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A Weekend of Bicycle Racing in St. Louis

Last Saturday night thousands of casual bike riders were on the roads after Midnight (Sunday morning) for the 46th Annual Moonlight Ramble:

Riders assembled on Market Street at 15th just before midnight on 8/29/09.
Riders assembled on Market Street at 15th just before midnight on 8/29/09.

Starting tonight and continuing through Monday racing cyclists take over the streets.   The annual Gateway Cup is 4 days of racing that attracts riders from across the country to compete for cash & prizes.  They always put on a good show.  Monday is the start of the Tour of Missouri, a pro-level bike race.  The first stage will take place in St. Louis Monday.

Here are the details for interested spectators:

Friday 9/4/09:

The nighttime start to the weekend.  Lights are set up on the four corners around Lafayette Park for the Tour de Lafayette.

Join the Lafayette Square neighborhood and business district for a Friday night festival  celebrating an evening of racing under the lights! Lafayette Square is known as one of the country’s best preserved examples of Victorian “Painted Lady” architecture dating from the 1870’s and 1880’s.  It is also St. Louis’s oldest historic district. The neighborhood (and tonight’s race course) surrounds the first public park in the city of St.  Louis as well as one of the first public parks west of the Mississippi.  The neighborhood took a hit during the Great Depression and after WWII,  but thanks to the restoration efforts of a determined group of urban pioneers,  Lafayette Square saw a renaissance starting in the early 1970’s. Today it is  one of the crown jewels of St. Louis, with condo and loft developments as well  as a business district blossoming with restaurants boutiques and art galleries. Enjoy!

Bring a lawn chair and pick your corner and enjoy the neighborhood as the riders speed by or enjoy food and beverage from the many vendors.  Parking is tight so carpooling, biking or taking transit (Union Station MetroLink) is advised.

Saturday 9/5/09:

A first this year, racing around Francis Park in the St. Louis Hills neighborhood.

The St. Louis Hills Francis Park Criterium For the first time the historic St. Louis Hills neighborhood is host to the second leg of the Gateway Cup! Francis Park, named after David Rowland Francis- President of the Lousiana Purchase Exposition in 1889, is know for its wide, tree lined streets and for having beautiful churches on every corner. Today the St. Louis Hills neighborhood showcases gingerbread bungalows, stately homes and some of the tidiest landscaping in St. Louis. Home to St. Louis cultural and iconic Ted Drewes- our homegrown ice cream oasis. We hope you enjoy the new and improved race course selection for this second stop of the Gateway Cup!

Please join us for bands and a post race par-tay just behind the finish line in Francis Park. Featuring local band Ship of Fools during the day and followed by local hero Steve Ewing of the Urge, one of St. Louis most revered musical acts. We encourage everyone to stay until 8:00pm before heading to the Tour of Missouri Women’s Soiree event later in the evening.

Should be a fun day around a wonderful park in a beautiful neighborhood.  First race 11am, last race starts at 4:30pm.

Sunday 9/6/09:

No park to race around.  Even better are is the dense neighborhood known as The Hill.

The Hill is proud to once again host the longest standing bike race in the St. Louis Metropolitan Area – the Giro Della Montagna – the third stop of the 2009 Gateway Cup!

The Hill boasts the finest Italian restaurants anywhere. It is the boyhood home of such baseball legends as Yogi Berra and Joe Garagiola. It is a neighborhood that acts as a model for community as generations of families continue to maintain their residence creating a close-knit feel. The neighborhood was settled by Italian immigrants starting in the late 19th Century. The anchor for the community continues to be St. Ambrose Catholic Church, the Start/Finish site for today’s race. The Italian heritage continues to thrive with the Hill’s variety of Italian restaurants, bakeries, taverns, groceries, community organizations, and social clubs. One of these such clubs, the Bocce Club, hosts the traditional pasta dinner for the cyclists Sunday evening after the completion of the last race of the day. Giro Pasta Dinner, Sunday, September 6th 4:00-8:00 pm, St Louis Bocce Club 2210 Marconi @ Bischoff on race course. Menu includes all the Pasta you can eat, plus 2 meatballs, salad, Italian Bread, and dessert. $7 adults/$4 children. Tickets available at the door.

