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Public Should Be Notified of Proposed Street Closures/Vacations

17th looking North toward Washington Ave
17th looking North toward Washington Ave

This morning the full Board of Aldermen will meet, but they won’t have a final vote on Board Bill 64  — a bill to vacate a short block of 17th Street — because it has been moved to the “informal calendar” as a result of fierce grassroots opposition being vocalized to the full board. See Proposed 17th Street Closure Would Reduce Safety & Security For Existing Residents Around Monogram Project.

BB64 passed unanimously in committee, though Downtown Neighborhood Association Executive Director Jared Opsal spoke against it. Had we all known about it we would’ve packed the hearing room. Which is why the developer & Ald Davis didn’t tell us. However, my post today isn’t about BB64, it’s about the broader issue of notification about street vacations.

The fact that a bill giving away a public right-of-way (PROW) so many of us use daily could move so quickly before being noticed is shocking. I don’t want this to happen to others in the city. Your alderman might tell you of such things, but not all of us are that lucky.

What we need is a process for public notice, not unlike the one used for liquor licenses, zoning changes, etc.  I think it need several components:

  1. Posted notice at the location for at least 15-30 days in advance of first hearing
  2. Mailed notice to property owners within 500′-1,000′ of location

The same should apply to blocking an end of a street, severing the street grid. It was the street grid that first attracted me to St. Louis 25+ years ago, it has been painful watching as we repeatedly make short-sided decisions here and there. Death by a thousand cuts.

I urge the Board of Aldermen to establish a process of notification regarding proposed street closures & vacations.

— Steve Patterson

 

Gaslight Square vs. Washington Ave

The familiar Corvette from the Route 66 television series parked on Olive in Gaslight Square, from episode that aired November 30, 1962 -- click image for more detail at IMDB.
The familiar Corvette from the Route 66 television series parked on Olive in Gaslight Square, from episode that aired November 30, 1962 — click image for more detail at IMDB.

When I moved from Oklahoma City to St. Louis in 1990 our long-time neighbor across the street told me of his visits to Gaslight Square in the 1960s. By the time I’d arrived the buildings on the 2-block stretch of Olive were boarded up. I settled just West of there, on Lindell near Euclid. Euclid Ave, in the 90s, seemed to attract crime. Now it’s the greater downtown area — specifically Washington Ave.

First, a look at Gaslight Square:

By summer 1960, it was the place to be for beats, preppies, well-dressed adults, street troubadours and tourists. Olive pulsed with a happy cacophony wafting from places called the Crystal Palace, Left Bank, Laughing Buddha, and Dark Side. Jack Carl dished pastrami and genial abuse at 2 Cents Plain. A row of columns outside Smokey Joe’s Grecian Terrace anchored the landscape.

On March 24, 1961, the St. Louis Board of Aldermen anointed the obvious by renaming two blocks of Olive as Gaslight Square. Laclede Gas Co. later installed 121 gas streetlights, adding flicker to the buzz.

By summer 1961, Gaslight was noisier with more restaurants, taverns, nightclubs and shops. Some of the antiques dealers were squeezed out by rising rents. “The old gang doesn’t come around anymore, but perhaps it is a necessary evil of growing,” Massucci said as cash registers jingled.

Big and future names in show biz played the square. An 18-year-old singer named Barbra Streisand was warm-up for the Smothers Brothers. Allen Ginsberg recited poetry to mellow jazz. Miles Davis and Singleton Palmer were regulars. Earnest ministers opened the Exit, a coffee shop promising meaningful discussion and “jazz liturgy.”

But the crowds also attracted purse snatchers, car thieves and worse. On Dec. 30, 1964, Lillian Heller was fatally shot in a robbery in the vestibule of her apartment building at 4254 Gaslight, just east of Boyle. Heller, 61, and her husband, John, were artists.

Police added patrols and promised security. Young people flocked to discotheques such as Whisky a Go-Go, where hired dancers gyrated on platforms. But throbbing recorded music was drowning the live clarinet riffs. It became too crass and too much.

