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North 14th Street Reopened To Traffic 5 Years Ago Today

Five years ago today people were able to do what they hadn’t in 33+ year — drive on two blocks of North 14th Street.

From 1977-2010 two blocks of N 14th was a "pedestrian mall". By Spring 1991 it was already long-dead.
From 1977-2010 two blocks of N 14th was a “pedestrian mall”. By Spring 1991 it was already long-dead.
After many years of trying to un-mall 14th, a ribbon cutting for the new street was held on July 29, 2010. But since new streetlights hadn't arrived, vehicular traffic wasn't allowed to drive down it.
After many years of trying to un-mall 14th, a ribbon cutting for the new street was held on July 29, 2010. But since new streetlights hadn’t arrived, vehicular traffic wasn’t allowed to drive down it.
The new streetscape is friendly to both pedestrians & motorists, need not be mutually exclusive
The new streetscape is friendly to both pedestrians & motorists, need not be mutually exclusive
This photo is from a May 1972 thesis, taken before 14th was malled. Source: "A rehabilitation of a small commercial district: 14th Street in Murphy-Blair" by Norman Robert Spatz
This photo is from a May 1972 thesis, taken before 14th was malled. Source: “A rehabilitation of a small commercial district: 14th Street in Murphy-Blair” by Norman Robert Spatz

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Successful Pedestrian Malls Kept Cross Streets Open

Pedestrian malls, the closing of a street to vehicles, is an area of great interest to me. Popular in the 1960s & 1970s, very few had long-term success in North America, most failed and have been reversed. St. Louis’ former 14th Street Pedestrian Mall was such a failure.

In September I got to visit two of the successes, both in Colorado: Denver’s 16th Street Mall and Boulder’s Pearl Street Mall.  After visiting these two I’ve identified some key differences that I believe contributed to the success of these two while others failed. The main difference is both of these allow the cross streets to continue through uninterrupted. Most pedestrian mall projects screwed up the street grid in two directions, the closed mall street and all the intersecting streets. Depending on the length of the pedestrian mall this could mean 1-8 cross streets got redirected. In doing so a large area and many streets were cut off from regular traffic.

St. Louis’ 14th Street Pedestrian Mall — 1977

  • Length: 2 blocks
  • Status: removed
  • Map (was 14th from St. Louis Ave to Warren St)
Looking south on 14th, Spring 1991
Looking south on 14th, Spring 1991
Looking West on Montgomery St, Spring 1991
Looking West on the one cross street, Montgomery St, Spring 1991

St. Louis’ pedestrian mall was only 13 years old when I first saw it in the Fall of 1990. Long-time residents I talked to said the mall failed very early on, long before I saw it 13 years later.

Boulder’s Pearl Street Mall — 1977

  • Length: 4 blocks
  • Status: active
  • Map
Boulder's Pearl Street Mall
Boulder’s Pearl Street Mall is for pedestrians only
Broadway is only highway 7, one of three streets that continue through the four block mall.
Broadway is only highway 7, one of three streets that continue through the four block mall.
The same intersection
The same intersection as viewed from our rental car
We ate dinner at a popular restaurant on Pearl St, but it was one block West of the mall.
We ate dinner at a popular restaurant on Pearl St, but it was one block West of the mall.

Many small town pedestrian malls were built by malling the main highway that ran through the downtown business district and creating opposite one way streets on either side so highway traffic could continue. Boulder, however, allowed their highway to continue with only a traffic signal like you’d see if Pearl St was still open to cars. They too did the one-way couplet thing on parallel streets, but it and the mall are perpendicular to the main highway through town.

Denver’s 16th Street Mall — 1982

  • Length: 13 blocks
  • Status: active
  • Map
Denver's 16th Street Mall
Denver’s 16th Street Mall with mall-only buses, in the center in this block
At this point the bus lanes are divided, leaving a center pedestrian area
At this point the bus lanes are divided, leaving a center pedestrian area
The buses were every few minutes and were non-polluting
The buses were every few minutes and were non-polluting

Denver was late to get a pedestrian mall, few were built in the 1980s. Perhaps their delay paid off, enabling them to see mistakes made by other cities. Chicago also had a transit mall, but it was for many bus lines. The diesel fumes meant their mall wasn’t a pedestrian paradise. Whereas Denver runs free shuttles to get people up and down the 13 block length, with several points where you can connect to local bus or light rail lines.

It appears Denver, unlike St. Louis, has kept its street grid in tact — with the exception of 16h Street. St. Louis has made it a habit of closing streets, disrupting the grid.

Conclusion

Another successful pedestrian mall is Church Street Marketplace in Burlington VT (map).  Like Boulder & Denver, the cross streets continue uninterrupted. I need to return to my grad school data to see if any of the failed/removed pedestrian malls allowed cross streets to cut through the mall, I don’t recall any.