First race at 12:15pm, last starts at 5:50pm.

Monday 9/7/09:

Labor Day will be a busy one downtown with both the Tour of Missouri Criterium finishing the Gateway Cup series plus the start of the Tour of Missouri.  The Criterium’s first race starts at 7am with Pro 1 & 2 starting at 10am.  At 1pm is the start of Stage 1 of the Tour of Missouri.  Both can be viewed from Citygarden on Market Street. The Tour of Missouri stage extends into Soulard & Lafayette Square so plenty of places to watch the race go by exist.

Parking will be scarce so if possible use MetroLink, or your own bike, to get downtown.

The routes all four days use city streets, which will be closed to traffic.  It is possible to cross the route on foot but not by car.  When crossing on foot look for the volunteers which will help you cross safely.

If you haven’t been to Lafayette Square, St. Louis Hills, The Hill or downtown in a while this is a good excuse to do so.   Hopefully the rain will come at times the riders are not competing. Have a great weekend and Labor Day!

– Steve Patterson


Area Around Busch Stadium is Busy

Today I went by Busch Stadium.  People were everywhere.

I hadn’t seen the area this busy since that night in October 2006 when the St. Louis Cardinals won the World Series:


Play ball.

– Steve Patterson


Welcome All-Star Fans

Visiting St. Louis for the 2009 All-Star Game?  Welcome to St. Louis.

Whether this is your first visit to our city or you’ve been here often I want to share a few things with you. We’ve been busy sprucing up downtown for weeks & months.  Actually we’ve been working on downtown for decades.  Efforts over the years have been a mixed bag — some positive and others destructive.

Next month marks my 19th year in St. Louis.  For me it is a love-hate relationship.  This city is worth fighting for so I stick around.

The most recent in the positive category is Citygarden between 8th & 10th on North Market St — a couple blocks North of Busch Stadium.

As you walk around downtown spending money (thank you) you will notice a couple of things.  First, not all intersections have pedestrian crossing signals.

Looking South along 9th at Market St.

Please be careful crossing streets — look at other signals to see who has the right of way.  In the above example if you are leaving Citygarden heading south on 9th you get no clue as to when it is safe to cross Market St. It would be nice to get some stimulus money to make sure we get pedestrian signals at all intersections.

Normally I’d also warn you about cabs on the sidewalk in front of our convention center but they have been displaced by vehicles related to the Fan Fest.

We have a long way to go but we’ve come a long way in the nearly two decades I’ve lived here.  So please enjoy your visit and spend money so we will have funds to address our shortcomings.

– Steve Patterson


St. Louis’ New Citygarden

Last week two blocks of St. Louis’ Gateway Mall were rededicated as Citygarden, a 2.9 acre garden sculpture park in downtown St. Louis.  The blocks, bounded by Chestnut, 8th, Market, and 10th, are part of the Gateway Mall project.  The Gateway Mall was declared done in 1993 when these two blocks got grass.  Yawn.  They are now far from boring.

Landscape Architect Warren Byrd of Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects of Charlottesville, VA speaks at the opening.

I’m very impressed by the transformation of these two city blocks.  Of course, given that the Gateway Foundation spent $25-$30 million on the project not including the sculptures you’d expect it to be nice.  It is, in fact, nearly perfect.  As regular readers might expect, I do have a few criticisms of the design.  Before I get into the few flaws I need to offer more well-deserved praise.

It is nearly impossible to take a bad picture of the place.  Just point & shoot and you’ve got a stunning image.  On numerous visits I’ve seen people taking photo after photo.  I’d bet more pictures have been taken in these two blocks during the last week than the 15 years prior.  I saw people taking overall pictures, snapshots of friends, and of the many sculptures.  People were spotted holding hands and even kissing.  Intimacy in a public space is a sign of success.  Citygarden is an instant hit with the public.

The space is highly accessible.  My visits have all been in my wheelchair and I had no problem getting to all the various levels and spots within the space.

