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Improving Washington Ave between 10th Street and the Eads Bridge/Mississippi River

July 12, 2010 Downtown, Parking, Planning & Design, Retail 11 Comments

Now that the old St. Louis Centre pedestrian bridge over Washington Ave is gone (Washington Ave is now flooded with light) it is time to talk about what needs to be done to improve it from 10th Street East to the Eads Bridge by continuing the positives from West of 10th Street.  I’ll start by talking about those positives and working East block by block.

Washington Ave 10th to 20th:

washington ave west of 10th
ABOVE: Washington Ave looking West from 10th St

With some exceptions, the ten blocks between 10th and 20th are very nice for pedestrians.  One common element is these blocks have two traffic lanes with on-street parking on both sides.  Sure there are other factors but reducing traffic from four lanes to two and adding on-street parking is critical to success. You might have the same volume of cars passing by, but it feels different when it is two lanes verses four lanes.  Parked cars serve as a fixed buffer between the pedestrian and passing cars.  At sidewalk cafes the row of parked cars is an important physical barrier. Additionally having  available on-street parking reduces the perception of a lack of parking.  Someone may have to walk two blocks to their destination but they don’t mind doing so along an active street.

The other element between 10th and 20th streets is the buildings have fairly active facades — numerous doors, interesting window displays, etc.  East of 10th the quality of the building facades fronting the sidewalk drops considerably.

So these are the two things needed to extend the active street further to the east — the street configuration can be done by  the city but the active facades requires the adjacent property owners to be on board. Of course, without the on-street parking, there is no need for active facades.  Let’s head to the river!

Washington Ave 10th to 9th:

ABOVE: The Renaissance Ballrooms occupies the entire south face in this block

The south face of Washington Ave in this block is occupied by the bland Renaissance Ballrooms. The ballroom entrance is in the center of the block and one retail space is at the corner at 10th Street (above).  Several retail stores have occupied the retail space.  Retail space without prime on-street parking out front is soon vacant retail space.

For those driving eastbound the block before has only one lane in this direction so the need to suddenly expand to two eastbound lanes just doesn’t exist.

ABOVE: NE corner of 10th & Washington Ave
ABOVE: NE corner of 10th & Washington Ave

A gap does exist at 10th — a small parking lot on the west side of the Lammert Building.  A year ago the restaurant Over/Under opened in the Lammert and they took away a few parking spaces for a very nice patio.  This is a simple and very effective way to enliven a corner killed with a parking lot.

ABOVE: the patio at Over/Under was once parking
ABOVE: the patio at Over/Under was once parking
lammert and bankers
ABOVE: The Lammert (left) and Banker’s Lofts

The north face of the block has two very handsome buildings, Banker’s Lofts and the Lammert.  Retail shops exist in both buildings and these could be helped by taking a travel lane for some on-street parking.

When driving westbound in the outside lane you cannot turn right because 10th is one-way heading south.  You can’t go straight ahead because of on-street parking in the next block west of 10th — so this lane basically ends, forcing motorists into the other lane. With the exception of space for a bus near 10th, this side should have on-street parking.

Washington Ave 9th to 7th:

I’m grouping these two blocks because of the super-block created when 8th was closed for the convention center on the north face.

ABOVE: Convention Center on the left and Renaissance Hotel on the right

The hotel is a busy place.  The traffic jamb pictured about was caused by the arrival of people to a weekend convention, the jamb was gone in under an hour.  The hotel includes several entrances onto the sidewalk, including to a restaurant and a Starbucks.  The building is fine but on-street parking would definitely help the sidewalk. The line of cars waiting to turn onto 8th helped greatly.  For those days when a convention is arriving the on-street parking could be marked as no-parking for a couple of hours.  The rest of the time the city would get additional revenue from meters.

It is very important to make this section from 8th to 10th as friendly as possible so visitors will be willing to leave their hotel room and start walking.

ABOVE: US Banks parking garage at 8th & Washington Ave
ABOVE: US Bank’s parking garage at 8th & Washington Ave

The US Bank parking garage cannot be made acceptable on an active street — it must be replaced with a structure with spaces occupied by human, not parked cars.  While on-street parking reduces the street width, calms traffic provides prime spaces and buffers pedestrians a garage detracts from the sidewalk.  A new garage with street-level retail space would be better that what exists.

ABOVE: useless plaza in front of the US Bank tower
ABOVE: useless plaza in front of the US Bank tower

The plaza in front of the US Bank tower is in good condition but it is a dead space, totally lifeless.  There is no seating and no reason for anyone to be there. A street vendor selling food and beverages to pedestrians who could use some new movable tables, chairs and umbrellas  would totally transform this plaza.  The cost would be minimal and the benefit to the street would be excellent.  I’d also add on-street parking, of course.

This completes the south side of Washington Ave so let’s go back to 10th to look at the north face of these two blocks.

Above: Renaissance Suites at 9th & Washington Ave.

The Renaissance Suites are on the NE corner of Washington Ave and 9th Street. The building is fine and they have a drive to the east for customers to stop and drop off luggage & passengers. The question is if on-street parking should be added in the space in front.  There is only room for a single car if you meter a specific space, or two if we go to a pay-n-display system. One argument for not having parking here is the lane could be a dedicated right turn lane. Due to the disastrous buildings fronting onto 9th Street few do turn right.  I say make it parking, a single space until we get pay-n-display.

ABOVE: tour buses taxis outside Americas Center
ABOVE: tour buses taxis outside America’s Center

Except for a space in front of the Renaissance Suites I don’t see any public on-street parking on the north side of Washington between 7th and 9th.  But I don’t see the outside lane being open for through traffic either.   As I’ve written about numerous times, the taxi stand is placed dead center on the pedestrian sidewalk — pedestrians must go around the cabs in an area that is not clear where pedestrians should be walking — the feeling you get is that pedestrians don’t belong.  So the outside lane should be reserved for cabs, pedicabs, carriages and local & tour buses. This reclaims the sidewalk for — wait for it — pedestrians!  I know I’m an idealist to think we’d use sidewalks for pedestrians but a guy can dream can’t he?  I also see food service vendors from the convention center selling food & beverages at busy times.  A few tables & chairs would be nice.

Washington Ave 7th to 6th:

ABOVE: Former Dillard’s to be mixed use with street level retail

This is the once dark block as a result of the St. Louis Centre pedestrian bridge (1985-2010).  Both sides of the street will be retail and restaurants so on-street parking is a must. At 6th is a MetroLink light rail station so pedestrian amenities are important.

ABOVE: Former St. Louis Centre is being gutted. The ground floor will have retail.

Washington Ave 6th to Broadway (5th):

ABOVE: Facades on the west half of the north side of the blockface are outstanding

The large retail space at the NE corner of Washington & 6th has been vacant for a long time — long cut off from the action further west.  Reducing the traffic from four to two lanes by adding on-street parking will do the trick.  One of these spaces is already a gallery occupied by Art St. Louis.

ABOVE: Washington Ave looking west from Broadway (5th)

Imagine the above with one less travel lane and a row of parked cars to buffer pedestrians. Just the presence of the parked cars would make it look like something worth seeing exists on this block.

ABOVE: 505 Washington is a former state office building

The modern building on the NW corner of Broadway and Washington Ave has potential.  I’d like to see one of the sections between the columns become a new set of doors so to directly access the ground floor space.  I picture a modern restaurant that would take advantage of the unique ceiling pattern created by the structure. Sidewalk dining would be great.

One Financial
One Financial

On the south side of Washington Ave one building occupies the entire block face. At the 6th Street corner the interior floor is at the sidewalk level so this space could be opened out by replacing the fixed windows with doors.  Office cubicles is not a good use of sidewalk level space — this corner needs a restaurant with outdoor seating.

Washington Ave Broadway (5th) to 4th:

ABOVE: prison-like office building
ABOVE: prison-like office building

Staying on the south side of Washington Ave but east of Broadway (5th) we have the above.  Is it a prison? Nope, just an office building with numerous floors of parking before the office floors start higher up.  At the sidewalk level you have black polished stones walls (left) and retail (right.  But the recessed wall and all the dark stone make this building unwelcoming.

ABOVE: retail is set back from the building line
ABOVE: retail is set back from the building line

The solution here is to bring out the wall for the retail space.  Use clear glass rather than the dark glass. I’m not a fan of awnings but a few modern awnings might help break up the cold exterior.  As with the prior blocks, on-street parking is necessary to reduce the number of lanes and to create a buffer between pedestrians and traffic.

ABOVE: SW corner of 4th & Washington Ave

The building at 4th & Washington Ave holds the corner nicely.  Just continue the on-street parking and the vacant retail spaces will fill.

ABOVE: Parking for the Missouri Athletic Club on the NE corner of Broadway & Washington

Remember the patio for Over/Under back at 10th Street?  The similar solution here is to build a new building at the corner facing onto both Washington and Broadway.  The location is actually ideal — office workers, transit, Arch, Edward Jones Dome and convention center are all close.  It build a two-story structure with the 2nd floor as additional seating or perhaps space that can be reserved. That would give the corner some needed massing.  Then have a patio along Washington between the new restaurant and the Missouri Athletic Club.

I’m not a fan of chain restaurants but this is an opportunity for a chain to build new in their common look — granted the layout would be unique because of the urban context.  A local restaurant would be better but my goal is 2-story building on the corner with entrance off the sidewalks, patio in between there and the MAC.  Besides giving massing at the corner it would provide something lively and conceal the large surface parking lot.  The addition of on-street parking on Washington & Broadway would make up for many of the off-street spaces taken by the restaurant and patio.

ABOVE: The beautiful Missouri Athletic Club

The MAC is perfect so this completes the block up to 4th Street.

