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Saturday, June 23, 2007

How About a Big Plan for Downtown Circulation?

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.


Samuel said...

Yes, I have to say that getting people around downtown is a much more pressing issue than the Gateway Mall. Metro just doesn't serve the most heavily trafficked areas of downtown at this point and most people will not take buses and we all know it.

Specifically, I have to agree with the synchronization of signals. I live on 4th St and drive to the YMCA down on 15th and Locust all the time. I have to stop at 6th St, 7th St, 9th St going down Washington to get to Tucker, and when I drive back to 4th St, I will miss signals at Tucker and Broadway. Every other signal I will make. Its quite consistent.

The other big thing for me is the lack of quality lighting on the sidewalks downtown except for the areas around the "parking district" (the parking lots surrounding Busch Stadium and the Kiener Plaza lots) and Washington Ave. Going down Olive or Locust especially around the Old Post Office at night the sidewalks are almost pitch black. At least to me its rather obvious that sidewalks should be brightly illuminated downtown. Its rather weird since that whole area is going to be almost completely residential within a year or two. I personally am surprised that Pyramid hasn't hit up the city to do something about it yet.

Going back to the YMCA, the stupid thing is I would like to not have to drive there, but its just too far to walk if I am going there to workout for over an hour. So I would have to argue for some sort of transit option that functions to circulate people around downtown. Yes, I do have an idea.

Back in March they were digging up Washington Ave for something and I saw the old streetcar lines which got me thinking... Personally, I think a streetcar line would be great. Personally, I would have that went down 6th street (making it a two way street again) since it empty 99% of the time anyway, down market, up tucker and back around Washington would be a great circulator for downtown. I could even forsee a second leg that went down to Jefferson too as development gets going farther west.

The biggest reason I see for something along these lines is as development heads farther west, there lacks the employment base for the residents over there. So something is needed to transport them over towards the commercial core. Otherwise they are just going to drive to work anyway which just defeats the purpose of living downtown.

Anonymous said...

I'm not surprised that Pyramid (or any other downtown developer for that matter) has not asked for public improvements--

St. Louis's vaunted business "leaders" would rather take a TIF than pay their fare share in taxes to invest in public services.

Anthony Coffin said...

Sam, just curious if you have considered a bicycle? I would much rather see bike lanes downtown than streetcars. Street cars take up a lot of space and who wants to depend on our user unfriendly and undependable public transit system? Though I could see streetcars on Tucker/Gravois/N.Florrisant and Washington all the way to the CWE. If I understand correctly Pyramid is working with the city towards making streets in the CBD TWO way again, thank god!

MattHurst said...

i always thought making my way through downtown was a little confusing and frustrating, but you mean to tell me those signals aren't even sychronized? and i always only thought their sychronization was executed using bad algorhythms...
for what it's worth, maybe you can use the platform you've been given lately to shake some people awake

constant change said...

Some people want parking, some want parks and art, some want pedestrian and bike safety addressed, some want to pass through with ease, some want / need public transit, and we need to make it somewhere people come while visiting the arch, etc. to create more business traffic beyond events.
So, how do combine ALL these things? I say we revisit the platform over the highway idea, at least the one section directly between the mall and the Arch. Raise it 20 ft or so (over the pedestrian version of frogger) and extend it till it reaches level ground in front of the court house.
Along the edges start two paths that elevate out over the streets and run directly over them headed west over the intersections and splitting into four legs, one towards busch, two into Keiner Plaza, or onto a raised platforms with shops underneath , and whatever people think belongs on top, anyway continue doing this over two block sections till you have a raised bicycle / pedestrian highway extending all the way out to Union Station, with lots of little shops below, but with a park like feel on top. This would make bicycle patrol easier to me and ease some of the traffic, we wouldn't be as scared to synchronize the lights, there wouldn't be so many people to dodge. extend a few legs of this wherever its's smart north and south. Put parking below the platforms at a 'basement' level where sunlight is still let in and a less dungeony open air feel is accompliched. Streetcars; yes they are cool and nostalgic, but why go backwards in technology in our forward thinking city (lol)? A hanging light rail system dropping in front of the arch, Busch in front of Union Station, make a circle north and drop some where on Washington, in front of the convention center, (catching the Metro Link), and down to the new casino/riverfront and back around. Add stops where you think they belong, but not many. One way, don't care which.
Is there a good way to get from 70 to 40W that I haven't found yet? That and traffic backups get me cutting through the city from the north to get south or west, Maybe double deck Tucker with fewer (and synchronized) lights. I don't know, I haven't thought that through. My only problem is the parade baloons getting under the pedways.... It's a work in progress. Oh, forgot to mention a bike & scooter lane on the pedways.