This is not to say that the many failed pedestrian malls might have succeeded had they kept cross streets open, or a that a remaining mall could be enlivened by opening the cross streets. Both might be the case, I just can’t come to that conclusion — yet.

Still, St. Louis serves as an example of ongoing struggles when the street grid has been repeatedly compromised.

— Steve Patterson

North 14th Street Demonstrates How A Pedestrian-Friendly Streetscape Should Be Designed

On September 1 2006 I reviewed the plan for replacing the North 14th Street Pedestrian Mall with North 14th Street: Old North’s Pedestrian Mall May Soon Be Gone! I concluded the post with this paragraph:

“I have some initial reservations about the streetscape plan but I will hold those back until I’ve had a chance to talk with the local residents, the RHCDA and Rosemann Architects. I want to congratulate everyone involved for finally getting a project to this point – I look forward to working with them to see it to fruition.”

The following drawing was included in the post.

ABOVE: Concept drawing from September 2006.

Privately I shared my reservations about the pedestrian circulation.

14thmontgomery2006
ABOVE: Close-up of 14th & Montgomery on 2006 plan

Unfortunately I can’t locate the somewhat harsh email I fired off. However my criticism focused on 1) the decorative brickwork and the fact pedestrians couldn’t maintain a straight line as they walked down the street. The green areas were to be planters.  These would have created tight points where pedestrians tried to cross the streets.  Remember, this was 17 months prior to the stroke that disabled me.

14thwarren2006
ABOVE: Close-up of 14th & Warren on 2006 plan

The planters and the ramp placement would have forced all pedestrians (able-bodied & disabled) to zig-zag at each intersection. At the time I had no idea how annoying such intersections would be from a wheelchair but I did know the concept was not pedestrian-friendly.

June 2010
ABOVE: During construction, June 2010

In June 2010 I was glad to see my criticisms had been observed with the design now permitting all pedestrians to maintain a straight line as they walked from one block to the next.

img_1488
ABOVE: The final result is very pedestrian-friendly. November 2010

I’m so glad the completed design permits the disabled in wheelchairs to use the same pathway as the able-bodied.  All have lots of room, all can stay on a direct path.  Nobody is pointed into the center of the intersection with angled ramps.  This is how pedestrian-friendly business districts should be designed.

Unfortunately many of the new streetscapes being installed in other areas  do not have the same direct path for pedestrians.

– Steve Patterson

The (former) Pedestrian Malls of Illinois

A year ago. I was starting my Capstone (thesis) for a masters in urban planning & real estate development at Saint Louis University. My focus, I decided, would be on pedestrian malls – once open streets permanently closed to vehicular traffic.

Last fall I documented roughly 160 such malls built in North America between 1959-1984. Documenting the year removed, if so, proved far more difficult than I thought. The Capstone remains unfinished.

On Friday, while driving to Chicago, I realized I should narrow my focus to the ten former pedestrian malls in the state of Illinois. A manageable number where I could collect and examine data.

Neil Street, Champaign IL
ABOVE: Neil Street in Champaign IL was once a dead pedestrian mall

So far I’ve visited Chicago (State Street), Elgin, Freeport, Rockford, Danville, Champaign, and Decatur. Last night stayed in Springfield and I’m checking out their former pedestrian mall this morning. I skipped Oak Park (inner ring Chicago suburb) because I visited there l last year. That leaves only Centrallia left to visit after today.

In visiting each of these I was amazed at how different each town is today. Big & small, college & industrial, rich & poor. Besides the failed pedestrian mall experiment, each town looks to have been repeatedly raped by urban planners, civil engineers and architects.

– Steve Patterson

[Note: This post was written on my iPad with a photo from my iPhone. Not all editing features are easily available, but I hope to produce more posts this way.]

Dead at 33: North 14th Street Pedestrian Mall (1977-2010)

The North 14th Street Pedestrian Mall, in a vegetative state for 20+ years of it’s short life, has died. The plug was finally pulled but nobody is mourning the passing.

ABOVE:
ABOVE: 14th & Montgomery, 1972 (pre-mall), photo by Robert Spatz
ABOVE:  14th & Montgomery, Spring 1991
ABOVE: 14th & Montgomery, Spring 1991

In fact, today from 4pm-8pm is a celebration.

ABOVE: 14th & Montgomery, July 2010
ABOVE: 14th & Montgomery, July 2010

In a bit of irony, 14th Street will not be opened until after a street party.  The center of the newly redone 2-block area is 14th & Montgomery, one block south of Crown Candy Kitchen. The area is easily reached by transit (via #30 & #74) bus routes.  Congrats to everyone in Old North St. Louis for finally reopening North 14th Street!

– Steve Patterson

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