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Reconnecting St Louis to the Mississippi; Don’t Cover the Highway, 86 It.

People are naturally drawn to large bodies of water — rivers, lakes and oceans. In St Louis we’ve got the mighty Mississippi as our Eastern border. Sadly we’ve made it far too difficult to actually reach the river.

Last week I did a post announcing the National Park Service’s open house to review their proposed General Management Plan for the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial (aka the Arch & Arch grounds). I had jokingly suggested that the city wanted to replace the arch with the world’s tallest parking garage. Reader comments quickly turned to Memorial Drive and I-70 that divides the Arch grounds (and the river) from downtown.

Mayor of Affton wrote:

I think there’s room for 1 and 2 story buildings on the east side of a much smaller, narrower Memorial Drive, with a service road behind them on the arch grounds. Further, let’s really connect some neighborhoods with a train or trolley that goes from Soulard, to Chouteau’s Landing, across the Arch grounds on the east, up to the Landing, Lumiere, the Bottle District and North Broadway.

‘the dude’ wrote:

Highway 70 is already being rerouted – over the new Mississippi River bridge. The “Lid” plan is seriously flawed. The idea of building a lid over the depressed lanes is based on assumptions made before the new Mississippi River bridge became a real project and before we were attacked on September 11th. The Lid is a bad idea on many levels.

‘Kevin’ wrote:

It seems that nobody wants to discuss that the problem with the arch grounds is not the grounds them self, but the private land around the arch. Pretty much every building adjacent the arch grounds has its back to the arch. Imagine if when you looked out the Eiffel tower or the Colosseum all you saw was the back of buildings. The city needs to require all buildings adjacent the arch to have store fronts facing it. Imagine sidewalk dining or shopping looking the park. Its the only way to integrate the monument into a downtown experience.

And no, I have forgotten about the thing called I-70. If they are going to put in a new I-70 bridge they need to remove the section cutting the arch off from downtown. Have the highway end at broadway and fill in the I-70 trench. Do we really need to connect the two bridges?

‘dude’ wrote:

For starters, the NPS should complete a traffic and design study to determine the feasibility/desirability of abandoning the depressed lanes and replacing them with a new Memorial Drive as compared to going with the Lid option.

Forever people have complained about how downtown is cut off from the river and the Arch. The interstate is obviously the barrier. But none of the higher ups are talking about removing the barrier! Instead, they are proposing a literal band-aid solution. One that leaves some 80+ percent of the barrier in place.

‘Scott’ wrote:

My problem with the Arch grounds is that there is not much down there to draw me there and to stick around. The museum is a huge snooze and residents can only enjoy going up the arch so many times. We need attractions to pull people down there and keep them there and spend some money. An aquarium would be a great idea. We need dining options too. Leave the arch alone and develop the grounds around it.

All valid points. At the time the Arch won the design competition the highway was an assumed. It was just thought we’d all drive our single occupancy vehicles there. Those that would walk would do so only at the center of the Arch. To make sure we only crossed at the center new buildings both North and South of the center blocked off the downtown street grid. The result is that Memorial Drive is barely tolerable as a place to drive and not at all as a place to walk. To illustrate this point I’ve put together a short video:


The NPS is incorrectly focusing all their attention on connecting to downtown at one single point — in the center aligned with the Old Courthouse. A better connection to the Arch grounds and down to the river is more than a single bridge or even a 3-block “lid” can address.

The solution?

  • I-70 needs to be removed from the equation (more on that further down).
  • Memorial Drive needs to be reconstructed as a grand boulevard and renamed 3rd Street.
  • Buildings fronting the existing Memorial need entrances facing the Arch.

The new Mississippi river bridge, when built, will become I-70. While some traffic uses this portion of I-70 as a pass through between North & South they can use my proposed 3rd Street Boulevard or other North-South streets on our street grid. I’d remove I-70 from the new bridge on the North all the way to I-44/I-55 on the South. This would permit a larger portion of the downtown and near downtown to begin to heal from the damage caused by the highway cutting off streets.

SF's Embarcadero

San Francisco’s Embarcadero Freeway carried 70,000 cars daily when it was destroyed by earthquake in 1989. Today the new boulevard still carries a considerable amount of traffic while encouraging pedestrians to walk along or cross it. San Francisco took the opportunity to connect the area into their streetcar system. I say we use this new 3rd St boulevard project as an opportunity to introduce a modern streetcar loop to downtown with a section passing right by the Arch.

This new modern streetcar line, complete with accessible low-floor cars, would use Broadway in one direction and the new 3rd in the other. The line would go North of the Edward Jones Dome to the site that has been hyped as the Bottleworks District. At the other end the line would use both Market and Walnut (or Clark). This would connect the Arch grounds to the future Ballpark Village, MetroLink light rail, and numerous hotels. On this end the line could turn around at 22nd with new development on the extra state land that was reserved for the abandoned 22nd Parkway. Back at the other end, when the dome is imploded after the Rams leave or we build them a new dome the line will connect to new development there. The line could be extended east along Cole to eventually reach the old Pruitt-Igoe site as a location for a new dome or whatever Paul McKee has in mind.

With high activity points along the route the line would be well used. Zoning along the line would need to mandate urban buildings with frequent entrances, not blank walls. Ditto along the new 3rd. The buildings we have now are a disgrace. Cars in parking garages have outstanding views of the Arch while the pedestrian on the sidewalk is subjected to a wretched environment.

A little bridge or a lid over the highway just isn’t enough. Earlier generations dreamed big and it’s time we did too if we plan to fix their mistakes.

Update 7/9/08 @ 3pm

I’ve been a bit busy lately and behind on my reading.  One item I overlooked until now is ‘The Case for a New Memorial Drive’ by my friend Rick Bonasch over on his site, STL Rising.  He covers the same topic in a detailed look at various issues – highly recommended.


The Kindness of Strangers

In the two months I’ve been home from the hospital following my stroke I’ve been many places in my wheelchair and more with rides from friends. While I appreciate help (holding doors) I also like to try to do for myself. So close friends will stand there as I get myself through doors, knowing that if I want assistance I’ll ask. And at times I do ask. I’ve gotten pretty good at getting most places I need to go without help.

But Saturday morning, on the way to the Union Station MetroLink station, I hit a particularly rough ADA curb cut at 17th & Pine:

Continuing on 17th something didn’t sound right. I look down and see that my front right tire was knocked off the wheel:

Great, I’m three blocks from home and my wheelchair is now as disabled as I am.

Before I could formulate a plan a man gets out of a vehicle on 17th and offers to help, he had seen me coming down the sidewalk with the tire off the wheel. I had no idea who he was or if he could help but I was certainly in no position to refuse. I hobbled out of the chair to an adjacent brick retaining wall and sat down while this man grabs a toolbox out of his vehicle. He proceeds to unbolt the front wheel and then using a flat screwdriver and hammer gets the non-air type tire back on the wheel. Within 10 minutes he had it fixed and I was ready to go. I offered to pay him something for his time but he refused. I thanked him profusely and continued toward MetroLink.  It’s not like I could have called AAA.

There are many bad people in cities but the majority are decent, caring and upstanding citizens. It is cities that you come in close proximity to strangers. Sometimes that is not a good thing but often it is. Many times it might just be a smile and “Hello” to someone walking on the sidewalk. That chance encounter & connection with someone you don’t know. That just doesn’t happen in the same way at the mall or the Wal-Mart parking lot.


St. Louis Cardinals Need to fix ADA Violations Along Clark St

The new Busch Stadium has been open for two years now. Clark Street has also been reopened along the North side of the stadium between Broadway & 8th for the same two years. To the North of Clark is the site of the former Busch stadium (1966-2006) and the site of the long delayed Ballpark Village.

Wednesday I discovered an issue that makes the sidewalk along the North side of the street non-compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ada.org).

Heading from city hall to the Hilton at the Ballpark (Broadway & Market) for the Downtown Partnership Annual Meeting & Lunch I decided to take Clark. The problem you can see above, the design of the sidewalk doesn’t allow me to just use the sidewalk for East-West travel.

