I’m a regular user of Forest Park. These days I enter the park from Clayton Avenue, passing under Kingshighway at the far Southeast corner of the park. Before moving to Forest Park Southeast I live in University City and entered the park from Forsyth or sometimes the corner of Lindell and Skinker. Before that I lived in the Central West End and accessed the park via West Pine Boulevard. Anyway, I’ve been around the park and have always been frustrated by the infrequency and unfriendliness of pedestrian access.
The issue has arisen again as the “New I-64” is set to reopen along the south side of Forest Park. Some, including myself, think that a parkway should have replaced I-64. Some would like to see I-64 tunneled through the park (an incredibly expensive and unrealistic idea, in my opinion). But what we have is neither. And as such, I am concerned with two questions: First, has the “New I-64” made pedestrian accessibility better or worse and is access to Forest Park from the south better or worse than accessibility from the west, north or east.
Some perspective and explanation is likely in order regarding the map above. What I have attempted to do is highlight pedestrian access points to Forest Park and make an educated guess as to which access point a user from a particular neighborhood may most frequently use. Lastly, I’ve highlighted barriers to entry. In some places you may cut across a street and enter the park at the point of your choosing. At other places gaining access to the park is limited for one reason or another. These barriers are highlighted in white. I’ll address the nature of the barriers later, as that clearly affects to pedestrian experience.
The first thing apparent to me is that accessibility isn’t particularly easy in a number of locations. From the west pedestrians can cross Skinker and walk on the park path, but can only enter further into the park at Wells Drive or Wydown due to Kennedy Forest and the golf course. There is an unpaved walking path leading in to the Kennedy Forest approximately across from Rosebury Avenue as well, but in effect there are two entrances to the park along its western boundary.
To the north accessibility is most limited by the large single-family homes that line Lindell Boulevard and Forest Park Parkway behind them. Residents just a few hundred feet north of the park must walk to Skinker, Des Peres, DeBaliviere or Union to enter the park. Cricket Drive is another entrance, but is not a direct path for all but a very few pedestrians. The northern entrances to the park likely make sense because most pedestrians are funneled to one of the entrances by Forest Park Parkway and the homes on Lindell. Once again the golf course severely limits access to all but the walking path. Having a path(s) allowing pedestrians to traverse the golf course would be a welcome addition. Of course Forest Park is going the other way and removing pedestrian paths and creating larger barriers.
On the east Central West End residents must enter the park via West Pine Boulevard. From there one can take Grand Drive or the footbridge over the MetroLink line. There should be a pedestrian entrance to Forest Park across from Laclede Avenue and the path and footbridge should be greatly enhanced. Although serving an institutional population south of Forest Park Avenue, the entrance across from Children’s Hospital should be more significant and sidewalks need to be added to the Hospital Drive entrance. The Clayton Avenue entrance has been improved if only by having new sidewalks and lighting and the removal of the northbound Kingshighway exit ramp.
I’ll include the new footbridge to the Forest Park Southeast neighborhood on the east side as pedestrians using the footbridge would enter the park via Clayton Avenue. The footbridge has its quirks but it’s location and design are an enormous improvement over the previous footbridge. I’m guessing that there will still be a few muggings here each year, but it’s much, much more safe that what neighborhood residents were using in the past.
Considering pedestrian connection on the south side of Forest Park brings me back to my two questions: First, has the “New I-64” made pedestrian accessibility better or worse and is access to Forest Park from the south better or worse than accessibility from the west, north or east.
As mentioned above, the new Forest Park Southeast footbridge is a huge improvement and the Clayton Avenue park entrance is somewhat improved as well. The pedestrian tunnel near the Science Center is better than the tunnel it replaced. While the old tunnel nearer Macklind Avenue provided a more direct connection for cyclists or pedestrians coming from The Hill, the new tunnel better serves the Kings Oak neighborhood and SLU High School. The most significant improvement to the tunnel wasn’t recognizable before its completion: The old tunnel had a zig-zag entrance that prevented users or passersby to see into the tunnel. It was a dark, uninviting place. The new tunnel is straight through. Driving down Oakland Avenue one can see clear through the tunnel. This makes it more safe and more attractive; more pedestrian friendly.
Looking at the Hampton Avenue, access has been approved, again if only by rebuilding infrastructure. Although somewhat longer than crossing Hampton Avenue, once in the park users can cross under Hampton to access the recreational path. The Tamm Avenue bridge is more pedestrian friendly as well. While the fencing and lighting is bland, it is an improvement.
My conclusion is that the “New I-64” project has improved pedestrian access to Forest Park. I do not think that current access is adequate and I believe it’s an absolute travesty that Forest Park is not better connected to surrounding neighborhoods.
Finally, while pedestrian access to the park from the south is not adequate, it’s not much worse than the rest of the park. The glaring caveat to this is that crossing I-64 by tunnel or bridge is exceptionally less appealing than crossing Skinker, Forest Park Parkway and Lindell or Kingshighway. I believe that this points to more of a problem with Forest Park, the entity, and how the park is managed than with MODOT.
I understand that MODOT would push to build a highway that best serves the car. What I do not understand is why Forest Park Forever and other stake holders do not demand better pedestrian access to the park. Some give and take would be expected, but the park constituency should be very demanding on this issue. Instead we seem to be stuck in a take and allow relationship.
For anyone hoping that the pedestrian experience to, from and in Forest Park will become ascendant you’re out of luck. As written about here, Forest Park Forever does not recognize as a “key goal” the pedestrian experience and the newly hired President of the organization is a career MODOT engineer who managed the “New I-64” project. We should all expect to settle for a destination park that prioritizes the moving of cars to and from various attractions as the expense of the casual park visitor.
What should have been (still should be) built to improve access across I-64? Take a look at this project in Providence, RI connecting a residential neighborhood to India Point Park: