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The ‘Great Streets’ Project on Natural Bridge, Part 2

Natural Bridge received a ‘Great Streets’ road diet and makeover, yesterday I looked at the North side from Lucas & Hunt to Hanley Rd — see Part 1. My May 2012 visit was exactly four years ago today.

In today’s post we’ll look at the South side on the return trip.

At new curb ramp looking from the NE corner South across Natural Bridge
At new curb ramp looking from the NE corner South across Natural Bridge
But nothing was changed at the SE corner, the right turn cur off should've been eliminated
But nothing was changed at the SE corner, the right turn cur off should’ve been eliminated
The "ramp" on the side isn't remotely close to being AFA-compliant
The “ramp” on the side isn’t remotely close to being AFA-compliant
Looking West toward Hanley in 2012
Looking West toward Hanley in 2012
And now pedestrians have more room
And now pedestrians have more room
This was one of the worst areas I encountered in 2012
This was one of the worst areas I encountered in 2012
Now there's parallel street parking. a clear pedestrian path, and room for patio tables
Now there’s parallel street parking. a clear pedestrian path, and room for patio tables
There still isn't a ramp into the building. The owners retired last year, the next person who operates a business here will need to figure out wheelchair access. Click image for article on the closing.
There still isn’t a ramp into the building. The owners retired last year, the next person who operates a business here will need to figure out wheelchair access. Click image for article on the closing.
This is the point where the woman crossed with her child that I showed in yesterday's post
This is the point where the woman crossed with her child that I showed in yesterday’s post
Leave MetroLink for the school across Natural Bridge, the nearest crossing is out of view to the left
Leave MetroLink for the school across Natural Bridge, the nearest crossing is out of view to the left

Which brings us to the UMSL South MetroLink/MetroBus station. From a 2012 study:

The Station is somewhat remote and largely surrounded by the University. People using Natural Bridge Road – either in cars or on foot – are not able to see the Station from Natural Bridge and vehicular access
is not obvious. As mentioned previously, the Station is also inaccessible from properties immediately east and requires passengers to enter via Natural Bridge and East Drive. Lacking even basic restroom facilities, the Station is very austere and does not encourage riders to linger. Currently, there are 680 parking spaces at the Station and excess parking capacity is the norm. One area resident noted that he “loves the stop because no one knows about it. [He] can pull right up, park, and hop on the train.”

While basic transit connectivity exists via the existence of the UMSL South Station, rider connectivity to Natural Bridge Road and to the east needs to be enhanced to better support the community and Metro ridership. Through development at and around this Station, the Station will achieve greater visibility, and riders will have an increased sense of the built environment and a greater sense of security. (Urban Land Institute, St. Louis)

In my 2012 post I looked at the poor connection to transit from Natural Bridge — an indirect 2/10ths of a mile!

The sidewalk on the east side of UMSL's South Drive will lead you to the light rail station
The sidewalk on the east side of UMSL’s South Drive will lead you to the light rail station
Once visible the most direct path is through an unfriendly park-n-ride lot
Once visible the most direct path is through an unfriendly park-n-ride lot
The pedestrian route takes an unpleasant circuitous route
The pedestrian route takes an unpleasant circuitous route

Let’s take a look at how this has changed. Sadly, it hasn’t.

The blue star on the left indicates the approximate location of the destination. Able-bodied pedestrians have worn a more direct route but the rest of us must follow the official route to the right
The blue star on the left indicates the approximate location of the destination. Able-bodied pedestrians have worn a more direct route but the rest of us must follow the official route to the right
The sidewalk isn't wide enough for one person, has tilted. This was built in 1993 -- was designed to meet the bare minimum
The sidewalk isn’t wide enough for one person, has tilted. This was built in 1993 — was designed to meet the bare minimum
This view is leaving the station looking toward Natural Bridge. The sidewalk should be wider and go off to the right for a direct route to Natural Bridge. The grade isn't the big deal you might be thinking it is
This view is leaving the station looking toward Natural Bridge. The sidewalk should be wider and go off to the right for a direct route to Natural Bridge. The grade isn’t the big deal you might be thinking it is
From Natural Bridge we can see the station and how the grade drops off. Excess soil can be used on the East side of the station
From Natural Bridge we can see the station and how the grade drops off. Excess soil can be used on the East side of the station
The blue line represents a straight path from station to Natural Bridge. The remaining triangle cam be a pocket p;ark and/or a mixed-use TOD site. Click image to view in Google Maps
The blue line represents a straight path from station to Natural Bridge. The remaining triangle cam be a pocket p;ark and/or a mixed-use TOD site. Click image to view in Google Maps

The 2012 ULI study totally missed the straightforward opportunity to connect to Natural Bridge. They focused on development of the underutilized site to the East of the station, right above. From the 2012 ULI study:

To create the destination development and a corridor of mixed use, the Panel recommends building a new street from Natural Bridge Road south through the City Hall property. The new street would terminate in an event space due east of the UMSL South Station. The Station would connect to the new development via a pedestrian walkway or bridge. To rebrand the area and create the much-desired sense of place, the area would be named Plank Street Station and would encompass the UMSL South Station, rebranded Plank Street Station. “Plank Street” gives a nod to the history of Natural Bridge road, yet should not bring to mind any existing negative references. Through the use of one brand name for the development area, a new name without existing negative connotations, development and investment in the area might be more easily realized.

