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Two Urban Medical Campuses Compared: Big Differences Despite Similarities

September 16, 2019 Central West End, Featured, Planning & Design, Travel, Walkability Comments Off on Two Urban Medical Campuses Compared: Big Differences Despite Similarities

I often spend days, weeks, or months thinking about a post before writing it. I’ve been thinking about today’s post for over 5 years now!

It was May 2014 when we first stayed at friend’s newly purchased vacation condo in Chicago’s Streeterville neighborhood — across the street from Northwestern Hospital. Not a wide boulevard either, Erie Street is like most of Chicago’s streets — two drive lanes and two parking lanes.

We experienced the busy sidewalks but also the internal walkway system connecting the campus’ numerous buildings, complete with bridges over roadways. I immediately thought how different it felt from St. Louis’ Washington University Medical Campus (WUMC)/Barnes-Jewish Hospital (BJC).

St. Louis’ Washington University Medical Campus is prominently identified along Kingshighway, Forest Park Ave, etc
Points along Kingshighway are now labeled A, B. C, etc…

In the Fall of 2017 I had an unexpected emergency surgery and an overnight stay at BJC, I got to experience the walkway going from the Center for Advanced Medicine to Barnes. Then again the next morning going to the bus transit center. Yes, usually you don’t leave hospitalization via public transit, but that’s how I got there with my power wheelchair and a very broken wrist.

I’ve visited the Northwestern campus numerous times while visiting Chicago and I’ve returned to WUMC/BJC for numerous appointment and to photograph/observe the walkway.  I’m finally in a position to compare observation of the two.

First, the similarities between the two:

  • Were built over decades, slowly expanding.
  • Began life in an affluent neighborhood of gridded streets.
  • Comprised of generic beige buildings, parking garages.
  • Lots of people & cars.
  • Have an internal network to help people navigate from building to building indoors.
  • Have one hard edge (Lake Michigan in Chicago, Forest Park in St. Louis)

Given all the above similarities you’d think the two would function the same. But no, the end results are vastly different! This post will hopefully explain the differences I’ve observed and their impact on each campus and surrounding neighborhoods.

In short, the major differences can be reduced to:

  • Sidewalk level activities: Many of Northwestern’s buildings, especially newer ones, have “active” ground floors — mostly restaurants.
  • Street grid: Northwestern didn’t alter the street grid, WUMC/BJC has decimated the grid.

Let’s start in St. Louis (map):

The Center for Advanced Medicine (CAM) building on the SW corner of Forest Park & Euclid avenues is a very busy place
As a pedestrian you can’t enter the building directly off of either major avenue.
Pedestrians have a narrow walk next to the large auto drive to reach the actual entry.
The newer Center for Outpatient Health across Forest Park Ave did not repeat the pedestrian access problem of CAM.
It is built right up to Euclid. An auto drive for patient drop-off is on the back side.
Pedestrians get their own entrance right off the Euclid sidewalk.
There’s a change of level but the ramp is wide and direct, the steps are narrower and off to the side. Through the windows you can see the automobile drive & patient drop-off entrance.
Looking North on what used to be Euclid Ave., the CAM building is on the left.
Looking at the closed Euclid from the WUMC/BJC walkway system — called LINK. Entering LINK from CAM is pretty natural, but the rest is convoluted.
Back on the ground for a moment, another closed part of Euclid, the LINK is visible.
In the background is the busiest light rail station in Metro’s system. LINK overlooks it, but they don’t connect.
This was the view to the North from my hospital room in November 2017.
The LINK winds its way around connecting all the buildings.
Sometimes it is in a spacious area
There are a few retail outlets, but not many. There was also a tiny Sprint store.
Windows give you a glimpse of where you are.
When I was discharged a nurse had to escort me to Metro’s bus transit center because there is no good public route from the BJC hospital to transit! Her card had to be used a couple of times along the way.
Finally I’m on my way to the bus. This walkway also connects to massive parking garages for staff.
Here we are, the entrance to the garage where the buses converge on the ground level.

