AIA Martin Luther King Drive North St. Louis Planning Streets

Charrette on MLK Drive this Saturday

This announcement fell into my inbox:

Help plan for the future of Dr. Martin Luther King Drive in the Ville Neighborhood! Alderman O.L. Shelton, the City of St. Louis and AIA St. Louis are working together to bring together design professionals, developers and neighbors for a charrette to be held at Marshall School, 4342 Aldine, 63113 on Saturday Apr. 22.

Green input and perspectives are welcome! If you’d like to participate, contact Michelle Swatek with AIA St. Louis at or (314) 621-3489.

Downtown Streets Urbanism

Belmont and Johnson

by Michael R. Allen

The intersection of Belmont and Johnson in downtown St. Louis is long gone. Belmont Street ran east-west from 14th Street to 16th Street, between Clark and Spruce. Johnson Street ran north-south between Clark and Poplar, between 14th and 15th streets. The two streets were narrower than the primary arteries around them, and served the warehouses and other businesses that existed in this pocket of dowtown St. Louis near the railyards.

These streets disappeared over the years first as businesses expanded and then as surface parking took over the area. New railroad tracks into Union Station were built in the 1950s and obliterated the streets completely. The tracks ran below grade and created a wall that was compounded by the already-existing wall-like railyards to the south and Union Station train shed to the west. Today, this pocket of downtown is mostly parking lots, with the Drug Enforcement Agency and Veterans’ Administration occupying buildings in the area built in the last 12 years. For years, this area was the preferred site for any number of plans for a new train station and other transportation portals. Now, the new multimodal transportation center will rise just south of the elevated section of I-64/40 that runs through here. This pocket will serve as a gateway and will sport a raised walkway between the MetroLink station on 14th Street and the multimodal center.

Back to the story: If you are standing at the site of the intersection today, you are probably on the MetroLink tracks. Stand clear!

Central West End Streets

Gaslight Running-in-Circles

by Michael R. Allen

There are concrete culvert-pipe barriers in Olive Street at the west side of its intersection with Whittier Avenue. These barriers block automobile and scooter traffic on the 4200 block of Olive, best known as the first block of the ongoing Gaslight Square redevelopment project. Thus, the new homes built on a block famous for its social prominence in the city now are inaccessible to the average motorist. Even more important is that Olive Street, a well-used east-west artery, is now effectively blocked between Whittier and Pendleton. Westbound drivers have to veer north to Washington Boulevard (Westminster Avenue to the south is one-way in the opposite direction), but they can’t simply take their journey to that street. Washington is blocked by a gate west of Pendleton!

When the new houses on Olive went on display, Olive was not blocked. Even after people moved in, Olive was not blocked. The reason for the blockage has to be homeowner complaints about traffic. However, expansion of the redevelopment project to the 4100 block of Olive to the east is moving forward. Having the street blocked in the middle of the development area seems extremely shortsighted. Not only will connectivity be lost, but the barriers carry strong negative connotations. Not only do these barriers often mark areas that are crime-ridden, their presence can make crime easier by blocking routes used by emergency vehicles. Fear of vandalism may play a part in the closure, but every residence on the block has a new garage — many of which are two-car garages.

Also, another option for traffic flow that remains that seems worse than driving down the 4200 block of Olive: driving down the alleys on that block. Both the north and south alleys behind the new homes are wide open and newly-paved. They make for a smooth ride that can keep a journey down Olive in motion.

However, with all of the blocked streets in this part of the Central West End, do we want all of these meandering paths? Congestion only becomes worse when there are no logical routes between points and when most traffic is forced onto a few streets. An open grid may enable greater traffic on Olive, but it would keep traffic orderly and predictable.

Most important, traffic flow would help revive some of the dead pockets of the northern and eastern Central West End — areas where there are the most street barriers.

Martin Luther King Drive North St. Louis Streets Urbanism

Old Easton Avenue

by Michael R. Allen

One of the two remaining three-story 19th-century commercial buildings on the south side of Dr. Martin Luther King Drive just west of Jefferson disappeared last week.

We have no photograph of the building. May someone else have a better memory of the building than ours.

Rob Powers did get a photograph of another great commercial building across the street that came down in 2001. The “Heller Co.” sign and its greatly-altered building still remain in use. This block was one of many thriving commercial blocks on the former Easton Avenue; by the 1930s almost every block of Easton from downtown through the Wellston Loop was chock-full of buildings housing apartments, stores and offices. The street must have been fabulously urban.

Today, traces of the past density remain, especially between Grand Avenue and the city limits. But the vitality is less evident, and certainly less concentrated. Enough buildings remain to make the thoroughfare a likely candidate for future revitalization.

