Monday, July 18, 2005

Urban Explorations

I wish I had taken a camera with me this morning, because I somewhat spontaneously decided to walk from home into downtown St. Louis, to access MetroLink at Union Station.

My route is a largely industrial one, but with the decidedly more tranquil Lafayette Square neighborhood included. When I walk this route (about 3 miles), I usually take Gravois east from about Oregon to Mississippi, although with a detour to the Benton Park Post Office today.

Then, I usually take Mississippi past Lafayette Park, then right on Park Avenue, left on 18th, and straight up to the station, more or less.

However, today I discovered a lot of construction vehicles in the area just south of Chouteau, where 18th jogs with a little "cut-off" probably built in the 1930s, but which since sometime in the 1980s has been closed to vehicular through traffic, which instead routed to Dolman to access I-44 from western downtown; and now utilizes Truman Parkway. Likewise, there's a good bit of sidewalk construction on Hickory between 18th and Dolman, and on Dolman just south of Chouteau.

A little digging reveals the Lafayette Square Urban Design Plan which suggests either a new building or a park entrance unifying access into the neighborhood from both 18th and Dolman into one grand entryway. Currently, of course, both streets are closed to traffic at Chouteau; so this would reintroduce access into the neighborhood from Chouteau at that point.

Although it's kind of a suburban idea, anything that can help bring forlorn old Dolman Avenue back into the Lafayette Square fold, is a good thing. Very few houses, and a small church, remain on that stretch of Dolman which became a thoroughfare when I-44 was built and 18th Street barricaded.

Maybe the City would even consider changing the neighborhood boundary to move it 1/2 block east to the Truman Parkway. Right now, the few remaining houses facing Dolman on the east side of the street are assigned to the rather depressingly named "33 - Peabody, Darst, Webbe" neighborhood. It's probably also time to change the name of that neighborhood to reflect its ongoing redevelopment - which for some reason includes putting slanty roofs on the not-quite-historic flat roofed brick Clinton-Peabody public housing complex.

Meanwhile, this construction detour caused me to walk all the way over to Truman Parkway, and try to cross Chouteau at a ridiculously wide intersection. There is a button to push for a crosswalk signal, but there's no crosswalk and the signal itself is "ragged out," in Traffic Division parlance; that is, it's covered by a piece of cloth.

I was confused by what I saw across the street; it appeared the one-story brick buildings at the northeast corner of (what's left of) 17th Street and Chouteau were being demolished; or at least, the paved area was being dug up. And, I noticed a big hole in the wall of the upper floors of the St. Mary's Infirmary, 1536 Papin Street. However, when I walked around to the Papin side, I noticed several men in dress-casual clothes exiting the front door, which was open, despite having had a "Condemned" sign posted across it. I hope this is a good sign for this building, which is supposedly "Under Contract" to somebody.

Meanwhile, at 18th and Singleton on the northeast corner, it looks like AmerenUE is building another office building of some sort, just across from their headquarters. Which reminds me - I owe them about $110 for a month's worth of juice.

However, it looks like it would still be possible to extend the Truman Parkway, in a northwesterly direction across the vacant lots south of Singleton mostly owned by AmerenUE and mostly paved in gravel, so it merges into 18th Street. Indeed, city address records suggest that has already been done; one parcel in each block is now owned by the City, while the remainder of the area is still AmerenUE property. So, now all that needs to happen to connect Truman Parkway into 18th Street roughly at Singleton is for BPS to finish the design and bid out the construction. The construction will not threaten the St. Mary's Infirmary building, and maybe will make it a little easier to find.

Anyway, then I finished my slightly detoured walk by crossing 18th at the strangely signalized intersection of 18th and Gratiot; the sidewalk on the 18th Street Viaduct is only on the west side, where both AmerenUE HQ and Union Station are located, so it's not an unreasonable set-up. Nevertheless, it is not a particularly pleasant walking route, since it passes not only above the railyards but also under Highway 40. It does, however, afford interesting views of downtown, particularly from the space under Highway 40.

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