Before moving on I should note that I was very pleased with my treatment and all those who took care of me that visit and my other appointments, cataracts surgery, etc.

Okay, now Chicago (map). Starting outside.

Am ambulance only drive for the emergency department
An auto area for the outpatient building next door to where we stay while in Chicago. You can see all the way through to the next block. To the left there are three retail spaces spaces — including on both street corners.
The sidewalks are wide with street trees.
There are some truly awful buildings along some of the sidewalks. No retail, no life.
But old historic buildings, including ones not owned by Northwestern still exist within the street grid.
One of the oldest campus buildings is very attractive — much more so than most everything around it.
Another example of not everything along the sidewalks was interesting. That’s mostly reserved for the corners at intersections.
One of the newest buildings. Being located mid-block it didn’t have any sidewalk retail.
Another older building, not exactly inviting.
Here is a corner, which is very active.
Another corner
And another corner
Medical entrance mid-block
Another auto drop-off area
An older parking garage with a mid-block entrance

Now let’s go inside their walkway system.

There are numerous maps posted, all showing how to reach the street grid outside and other buildings
Building lobbies invite you to the walkway system.
An internal intersection in a central building. A couple of food court areas are very close to this point.
One of the newest food court seating areas with lots of seating
There are many different food retailers located along their walkway system, most concentrated in a couple of central areas.
Another restaurant
Their walkways always seen to be busy.

CONCLUSION:

Both medical campuses have good & bad buildings. While Northwestern does a far better job activating corners it is the fact they still have corners that explains why the sidewalks are so full of people. The non-medical public, like us, are able to easily get through the campus on the sidewalks or via the enclosed walkway system. Northwestern’s campus isn’t a monolithic fortress to go around — you can go right through it just like you would elsewhere in Chicago.

I’m firmly convinced the many closed streets within St. Louis’ Washington University Medical Campus are largely responsible for the relative lack of pedestrian activity. Short of reopening the closed streets, I don’t think there’s anything we can do to fix the problem.

There’s a lot more detail I’d hoped to include, but I knew I just had to get this post finished. I might do some followup posts.

— Steve Patterson

 

Reflections on the Recent Jehovah’s Witness Conventions This Month

August 19, 2019 Featured, Parking, Walkability Comments Off on Reflections on the Recent Jehovah’s Witness Conventions This Month

A large convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses was just in St. Louis. An advance group came through at the beginning of August, the main (larger) group just left yesterday. They made an impression on me, but not about beliefs — I’m still an atheist. Let me explain.

The area across Cole Street from The Dome was going to become “The Bottle District” over a decade ago. It never happened. Usually it’s just vacant and unsightly.

Jersey barriers blocked off many streets. Looking East from 7th & Biddle, March 2019
Looking North March 2019
Looking south on Broadway

In early August we noticed the first group making changes.

One of the most visible things they did was paint one side of the barriers this soft green color.
They had equipment and were busy moving/rearranging barriers in the vacant lots.

When the recent group arrived it became clear why all that work had been done. To prep the vacant lots (all of them) for parking.

This past weekend usually vacant lots were filled with cars, saw many out of state license plates.
6th Streets runs north-south through the vacant lots, they used cones to designate a pedestrian area of the street width.

The other thing they did that caught my eye is they put down bright tape to highlight potential trip hazards around The Dome.

There were a lot more, couldn’t photograph them all. Sometimes it was missing bricks, others were raised bricks. Still others were just uneven areas.

I love that they go to so effort to make sure their membership doesn’t fall and injure themselves.  Perhaps our Convention & Visitors Commission could learn a lesson from our recent guests? Perhaps Paul McKee could develop or sell the “Bottle District” land?

— Steve Patterson

 

Time For St. Louis To Decide What The Area Around A Future MLS Stadium Should Look Like, How It Should Function

August 16, 2019 Accessibility, Downtown, Featured, Planning & Design, Walkability Comments Off on Time For St. Louis To Decide What The Area Around A Future MLS Stadium Should Look Like, How It Should Function

On Wednesday a long expected, though still unconfirmed, report indicated St. Louis will be the next city to get a Major League Soccer (MLS) expansion team.

