One Image to Help Explain the Boulevard v. I-70 Issue in St. Louis

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boulevard v interstate at the arch

It may not be immediately clear to everyone how significant the difference is between the image on the right and that on the left, but it should be. The image to the left as taken well after the Arch grounds were cleared. A widened Third Street serves as a downtown boulevard. One can see human-scaled commercial buildings on its west side. One sees the Old Cathedral as connected to downtown. The image to the right shows a completed Interstate 70. The difference in appearance, the new disconnectedness is stunning. No longer does it seem that any human-scaled activity belongs here, and in fact, it no longer exists here. To some, the difference above may seem less than definitive, but it's made all the difference on the eastern edge of downtown St. Louis.

Added image below: Unfortunately, the image above doesn't show the transition lanes, the more impervious barrier between the Arch and city. For several blocks north and south, there's zero access, not for cars or pedestrians. It is perhaps these sections that are the most damaging and the most ignored.

I-70 at Arch

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  • Gary Kreie

    I think this image from the original winning team that included Saarinen and Dan Kiley is pretty interesting. It kept the Old Rock House as an entry to the Arch, and had multiple restaurants. And it seems to show the interstate going under a long boulevard that keeps the street grid.

    http://www.landmarks-stl.org/images/uploads/architects/archmap.jpg

  • Paul Hohmann

    Here’s a photo of the no access transition areas that occur both north and south of the depressed section: http://www.flickr.com/photos/vanishingstl/3296891397/in/pool-citytoriver/

  • Gary Kreie

    When the new bridge opens, we won’t need a full interstate highway there. We may find that out if they shut down the highway to finish the lid. Also, didn’t the original design of the Arch show a boulevard with two thin flying walkways over a boulevard? Since the new museum opening is below grade and almost as far West as Memorial Drive, it wouldn’t be hard to imagine a pedestrian tunnel under the Boulevard straight into the lower of the two levels of the Museum, like the one from the Dome to Lumiere. They built that one in spite of MoDOT’s elevation of the highway above the street grid.

  • kuan

    I wouldn’t say there is much connection between the Cathedral and the downtown in the left image. In fact, in that situation, the right image (today’s situation) actually might better connect the Cathedral with the downtown. If there DOT is interested in implementing something with the width of the the boulevard on the left, and no traffic lights to mitigate flow rates, then keeping it depressed is preferable. If they want to actually cultivate the connectivity that neither of the above images contains, they’ll need to accept far lower LOS and constrict throughput rates with off-sequenced lighting and other traffic calming enhancements.

    • Alex Ihnen

      The left image clearly lacks crosswalks, etc. as it was just built in that photo, but it maintains the street grid and preserves the opportunity for commercial development facing the Arch. The trench at right kills that option outright.

      • Exactly. The presence of the highway means I’ll never get to live my dream of enjoying a cup of Kaldi’s coffee while sitting at a table fronting Memorial Dr with a perfect view of the majestic Arch.

        • Max H

          Unless you cap it completely for 2-3 blocks…. Why isn’t that the most choice option… You get to keep your I-70 AND can have development facing the arch without the trench in plain view.

          • Noise, which a small 2-3 block cap will do very little to diminish. Don’t forget about the area immediately south and north of Washington Ave either. Can’t cap an elevated highway.

          • guest

            Noise? If noise is your concern, MODOT is only building a one block lid, which is the scale Danforth’s report to the Mayor said was too small to mitigate the noise and fumes of the depressed lanes. Fast forward five years, and a lower cost, one-block lid is what we’re getting.

          • RyleyinSTL

            Dallas just finished putting a multiblock lid downtown and the result was transformative (and quiet).

          • guest

            *Multi-block* is the key word here. STL is getting one block, with no changes to the oppressive elevated lanes or the unwieldy transition from depressed to elevated. Well, yes, actually there will be a change: more highway ramps in and out of the depressed lanes, widening the gap between downtown and the park/riverfront .

          • Adam

            i would add that the long-term cost of maintaining a capped highway is significantly greater than the cost of maintaining a boulevard.

          • samizdat

            With the new bridge (and more importantly, the new connections on the east side), I-70 is superfluous south of the bridge. Utterly unnecessary. The only reason it still exists is because of MODOT, pure and simple. Oh, and weak politicians.