There was even a spot where I could go through this “spray plaza” on my wheelchair. At no point did I feel left out because I was in a wheelchair.  The able-bodied probably won’t notice but to me it was important.  There are steps in places but the ramps are just as interesting a route as those with steps — not an afterthought to comply with the ADA.

The spray fountain, above, will be popular day & night.

The lighting, by Randy Burkett Lighting Design of Webster Groves MO, is beautiful.  This is a good spot to mention the arrangement.  The land and improvements are owned by the City of St. Louis, the sculptures are the property of the Gateway Foundation.  The city pays for water & electric while the foundation pays for the rest of the maintenance costs.  The electric bill will be huge but so are the benefits.

The two blocks are well organized into many different spaces that invite exploration and numerous visits.  The walkway above runs east-west connecting the spaces.  More on this later when I get to the flaws.

The Terrace View Cafe, in the NE corner, should open soon. The cafe building was design by Studio Durham Architects of St. Louis.  The modern design is very appropriate given the context of garden & art.  The cafe will be open 7am to 7pm Monday-Thursday and open until 10pm Friday & Saturday.  Unfortunately, it will be closed on Sundays.  I could see the cafe becoming the hot Sunday brunch destination.  As a downtown resident it is often the weekends when I’m out with friends enjoying good food and the city.  But I understand how places need one day off.  Jurors will now have a great new place to enjoy their lunch breaks.

As I indicated earlier the park is two city blocks with just under 3 acres in total area.  Yet they only have 3 bike racks and those are all contained in one small area kinda hidden from view (off Chestnut).    With two blocks you have 8 edges total.  I’d expect one rack per edge — placed at each edge so bike riders arriving from all directions will see a rack as they arrive.  In the middle they could get away with a single rack on one side of 9th Street for a total of 7 racks.  The racks used are a good design — both attractive and functional.  Their location is not in the same block as the cafe.  So someone biking over for a quick breakfast or lunch is probably going to use a parking meter on 8th rather than these racks.  If we want to be a bike friendly city we must have bike parking distributed everywhere — not pushed off into a hidden corner.

The name is wrong too — Citygarden.  I like City & Garden being pushed together without a space but it should be CityGarden with a capital G rather than lowercase g.

The gardens fall into the praise category.  The trees are very mature and the plantings are varied.  I may like the plantings more than the sculpture.

9th Street was narrowed to two lanes at Market & Chestnut.  In the center they have room to drop off passengers.  The gardens where the street was narrowed collects rain water from the street and other non-pervious surfaces.  The cafe is said to have a green roof.

Detail of rain garden.
Detail of rain garden.

I try to get into the flaw mode and positives keep popping up.  Let’s return to the central walkway. As the Gateway Mall concept was extended east of Tucker there were several concepts.  The winning plan was to have four buildings on the north half of four blocks.  People mistakenly think the blocks were going to be cleared, free of all structures,  and somehow Gateway One got built between 7th & 8th.  Wrong, Gateway One was part of the plan.  But part of the idea was to walk down the center of these blocks.   Crossing 9th Street the designers did a great job at making this vision a reality by providing ADA ramps and special paving at the crosswalk.  But what about going east or west?

This is where the design fails in the biggest way — It doesn’t do anything to connect with adjacent blocks.  The block to the west contains Twain by Richard Serra.  Ideally 10th Street should have been narrowed as 9th was.  Granted, that could have only been done on the east side of the street at this point.  But once the Serra block is redone we’d need to remake the west edge of Citygarden.  Mid-block crossings at 8th & 10th would have gone a long way toward finally integrating these blocks.

The north side of the Terrace View Cafe facing Chestnut is the least appealing.  As you would expect, the building focuses inward on the garden.  This sidewalk is stark.  On-street parking is prohibited on this side of Chestnut in this block only.    I can see a no-parking section to allow access to the trash container and to facilitate deliveries but banning on-street parking on for the entire block is excessive. At this point none of the on-street parking around these two blocks are market as disabled only.  I’ll work with city officials to get a few designated as such.  As with bike parking, these should be distributed rather than concentrated.

The absence of greenery along the 800 block of Chestnut is very noticeable as well.  Street trees would have done wonders to make this sidewalk more pleasant for pedestrians.