Major League Soccer will award an expansion franchise to St. Louis, a source close to the prospective ownership group has confirmed to ESPN. The deal is expected to be announced as soon as next Tuesday.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch was first to report that St. Louis will be MLS’s 28th team.

The ownership group, MLS4TheLou, declined to directly comment on the reports, issuing the following statement: “Major League Soccer is responsible for the timing of any announcements around League expansion, but we remain confident St. Louis has made a strong case for a team.”

MLS didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.” (ESPN)

Now that it looks likely the team and new stadium will happen we can delve more seriously into the design of the stadium and, more importantly, the surrounding blocks.

My map of the area from 2016

Nearly four months ago we got our first look at the proposed stadium, here’s how I ended my post then:

Here’s what I think about the site, both north & south of Market Street:

  • The stadium & new buildings should take advantage of the existing hole for basement or underground parking.
  • Market Street between 20th & 21st is a deteriorating bridge, it should be removed. Under it can be filled in with foam so a new road/sidewalks can be built at grade.
  • Market Street should be redesigned to be friendly to pedestrians. This means narrowing the road (fewer, narrower lanes) and more crossing points. Right now there’s a crosswalk at 20th and at Jefferson –this is nearly a half a mile without a crossing.
  • Hopefully the changes at Union Station, including the upcoming Farris Wheel along 20th Street, will mean easier access under the train shed between the Union Station MetroLink platform on the East side of 18th to the new MLS stadium.
  • Metro will need to rethink downtown circulation with a revised Union Station, a MLS stadium, and hopefully active surroundings.
  • Pine & Chestnut have been a one-way couplet for decades. Once the on/off ramps to/from I-64 are gone both streets should be returned to two-way traffic. The revised Soldiers Memorial, however, has only one eastbound lane on Chestnut between 13th-14th.  Chestnut has our only protected bike lane.

I’ll probably think of more issues, hopefully the site planning being done now will address at least some of these.

My views haven’t changed, but I do have some additional thoughts now that we’re getting close. Most are questions, in no particular order:

  • We still need to see a proposed site plan. What is the current ownership of the current land?  How much city & state property will exist beyond the stadium boundaries? Is the stadium site too small? Too large?
  • Because not everything will get built by the date of the first match, we need to think long-term. What might this large vacant hole look like in 10-15-20 years? What do we as a community want it to look like?
  • I think minority businesses should get work from infrastructure improvements, stadium, and new construction adjacent to the stadium. Big investments are being made, every part of the community should benefit.
  • We need to plan an area larger than the stadium — I-64 on the South (since it’s a hard boundary), the West side of Jefferson (since the city is looking at Jefferson changes to accommodate the coming NGA West headquarters further North, to the North I’d say at least include Locust. To the East Union  Station is a hard boundary but there are development opportunities surrounding the historic train station (16th, perhaps 14th).
  • Housing should be included within the larger area described above. This should be at all price points from low-income to high-end. It should include purchase & rental.
  • Hopefully we can agree that new low-density uses like gas stations & stand-alone fast food restaurants would be inappropriate.
  • Pedestrian circulation needs to be considered as much, or more, than vehicular circulation. We’re going to have lots of visitors coming into town for future MLS matches, they need to be able to fly into St. Louis, take MetroLink to Union Station, easily walk to their hotel, walk from their hotel to the stadium, patronizing local businesses along the way. Will pedestrians be able to freely walk from 18th to 20th through the Union Station train shed, or will they be forced to go up to Market Street?
  • New infrastructure (water, sewer, electric, etc) needs to be planned for future development. Initial surface parking lots should be development sites in the future. For example, we shouldn’t need to move a water line just five years later.
  • Unlike Ballpark Village, the surroundings shouldn’t all be owned by the team ownership. It shouldn’t even be just one entity. A different company might work each direction from the stadium. The community plan, hopefully with form-based zoning, will ensure they all work to create what we want this area to become over time.
  • How can we make the area active on days without a match? One option might be having one street where restaurants are concentrated on both sides. Or maybe just at all corners?
  • How do we create a good West terminus to The Gateway Mall? Currently there’s a little bit of the linear park west of 20th Street.  Do we end at 20th? End at a new 21st?  At a new 22nd?
  • Will there be a place for match-day events? A side street that gets closed? A plaza adjacent to the stadium? The west end of The Gateway Mall?
  • Though this area is part of the Downtown West neighborhood, the stadium area needs a good name. This will help identify this district.