The old clubs began closing. Laclede doused some of the gas lights in 1967 for failure to pay. Police made drug arrests and thwarted a desperate bid to save the strip with topless waitresses. The Exit gave up the spirit in 1969, about when cultural pathologists pronounced the end of Gaslight. (Post-Dispatch)

Gaslight Square concentrated a lot into a couple of blocks of Olive. This concentration of money and activity attracted those who wanted some of that money.  Rising crime became too much for some so it began to die.

There are parallels to current events, but there’s time to avoid going down the same path. Ever since the Washington Ave streetscape was completed about 15 years ago (Tucker to 18th), so much attention has been focused on a tiny area.

From 2014: Weekend nights traffic gets backed up on Wash Ave between Tucker (12th) and 14th
From 2014: Weekend nights traffic gets backed up on Wash Ave between Tucker (12th) and 14th

The solution is to put less focus on Washington Ave, but also do like many cities: divide downtown/downtown west into geographic districts. Examples: Toronto, Oklahoma City, Kansas City. This has been talked about for years but it has never happened.

Some possible districts include:

  • Garment District
  • City Museum District
  • Ballpark Village District
  • Convention District
  • Union Station District
  • Columbus Square District
  • Library District
  • Central Business District
  • Arch District
  • MX District

None should have “downtown” or Washington Ave”  the name. Sure, crime will still happen, but this way an entire area won’t get stigmatized by something that happens 1-2 miles away. Branding districts could help with marketing efforts.

— Steve Patterson

 

 

Line For Post Office Parking Garage Two Blocks Long

Recently I saw a line of cars Eastbound on Market waiting to turn right onto 16th to park in a parking garage. For the Blues playoffs? Big concert at Scottrade Center? No, shift change at the main post office. Seriously.

At right a white car waits on 18th St to turn right onto Market St, 6:50am on 5/26/2016
At right a white car waits on 18th St to turn right onto Market St, 6:50am on 5/26/2016
Thew line of cars you see aren't parked on Market, they're in the outside drive lane in a line to access the USPS parking garage
Thew line of cars you see aren’t parked on Market, they’re in the outside drive lane in a line to access the USPS parking garage
These cars, between 16th-17th, are also waiting. The parking is on the upper level(s) of the addition to the main post office shown in the background
These cars, between 16th-17th, are also waiting. The parking is on the upper level(s) of the addition to the main post office shown in the background
This view shows cars waiting next to a line of cars parked on the street
This view shows cars waiting next to a line of cars parked on the street
Looking East from 17th the waiting cars are now against the curb because parking isn't allowed on this block
Looking East from 17th the waiting cars are now against the curb because parking isn’t allowed on this block
When a car exists another is allowed to enter. Supervisors don;t wait in line, they come up from 16th and enter upon arrival.
When a car exists another is allowed to enter. Supervisors don;t wait in line, they come up from 16th and enter upon arrival.

A postal employee waiting in line told me this was a routine shift change…waiting for parking. Another said the garage has about 300 spaces…and exposed rebar. I was unable to determine when the addition was added to the East of the main post office. I’d guess 1960s or 70s.

While I did see some workers arrive via Madison County Transit, more need to consider public transit, car pooling, etc. All these running cars, polluting my neighborhood, waiting to park is unacceptable.  Recently I posted about intersections that bookend the post office, on 16th & 18th.

— Steve Patterson

 

Proposed 17th Street Closure Would Reduce Safety & Security For Existing Residents Around Monogram Project

Over the last 8+ years I’ve written about the view from my balcony many times, including last Friday. Today’s post is about three locations I’ve covered separately: former CPI building, 17th St, and the former CPI parking lot:

Turns out the Kansas City developer isn’t keen on making 17th Street two-way as I suggested last year — he wants the city to abandon it for his private project. Board Bill 64 cites “Monogram Building LLC will use vacated area to improve safety and security.”  What about the safety of everyone else who lives adjacent? Not having access to 17th Street will reduce our safety & security!