Century Building Downtown Parking Streets

Old Post Office Short on Parking Spaces

by Michael R. Allen

The new “old” curbs are in, the sidewalks are being paved and the vintage light standards are up at the Old Post Office in St. Louis. One thing is clear: there will be no on-street parking on the Old Post Office block when the renovation is done.

Really, for a project whose backers are so paranoid about insufficient adjacent parking, it’s a huge embarrassment that there is no actual street parking on three sides of the Old Post Office block itself. Such parking would be convenient to people wanting to stop in at one of of the Old Post Office shops and would form a protective buffer between sidewalk diners and through traffic on Olive, Ninth, Locust or Eighth streets. Assuming any of those people ever show up.

Downtown Streets

900 Block of Locust on the Rebound?

by Michael R. Allen

I have worked inside of the St. Louis Design Center Building at 917 Locust (built 1913, designed by Harry Roach) in downtown St. Louis for a few months now. First I worked at Art St. Louis and now I work at Landmarks Association. During this time, the building and its block has been rather gloomy: few tenants remain in the Design Center due to a forthcoming renovation planned by owners The Roberts Companies, the lobby is dark and cavernous from a 1980’s rehab and there has not been a single occupied storefront on this block of Locust. Add to this the ongoing demolition and construction morass at the Century Building site across Locust, the closure of 9th Street since last September, the ugly Renaissance Grand Parking Garage on this block and the ugly empty parking lot nearby that stretches from 8th to 9th along Locust, and the 900 block of Locust has been a fairly dispiriting place to work this year.

Until now, hopefully. Residential tenants have been moving into the rehabbed Board of Education building at 911 Locust since the spring, and a first-floor tenant seems to be preparing to open. More immediate to my concerns, Heuer Hardware and Locksmith is moving from the Louderman Building into the empty storefront downstairs at the Design Center. The block may be coming to life again! Perhaps next Gus Torregrossa will think about developing the shuttered four-story commercial building at 919 Locust and a buyer can be found for the stucco-covered 1860’s storefront building at the corner of 10th and Locust.

Density is life!

Central West End Forest Park Southeast Streets Urbanism

Sidewalk Failure

by Michael R. Allen

Have you ever tried to walk on Kingshighway through the I-64/US 40 interchange? It’s almost impossible. On both the east and west sides of the street, the sidewalks are almost nonexistent except of the actual bridge over the highway, where they are built into the bridge. Even there, the sidewalks are no wider than five feet. The other sidewalks between Oakland Avenue on the south and Barnes Hospital Plaza to the north are a travesty. The pedestrian literally has to cross busy on and off ramps with no marked pedestrian crossings — the sidewalks just end at the ramp lane, and continue directly across. There are no signs instructing motorists to behave well toward pedestrians — not even a basic sign stating to slow down and be alert for pedestrians.

Walking through here is dangerous, but safer than one alternative — the pedestrian walk behind the Central Institute for the Deaf. I have heard about muggings on this bridge, which is secluded and only visible to motorists below on the highway — they ain’t exactly in a position to help if they manage to see anything while shuttling by at 65 miles per hour.

The worst problem is that this sidewalk is totally, completely and utterly inaccessible to people using wheelchairs. The sidewalk is not continuous, for one thing. It’s also lacking adequate width even for walkers to pass each other comfortably, let alone someone in a wheelchair. Trying to wheel across an on-ramp lane is probably not the smartest thing someone could do, either.

Oh, and if the pedestrian manages to walk successfully through the intersection on the way to the MetroLink station on Euclid Avenue, it isn’t exactly easy to find or well-marked. The hospital looks like a fortress that starts at Kingshighway, and someone unfamiliar with the station may not assume it would be located where it is — the streets seem to be more private service drives back in the complex.

Perhaps the mammoth BJC Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine should think about this the next time they spend several million dollars on new streetlights, planter boxes and illuminated street signs. How about new safe (and ADA-compliant) sidewalks and illuminated MetroLink signs?

The we can start thinking about what to do with the growing spread of ugly huge parking structures for the complex located along Taylor Avenue.

Downtown Streets Urbanism

Bottle District: Another Wall?

by Michael R. Allen

Renderings of the proposed Bottle District show that it will be pretty spotty on connectivity to the street grid. The aerial map shows that east-west streets through the site will not connect to Broadway, although walkways may follow the street lines to connect to Broadway.

This lack of connection will further the wall-like effect of the hulking America’s Center/Edward Jones Dome complex, which acts as a barrier between east and west between 7th and 9th streets and north and south between “Convention Plaza” and Cole Street. On top of this, the Dome is separated from the very wall-like I-70 overpass by only one (empty and unused landscaped) block. With the Bottle District project immediately north of the Dome, the wall effect will be severe.