My fear is the rush to get a new stadium built mistakes with long-term consequences will be made. We’ve got one chance to do this right.

— Steve Patterson

 

9th & 10th Streets Need To Be Two-Way North of Cole Street

May 20, 2019 Featured, Neighborhoods, Planning & Design, Transportation, Walkability Comments Off on 9th & 10th Streets Need To Be Two-Way North of Cole Street

Five years ago I suggested 9th & 10th Streets through the Columbus Square neighborhood (Cole to Cass) be uncoupled so that both are two-way streets again. See Columbus Square: 9th & 10th Streets from May 19, 2014.

In short, 9th & 10th have been a one-way couplet (opposite directions) to facilitate vehicular travel between I-70 and downtown — passing through the Columbus Square neighborhood.  Due to the construction of the Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge 9th/10th hasn’t connected to I-70 in 8-9 years. Yet, these excessively wide one-way streets remain through the neighborhood.

What has changed in the last five years?

I moved to the neighborhood nearly 5 months ago and 9th Street immediately south of Cole Street will close if the convention center is expanded. Living here, frequently crossing 9th & 10th, I can tell you they’re substantially wider than necessary. Being wide and one-way their design encourages drivers to travel at much higher speeds than should be in a residential neighborhood.

Five years ago the main obstacle to correcting this problem was the cost to alter/replace 3 traffic signals. The possible convention center expansion project includes significant changes to Cole Street — including new signals at 9th & 10th. That leaves only the relatively new signal at 9th & Cass to modify — minor work since 3 out of 4 approaches is currently two-way.  Some additional stop signs will be necessary at intersections between Cole & Cass.

Looking North on 9th Street toward Cass. It’s 44 feet from curb to curb.

We measured the width of 9th & 10th in various places five years ago, 9th @ Manhattan Place (south of Cass) was a very wide 44 feet. For comparison, Locust at 16th is a much busier street and is 42 feet wide. You need 8 feet for each parking lane, plus a max of 12 feet for each travel lane — a total of 40 feet. I’d prefer 10 or 11 foot travel lanes. There’s no money to physically narrow the streets, but a wide center “median” could be painted with stripes.

This pair of streets should’ve been returned to two-way during the 2010-2013 bridge project, but they weren’t. With the convention center project closing 9th and altering Cole, we’ve got another opportunity to correct the problem of one-way highway access streets through the center of a neighborhood — with an elementary school in between.

— Steve Patterson

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Opinion: Closed Streets Do Not Reduce Crime

February 27, 2019 Crime, Featured, Transportation, Walkability Comments Off on Opinion: Closed Streets Do Not Reduce Crime

The recent non-scientific Sunday Poll was about closed streets and crime, prompted by a news story about new research at Saint Louis University:

St. Louis’ often-interrupted street grid is the outgrowth of the 1970s-era “defensible space” strategy to address rising crime championed by Oscar Newman, a prominent urban planner who was a Washington University architecture professor in the mid-1960s, according to the paper. That idea stems from the notion that an area is safer when residents feel a sense of ownership and control, which Newman described as allowing neighbors to focus their attention on “removing criminal activity from their communities.”

St. Louis became the birthplace of such ideas, according to the paper. And they haven’t had the desired effect. (Post-Dispatch)

Below is one such example where “Schoemehl pots”, just sections of sewer pipe, were used to limit vehicular traffic.

Schoemehl pots used in their traditional role of messing up the street grid, 2012 photo.

