Kingshighway Viaduct Plan Requires Revision, Offers Misguided Shaw Boulevard Realignment

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Kingshighway viaduct project - City of St. Louis, 2013The replacement of the Kingshighway viaduct between I-44 and Vandeventer Avenue has been necessary for some time. The crumbling 1936 structure is well past its anticipated lifespan and anyone driving this section of Kingshighway has experienced the blood pressure spike that comes along with the quick climb and descent of the viaduct’s narrow lanes. A replacement is necessary and offers the opportunity to address adjacent issues with Shaw Bouleavard and Daggett Avenue. Unfortunately, the initial plan presented by the City of St. Louis at a recent public meeting gets it wrong.

The 720-foot viaduct carries more than 34,000 vehicles daily. As of a 2010 inspection, the structure has been labeled “structurally deficient”. The replacement will remain six lanes, with three widened standard 12-foot lanes in each direction. Sidewalks, where none currently exist, will be added, as will an additional street south of O’Connell’s Pub. This is where the initial proposal take a wrong turn.

Aligning Shaw Boulevard east and west of Kingshighway would create a much more simple intersection at Kingshighway that what currently exists. The change would better serve east-west traffic on Shaw, and perhaps most-important, allow for a left turn onto Shaw from southbound Kingshighway. This is important as current southbound traffic wishing to turn east, often to get to the Missouri Botanical Garden must turn on McRee north of I-44, or continue south to Vandeventer and double back.

What isn’t easy to understand is the plan to retain existing Shaw Boulevard north of O’Connell’s. Access from Kingshighway would be limited to northbound traffic. Therefore, anyone using the retained “north” street would upon entering or exiting, use the new “south” Shaw Boulevard, as someone northbound on Kingshighway would presumably be returning southbound and vice-versa. As well, MoBOT visitors (and others) returning west on I-44 would be better served using “south” Shaw Boulevard as it would allow more time to merge across lanes to reach the westbound I-44 ramp.

Kingshighway viaduct project - City of St. Louis, 2013
{initial city plan showing “north” and “south” Shaw Boulevards, leaving O’Connell’s Pub on a traffic island}

The addition of “south” Shaw Boulevard requires taking substantial parking from O’Connell’s. To address this, the city proposes demolishing the three-story warehouse behind the restaurant. Not only is the retention of “north” Shaw Boulevard redundant, it results in the loss of a viable building. Instead, parking for the Missouri Botanical Garden facility and O’Connell’s should be aggregated, “north” Shaw Boulevard should be removed and the resulting space use for parking.

Kingshighway viaduct project - City of St. Louis, 2013
{eliminating “north” Shaw Boulevard (orange) creates clearer traffic and pedestrian patterns, provides additional parking, is cheaper to maintain and retains the three-story 1911 warehouse}

The initial city plan would introduce another traffic conflict to Kingshighway (“south” Shaw Boulevard). Retaining “north” Shaw Boulevard unnecessarily introduces additional pedestrian conflicts with traffic. The city would also be tasked with maintaining another city street, if only a block. The city plan provides O’Connell’s a total of 50 parking spaces. A quick sketch up of removing “north” Shaw Boulevard shows at least 66 spaces available.

This plan simplifies traffic patterns, reduces vehicular and pedestrian conflict points, preserves a viable warehouse and provides additional parking, while costing less for the city to maintain. As-is, the plan does not best serve adjacent residents, visitors or businesses.

Kingshighway viaduct project - City of St. Louis, 2013
{initial city plan showing “north” and “south” Shaw Boulevards, leaving O’Connell’s Pub on a traffic island}

Kingshighway viaduct project - City of St. Louis, 2013
{eliminating “north” Shaw Boulevard creates clearer traffic and pedestrian patterns, provides additional parking, is cheaper to maintain and retains the three-story 1911 warehouse (green)}

Kingshighway viaduct project - City of St. Louis, 2013
{the 10,000 square-foot warehouse dating from 1911 would be demolished}

The viaduct itself will be a significant improvement. The city has smartly decided to add sidewalks where today there are none. Pedestrians traveling north-south currently access the parallel access streets and walk across the railroad tracks at-grade. This isn’t recommended, but doing so will give you peek at an unofficial skate park that has been built over several years tucked away under the structure. These parallel streets would be removed and Daggett Avenue would dead end at the viaduct from the west.

The sidewalks will be separated from traffic by concrete barricades. This is important as traffic on Kingshighway moves fast. One need only walk the 2,000-foot Kingshighway viaduct to the north between McRee and Manchester Avenues to feel the severely unwelcoming experience of walking unseparated from 40mph+ traffic. At more than 1/3mi, that can be more than a five minute walk for many.