Looking South on 17th St from Washington Ave, this bit is one-way in the direction we are looking
Looking South on 17th St from Washington Ave, this bit is one-way in the direction we are looking
This view looks at the intersection of St. Charles (1-way WB) and 17th toward Locust (2-way)
This view looks at the intersection of St. Charles (1-way WB) and 17th toward Locust (2-way)

I get it — they want residents in the Monogram to be able to park in the new building and walk to their building safely, but their safety shouldn’t come at our expense. We all use 17th Street to access Washington Ave via foot & vehicle. We have a vacant commercial space that’s visible from Washington Ave. Also cut off from access to Washington Ave would be the former Dragon Trading building, Blu, Leather Trades. etc.

This block of public property measures 50′ x 150′, or 7,500 square feet. Ideally 17th Street would remain public. But if the city will cave and butcher our street grid again. we get something in return. In exchange, the developer should give 16.5′ of the East end of the lot so the 16th St right-of-way would be 50′, instead of 33.5′. This is 2,475 square feet. This would permit two-way traffic (18′), parking (14′) and generous sidewalks (18′) on both sides.  They’d pay to reconstruct the West side of the widened 16th Street.

The significantly narrower 16th St is one-way northbound -- the opposite of 17th
The significantly narrower 16th St is one-way northbound — the opposite of 17th

Additionally, St. Charles St (which is a glorified alley) should be widened from 38 feet to 50 feet so there’s room for 2-way traffic. trash & recycling dumpsters, moving vans, etc.  A would require another 2,184 sq ft (12′ x 182′).

So we give up 7,500 sq ft in public property, but gain back 4,659 sq ft — a net loss of 2,841 sq ft.  I’d prefer a zero loss of public right-of-way, but if they rebuilt the West side of 16th I could see it as a fair reallocation that could benefit everyone.

I ask that everyone reading this post to contact their Alderman before Friday and ask them to vote against the bill as written or amend it as I suggest above.

— Steve Patterson

 

 

 

18th & Market St: Pedestrians Must Wait While Vehicles Turn Opposite Direction

Recently my husband and I were walking/rolling back toward our loft from the Union Station MetroLink Station. For some reason we were on the East side of 18th — usually I’m on the West side. However, both sides are equally poorly designed and maintained.

Anyway, we’re Northbound on the East side of 18th as we approach Market St and I notice something I’d never seen before: Northbound vehicles get a green light but pedestrians don’t get a walk signal while the left arrow is on. Since NB vehicles are turning left I get why pedestrians on the West side of 18th St aren’t given a walk signal. You’d never want to give pedestrians the ok to walk while drivers get a left arrow — like at Tucker & Olive and Tucker & Locust.

Why should pedestrians get a walk signal? Pedestrians have the right-of-way except in cases where vehicles are given a specific signal such as a left arrow. In this cases pedestrians must wait, but in the example the only turning cars would be NB ones turning right onto EB Market — they’d yield to pedestrians crossing the street — like most intersections. My guess is this is another instance where the city just didn’t think about pedestrian users.

Let’s take a look…

Vehicles have a red and pedestrians don't walk, click image to view location in Google Maps
Vehicles have a red and pedestrians don’t walk, click image to view location in Google Maps
Northbound vehicles get a green light, those turning left onto Westbound Market get a left arrow. But pedestrians on the West side still get a don't walk
Northbound vehicles get a green light, those turning left onto Westbound Market get a left arrow. But pedestrians on the West side still get a don’t walk
The don't walk remains as the left arrow goes yellow, then when Southbound traffic gets a green the walk signal to cross market comes on
The don’t walk remains as the left arrow goes yellow, then when Southbound traffic gets a green the walk signal to cross market comes on
Very quickly the pedestrian signal begins to countdown to zero
Very quickly the pedestrian signal begins to countdown to zero

Because still images can’t tell the full story I’ve put together a brief video:

Yes, another crossing at this same intersection is done correctly. If this were done right, pedestrians could cross Market St before Southbound vehicles get a green light and potentially make left turns onto Eastbound Market St — they don’ t get a left arrow so they must yield to Northbound vehicles and pedestrians crossing Market.

I see no reason why pedestrians don’t get a walk sign as soon as the Northbound traffic signal turns green.

— Steve Patterson

 

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