      • kuan

        How wide is that boulevard? 6 lanes it looks like, plus street side parking and turn lanes. Given the generous widths used along high capacity roads, that’s 12 feet times 9, roughly, or 108 feet. Then, throw in the median, at, let’s say 10 feet minimum and you’ve got a 120 foot wide throughway. To suggest that any scale is preserved in that over the freeway, which is, what, four lanes plus shoulders, would be foolhardy. I would contend that the grade shift actually functions to create at least some semblance of program shift on the site, reducing one extremely wide road into three instances of thinner road. Granted, the cumulative effect is still very negative, but to suggest that the boulevard in the left image is in any way preferable… I simply can’t agree with that. No degree of streetscaping could ever manage to overcome the sheer scale of that development.

        Regarding capping: While a nice move, from both a political and aesthetic standpoint, it does not resolve the fact that two singe-direction throughways remain extant with little traffic mitigation elements present. A cap, thus, would perform merely as an overpriced median. (As an aside, I am unsure why a cap is cost probative when lifting the whole road up to grade is such an intensive task in and of itself.)

        The only way to stitch the river and the city back is to be aggressive and take the stance that this throughway is simply not appropriate at its present scale given the context. I would propose two options:

        1. You cap and realign the roads so you have one, smaller bi-directional path. This, of course, is far too expensive.

        2. You introduce the boulevard, but on a sever diet targeting managed congestion rather than high throughput (LOS D or E for the traffic engineers). The question then becomes what do you do with those daily trips? To this I would propose that a study be performed to understand whether those trips are inter or intra-city. If they are intercity, there is no need for such a road and if they are intra-city, can the path feasibly be rerouted to more contextually appropriate conditions? Say, the spaghetti junction already embedded across the river?

        Final note: To suggest that the boulevard scale shown would encourage street level commerce would be to simultaneously insist that such could exist alongside, say, Jefferson. Any such nuanced small parcel development of pedestrian scale architectural character present along this “stroad” (http://www.strongtowns.org/journal/tag/stroads) is purely the product of grandfathering. No new development succeeds in such a way along these environments. A great case study would anything along North Jefferson, specifically.

        • Alex Ihnen

          Your comments make sense when reading them, but then when applied to what we know, they fall flat. Michigan Avenue at Millennium Park in Chicago is very similar to the image above (and needless to say, what appears in the image could easily be improved). Kingshighway at Forest Park is very similar as well – highlighting an easy contrast: The downtown Hyatt and the Case-Park Plaza Hotel. The Hyatt turns its back to the sunken Interstate mess (so bad that even the iconic Arch can’t overcome its detrimental affects), while the Chase faces Kingshighway and Forest Park. Sure, Kingshighway could be better here as well, but imagine a sunken Interstate between the CWE and FP for a second. Shouldn’t those arriving at the Hyatt pull up to check in and be standing across from the Arch? That’s possible with a boulevard. North Jefferson simply does not serve as a case study in any sense you suggest. Development adjacent to large boulevards isn’t simple, but it’s infinitely more possible than next to a sunken (and transitioning) Interstate.

          • kuan

            Response to Michigan Avenue example:

            Michigan Avenue is actually regularly cited as a failed street in design circles. That it “succeeds” in any realm is through the sheer force of the city’s wealth, volume of tourism, etc. I’d encourage you to revisit the site with a critical eye – for quick reference just drop the street view pin down on S. Michigan between E. Jackson and E. Congress Plaza Dr. You will notice that the scale of street wall is actually quite titanic on the landscape with major autocentric barriers severing the east sidewalk from the mammoth park across the way. Once in the park, which again is of such a grand scale in and of itself, you feel separate from both the city and the lake. When in the park, the city is a backdrop and the lake invisible. In many senses, each item along S. Michigan is into and of itself, totally divorced from context. There is a particular integrated quality that is really lost as a result. Also, from a real estate perspective if you look at the commercial real estate present along the portion of S. Michigan between Grant Park (from the Gehry auditorium south to the baseball fields), a lot of it is, frankly, pathetic. It’s small shops with little in the way of premium retail outlets.

            Response to Chase Park example:

            Kingshighway is approximately seven lanes in width from what I can tell via Google (three on three with a turn lane). So, yes, it appears a comparable width. But, again, it is fairly unsuccessful. Look at the extreme measures that are in place to ensure that the pedestrian environment is preserved: The oversized central planters feature massive arching streetlight systems that make the road feel like a drag strip when driving down, especially at night. That this is in any way pedestrian oriented would be apologetic. Sure, the specific corner that Chase Park is at might be somewhat better, but look just a block farther north where Maryland Plaza, a beautiful street in and of itself, totally fails the moment it intersects with Kingshighway. The is almost completely the product of the highly lateral nature of the road, which features little consideration for these more nuanced corridors.

