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Street vs Alley?

April 30, 2012 Downtown, Featured, Planning & Design 10 Comments

Two downtown streets are more like alleys than streets: Lucas Ave & St. Charles St. Both are parallel to Washington Ave with St. Charles St. to the south and Lucas Ave to the north. I’m sure when early founders laid out the street grid these two had buildings facing them. in the 18th & 19th centuries.

ABOVE: St.Charles Street looking west toward 15th St., click image for aerial

In many places these two have been closed entirely as large buildings were built on the right-of-way after the city vacated it. Examples include the convention center and the former St. Louis Centre indoor mall. In recent years some lofts have entrances facing these two, such as Railway Lofts facing Lucas Ave and 10th Street Lofts facing St. Charles St. These are the exception though, not the rule. St. Charles St. runs along the back of my building, our recycling dumpsters are there as is the entrance to our parking garage.

ABOVE: Sanborn Fire map from February 1909 shows St. Charles relegated to back alley to buildings facing Washington & Locust, between 14th-15th. Click image to search Sanborn Maps on UM Digital Library

These need to stay as named streets because of the few places with entrances facing them but we shouldn’t encourage more facing them. In very dense cities you’ll see such streets as active places but we aren’t anywhere dense enough to make these safe to walk down at night. They also lack sidewalks so making entrances accessible is a challenge.

They’ve got proper names but they’re best viewed like they have been for over a century — as alleys.

– Steve Patterson


Currently there are "10 comments" on this Article:

  1. Tom B says:

    Steve,  I used to live downtown but don’t any longer, but I do love keeping up on your posts.  Often as I would walk my dog up and down either street, I thought they would be a great place for a trolley or streetcar line running parralel to Washington shuttling people from Downtown West to the landing and back. 

  2. JZ71 says:

    I’m confused by several of your statements in the last paragraph:  “These need to stay as named streets because of the few places with entrances facing them.”  Agree, plus because of the history behind the names.  “but we shouldn’t encourage more facing them.”  Huh?  I thought you wanted ground-level doors and windows on every side of every building facing every street!  “In very dense cities you’ll see such streets as active places.”  Agree.  “but we aren’t anywhere dense enough.”  Not even here?!  “to make these safe to walk down at night.”  Why should we accept that alleys and minor streets can be somehow less safe than major streets?!  “They also lack sidewalks so making entrances accessible is a challenge.”  So build some damn sidewalks!  You’re big on making parts of the city where you don’t live more walkable, but when it comes to your part of town, out comes NIMBY.  Can you say double standard?  Maybe we need some form-based zoning here.  What gives you and your fellow loft dwellers the right to permanently park your recycling dumpsters on a dedicated city street?  If the same spots were dedicated to valet parking or a taxi stand, I doubt that you’d be so tolerant . . . .

    • It’s unfortunate a few places front onto Lucas & St. Charles. We’ll never have the population density for these to be safety occupied streets. Never. We need to make Locust, Washington, Olive, etc before trying to make these alleys into anything more.

      • Eric says:

        It seems based on these pictures that these “alleys” are already denser than most actual streets, including important ones, elsewhere in the city. Adding sidewalks is cheap. A solution can be found for garbage/recycling as it has in larger cities. So what if it’s not safe at night? At least people can use it during the day. And there’s a school of thought saying that pedestrian presence causes safety, not the other way around.

        • I’m talking population density, not building density. Yes, streets are safer with more people. Right now we struggle to keep main streets busy enough to be safe late at night. We’re better off concentrating our efforts are more attractive streets with more uses facing them.

          • Eric says:

             It’s not a zero sum game. Every pedestrian destination within walking distance makes the whole area more attractive for pedestrians.

  3. JZ71 says:

    “We’re better off concentrating our efforts [on] more attractive streets with more uses facing them.”  By that logic, we can ignore much of north city . . . .

  4. GMichaud says:

    Actually I have always viewed them as streets. Much of Old St. Louis was idiosyncratic, I always enjoyed discovering the many unusual aspects of the city. Of course the executioner has been busy for decades and so much of the previous charm of the city has been demolished. It is impossible to explain this to the auto centric fans who believe oil is a sacrament.
    But yes, let these streets be, who cares what anyone calls them? Actually we should be considering many St. Louis alleys as streets, the development of rear buildings, including commercial, was common in early St. Louis.
    In my alley, directly across my back yard I have a mosque with a call to prayer in the alley 5 times a day. I wake up to their call for prayer. (I live near Carpenter Library).
    That is the potential of alleys. The city develops and changes. Alleys are used as streets, if you look at more robust cities, you will find this to be the case.

  5. Brad Waldrop says:

    Steve, I know we talked about this in person.

    Some of the posting readers seem to recognize there IS foot traffic here on St. Charles (and parallel on Lucas) between 14th & 16th (or further).

    Yes, the dumpsters are out there. But dumpsters are problems. You and I witnessed (or at least I have) the urination & defecation that happens here.

    St. Charles serves as an entrance (for users that like back doors, like me) for Terra Cotta, Ely Walker and Annex. It’s a sort of short cut to Wash AVE for some.

    We can put dumpsters interior to buildings. We can reduce the amount of wasted space in dumpsters or increase pick ups or both.

    Remember, Blake’s Lo Bar was here. Blood & Sand is proving people will walk here. Given the awesome 2-story w/ doors there, we can make more destination retail at the intersection of St. Charles & 15th.

    I see the backs of buildings as golden opportunities to create wild non-historic entries w/ theatrical lighting and whimsy in the spirit of Bob Cassilly, both on St. Charles & Lucas, connecting our anchors (City Museum & the Library and its park).

    However, I agree, we are currently a ways off.

    I’ll work with you on ADA issues when reinventing these areas. There are many, many challenges just in that.

    But these streets offer opportunities and by planning we can make those resident back door entries safer and more fun. We also need to support our businesses like Blood & Sand. It’s a great neighborhood discussion place. I understand Orchard set that spot up poorly ADA-wise.


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