by Michael R. Allen
I certainly don’t disagree that the Gateway Mall needs massive reconfiguration. I’m not opposed to drawing more people to the riverfront. I definitely would like to see a better connection between downtown and the Gateway Arch grounds.
However, as someone who uses downtown as a pedestrian up to seven days a week, I can’t say that any of those concerns is high on my mind as I walk around. One of my biggest concerns is the traffic flow. With the traffic lights not synchronized, the flow of traffic downtown is ragged — especially east of Tucker. This creates a somewhat unpredictable environment for pedestrians, and annoyances for drivers. Perhaps the Gateway Foundation or another civic-minded group would like to underwrite a study on synchronizing downtown traffic lights.
Another concern is the prevalence of loading zones and no-parking zones. On some streets, like almost all of Locust east of 9th Street and Washington east of 10th Street, there is no on-street parking at all. No surprise that few street-level uses are found on these stretches, and that pedestrians avoid these speedways. On-street parking would help businesses, slow traffic and create a more welcoming pedestrian environment.
Also of concern is the growing number of signs, benches, outdoor dining areas and other obstructions that impede the public right-of-way. While not devastating, this problem creates hostile spots for pedestrians, who aren’t always equally able-bodied. I welcome outdoor dining, but hope that the city thinks circulation on public sidewalks is a higher priority.
Then there are street and alley closures and cut-offs that force people into unnatural travel patterns. Sadly, the Gateway Mall Master Plan actually recommends new street closures. Such closures are the worst thing that could happen downtown right now. Streets are the mechanisms of urban exchange; they create economic opportunities for developers and merchants. More streets are always a good thing for a downtown.
Sidewalks and streets are our rights as citizens of a city. They create the means of traversing the city, moving people as well as goods. The success of downtown hinges on the usability of its streets and sidewalks, which deliver people to the buildings where they live, work or spend money. Big plans for the downtown area need to examine circulation issues. In fact, I would argue that the circulation issues are far more pivotal than the supposed lack of destinations fueling the Gateway Mall and riverfront plans. I think that many of the problems with people not going to certain parts of downtown is more due to poorly-functioning streets as well as a lack of places to live, work and shop (read: functional urban buildings). Fixing some of these problems will yield bigger results than any of the current big plans could.