            Conclusion:

            I agree that development along boulevards is not very simple, but it is impossible if the boulevard itself is designed in such a way that prohibits any degree of nuance.

          • Alex Ihnen

            Labeling something “unsuccessful” is rather easy, but meaningless unless compared “to what”. In this case, a boulevard such as Kingshighway or Michigan Avenue would be infinitely preferable, more active and more productive than a sunken and transitioning Interstate – and that is the choice considered here, not whether either boulevard stands as a pure design success. What’s amazing to me is that despite “design flaws”, the two aforementioned streets and others such as the Ben Franklin Parkway in Philly, or even Storrow Drive in Boston (at-grade, but with no at-grade pedestrian crossings), or Lake Shore Drive in Chicago are all more inviting to the pedestrian than I-70 downtown St. Louis.

          • kuan

            Couple of claims here. I’ll address a few.

            Michigan:

            First, I firmly stand behind the contention that Michigan is “unsuccessful.” By this, I mean that, without the prop of Chicago’s tour-de-force economy that street would fail entirely. If Michigan Avenue, as it is structured, existed with St. Louis economy – it would be a disaster. Run it through a pro forma with a real estate economist and look at the figures you would get. Look at the comparative commercial rents between Michigan and other comparably trafficked streets within the Chicago Loop – that will be your “foil.” Upon such comparisons, you will find, unquestionably, failure.

            Chase:

            The limited success that Chase has was inherited; grandfathered from a different road scheme. Any success surrounding it manages itself thanks to infrequent instances of double loaded corridors, which is achieved by some scalar elements that appear across the road and are managed, primarily, at the Lindell intersection and in portions against the Forest Park perimeter. Downtown has both an extremely weak residential real estate market and nothing to “react’ against across this supposed boulevard. Without the double loaded aspect, real estate developers are likely going to hedge very conservatively – the results will be unsightly at best, if generative at all beyond the initial phases.

            The flaw in preference as argument:

            To suggest that something is simply preferable – even marginally – in such a fragile market is, in my opinion, an irresponsible proposed use of limited financial resources (and, if I might reuse the term you employed: an “easy” conclusion). If you are going to do this, do it right, don’t just settle on the boulevard because the depressed freeway is found to be so unsightly.

            Case studies:

            List of Boulevard’s that succeed thanks to proper scaling and traffic management that are sitting at the top of my head right now (and have succeeded through thick and thin):

            San Diego CA

            University Avenue (especially between University Heights and Hillcrest)

            El Cajon Boulevard

            Adams Avenue

            Midtown Omaha NE

            Dodge Street

            Downtown Nashville TN

            (limited northeastern portions of) James Robertson Parkway,

            West End Ave/Broadway (debatable, I know)

            South Baltimore

            Boston Street

            South Broadway

            Singapore

            The entire street system of Singapore is entirely premised off LOS A/B vehicular service, thus mandating (essentially) boulevards everywhere and it has some of the best pedestrian environments in the world.

            Side note:

            Storrow Drive is an unmitigated disaster – the site of significant traffic problems, very high accident rates, and the Back Bay neighborhood has literally faced the back of the entire neighborhood to it, separating over a mile of the city from its very valuable river frontage. Look at it again in street view to see the consequences in action. That it looks beautiful in any manner is simply the product of a city’s wealth and nothing to do with the contextually of the transportation infrastructure.

            Conclusion:

            I really think your heart is in the right place and I am completely in support of a movement to support the move to begin to look into doing something with the issue of this disconnect. It’s preposterous that such an amenity (the park and Arch) is so poorly serviced by its city, not to mention foolish for a city so in need of revival (though it really does appear to be underway, this resurgence). What I intend through these posts is not to create an argument about the boulevard and whether or not it should exist, or to attack those who support it; but rather to just put forth a cautionary consideration. Specifically, I encourage individuals, as they strive to restitch site to city, to not become so desirous of the boulevard as an idea that they lose site of what it is the boulevard should function as and why. There will undoubtedly be push back as traffic engineers cringe at the thought of interrupted flows from origin to destination, but as citizens and taxpayers it is vital that what is sought and considered victory is not the boulevard, but the intangible qualities that some form such as a boulevard can only achieve.