the entire width of the viaduct for pedestrain use with a lot of greenspace with trees, benches, and native grasses. Any more talk of sculpture gardens could make me vomit, but I suppose that could be used here as well.

    Planters in the middle of Grand to make it more pedestrian friendly? Why is it that people think putting planters and dividers down the center of streets makes them more pedestrian friendly? This often backfires creating areas where drivers feel that they can speed up since they are divided from the opposing traffic and they most often make streets harder to cross for pedestrians. On the other hanbd widening sidewalks is effective at slowing down traffic and makes for a much more pedestrain friendly atmosphere where planters and the like can be placed.

    [SLP — I was being sarcastic about the planters, I don’t think they will help at all.  You are totally correct in that with the separation from oncoming traffic and no parked cars on the right, cars will just fly down the street.  Simply having wide sidewalks doesn’t really help slow down traffic either unless you have street trees or other elements to give a sense of enclosure.]

  5. Brian says:

    Create a street predominantly for cars, and wreckless drivers will control the space. Create a viaduct exclusively for pedestrians, and wreckless humans will control the space. Exclusive pedestrian facilities like the 14th Street mall fail in terms of defensible space. And 14th Street was at least one time lined with street-level activities. Start off with no activities, and it’s a dangerous no-man’s land from day-one.

  6. Brian says:

    Oops (on spelling), I guess I was thinking how reckless behavior leads to wrecks, but you get the idea.

  7. Jim Zavist says:

    some contect/preconceptions:

    http://denverinfill.com/neighborhood_pages/cpv_north.htm shows what Denver’s doing with a similar chunk of urban land – the old rail switching yards went away, a park went in and pedestrian links are replacing removed viaducts (15th and 16th Streets). It’s now home to both Denver’s Skatepark and multiple residential highrises as well as the future hub for Denver’s expanding light rail system.

    http://www.thehighline.org/ shows what NYC is doing with a similar urban artifact . .

  8. Dale Sweet says:

    As a former SLUzer, Mr. Zavist’s comments are much appreciated.

    Nearby, the state and City are extolling the wonders of the Compton bridge over 40. Just south of it, however, the Compton viaduct over the railyard is very bad for those using anything but a car.

    I rode my bike across the viaduct last week, and riding in the outside traffic lane is dangerous due to width and drivers’ instinct to accelerate on the viaduct. Riding on the sidewalk is impossible due to growth, especially at the north end, as well as gravel, debris, cracks and dropoffs at the south end. Having read a number of Steve’s posts, I was very thankful I didn’t have to cross it using a mobility scooter.

  9. Joe Frank says:

    When exactly did the Spring Ave viaduct close to traffic?

    I believe it was still open and standing in 1991, but probably closed in the mid 1990s about the time SLU closed off Spring Ave a couple blocks north to create the pedestrian mall.

    Also, my suspicion is the adjacent pedestrian bridge — which I have used a few times, and it’s freaky — was built BEFORE the upper-deck of US 40 was built. That’s also true of the Grand Blvd. over/under pass. Originally, these were just overpasses. The upper-deck was probably built in the late 60s or early 70s, or maybe even later than that.

    There must be somebody out there that remembers / knows this history, right?

  10. Greg says:

    Since we’re dreaming here… it’d be nice if they found a way to tie in the Armory and the rest of the area. Didn’t the ULI do a contest on what should be done with this area a year or so back to make it user friendly?

  11. Anthony Coffin says:

    Dale, I often commute via bicycle across the compton viaduct, it is very hazardous but I find it safer than grand. The new compton hwy 40 bridge is not biker friendly either. I hope if the Grand viaduct is being widened they will ad a bike lane before someone gets killed crossing there.

    Steve, widening sidewalks does slow down traffic if the sidewalk cuts into street space thus narrowing the street. This slows down traffic and makes crossing the street easier for pedestrians. Giant green medians like were recently instaled on Grand and Tucker make crossing the street very difficult and only encourage people to drive faster.

    [SLP – Yes, narrowing lanes can effectively lower speeds without reducing the number of vehicles per hour — this is true regardless of sidewalk width.  Still, narrowing lanes along say Manchester Road at Hwy 141 will not really lower speeds much out in suburbia.  Narrowing street, allowing on-street parking, planting street trees and widening the sidewalks (if they even exist) is what it really takes.]  

  12. john says:

    Thanks Jim for bringing this to everyone’s attention. This dead space, this wall of inconvenience, this waste of space is representative of what StL is and will be unless drastic and positive input is infused into the equation. It’s interesting to note that MertroLink all of a sudden heads NW when it should have headed straight west along highway “farty”… thanks WashOut U! Anything and everything in this area of “no-man’s land” in terms of connectiviity would be an improvement.

  13. Maurice says:

    I believe that there was a study done about 2 years ago regarding the new Grand bridge and the undrelying area. It also included plans for a large shopping area…target was mentioned in that corner.

    It is a prime section of land.

  14. Jim Zavist says:

    Another thought – it’s not Grand vs. Spring here – these don’t need to be (and probably shouldn’t be) mutually exclusive projects. Both can happen and create the critical mass and synergy needed to improve the whole area.

  15. GMichaud says:

    Using Grand and Spring together makes a lot of sense. The mass transit link on Grand is horrible and not the potential gathering place it should be. The previous proposals concerning Grand begin to address the problem. Although it is expensive to do anything, in some ways development on Grand may be more feasible, simply because once shops, offices and housing are added there is a way to pay, at least in part, for the project. (Refer to Steve’s previous post mentioned above for details).
    Spring Avenue is interesting though and a plan connecting all of the elements together could prove interesting and good for the city and for SLU.
    The area is a wasteland now and is typical of how the City of St. Louis has ignored the human aspects of the environment. It might be excusable if it was only an industrial area, but with a major metro stop, a major university and a major boulevard the lack of pedestrian scale development is a major defect and a scar on the city.
    With rudimentary plans and rough cost estimates, it may be possible to form a development team to consider a project. (Maybe Continental Retail Development, who handled the Columbus Ohio project would be interested.) It seems to me that it is a plausible undertaking given the key location.

  16. Paul says:

    I am a recent SLU graduate who loved to explore this area as a student and always wondered why the 40 Pedestrian Bridge was so inaccessible and why so much of the Spring viaduct is still standing. Although it’s current use as a small settlement for the homeless is better than nothing, and the empty lot to the East is a popular skateboarding destination, the area could be so more if the University developed it into a connection between the two campuses and the Metrolink stop. Most SLU students are scared to use the metrolink because of the walk to it and stories that are told about crime on Grand. This is a perfect subject for discussion!


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