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Speed Limit on Tucker Blvd is 35mph, but 7/10th of a Mile is 30mph

March 16, 2020 Featured, Planning & Design, Transportation Comments Off on Speed Limit on Tucker Blvd is 35mph, but 7/10th of a Mile is 30mph

I’ve written before about using the adaptive cruise control on our 2015 Hyundai (see Inching Toward Autonomous Vehicles, Learning to Use & Trust New Technology). I use the system if I’m going over 20mph.  I like to set the cruise speed based on the posted speed limit.

Thankfully both the Hyundai map screen and, if using instead, the Apple CarPlay map screen, display the speed for the road I’m on.  The accuracy is amazing, even when the speed limit changes. For example, driving to Springfield IL the highway limit can be 55, 60, 65, or 70 depending upon location. The screens change just as the limit changes.

This has helped me notice the different speed limits on Tucker Boulevard. The entire length it’s 35mph — except a few blocks are 30mph. Driving to Target from the Columbus Square neighborhood I head south on Tucker from O’Fallon Street and set the cruise to 35mph. After crossing Chouteau Ave. the limit drops from 35 to 30.  After Lafayette Ave, 7/10ths of mile later, the speed goes back to 35mph.

Heading northbound on Tucker at Lafayette is a sign indicating the speed just dropped from 35mph to 30mph. After Chouteau it returns to 35mph
Gravois, which becomes Tucker has a 35mph speed limit.

I get why it’s 30mph in this area — it’s residential. Plus a recreational center is located at Tucker & Park. Other drivers, it seems, don’t realize the speed has dropped. They tailgate me, or change lanes to pass me like I’m going 5mph.

My observation is most drivers don’t adjust their speed in this section of Tucker that’s just over a half mile long.  If I had one of those speed guns I’d collect real data. My guess is most drivers exceed 40mph.  The design of the roadway (lane width, etc) is no different on Tucker or even on Gravois.

I like the idea of 30mph in this section, I’d just like to see it to designed to encourage slower speed. Perhaps just something to let drivers know this 7/10th of a mile is different.  If I felt like doing math I’d figure out how many more seconds this 7/10th of a mile would take at 30mph, 35mph, and 40mph.

The intention is good, but I think the execution needs improvement.

— Steve Patterson

 

Mill Creek Valley Neighborhood Was Less Important Than An Expressway

February 19, 2020 Featured, Urban Renewal Comments Off on Mill Creek Valley Neighborhood Was Less Important Than An Expressway

Since his arrival in St. Louis in 1915 Harland Bartholomew, a civil engineer by training, wanted cars to be able to move with greater ease. He relentlessly argued in favor of  destroying the city’s rich urban fabric, street grid, in order to save the city from urban decay. He was young and charismatic, convincing generations of St. Louisans his way was the only way.

“Horizontal, black and white photograph showing a row of dilapidated residential buildings in the 3200 block of Lawton in Mill Creek Valley. The buildings appear to be empty and awaiting demolition. Low wooden fences enclose the small front yards. There are several inches of snow on the ground.” February 16, 1960. Missouri Historical Society

Lawton was an east-west street between Pine & Laclede, the above would’ve been just west of Compton Ave.

The chaos created by decades of Bartholomew’s projects created so much instability — far worse than than anything natural decay was creating. Widening streets and building new expressways was part of Bartholomew’s vision. It was costly but necessary, he argued.

North edge of downtown: Franklin Ave being widened, looking East from 9th, 1928. Collection of the Landmarks Association of St Louis

In 1936 the first phase of a new expressway opened between Kingshighway and Skinner, cutting through the south edge of Forest Park. This was two decades before the creation of the Interstate Highway System! A year later another section opened between Vandeventer and Kingshighway. Many could see it reaching downtown eventually.

Highway planners in those days drew lines on map to connect the dots, sometimes meandering a bit here and there to avoid an important business, like Anheuser-Busch brewery in the case of what is now known as I-55. Otherwise their lines indiscriminately cut through neighborhood after neighborhood.

As these highways were going through the oldest parts of the city they were also going through the poorest neighborhoods. Older “slum” areas were viewed as obsolete anyway — two birds, one stone. By the 1959s Mill Creek Valley, bounded by Union Station on the east, railroad tracks on the south, Grand on the west, and Olive on the north, was a dense neighborhood.