The University, MetroLink station, and neighborhood surrounding Plank Street Station would benefit from the development’s amenities and provide additional support for the development. In addition to on-street parking and parking in the existing MetroLink lot, the land north of the existing Station could be utilized for parking for Plank Street Station via a new parking garage. To the south of the new Plank Street, the driving range could become a mix of residential uses and could provide a direct connection to the Station for members Glen Echo Country Club. Within the neighborhood to the east of Plank Street, access to the Plank Street residential area component and the Country Club could be realized via an improved Oakmont Street.

The Plank Street Station entertainment district becomes a critical amenity for the University, attracting and retaining students and professional staff and sheltering its student housing flank and investment.

The ULI wants a pedestrian bridge over the tracks? Why? There is a platform on each side with a walkway between them across the tracks. All that’s needed it to develop the land to the East and connect to the existing Northbound platform.  Ok, let’s look at the Normandy City Hall just East of the MetroLink light rail tracks.

Looking East in 2012, the grade change makes a level of parking under a building(s) worth considering
Looking East in 2012, the grade change makes a level of parking under a building(s) worth considering
Now looking West from the other driveway, toward UMSL and MetroLink
Now looking West from the other driveway, toward UMSL and MetroLink
A variety of surfaces at different levels in 2012
A variety of surfaces at different levels in 2012
Much better now
Much better now
At this gas station there is clear physical separation between the public sidewalk and drive for the gas pumps. This is important for maintaining pedestrian space
At this gas station there is clear physical separation between the public sidewalk and drive for the gas pumps. This is important for maintaining pedestrian space
Back at the new fountain at the circle where Florissant Rd meets Natural Bridge, this commercial district is known as The Wedge
Back at the new fountain at the circle where Florissant Rd meets Natural Bridge, this commercial district is known as The Wedge
In 2012 the buildings along the South side were fronted by parking, no clear pedestrian sidewalk
In 2012 the buildings along the South side were fronted by parking, no clear pedestrian sidewalk
Today it's dramatically different! Hoping cafes open so I can return and eat outside
Today it’s dramatically different! Hoping cafes open so I can return and eat outside
Looking East toward Lucas & Hunt, wider sidewalk with trees. What's hard to see in person and it pictures the right rises up higher than the left side
Looking East toward Lucas & Hunt, wider sidewalk with trees. What’s hard to see in person and it pictures the right rises up higher than the left side
Looking back West we see the new lower sidewalk stops short pf the corner, which is already filling with debris. If in a wheelchair on the new/lower section you'd need to return to the split and take the old to reach the corner
Looking back West we see the new lower sidewalk stops short pf the corner, which is already filling with debris. If in a wheelchair on the new/lower section you’d need to return to the split and take the old to reach the corner

Tomorrow I’ll recap, add some additional thoughts, and discuss differing options I’ve received about this project.

— Steve Patterson

 

Currently there are "2 comments" on this Article:

  1. gmichaud says:

    In the ULI study you quote, they propose some type of development and seem to think the name they gave it, Plank Street, is the most important thing about their discussion.
    What really gets me is how the metrolink station is surrounded by parking, almost all metrolink stations are like that. Basically the current South UMSL Metrolink leaves the transit rider and pedestrian in a wasteland. It is over 400 feet to Natural Bridge.
    It is not a welcoming environment for the pedestrian using transit. Instead auto driven cars are treated as the priority. They could have put services or a school building with a plaza, or something for students around the metrolink stop that could serve transit users also.
    Instead trying to figure out something with existing projects, a Plank Road development proposal is presented that will likely never materialize. Yet clearly money was spent on the south campus while completely ignoring the existence of the metrolink station.
    Why was this opportunity ignored?
    This same issue goes back to McKee and his autocentric proposals for the Northside,
    Establishing a physical environment that supports transit and the pedestrian is an ongoing and pervasive problem in St. Louis.
    I just looked again at the Map link you provided above. Basically where the metrolink south station sits, all of that parking to the west should be buildings and the buildings are where the parking should be. Then as a pedestrian and transit user, you walk directly into a pedestrian campus. That type of approach makes pedestrians the priority. Find ways to build a continuous pedestrian experience instead of handing everything to cars.

     
  2. gmichaud says:

    In thinking about this a little more. Compare what you have at the UMSL south campus to Washington U. or SLU. They both, as many colleges, have dedicated public space to walking. The south campus is completely autocentric, look close and you can hardly walk anywhere without crossing a parking lot or street.
    This same attitude of development is being applied by McKee on the North side and many other areas of the city.
    The problem with Great Streets is everything else needs to be great too. The UMSL south campus is a huge blow to the walkable environment they claim they want.

     

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