Twice along the same stretch I encountered the same issue. Both times I took the ramp for crossing Clark and road in the street to the similar ramp on the other side. They made plenty of provisions for heading to a game but just not for getting from A to B using Clark Street.

Of course when they built the street & sidewalk they were still working on plans for the Ballpark Village. They unveiled plans for Ballpark Village in October 2006 (see post w/video) so they probably though by now that sidewalk would have changed based on the final construction. I know many of us, including the Mayor, thought we’d see something there by now. So I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt that the sidewalk was temporary. Still as a temporary sidewalk it was not properly accessible and after two years, it is not temporary! Either build your village or fix this sidewalk.

Any lawyer out there want to represent me in suing the Cardinals for violating my civil rights due to their non-compliance with the ADA?


ADA Curb Cut No Longer Compliant After Street Resurfaced

The city has been resurfacing several streets downtown. Initially they were grinding up the old asphalt in the evenings, forgetting people live downtown. After people complained they shifted the schedule so the noisy grinding work was done during daylight and the new asphalt laid after 5pm.

With the top most layer of asphalt missing for a few days it presented some challenges for me & my wheelchair. The biggest issue was avoiding the man hole covers that were now suddenly sticking up but still in the crosswalk. But it was temporary and I managed by changing my route or picking crosswalks that were less problematic.

One of the streets that was resurfaced was 11th. A few corners along 11th still lack an ADA ramp. For example the city has the top two floors at the building at 1015 Locust which is on the NE corner of 11th & Locust. The same corner lacks an ADA curb cut. The other three corners have cuts but that doesn’t help when the direction you want to go doesn’t.

BTW, corner ramps suck! They were basically a cheap way for cities to comply with the ADA — building one ramp to serve two directions rather than building two ramps at each corner — one per side per crosswalk. It did allow more curb cuts to be built with limited funds so that is a good thing. The trouble is now getting people to stop insisting the curb cut must be pushed to the very corner.

The problem with the curb cut at the very corner is that is it not in the natural line of travel down the sidewalk. All the time now I’m having to continually maneuver to the outside corners of the sidewalk. Not so bad when the sidewalks are empty but when others are around it often means I’m crossing in front of them or having to stop to cross behind them.

But these are also dangerous on streets with no curb lane. With traffic driving in the outside lane near the curb and these corner ramps means those of us in wheelchairs are being forced out near or, in some cases, in the travel lane of moving traffic.  Talk about a sitting target!  But this post is supposed to be about a single ramp that got worse after the street was repaved so let me get on with the main topic.

Above is the corner curb cut at the SE corner of 11th & Washington Ave.   As you can see the street now casts a shadow as it dips down to meet the ramp.  It didn’t do this before.  The ADA has guidelines on the slope of both the ramp and of the adjacent street.  The street can of course go downhill as needed but I’m talking about the “crown” ot the street — how high it is at the middle and how much does it angle off to the curbs.

Excessive slopes present a number of issues.  Those using manual chairs can have a harder time getting up the slope.  In the case above the slope is steep and sudden. In my power chair I feel like I’m going to tip backwards, the slope is that steep. Manual chairs often have anti-tippers to prevent falling backwards (little extra wheels at the back that prevent tipping back) but electric chairs have no such devices.  So with anti-tippers in the above situation a person may find as they try to cross that curb cut because as they go up the slope their anti-tippers may catch on the backside. This point is also now more prone to hold water.
My guess is the crew just put down too much asphalt in this section and didn’t realize the implications of their actions.


Public Realm Attacked in SW St Louis City

A Guest Editorial by Jim Zavist, AIA

The attacks continue . . .

On the public realm, that is . . . Watson Road in SW City is not downtown or the CWE. It’s an older four-lane arterial lined with residences, both single and multi-family, churches, banks and small business. It bisects some very walkable neighborhoods and has a well-developed and well-maintained sidewalk system on both sides, mostly with a small tree lawn/planting strip (example below).