“Horizontal, black and white photograph showing a rear view of dilapidated housing in Mill Creek Valley. View was taken from an area across the street that has already been cleared. Bricks and other rubble is strewn throughout the foreground.” Missouri Historical Society

Because of segregation, it was self-contained. Yes, it was deteriorated and most residences lacked running  water and indoor bathrooms.  The buildings were nearly a century old. Numerous generations of new immigrants had begun their lives in America in this neighborhood, the last was southern blacks trying to escape Jim Crow laws while looking for work.

To an outsider it likely seemed like a horrible place, but to residents it was home. They had connections with each other, lasting institutions, etc. Poor neighborhoods all over the city were the same way, they didn’t look like much but it was the ties among the residents that was more important than the street grid or buildings. But take away the buildings and the streets and those strong ties among thousands quickly disappear. It’s an unnatural disaster.

During the 1950s, Saint Louis found itself in a fervor over urban deterioration and renewal. Following Mayor Joseph Darst’s 1953 slum clearance in the Chestnut Valley area, Mayor Raymond Tucker initiated a similar project in the adjacent Mill Creek Valley. This area – bounded by 20th Street, Grand Avenue, Olive Street and Scott Avenue – housed a large African-American population, and was at one time the home to such famous African-Americans as Scott Joplin and Josephine Baker. At the start of the 1950s, the Mill Creek Valley house 20,000 inhabitants (95% African-American) and included over 800 businesses and institutions. Everything the residents needed – from grocery, clothing and hardware stores to restaurants, schools and churches – was within walking distance of their homes. The area was also home to the prominent African-American newspaper, The St. Louis Argus. However, many of these residences and institutions were considered unsanitary and in need of repair.

In 1951, Missouri Governor Forrest Smith signed the Municipal Land Clearance for Redevelopment Law, which brought state aid to the urban renewal efforts of Missouri’s cities. The law also created the St. Louis Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority, whose job it was to oversee urban renewal in Saint Louis and manage its funding. Under the 1954 Federal Housing Act – which provided federal aid for renewal projects – and the passage in 1955 of a $110 million bond issue, Mayor Tucker and the City of St. Louis began the clearance and demolition of slums in Mill Creek Valley. The most of the bond revenue went towards construction of new expressways, some of which cut through parts of Mill Creek. Roughly $10 million was utilized for slum clearance. The clearance of the area would involve the relocation of many residents and businesses; most residents would never return and many businesses would cease operations. Acquisition of buildings, like the Pine Street Hotel and the Peoples Finance Building, began in August of 1958, with actual demolition starting the following year. Redevelopment of the area would include new residential, commercial and industrial zones, with the majority of land going towards new industry. Certain industries that met zoning requirements, like Sealtest Foods, would not face demolition and were allowed to stay. Redevelopment of the entire area was scheduled for completion in 1968. (UMSL)

The city systematically created disasters all over the place. The pace must’ve been overwhelming to many at the time. Hundreds of thousands were uprooted. It’s a formula for the population losses that have happened since.

“Horizontal, black and white photograph showing Mayor Raymond Tucker and Sidney Maestre on a rooftop looking over dilapidated buildings slated for clearance in Mill Creek Valley. A note on the back of the print reads: “Mill Creek Valley, 1956 / Mayor Raymond Tucker and Sidney Maestre, Chairman of Citizens Committee which drafted bond issue program, are looking over decaying buildings in blighted area.””

Mill Creek Valley was at the wrong place at the wrong time. By 1950 Bartholomew was in Washington D.C., but his raze & replace attitude continued. Other options weren’t considered, especially when the land is needed for an expressway to connect downtown to affluent western suburbs as the wealthy continued moving westward along the central corridor.

Here are the results of the recent non-scientific Sunday Poll:

Q: Agree or disagree: Mill Creek Valley was a slum (no indoor plumbing, etc); leveling it was the only option

  • Strongly agree: 0 [0%]
  • Agree: 1 [5.56%]
  • Somewhat agree: 1 [5.56%]
  • Neither agree or disagree: 0 [0%]
  • Somewhat disagree: 1 [5.56%]
  • Disagree: 4 [22.22%]
  • Strongly disagree: 10 [55.56%]
  • Unsure/No Answer: 1 [5.56%]

Again, demolition was the only option considered.  One, this generation didn’t see any value in the narrow & compact street grid or in 19th century flats. The other is they really wanted the land for a highway. As a bonus white folks could now drive on Olive & Market streets between the Central West End and downtown without having to go through a black neighborhood.