Kingshighway viaduct project - City of St. Louis, 2013
{the Kingshighway viaduct between McRee and Manchester Avenues lacks a barrier between pedestrians and vehicles}

It’s a positive step to see this issue addressed in a more effective manner than past, even recent city projects. The just rebuilt Jefferson Avenue viaduct was smartly reduced from six to four lanes, even bike lanes and new sidewalks were added. Regrettably, the width of the attractive median would have been better added to the sidewalks to allow room for a barrier between pedestrian and vehicular traffic.

Kingshighway viaduct project - City of St. Louis, 2013
{the Jefferson Avenue viaduct lacks a barrier between pedestrians and vehicles}

The initial Kingshighway viaduct plan calls for five-foot wide sidewalks and 14-foot wide outer traffic lanes. These lanes should be 12-feet with the additional width added to make the sidewalks more functional. The added lane width is, in theory, to accommodate bicyclists. Yet, not only do bicyclists know that Tower Grove Avenue (to the east) and Macklind Avenue (to the west) and far superior north-south routes, with three traffic lanes, any cyclist(s) should “take the lane” and avoid having vehicles attempt to squeeze by.

Ultimately, city planning of streets, sidewalks and other infrastructure seems to be improving and feedback from the public has often been taken into account. Whatever is built to replace the failing viaduct will be in place for more than half a century. It’s extraordinarily important to get it right. What has been presented here falls short and the city should reconsider its initial plan.

Kingshighway viaduct project - City of St. Louis, 2013
{rendering of new Kingshighway viaduct}

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  • Ihanaf

    “Crews will lay a new sewer line for future construction, disconnect old utility lines, and demolish a City-owned property at 4640 Shaw Blvd, which is needed to realign Shaw from its current zigzag pattern.” Bull!. the demo is not ‘needed’ at all. The site is to become another parking lot.

  • MuseumStL

    I am appalled that ONCE AGAIN the City of St. Louis wants to tear down a historic structure without any thought to saving and restoring it. The Kingshighway Viaduct was a WPA project from the 1930s and should be restored and torn down as a unique piece of St. Louis history. Every engineer and politician in the City should be ashamed of themselves!!! With every building and structure you tear down, you destroy another piece of St. Louis history. I am so sad that no one in the City goverment can see this. Remember the Arena!!! The leaders of the City of St. Louis SUCK! Remember this next time you go to the voting polls. Thanks for reading this.

  • STLEnginerd

    Curious, since Ihanhaf gave this article a bump, what is the status of this. Did the revisions to the proposal gain any traction? I haven’t been down there in a while.

    This was one of the most well reasoned and convincing articles I’ve read on this site so I hope it made a difference.

  • Ihanaf

    I think this area is covered in FPSE’s form based code that currently under development. Would be interesting to see what is proposed. Surely not parking lots.

    • Alex Ihnen

      I’m positive this area isn’t touched by the FPSE form based code.

      • Ihanaf

        That is odd. I went to one of the public meeting and remember wondering why they were including some area south of I-44 since the neighborhood ended at I-44. And I forget what the explanation was. You may have more current info anyhow.

  • kjohnson04

    I like your idea of removing “Shaw North” and moving intersection to “Shaw South.” My only contention is the need for additional parking.

    Generally, the MoBOT parking lot (formerly the RF Pasta property) looks like the satellite views. Largely unused. Perhaps MoBOT could allow O’Connell’s patrons to use their largely unused lot. Make the properties east of O’Connell’s open to development and dense the area around there. Or perhaps move the now displaced skate park underneath Kingshighway to here.

    As for the bus routing; suprisingly, the routing for the 99 Lafayette, the rejiggered 80 Park-Shaw (prior to 2009), and the 13/14 Union/Botanical Gardens have used the routing for at least 40 years, if not longer. It’s unlikely the BSDA would change the routing too much, at least not to the degree that requires this much of a change. The only major change is that buses only travel west on Shaw across Kingshighway. The pre-2009 routing had the 80, later 14, going both east and west here.

  • dempster holland

    I would be curious to know the reaction of the city to your suggestions. The important
    thing for those who remember gaslight square is not to upset or change O’connells

    • Alex Ihnen

      I recall the city’s response being that the north Shaw segment was needed because of the turning radius needed for city buses turning east onto Shaw from Kingshighway. My response was that there must be a better way to accommodate a bus route that will change many times in coming years. We can’t/shouldn’t sacrifice 100yo buildings and pay for more expensive infrastructure w/o better planning. I was also told that the warehouse needed work, didn’t have functional plumbing, etc. My response was that should doom the building. Kind of a predictable thought process, disappointingly.

      • dempster holland

        translation of “no functional plumbing”: does not have every
        little gimmick the plumbing lobby has put into the building
        code over the years