In a city with so many blocks of dead open space it is refreshing to have two that are lively and intriguing.  Much work remains to fix the other blocks of the Gateway Mall (Broadway to 21st).

Check out the 11-minute time lapse video of the construction of Citygarden here.

– Steve Patterson


Citygarden Dedication Today

At 10am this morning (Tuesday 6/30/09) Mayor Slay will dedicate Citygarden, the new 2-block long sculpture garden downtown.  Before I get into the garden I want to talk about what existed on these two blocks previously.

The two blocks (bounded by Market St on the South, 10th on the West, Chestnut on the North and 8th on the East) were the last two blocks to have their historic long-standing structures razed for a grand vision of a Gateway Mall — a vision of a long green spine that dates back to the early 20th Century (map).  The city was vastly different then — it was populated, dirty (coal was still burned for heat) and anything but uniform.  Early planners sought to clear away a section of the city to offer some relief and to bring some order to a bustling chaotic city.

The problem is city leaders over the decade became addicted to demolition as a solution.  That new order would invigorate the city, they thought.  But it was the unplanned chaos that gave the city life.

In 1993 two city blocks remained to complete this ordered new vision.

Last days of the Western Union Building in 1993
Last days of the Western Union Building in 1993

Stunning huh?  But in a city with more open green space than people to occupy what we had it was decided we should create more.

What we got was two more passive (boring) city blocks.  I argued with the city’s head architect at the time but it did no good:

Unlike some older mall blocks, particularly ones west of Tucker Boulevard, Royse said, the new ones “will be inviting and attractive . . . and
people should use the mall more.” (Post-Dispatch of July 16, 1993)

Royse, now retired in Seattle, was in town recently.  I saw him last Thursday at the Loop Trolley forum.  He had not yet seen how his two blocks of the mall, the last two, had been altered.

January 28, 2008
January 28, 2008

But the two blocks were not inviting, unless you wanted to be alone with nothing to do.  The buildings surrounding these two blocks have been uninviting since new. Blank walls, raised entrances, parking garage entries.  The stuff that sucks life out of a city.

And now, these two blocks are once again recreated.  They are the opposite of the 1993-2008 blocks — a good thing as Martha Stewart would say.

Image source: citygardenstl.org
Artist rendering of City Garden. Source: citygardenstl.org

From what I’ve seen from Citygarden so far it is interesting, complex (requiring exploration),  colorful, and a delight to the senses. With a permanent cafe on the Eastern block you can stay and enjoy the space.  There is seating throughout.  We shouldn’t have razed the old buildings but once they were gone we should have created dynamic space.  Instead we got 16 years of dead passive space added to the many acres of additional dead passive space we’ve had for decades longer.

While I like the Citygarden I don’t like the process that led to today.  I wrote the following just over 2 years ago (see post):

In a classic St. Louis move, the city’s “leadership” is already moving forward with a plan the public has yet to see. Mayor Slay, Aldermanic President, Alderman Phyllis Young, and Downtown Parnership’s Jim Cloar last week talked of the newest concept as a done deal even though we the public have not seen anything yet. Typical.

The public open house is scheduled for this evening, Monday June 11, 2007 at 6:30pm in the rotunda at City Hall. This is one of those meetings designed to give the appearance of public participation without any actual participation. The usual round of types — officials, business executives, etc… — have already approved of the plan on our behalf. How big of them to do so. I assume tonight will also be a chance for all these folks to congratulate each other on a job well done. I’ll be there simply because I need to see what sort of disastrous plan the city has drafted this time. Any comment forms will likely be a waste of paper.

Hopefully these two blocks will serve as an example of the level of excitement necessary as we look at the remaining blocks of the Gateway Mall.  I’ve got a good relationship with Patricia Roland-Hamilton, the person in charge of The Gateway Mall Project.  We’ve had ongoing conversations about the qualities needed along the mall.

Once inside I’ll do a full review of Citygarden.  Again, I like it already.  But I have noticed a few details I would like to have seen done differently.  These can now serve as lessons for when the remaining blocks are addressed.

– Steve Patterson