With so much uprooting & demolition it is amazing we have any residents or buildings left. The leaders at the time just couldn’t/didn’t see the tremendously negative consequences their actions would have on the city & region for decades to come. After all, everything they were doing was in an effort to save the city from decay.

— Steve Patterson

 

Sunday Poll: Was Razing Mill Creek Valley the City’s Only Option?

February 16, 2020 Featured, Sunday Poll, Urban Renewal Comments Off on Sunday Poll: Was Razing Mill Creek Valley the City’s Only Option?
Please vote below

On February 16, 2013 STL250 shared a 1956 photo of Mayor Raymond Tucker looking at Mill Creek Valley, with the following caption:

This Day in St. Louis History, February 16, 1959:
Mill Creek Valley becomes “Hiroshima Flats”

With $7 million from a 1955 St. Louis Civic Progress bond issue and $21 million in federal funds, the Land Clearance Redevelopment Authority began clearing the 454 acres of Mill Creek Valley, from Lindell on the north and Scott on the south, and Twentieth on the east and Grand on the west. The historically black area’s homes and dilapidated buildings were razed for 132 acres of industrial sites, 26 acres of commercial, 83 acres of residential, a 22 acre extension of St. Louis University across Grand, and the Ozark Expressway. 1,772 families and 610 individuals were displaced, some of the poorest in the city, and almost all black. Slow redevelopment after the rather quick destruction gained the giant empty fields of land the nickname of “Hiroshima Flats.” The Mill Creek Valley site is now covered by the portion of St. Louis University east of Grand, Harris Stowe State University, and the Wells Fargo Advisors buildings.

Here’s more:

By World War II, Mill Creek’s tenements and faded town houses were home to nearly 20,000 people, many of them poor blacks who had migrated north from the cotton fields. More than half the dwellings lacked running water, and 80 percent didn’t have interior bathrooms.

Tucker proposed knocking over nearly everything and starting over. In 1955, city voters overwhelmingly approved a $10 million bond issue for demolition, on the promise that the federal government would reimburse most of it. The local NAACP endorsed the idea. Work began on Feb. 16, 1959, at 3518 Laclede Avenue, where a headache ball smashed a house that dated to the 1870s. (Post-Dispatch)

From an upcoming book on Mill Creek Valley:

On December 16, 1950, my grandmother purchased a house from her landlords, Richard and Betty Bennett, at 2649 Bernard Street in Mill Creek for $1,400. She had saved the $100 down payment from her meager salary. Twenty years after leaving Earl, Arkansas, for St. Louis, she would finally have a home of her own with her son, his wife, and their eight children. She would be the last in a long line of owners of the hundred-year-old Italianate- style two-story dwelling.

My grandmother was unaware of the city’s plans when she bought her house in the neighborhood where she had lived since leaving the South. However, politicians, realtors, and religious and business leaders knew what the future held for this 450-acre neighborhood. Egged on by a series of derisive articles in the local media, the city was moving to deem the area “blighted.” The designation would pave the way for the eventual erasure of an entire African American community to make way for an interstate highway to the suburbs.

There you have it, an overview of Mill Creek Valley.  It was sixty-one years ago today that demolition began, so that’s the subject of today’s poll.

This poll will close at 8pm tonight.

— Steve Patterson

 

Examining the St. Louis MLS Stadium Site Plan, Part 4

February 10, 2020 Downtown, Featured, Planning & Design Comments Off on Examining the St. Louis MLS Stadium Site Plan, Part 4

In parts 1-3 I looked at the areas south, north, and east of the coming soccer stadium. Today a look at the area west of the new stadium.

