Manchester Avenue in The Grove, South Grand, Washington Avenue: all have seen are are undergoing incredible transformations into more pedestrian friendly streets. Together, it’s tempting to see these projects as a bit of a winning streak for St. Louis. People are talking about how to improve some of our major historic urban commercial districts. Even minds within the City Streets Department are opening to the possibilities. The only negative seems to be that each project has come as the result of one-time million-dollar plus allocations and not as standard operating procedure.
So where to next? How about Clayton? Could the region’s most dense inner suburb become more pedestrian friendly? North Central Avenue is Clayton’s most human-scale street, largely consisting of one and two story buildings. Restaurants and other businesses line both sides of the street. It’s generally where I end up when eating in Clayton, day or night. But for all its charm it’s also a four-lane street with parking lanes as well.
Several other once human-scale streets are likely burdened with too many lanes and too-fast traffic forever. The storefronts along Maryland Avenue should constitute an attractive promenade. They don’t. Similar shops on the north side of Clayton Road just east of Hanley Road suffer a similar fate. And one of my favorite places, City Coffeehouse has an attractive patio only to sit along busy and unattractive Brentwood Boulevard.
The West End Word reports that businessman John Oates is working hard to introduce a new streetscape to North Central Avenue. There’s a blog promoting the idea of a “garden” pedestrian experience and a call for individuals to directly lobby everyone in Clayton city government from the Deputy City Manager to the Mayor.
He’s right. North Central should be a better pedestrian experience. There should be more sidewalk and less traffic capacity. Two lanes could easily handle current and forseable traffic. Outdoor seating at restaurants like Pomme and Barcelona is meager and occupies too much of the available sidewalk. So where does the idea stand? Clayton officials are publicly open to the idea, but also explain that the project is more complex and expensive than Mr. Oates would have people believe. They are correct in this assertion.
Mr. Oates believes Clayton is doing too little to help small businesses while focusing on incentives for large corporations such as Centene. The new Centene tower location, once-upon-a-time reported to be locating in Ballpark Village, was a victory for Clayton and adds more workers to patronize local establishments. There’s little reason Clayton should not have persued Centene. Hopefully they will persue pedestrian improvements with the same vigor. Combating the office park feel of Clayton is a big challenge, but giving pedestrians an inviting anchor street would be a start. Eventually creating a network of inviting walking streets would be transformative. Here’s just one concept for such a network that would reach into surrounding neighborhoods and offer multiple walking options within Clayton: