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Crosswalks Work Better Without Trucks in Them

Last Saturday morning I went out for a walk…ur…stroll in my wheelchair. I had no issues until I reached 8th & Locust (map) – 8 blocks East of my place.

Saturday 4/25/09
Saturday 4/25/09 @ 9:30am

I was trying to continue Eastbound along Locust, crossing 8th.  One block of 8th from Washington Ave to Locust has been closed for a while now as construction crews for the Roberts Tower use the road for staging.  They left the sidewalk open on the East side of 8th.  That is where I was headed so I could get back to Washington Ave. Directly in my path is a big truck.  Parked.  Nobody in sight to yell at either.  I was able to go around and get to my destination but going out of the crosswalk lines does carry risks — even on a slow Saturday morning.

Other times I’ve seen the gate for their construction fence blocking the crosswalk.  Our sidewalks are not packed with pedestrians but we do exist.   Think before you park in a crosswalk!

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Downtown Gets Yet Another Plaza

Today (4/3/09) at 4pm Mayor Slay will officially open The Old Post Office Plaza. This is more open space in a downtown with too much open space but not enough quality urban public space.  And though it may look like it, this plaza is not public.

This 3/4-acre plaza is owned, not by the city, but Downtown Now/The Partnership for Downtown St. Louis.  The plaza is to the North of the Old Post Office, across Locust between 8th & 9th (map).

Don’t confuse this new private plaza with the private plaza one block East, that unused plaza will soon become another parking garage.

The plaza is considered a key piece of the emerging Old Post Office Square, which includes the renovated Old Post Office building across the street at 815 Olive St. and Roberts Brothers Properties’ planned $70 million, 24-story residential tower adjacent to the Roberts-owned Mayfair Hotel at Locust and Eighth streets. (source, August 2007)

The plaza’s designers, BSN Architects of Toronto, describe the project:

The winner of an invited architectural competition, this new public Plaza celebrates the adjacent historic Old Post Office of St. Louis and actively engages the surrounding urban form.  A dramatic three dimensional armature is proposed to provide substantive user amenity and involve the public in the unfolding urban drama of the revitalized downtown. Its morphology incorporates surrounding built features into a dynamic stage for public life inspired by an operatic interpretation of the myth of Daedalus and Icarus.

Yes, some architects actually talk like that.

A year ago the project hit a snag which delayed completion:

Underground construction debris has caused design changes and a three-month delay of the Old Post Office Plaza.

Construction crews working on the $8.2 million Old Post Office Plaza at Ninth and Locust streets downtown hit a snag in recent months when they uncovered concrete, steel and other debris beneath the ground.

The St. Nicholas Hotel, built in the 1850s, was formerly located on the site. The hotel was demolished in 1974, but remnants were left behind. “They simply let it collapse into the ground,” said Kozeny-Wagner President Pat Kozeny. “There’s structural steel, even the building’s elevator.” (source, March 2008)

In August 2008 construction was well underway:

A couple of days ago it now looked like:

As you can see it is mostly a hard surface plaza.  This, I believe, is appropriate for an urban context.  Except for the fact we already have the Arch grounds, Kiener Plaza, Gateway Mall, Baer Plaza, etc…  We need less open space to help create more urban space.  This block, like all the others, used to be filled with buildings.

When it came time to renovate the Old Post Office a 2nd time, the need for immediately adjacent parking was cited by potential tenants.  So although this site existed to the North of the Old Post Office, we instead raze the marble-clad Century Building which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  Some said a garage could not be built on this site.  I say BS.

Hardscape plazas can be interesting.  No doubt Dundas Square (Wikipedia, map) in Toronto was an inspiration:

Above: Dundas Square in July 2006
Dundas Square is a wonderful urban space – very dynamic.  When I visited Toronto in July 2006 my hotel was just a couple of blocks away.  I saw the space on normal days as well as packed for a large annual event.
I haven’t been in the Old Post Office Plaza yet because it has been fenced off as construction was being completed.  I’m looking forward to experiencing the space this afternoon.  I did roll by along the sidewalk on the South edge:
It is shiny & new.  It is more interesting than the old collection of surface parking lots.  But from the outside looking in I could see (not see?) one glaring omission: bike parking.  Holding large events in a vibrant urban area naturally draws crowds on bikes.  Well designed spaces make sure cyclists have a place to secure their bikes.  Such was the case at Dundas Square:

Yet this new $8 million + facility doesn’t have a single bike rack that I could see.  I guess everyone is expected to drive to the plaza to help justify the garage that replaced the historic Century Building?

The ribbon cutting is 4pm today with activities this weekend.


Mass Transit in St. Louis Needs a Bailout

As of Monday, the St. Louis region has a smaller mass transit system:

MetroBus and MetroLink light rail service has been drastically scaled back due to budget limitations at transit agency, Metro.

The issue, like many, is very complex.  The short take is Metro has too little money to provide the limited services we used to have.  Rather than more frequent service, to make transit more attractive, we are getting less.

How did this come to be?  Metro’s expensive legal battle (& loss) over the most recent MetroLink expansion is an easy scapegoat.  But the fact remains that public subsidy of the private car has been ever increasing while transit agencies must fight for crumbs.

The Bi-State Developmemt Agency, known as Metro since February 1, 2003, has been underfunded since its formation sixty years ago in 1949.  Forty-six years ago today, April 1st 1963, Bi-State took over transit routes from the St. Louis Public Service Company and “14 other local bus operators” as part of a $26 million dollar bond issue (Source: Streets & Streetcars of St. Louis: A Sentimental Journey by Andrew D. Young).

Capital funds are easier to find than operating revenue.  Public mass transit is an important part of every strong region.  We need to fix our system and soon.


Midtown Sidewalk No Longer Blocked

March 26, 2009 Accessibility, Midtown 1 Comment

On February 11, 2009 I highlighted an abandoned platform for a long-removed construction elevator blocking the sidewalk on Olive at Grand:

Last week, on the way to class at Saint Louis University, I stopped to take a picture of the now open sidewalk:

Two days ago reader John M. beat me to the punch with the following comment on the original post:

The eyesore has been removed and the sidewalk is back to the way it was. In addition, the one way  on the half of Olive down to Theresa will be reinstated back to a two way street in April after the signs are removed ( one way ) and the block re-striped yellow in the center line.

This is very good for FOX traffic congestion as they can take that right into ample parking.

Yes, Olive is back to two-way traffic.  The picture above was taken when it was still one-way Westbound.  I emailed everyone at City Hall I could think of as well as the bank that owns the property.  Clearly someone got the job done and removed the obstacle that had been left behind for roughly 9 months after the construction elevator was removed.

One day, hopefully soon, the building will sell and will undergo renovations.  The sidewalk may get blocked again when that time comes.  I’m more tolerant when work is ongoing.


Abandoned Construction Elevator Platform Blocks Midtown Sidewalk

February 11, 2009 Accessibility, Midtown 12 Comments

In November of 2004 the ball started rolling to renovate the  Metropolitan building located at Grand & Olive in Midtown St. Louis:

At least six developers are interested in two Grand Center sites up for redevelopment.

A joint pre-bid conference on the properties, which include a vacant site owned by Saint Louis University on the northeast corner of Grand and Lindell and the Metropolitan Building on the northeast corner of Grand and Olive owned by Grand Center Inc., drew several developers or teams of developers. (source)

Pyramid Construction was one of those developers and they succeeded in getting the Metropolitan building by 2006.  Today, however, the building remains vacant and the wooden base from the long-removed construction elevator blocks the sidewalk.

Based from removed construction elevator blocks sidewalk.
Based from removed construction elevator blocks sidewalk.

Last April I broke the story that Pyramid had collapsed and was in the process of shutting down.  By June of 2008 most of their vast real estate holdings were either sold to others or taken back by creditors.  Such was the case with the Metropolitan:

Centrue Bank, the first mortgage holder on a loan to Pyramid Cos. for a planned redevelopment of the building, has assumed ownership of the building at 500 N. Grand. Pyramid bought the vacant, seven-story building for $2 million in 2006. The company planned to open a Hyatt Place hotel on the upper floors with retail on the ground floor. The total development cost was estimated at $30 million.  (source)

The owner of the construction elevator at the site removed the elevator following Pyramid’s collapse in April.  Since then the platform has continued to block the sidewalk and several on-street parking spaces.  The city is losing revenue by not having these spaces open for vehicles.  Pedestrians walking back and forth from various businesses & restaurants in the area must go into the street or walk over the platform.

The renovated Woolworth Building is in the background.
The renovated Woolworth Building is in the background.

Centrue unfortunately got stuck having to foreclose on the property.  Based on tax records, they remain the owner. I’m sure all they want is to be the former owner.

I will be sending the bank, 19th Ward Alderwoman Marlene Davis, and the City’s Director of Streets  an email asking for this to be removed so the sidewalk is once again open for use.

Hopefully we will once again see construction activity at this location but in the meantime the sidewalk needs to remain free of obstructions.  With newly renovated buildings and several new restaurants in the immediate area the last thing we need is an abandoned platform reminding us of Pyramid’s failure.