The site plan has the stadium at the top, bounded by Olive on the north, 20th on the east, and a new 22nd Street on the west. Pine will be closed between 20th and 22nd. Team offices and two practice fields will be south of Market.
This image shows the two block long section of Pine that’ll be vacated. Surveyors were working the day last fall that I was out photographing.
The tallest structure in the area west of the stadium is the Pear Tree Inn, 2211 Market Street. Built in 1965 it’s unfortunately set back from Market Street in a very suburban manner. There’s no pedestrian accessible route…just an automobile parking lot. I’d like to see the space between the tower and street infilled over time to urbanize Market Street. It seems wasteful to raze the entire property and start over, but that would likely produce a better product — good for another 50+ years.
The back of the Pear Tree, at 23rd & Pine, a low rise parking garage also built in 1965. The site is a full city block, it is underutilized.
Across Pine from the Pear Tree Inn’s garage is a building type more typical of the area — boring single story infill. 2229 Pine was also built in 1965.
Across 23rd from the Pear Tree garage is a little warehouse building from 1948, currently used as a resale shop.
View of the northwest corner of 23rd & Pine, as seen from the southeast corner.
The St. Louis American newspaper leases the 1964 one-story building at 2315 Pine.
Across Pine is Stray Rescue at 2320 Pine, built in 1964. They own this building and the 1948 warehouse shown earlier. Owning their building will help insulate them if demand for the area increases dramatically in the coming decades.
Moving north to Olive we have the Firestone tire & auto at 2310 Olive — built in 1964 (seeing the pattern?)
On the southeast corner of 23rd & Olive is the Lincoln Hotel, 2222-2230 Olive. Built in 1928, this is the oldest structure directly west of the new stadium.
The Lincoln isn’t a fancy boutique hotel, it’s an SRO — single room occupancy. I fear the new stadium will put economic pressure on the owner to turn it into an expensive hotel, reducing the number of SRO rooms in the city.
The Lincoln as seen from the rear alley.

It appears in the 1960s nearly every building west of the new highway ramps was razed and replaced. Thankfully they left the street grid, though Pine is one-way westbound to Jefferson.

This couple of blocks of Pine between the new stadium at 22nd and Jefferson will need to be returned to 2-way traffic. This will need to include a signal change or removal at Jefferson — likely planned as part of the changes to Jefferson being made to help workers get from I-64 to the new NGA West headquarters being built at Jefferson & Cass.

I suspect the west side of the stadium along 22nd will be the back side, but maybe those functions will be part of the underground access. Hopefully it’ll be presentable.

Expect the area bounded by 22nd, Market, Jefferson, and Olive to look very different 30+ years from now, maybe much sooner.

— Steve Patterson

 

Car Washes Are Getting Larger, Even Less Urban

January 27, 2020 Featured, Planning & Design, Zoning Comments Off on Car Washes Are Getting Larger, Even Less Urban

When I was a kid washing the car often meant getting the garden house out and washing the car on our driveway. Or it meant going to the self-serve car wash with individual stalls. You get your bills changed to quarters and when it’s your turn you’d pull into the stall and wash your car. Fancy ones had a soapy brush option. Often I’d get wet from splash back from the high pressure sprayer.

I was aware of other car washes, from songs like Jim Croce’s Car Wash Blues and Rose Royce’s Car Wash.  Gas stations began to add automatic car washes to entice more people to stop and buy gas — the wash was often cheaper with purchase of fuel.

Large size dedicated automatic car washes aren’t new, but slowly they’ve replaced the manual DIY car washes I remember as a kid. For years I’d go to the Waterway car wash that was at Forest Park & Vandeventer — now The Standard apartments. I was glad to see this large site be redeveloped with a 5-story apartment building.

Lately it seems throughout South City and in much of St. Louis County a new breed of automatic car washes are popping up frequently. As my husband handles the car maintenance, I’d not been to a car wash in at least seven years.  That recently changed when we were running errands and decided to stop at a newer car wash on Kingshighway, which replaced a former QuikTrip gas station.

My husband had been to this and other car washes many times, but it was a first for me. I was driving so I had to use the touch screen to purchase the wash we wanted. We drove up to the wash and handed the attendant our receipt, he warned us Hyundai shark fin radio/navigation antennas have come off before.

My husband with our white Hyundai

After the wash we stopped at the “free” vacuum area. Free vacuum?!? The site plan is such that you must go through the paid wash to reach the vacuum area.  This saves needing a stack of quarters to vacuum out the interior. I can’t tell you how many times in the past my vacuum time has run out before I was finished.

Another row of vacs near the Kingshighway sidewalk.
A spot to collect water runoff. The vacs are on a central system.
I was happy to see one disabled spot.

The urbanist in me is aghast at the trend for all these new large car washes, although this stretch of Kingshighway and most suburban arterials are so far from being pleasant pedestrian environments. Still, if there’s an expectation for these corridors to improve then such designs shouldn’t be permitted up against the public sidewalk.

Suburbs Rock Hill and Crestwood each rejected another automatic car wash in their municipalities, in 2018 & 2019, respectively.

— Steve Patterson

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