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Sunday, November 6, 2005

Recent Slay Blog entries part B: Two major transit projects destroyed Old North in the first place, so why not make it an even three?!?

On the new bridge that is set to span the Mississippi River and smash violently through the Near North Side (my neighborhood, mind you), the author of Mayor Slay's blog wrote recently:

"•The new bridge would be good for Downtown and for the City of St. Louis"

Yeah, EXCEPT FOT THE NORTH SIDE. The bridge will further cut my neighborhood, Old North St. Louis, off from Downtown with the big, icky wall it would create. Already, there are only a couple of walking routes left, and in order to drive on the neighborhood you have to go around it. The street grid between Downtown and my neighborhood has been barbarized, and to what end? The abandoned Schnucks (Still owned by Desco! GEE, THANKS DESCO!) isn't really worth those dead ends, is it?

Old North's connection to Downtown is part of what has driven its amazing revitalization in recent years. Certainly, the fact that Michael and I could walk to our Downtown jobs in under half an hour was part of what drew us here. And it seems that every time I go Downtown, I run into people I know from Old North. During my Sunday AM shift at the grocery store today, two of my neighbors happened to come into the store to shop, completely independently of each other. Old North folks are connected to Downtown. Oh, and I need not point out that Downtown's growth will naturally spill out into the surrounding areas.... If we let them remain connected to Downtown, that is.

What I find particularly offensive about the bridge plans is that major transit lines smashing through this area drove its destruction in the first place! Old North was one of the densest, most vital areas of the city, with multiple dwellings and businesses on nearly every lot. When the Interurban Rail tracks smashed through part of the neighborhood in the 1930s, bringing demolitions and relocating many tightly knit communities, the area gradually began its decline. (Even today, some of the most devastated areas of the neighborhood are near those tracks!) Within a couple of decades, the area was again the victim of a large-scale transportation project, this time when highway 70 was constructed. It cut the neighborhood right in half, and to see what came of it, you need only look at a satellite image of the area and see how many vacant lots there now are. Even as the area now rebounds, parts of the neighborhood east of the highway seem to go left out of the positive change.

You'd think that Old North and the City of St. Louis would have learned that slicing up Old North with transit lines that bring demolition and create physical barriers is a really, really bad idea--the kind of idea that killed the neighborhood in the first place! But what does Slay's blog say about the bridge?

"•The new bridge will be built"

So, we keep blocking and chopping up regular ol' city streets and walking paths, only to lament that we must build more enormous-scale transit projects because for some mysterious reason, no one can get around. And we keep assaulting the Near North Side with stupid, destructive transit projects, even though they have a terrible track record.

This reminds me so much of old 1930s and '40s plans for St. Louis that I've read. Entire city neighborhoods, including Old North and Hyde Park, were declared "obsolete." And there was a definite focus on big streets--first it was the widening of North Florissant (which now gets moderate traffic at best!) and Gravois to make a sort of city street expressway, and later the expressways themselves were put in. The idea was demolish demolish demolish, and make big wide roads for cars. If that line of thinking worked for this area, wouldn't it have worked sometime in the past 70 years? Why is now different? And why are we still operating on these outmoded, obviously ineffectual methods of city planning?


The author of Mayor Slay's blog also commented on the problems with financing the bridge, declaring:

"You can’t build a bridge on pointed fingers."

Yeah, I'll tell you where you can point them fingers, and for that matter, where you can put that bridge. Take it and use it to permanently slice your neighborhood apart and to isolate your community from its surroundings. Put it there in your gleaming Southwest City neighborhood and see how your neighborhood looks in ten years. Take that bridge and keep it, 'cos we don't want it here.


Anonymous said...

Saving on cost, the new bridge now won't have hardly anything west of I-70 compared to the previous Tucker and 14th Street ramps.

The new design will only have a small extended exit to roughly 11th/Cass, just north of the abandonned Schnuck's.

Thus, you'll still be able to walk Hadley and any other north-south street to its west for accessing Downtown on foot.

Michael Allen said...

It's telling how all southside locations for the bridge were quickly dropped as too disruptive to the southside city fabric, yet the northside was always viewed as expendable by highway planners and mayors involved in this wretched deal.

Anonymous said...

The southern bridge option wouldn't be any more or less disruptive to the City's urban fabric than the northern option, especially now that the ramps have been scaled down to a Cass Avenue exit using vacant land northeast of the vacant Schnuck's.

However, the southern option would be more disruptive to East St. Louis. The southern bridge would have required a new multi-lane highway between IL 15 and the new bridge, cutting through a lot more land in already highway-severed ESL.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 1 reflects what I had heard of in terms of this redesign. If true, probably makes a bad design better. It doesn't do much for residents of Cochran whose remodeled townhouses will still face essentially a highway overpass.

Good walking!


Anonymous said...

By that logic though, Soulard Market Apartments or City Hospital would be undesirable places to live.

But many new City residents enjoy the best of both worlds, walkable streets within their own neighborhood, yet quick highway access to the region's employment and services.

I bet many moving to these near southside developments, just as those attracted to the near northside for the Bottle District and other nearby development, will also enjoy having the best of both pedestrian and automobile accessibility, whether accessing downtown or our greater region.

Anonymous said...

And City Hospital sat abandoned for how many years, even under Leon Strauss' ownership?

Joe said...

I hadn't thought about the impact of the elevated Interurban tracks, but you're right, even now they're a real barrier along North Broadway at North Market, and curving south between 11th and Hadley. The fact there are still houses standing in the 1100 block of Tyler, facing the elevated, is amazing.

While the official border of Old North St. Louis is I-70, as noted before, it used to extend to North Broadway. Thus, even without the ramps connecting to Tucker, the bridge complex will still hurt pedestrian access into the area somewhat.

Also worth mentioning is the North-South Distributor (AKA North-South Destroyer) which was eventually dropped and would have sliced through the other side of ONSL, and particularly St. Louis Place. The opposition in Lafayette Square is what really killed it, though.