Now that the competition to redesign the Arch grounds in St. Louis is underway, a group of citizens is hoping to use that as an opportunity to make an even bigger change happen, namely demolishing I-70 through downtown St. Louis and replacing it with a boulevard. Their plan is called City to River, and it would do just that, reconnecting downtown St. Louis to the riverfront by eliminating the freeway barrier.
I originally wondered if people would be interested in a story on this. I mean, the idea is great, but this is something that has been done enough times before that it isn’t really trailblazing.
Then I realized that was the story. The fact that so many downtown freeways across America have been demolished (SF, Portland, Milwaukee, Boston) or have an active movement to (such as in Louisville) such that it has almost become commonplace is reason to celebrate. Maybe one day in the future getting rid of these monstrosities will be no more newsworthy than installing yet another bike line. At least we can hope so. And I say that as someone who actually thinks we need to built and widen some roads in a number of places.
Before (aka Now)
All that doesn’t mean this isn’t a project without potentially big impact in St. Louis because it is. Downtown St. Louis features a disappointingly standard issue tangle of elevated and depressed freeways and ramps that cut off its downtown from the riverfront.
This one I particularly love because someone went through the trouble to install historic gas lamp replicas and a decorative sidewalk underneath the freeway. I want to laugh, but this was probably a good faith attempt to humanize an otherwise thoroughly depressing space. That’s much more than most places ever did.
There is a Flickr group with many more where that came from if you are interested.
I have to admit, looking at the pictures, I-70 seems like it uses a pretty compressed ROW, which limits the impact versus some other urban freeways I’ve seen, but there is still no doubt you’ve got a freeway separating downtown from the river. It converts what should be prime real estate into less desirable frontage.
A Possible After
City to River wants to whack the freeway and replace it with an at grade boulevard called Memorial Drive. Here are a couple of renderings.
Looks better to me. The concept is obviously a good one. There are still plenty of questions to be addressed, engineering, money, public involvement, etc. But projects like this ought to be pursued with a “can do” not a “can’t do” attitude. More info is available at the City to River web site.
The Case for 8664 – an in-depth look at a similar but larger scale proposal in Louisville