People are naturally drawn to large bodies of water — rivers, lakes and oceans. In St Louis we’ve got the mighty Mississippi as our Eastern border. Sadly we’ve made it far too difficult to actually reach the river.
Last week I did a post announcing the National Park Service’s open house to review their proposed General Management Plan for the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial (aka the Arch & Arch grounds). I had jokingly suggested that the city wanted to replace the arch with the world’s tallest parking garage. Reader comments quickly turned to Memorial Drive and I-70 that divides the Arch grounds (and the river) from downtown.
Mayor of Affton wrote:
I think thereâ€™s room for 1 and 2 story buildings on the east side of a much smaller, narrower Memorial Drive, with a service road behind them on the arch grounds. Further, letâ€™s really connect some neighborhoods with a train or trolley that goes from Soulard, to Chouteauâ€™s Landing, across the Arch grounds on the east, up to the Landing, Lumiere, the Bottle District and North Broadway.
‘the dude’ wrote:
Highway 70 is already being rerouted – over the new Mississippi River bridge. The â€œLidâ€ plan is seriously flawed. The idea of building a lid over the depressed lanes is based on assumptions made before the new Mississippi River bridge became a real project and before we were attacked on September 11th. The Lid is a bad idea on many levels.
It seems that nobody wants to discuss that the problem with the arch grounds is not the grounds them self, but the private land around the arch. Pretty much every building adjacent the arch grounds has its back to the arch. Imagine if when you looked out the Eiffel tower or the Colosseum all you saw was the back of buildings. The city needs to require all buildings adjacent the arch to have store fronts facing it. Imagine sidewalk dining or shopping looking the park. Its the only way to integrate the monument into a downtown experience.
And no, I have forgotten about the thing called I-70. If they are going to put in a new I-70 bridge they need to remove the section cutting the arch off from downtown. Have the highway end at broadway and fill in the I-70 trench. Do we really need to connect the two bridges?
For starters, the NPS should complete a traffic and design study to determine the feasibility/desirability of abandoning the depressed lanes and replacing them with a new Memorial Drive as compared to going with the Lid option.
Forever people have complained about how downtown is cut off from the river and the Arch. The interstate is obviously the barrier. But none of the higher ups are talking about removing the barrier! Instead, they are proposing a literal band-aid solution. One that leaves some 80+ percent of the barrier in place.
My problem with the Arch grounds is that there is not much down there to draw me there and to stick around. The museum is a huge snooze and residents can only enjoy going up the arch so many times. We need attractions to pull people down there and keep them there and spend some money. An aquarium would be a great idea. We need dining options too. Leave the arch alone and develop the grounds around it.
All valid points. At the time the Arch won the design competition the highway was an assumed. It was just thought we’d all drive our single occupancy vehicles there. Those that would walk would do so only at the center of the Arch. To make sure we only crossed at the center new buildings both North and South of the center blocked off the downtown street grid. The result is that Memorial Drive is barely tolerable as a place to drive and not at all as a place to walk. To illustrate this point I’ve put together a short video:
The NPS is incorrectly focusing all their attention on connecting to downtown at one single point — in the center aligned with the Old Courthouse. A better connection to the Arch grounds and down to the river is more than a single bridge or even a 3-block “lid” can address.
- I-70 needs to be removed from the equation (more on that further down).
- Memorial Drive needs to be reconstructed as a grand boulevard and renamed 3rd Street.
- Buildings fronting the existing Memorial need entrances facing the Arch.
The new Mississippi river bridge, when built, will become I-70. While some traffic uses this portion of I-70 as a pass through between North & South they can use my proposed 3rd Street Boulevard or other North-South streets on our street grid. I’d remove I-70 from the new bridge on the North all the way to I-44/I-55 on the South. This would permit a larger portion of the downtown and near downtown to begin to heal from the damage caused by the highway cutting off streets.
San Francisco’s Embarcadero Freeway carried 70,000 cars daily when it was destroyed by earthquake in 1989. Today the new boulevard still carries a considerable amount of traffic while encouraging pedestrians to walk along or cross it. San Francisco took the opportunity to connect the area into their streetcar system. I say we use this new 3rd St boulevard project as an opportunity to introduce a modern streetcar loop to downtown with a section passing right by the Arch.
This new modern streetcar line, complete with accessible low-floor cars, would use Broadway in one direction and the new 3rd in the other. The line would go North of the Edward Jones Dome to the site that has been hyped as the Bottleworks District. At the other end the line would use both Market and Walnut (or Clark). This would connect the Arch grounds to the future Ballpark Village, MetroLink light rail, and numerous hotels. On this end the line could turn around at 22nd with new development on the extra state land that was reserved for the abandoned 22nd Parkway. Back at the other end, when the dome is imploded after the Rams leave or we build them a new dome the line will connect to new development there. The line could be extended east along Cole to eventually reach the old Pruitt-Igoe site as a location for a new dome or whatever Paul McKee has in mind.
With high activity points along the route the line would be well used. Zoning along the line would need to mandate urban buildings with frequent entrances, not blank walls. Ditto along the new 3rd. The buildings we have now are a disgrace. Cars in parking garages have outstanding views of the Arch while the pedestrian on the sidewalk is subjected to a wretched environment.
A little bridge or a lid over the highway just isn’t enough. Earlier generations dreamed big and it’s time we did too if we plan to fix their mistakes.
Update 7/9/08 @ 3pm
I’ve been a bit busy lately and behind on my reading.Â One item I overlooked until now is ‘The Case for a New Memorial Drive’ by my friend Rick Bonasch over on his site, STL Rising.Â He covers the same topic in a detailed look at various issues – highly recommended.