Patio dining is something many diners like, and vote for with their feet and credit cards. I like patio and sidewalk dining, especially on weekends like this past one (Saturday night, at Chava’s, for instance), so I’m not a NIMBY. I’m even coming around to the concept of sharing the sidewalks with tables and chairs, as is done by many places on Washington. Where I draw the line is when permanent encroachments are made into the public right-of-way, especially when other alternatives exist.

In response to this demand, more and more restaurants are creating outdoor spaces. In my area/along Watson and Chippewa, both El Paisano and Aya Sophia have recently completed outdoor spaces, and both seem to be doing well. We’re also home to that St. Louis icon, Ted Drewes (013 jpg), and as we all know, they’re heavy users of the public sidewalk.

El Paisano:

Aya Sophia:

Ted Drewes:

It now looks like one of our old-line places, Pietro’s, wants to join the crowd.

This week, the public sidewalk was ripped out and concrete foundations were poured, exactly for what, I’m not quite sure, yet.

My best guess is that we’re getting a permanent deck (on the circular concrete footings) enclosed with a brick wall (on the rectangular footings with the rebar sticking out). I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s covered, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it becomes enclosed, when cooler weather hits. And since it sits smack dab in the middle of the existing pedestrian path, guess what, pedestrians will now be taking a permanent detour.

I guess I’d be more sympathetic and less upset if there were “no other options”. This simply isn’t the case here. The restaurant abuts the public sidewalk (a good thing) on the north and the east. It’s also surrounded by a generous parking lot on the west and south. Why not use the parking lot? I can guess the answer, it’s simple – “We don’t want to/can’t afford to lose any parking.”

Who’s to blame? The owner, for wanting to use what they see as either an extension of their property and/or wanting to put the the public right-of-way to “better use”, as in “Nobody walks there, anyway”, plus “We’re leaving 4′-5′ to squeeze by”? Their architect/designer/contractor for drawings up the owner’s plans and asking the city (been there, done that – sometimes you gotta push the envelope”, plus you’re getting paid to ask, beg and/or plead the owner’s case)? The city for saying yes? Ding, ding, ding! Ultimately, it’s the city’s responsibility to just say no, you’re simply going too far. It won’t make you popular, but it’s your job! Whether it’s the planning department or the public works department or the alderman, somebody (everybody?) needs to be doing their job (better?) and looking at the bigger picture. We have rules for a reason, to protect the public, and there’s no valid reason for making any exceptions here.

I don’t care if you’ve been in the neighborhood for nearly fifty years. I don’t care if you have new competitors and you’re losing a few customers. I don’t care if you’d lose a few parking spaces – your competitors have made that choice. What’s happening here is permanent. It’s not like a few chairs and tables blocking the sidewalk (and can be moved). This will degrade the pedestrian experience in an area and a city that should be encouraging more walking, and it’s another hit on our fragile urban fabric. And, unfortunately, it’s most likely a done deal and won’t/can’t be changed . . .

Local Architect Jim Zavist was born in upstate New York, raised in Louisville KY, spent 30 years in Denver Colorado and relocated to St. Louis in 2005.

Update 6/26/2008 2:20pm:

Steve here, thanks Jim for bringing this to everyone’s attention.   Some of the comments reflect the attitude that they likely have a permit so all must be well.  One such example of work having a permit was the construction of an ADA ramp into a renovated building on Olive (see post).  In this case the ramp was allowed to encroach on the public sidewalk in order to provide an accessible entrance for the building.  The problem is the ramp was being constructed too far into the right of way.  So far that someone in a chair trying to reach this entrance would not have been able to do so.  By posting about it midway it gave everyone a chance to review the situation and make corrections before it was too far along.  Wednesday morning I had a nice face to face meeting with the new Commissioner on the Disabled, David Newburger.  He will be looking into this situation on Watson.  As we discussed sometimes projects are allowed to encroach on the public space.  The task is to ensure the minimum clearance is protected.  But the minimum is just that, minimum.  To create walkable neighborhoods we need to strive for more than the minimum.