ABOVE: Hampton Inn at 4th & Washington
ABOVE: Hampton Inn at 4th & Washington

The last building on the north side of the street before the elevated highway lanes and the Eads Bridge is the Hampton Inn.  The best thing about this building is it has a Tigin Irish Pub on the ground floor with al fresco dining out front. Just allow parking on the street.

elevated lanes
ABOVE: Gentry’s Landing (right) and the elevated highway lanes

This leaves the south face of this last block and the elevated highway lanes to address.  The building is part of Gentry’s Landing and like the dark building one block west, the retail is set back under the upper floors.  Again the glass retail wall needs to be brought out to the edge of the building to make the spaces more inviting.  Too many lanes here so once again a bit of on-street parking will reduce the visual width of the street.

After 2015 I hope the highway lanes can be replaced with an at-grade boulevard, as envisioned by City to River.

Now just imagine arriving in St. Louis from this new boulevard and turning onto Washington Ave with all the improvements I’ve outlined.  This would be impressive and successful.

The main tasks are:

  • Reduce the four lane road to two lanes by adding on-street parking.  The city can do this with minimal cost.
  • Create active facades rather than black walls and holes with surface parking.  Use carts, chairs and tables where needed.  This is up to the private property owners.

Hopefully those who think we must keep all lanes open to through traffic will realize that kills life along the street.

– Steve Patterson


Currently there are "11 comments" on this Article:

  1. I used to work on the landing and walk into downtown for lunch quite often. I agree with everything you suggest. These simple suggestions would enliven that section tremendously.

  2. G-Man says:

    This may be your best post ever, Steve. Excellent suggestions.

    LOL at the “prison-like office building” caption.

  3. JZ71 says:

    Mostly agree, with two exceptions – one, any building, even the US Bank Garage and the “prison” building, can be designed to work at street level. Clear glazing, doors and public activity (retail and restaurants, not private office cubicles) are the real keys to success, as the Hampton Inn here and the CWE library illustrate. What's happening 30'+ up really doesn't matter to a pedestrian on the sidewalk.

    And two, a better answer for the MAC parking lot would be a second transit center, similar to the one at 14th & Spruce. By creating a second anchor and connecting the two with frequent circulator service, we could create a level of activity that will help energize the storefronts along Washington between 6th and the river. (Yes, this is a blatant attempt to steal the concept behind the 16th Street Mall in Denver and make it work here.)

    • Look closely at the US Bank garage and you will see the design makes it impossible to create storefront space at the ground level. A transit center is not needed for the existing downtown trolley bus and I don't think any plans exist to bring bus lines further into the CBD.

      • JZ71 says:

        Nothing is “impossible” – money and will power can solve a lot of problems. And if a transit center were built, more bus lines could be removed from the CBD, improving both the system's efficiency and providing better service to bus riders.

  4. Dave says:

    Great ideas, however, I think the MAC block could be improved by just landscaping between the public sidewalk and the parking lot. Many active streets in other cities I've been to have the occasional parking lot, but it's usually well masked and there are trees/bushes/shrubs or something to maintain the appearance and effect of a sidewalk wall.

    Hopefully with the skybridge coming down and the Dillards/STL Centre redevelopment, retail spaces in this area will become more attractive and bring some more businesses in.

    Oh, and I couldn't agree more about the street parking. It's a must. I rarely see this area packed with traffic, and when it is, is that such a bad thing?

    • There is currently a wall separating the sidewalk from the MAC parking lot. The size of the parking and the resulting hole in the urban fabric requires something more substantial. A tall 1-story building might be adequate.

  5. Margie says:

    Good review/analysis, Steve. Lots of low-hanging fruit here. Top priorities to my mind are removing/minimizing the awful taxi stand on sidewalk in front of the convention center, and getting rid of the parking garage or refacing/populating the street level at 8th and Wash.

  6. Daron says:

    Just as the Hallway concept should be continued down the gateway mall to Kiener Plaza and the Old Courthouse and the arch grounds, so should all that is Wash Ave be continued towards Eads Bridge.

    Wash Ave's street lights are only between 12th and 18th, I believe. Those along with a number of other treatments that can be identified iconically with Washington Avenue need to be continued towards the river. You're right on the big stuff, but the lighting and context need to be carried forward as much as possible too.

    I would have picked 18th street as the western edge. That you picked 20th is interesting. (note Everest Cafe gave up on it) The distance between 18th and Jefferson is in some ways an even bigger challenge.

  7. Eric says:

    Great post. My only complaint would be that you advocate the exact same approach for every block and fraction of a block on the street. While your approach is fundamentally correct, does it not at some point have to be balanced against the street's having variety and allowing for the natural growth of the street?

    • Each block face is unique with different buildings, some have curb cuts, etc. I did not prescribe what types of places should be where – except for a restaurant at Broadway. If you look at 10th to 20th it is basically what I described.


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