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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Median Planters

Before the new Downtown Economic Stimulus Authority rushes to order new median planters for Tucker Boulevard downtown, its members should make an inspection of the results south on Tucker between Chouteau and Lafayette. There, the new median planters do more than serve the needed purpose of slowing traffic. The planters are too tall, blocking the view across the street and reinforcing the divide between the King Louis Square development and LaSalle Park. Being made of concrete, they are starting to get scuffed by cars -- and even without scuffing are bland.

And, while I am sure that downtown plantings would get more care, the median plantings on 14th Street nearby -- more sensibly planted on lower, curb-style medians -- are decidedly shabby and overgrown. It's amazing that in three short years the "beautification" plantings on 14th Street would already be so carelessly untended and the pattern of neglect that plagued the Darst-Webbe project would begin to return. Alas, one cause may be that 14th Street has been narrowed and traffic has been shunted west to the barren Truman Parkway. While broad thoroughfares like Tucker are generally disruptive, narrowed streets with obstacles like 14th Street often become dead spaces due to a lack of traffic. That seems to be what has happened to 14th Street, although it does not excuse the lack of maintenance.

A better idea for both the medians on Tucker and the plantings on 14th Street might be fewer exotic plantings and more native plants, and less elaborate plantings in general. Streets need beautification, but their primary purpose is the movement of people and vehicles. Contrary to city-in-a-garden musings, the street is no landscape. Why not focus instead on the quality of pedestrian experience?

Hopefully improvements on Tucker will be sensitive to the needs of street and sidewalk users, and not showy disruptions.


Anonymous said...

At the recent Great Streets Symposium, urban designer Greg Tung showed how vertical elements make much more difference to the pedestrian experience than horizontal. IOW, if money's tight, buy trees and lighting, not pavers. Planters would seem to fall in between something vertical and horizontal.

But the most effective idea of Tung's was not to carve out medians, but bump out tree wells into the street with on-street parking in between. Doing so still narrows the lanes, thereby slowing motorists. But unlike a median, bumped out tree wells makes the sidewalks feel wider, when a median ironically pushes traffic closer to the sidewalk.

Michael Allen said...

Great points from Greg Tung via Anonymous.

DeBaliviere said...

Those ideas make an awful lot of sense - we need more street trees, especially downtown on streets like Broadway and Fourth. The trees added to Washington Avenue made a huge positive difference in the appearance of the loft district.

Anonymous said...

^And you can easily buy many more trees for every foot of irrigated median. After all, for every 50 feet of continuous median, you could do just two tree wells at 4-feet squared.

Anthony Coffin said...

Trees are fine but I don't think they are key. What is needed is ample on street parking, wide sidewalks, and good lighting. The medians that are being built on the southern end of Tucker are a huge hindrance to a pedestrian friendly environment and only give people more encouragement to drive as if on a highway.

Anonymous said...

Trees are key when you don't have the width for wider sidewalks or the lanes for on-street parking. One way or another, something needs to be the edge of the pedestrian zone, especially along wide streets like Tucker, whether it is trees, parking or wider sidewalks.

But a median by itself only allows motorists to drive faster without worrying about opposing traffic. And such median then pushes the faster traffic closer to narrow sidewalks without any trees or parking acting as their psychological, protective barrier.