With the Mississippi River Bridge proposed to the immediate north, this area could become a very scenic but ultimately difficult to navigate area. Visually, it may not seem intuitive to cross this area even on foot, and so people may not even try.

The burgeoning near north side needs greater connections with downtown. The last thing St. Louis needs in its downtown area is another superblock development. The developers need to redesign the plans to connect streets through the Bottle District.

That said, the architecture of the Bottle District raises other issues that I will address in a later essay.

Central West End Infrastructure Streets Urbanism

Reform the Central West End MetroLink station

by Michael R. Allen

The Central West End MetroLink station is becoming the least accessible station in the system. Once upon a time, the station was quite easy to access — its entrance on Euclid Avenue pt it on an open street, there were a few back paths to the station and all was well. In the twelve years since the station opened, the growth blob of the Barnes-Jewish-Children’s Hospital has engulfed the station with new buildings and a disastrous closing of Euclid between Forest Park and Children’s Place. The station’s visibility has declined and access is not as easy. The only back path remaining is an illegal and unwise walk from the platform to Taylor Avenue, which bypasses ticket machines and validators. This path is no option to disabled persons, either. The main entrance on Euclid is obscured by the street closure, which has created an elbow flow at the Euclid and Childrens Place intersection. This flow has made pedestrian life in this area difficult since people don’t come to the same sort of stop at an elbow as they did at a full T intersection. That is, they don’t really stop.

Lately, a large half-block section of sidewalk on Euclid immediately south of the station has been closed for six months for construction of a new building. A covered scaffold could have been put in palce during the project’s duration but such a pedestrian and transit-friendly gesture is of little interest to BJC planners.

I don’t even have to mention ow the mono-use blob development of the hospital has made life pretty boring around the station — there are no shops, no bathrooms and little visual interest.

What needs to be done to make the station better?

– Re-opening Euclid.

– Creating another station entrance at Taylor.

– Creating some strategic cut-throughs in the enormous and large-scaled hospital complex.

– Placing storefronts in the new hospital building adjacent to the station. (Tenants won’t move in, of course, if Euclid remains closed south of Forest Park.)

The situation at the Central West End MetroLink station is proof that density alone doesn’t make for an inviting and person-friendly built environment. Access and thoughtful design choices are essential to making a big city work for its residents and visitors.

Infrastructure South St. Louis St. Louis Board of Aldermen Streets

Blocking Streets in Gravois Park?

Alderman Craig Schmid of the 20th Ward sent the following e-mail to the Gravois Park listserv outlining proposed changes to the street grid in that area of the city. These changes are the tired and ineffective methods of blocking streets and turning others one-way. In Forest Park Southeast, barriers and one-way streets have created fertile pockets for criminal activity and abandonment — check out the 4400 blocks of Swan, Norfolk and Vista to see what effect barriers have on a neighborhood. We’re fighting to get ours removed!

Feel free to give Alderman Schmid your two cents. He’s the only south side alderperson who seems to have genuine progressive inclinations, and usually is reasonable. He may be persuaded.

From: “craig schmid”
Subject: [gravoispark] Proposed barricades and one-way streets to keep non-resident criminals out of area.
Date: Tue, 10 May 2005 23:13:28 -0500

> Greetings:
> The police major for the South Patrol Division has compiled
> statistics to show that 2/3 of the folks arrested in our area come
> from outside of the neighborhoods. Therefore, he is committed to
> working with the City and neighborhoods to install barricades and
> one-way streets to deal with the easy accessibility of our
> neighborhoods to criminals. These are just proposals (which are in a
> number of wards), but the intent would be to try to put them in place
> by June. Let me know what you think.
> Texas south of Arsenal; Juniata east of Minnesota; Nebraska
> north of Juniata; Ohio south of Arsenal; Pennsylvania south of
> Wyoming; Winnebago west of Jefferson; California north of alley to the
> north of Chippewa; Osage west of Broadway; Ohio south of Gasconade;
> Compton between Osage and Gasconade [Marquette Park].
> Change 36xx Iowa to one-way north (was south); Meramec from
> Broadway to California one-way west; Osage from Virginia to Louisiana
> one-way west; Osage from Virginia to Compton one-way east; Miami from
> Arkansas to Grand one-way west; Osage from Tennessee to Louisiana
> one-way east (neighbor suggests one way west); Osage from Virginia to
> Louisiana one-way west (neighbor suggests one way east from Louisiana
> to Compton); Louisiana 34xx block one-way north (neighbor sugggests
> leaving two-way); 35xx Pennsylvania one-way north (was south); 36xx
> Iowa one-way north (was south); Jefferson one way east from Texas to
> Jefferson.
> Thanks.
> Craig