Their paper’s conclusion:

Oscar Newman’s defensible space theory is a product of St. Louis’s mid-century history. It is perhaps unsurprising, therefore, that St. Louis also offers a large-scale implementation of defensible space in the street barriers that constrict swaths of the city’s geography. The barriers scattered across the city’s landscape are a testament not only to former Mayor Vincent Schoemehl, the elected official most closely associated with the barriers, but to Newman himself. We have developed the most comprehensive known list of closures in the city, and find that the density of closures is not associated with less crime in neighborhoods. Our finding is an important one for St. Louis, given that addressing crime is the argument being made explicitly in the legislation that authorizes more recent installations of barriers. For other municipalities that may be considering defensible space or other techniques to “design out” crime, our findings suggest that street closures are at best ineffective and at worst associated with higher rates of violent crime in neighborhoods. They may also have secondary effects on first responders’ ability to reach the neighborhoods they serve. (Research paper)

I completely agree with the conclusions of the researchers, but I also think they should be looking at earlier changes to the urban street grid. As I’ve said before, when Harold Bartholomew (1889-1989) first arrived in St. Louis in the nineteen teens he quickly began assaulting our fine network of public streets. Writing decades later in the 1947 plan:

Since 1916 St. Louis has expended over $40,000,000 in opening, widening, connecting, and extending the system of major streets. Much has been accomplished in converting a horse and buggy street system to automobile needs. As the total volume of traffic increases, however, certain new needs arise. An example is the desirability of grade separations at extremely heavy intersections, such as at Grand and Market and at Kingshighway and Lindell. Likewise there is a need for complete separation of grade where traffic volume is sufficiently heavy to justify the cost involved. The Federal Government, which has helped finance our splendid system of national highways, has recently revised its policies and Congress has appropriated substantial funds to aid the cities in the construction of express highways and for facilitation of traffic flows from certain selected state highways through metropolitan areas to the central business districts of large cities. (1947 Plan)

In just three decades St. Louis spent today’s equivalent of nearly a half a billion dollars on dramatic changes to the street grid.  Half a billion!

Franklin Ave looking East from 9th, 1928. Collection of the Landmarks Association of St Louis

The reference to the “horse and buggy street system” illustrates he didn’t think it was suitable for the automobile. Bartholomew, a civil engineer by training, was no doubt influenced by the City Beautiful movement.

City Beautiful movement, American urban-planning movement led by architects, landscape architects, and reformers that flourished between the 1890s and the 1920s. The idea of organized comprehensive urban planning arose in the United States from the City Beautiful movement, which claimed that design could not be separated from social issues and should encourage civic pride and engagement. (Britannica)

This was soon followed by the modernists and their vision for roads to connect everything. The Futurama exhibit at the 1939 World’s Fair was hugely popular, helped shape legislation that let to destructive urban renewal projects, interstate highways slicing through cities, etc.  See original 23-minute 1939 Futurama promo video.

Oscar Newman was born in 1935, so he was barely around during the 1939 fair. With the Great Depression & WWII the ideas from Futurama were on hold until he was a teen. Newman likely went along with most others, not foreseeing any problems with additional alterations to the street grid.

By the time republished his 1972 book urban renewal & highway projects had further disrupted the street grid beyond recognition. These changes are cumulative, not isolated. Our street grid was designed for the horse and buggy times — but that’s what made it go great. Street grids can take little changes and still function. St. Louis had decades of massive overwhelming changes to the street grid.

It has proven to be excessive. Abandonment, crime, etc are the results. I don’t know that it’s repairable.

Former Biddle Street, looking East toward 9th Street

The results from Sunday’s non-scientific poll:

Q: Agree or disagree: City streets closed to through traffic reduce crime.

  • Strongly agree: 1 [3.13%]
  • Agree: 2 [6.25%]
  • Somewhat agree: 6 [18.75%]
  • Neither agree or disagree: 2 [6.25%]
  • Somewhat disagree: 2 [6.25%]
  • Disagree: 9 [28.13%]
  • Strongly disagree: 9 [28.13%]
  • Unsure/No Answer: 1 [3.13%]

More than half correct don’t think closed streets reduce crime.

— Steve Patterson

 

 

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