Revisiting the Memorial Drive Parking Garage Idea

The above picture was pulled from a September 2010 Gateway Streets article…as was the inspiration for this post. It represents close to 2,000 additional parking spaces (or ~1,000 for a single level/split-level plan). In the article, it was posited that all that empty space which would be filled in if a new Memorial Drive Boulevard were implemented could be better utilized as a massive underground parking garage connected directly to the Archgrounds and the city’s central spine. For many reasons, this seems like a no-brainer.

Part of the beauty of the City to River plan is the creative reuse of street-level space previously given over to characterless highway lanes and disruptive Interstate infrastructure. Using this plan, the southbound lanes of Memorial drive would be shifted east (over the existing I-70 depressed lanes) freeing up some valuable downtown plots for river-facing development or expansion. East-west street connections would be restored to the Arch at Spruce, Poplar and possibly Locust. So while these plans take advantage of recovered land, the garage idea creatively incorporates the existing I-70 trench.

At this point, there is no plan to remove I-70 through downtown. In fact, a representative for the Missouri Department of Transportation all but discounted this transformative vision in a response posted by jakektu on the NextSTL forums:

Thank you for your recent e-mail about the section of interstate 70 in downtown St. Louis between the future location of the new Mississippi River Bridge and the Poplar Street Bridge.

There are no plans to consider a study to replace that section of interstate. When I-70 moves north to the new Mississippi River Bridge,this stretch of interstate will be redesignated I-44 to ensure that there remains a north-south interstate on the east side of St. Louis. 

According to the Federal Highway Administration, there is very little precedent for decommissioning an interstate highway and that process would be highly scrutinized. The plans currently underway will meet the requirements of the project, to include creating an easier pedestrian access between downtown and the arch and a project completion date of October 28, 2015. 

We believe that the current plan that we are designing with our partners, and will unveil to the public sometime next spring, will not only further open up the Arch grounds and the park to the many visitors and downtown residents, but will also handle the anticipated traffic levels for the downtown area after the new Mississippi River Bridge has started carrying I-70 traffic.  

v/r

[name redacted]
Customer Relations, MoDOT St. Louis District
1590 Woodlake Dr.
Chesterfield, MO 63017
phone (314) 453-1808 [cell phone redacted] fax (573) 526-0085
NEXTEL [redacted]

“Our mission is to provide a world-class transportation experience that delights our customers and promotes a prosperous Missouri.” 

       – – – end response – – –

It’s a disappointing response, but at least it’s straightforward and honest — and brutally so. Now, at least, we know for certain one force against a boulevard plan and some of its reasoning for that opposition. With this organizational view and over $45 million state/federal funds now secured to build the lid/expand Interstate infrastructure, it’s basically a foregone conclusion that 2015 will feature an Interstate lid and a larger downtown Interstate system (View MODOT’s 27-page federal grant application here).

And yet I’m not willing to give up on the Memorial Drive Boulevard.

Getting back to the Gateway Streets plan for a buried garage, it could be fairly easily implemented in the unlikely event that I-70 (or, I-44, as the stretch will be called after 2015) is deemed removable. We need only look 300 miles north to see a working example of just such an underground lot.

 
That’s the street-level configuration of the underground parking lots next to Millennium Park in Chicago, IL. Here, northbound and southbound Michigan Avenue drivers have equal access to the parking garage via left-lane entrances. Similarly, each has an easy point of access back out onto the Michigan Avenue boulevard. All in all, the infrastructure is just a shade over 50 feet in width and 350 feet in length.

Going back to the current configuration of Memorial Drive sans hood (and sans I-70 obviously) it would fit almost perfectly right here, in any position, really — north, south or center. Here’s a mock-up of a southern entry, parallel to the Old Cathedral and KMOX’s headquarters:

Drivers entering the city on a new Memorial Drive Boulevard would be able to immediately enter the garage,  park via electronic ticketing and return up to street level to visit the Arch, the city itself or (hopefully) both. And with a stretch of parking that runs nearly 2,400 feet, there’s an opportunity for several points of exit.

In all likelihood, though, this is a down-the-road effort. What we will see in less than five years is a new overpass lid as a centerpiece, with north-south Memorial Drive connections severed. It’s very sad (and believably short-sighted), but that’s the plan that City+Arch+River will be moving forward with. However, in a future without I-70, the plan could easily be amended to reconnect Memorial Drive and build this Memorial Boulevard garage, like so:

Keep in mind that the above plan isn’t doable only with the Memorial Drive lanes separated. In order to fit in with City to River’s plan to tighten up the north-south lanes and reclaim development space on the west side, a new Memorial Boulevard may need to bow out for a hundred yards or so in order to accommodate the subterranean garage entrance, but the eastward shift (of southbound lanes) can work. Keep in mind too that the length of depressed I-70 through downtown would be given over entirely to underground parking (subsequently significantly increasing Arch-connected parking and rendering unnecessary the north end Arch garage and at least one of the Kiener Plaza garages).

Below ground there are several ways to implement this garage system. You could, for instance, send northbound entries to the top level while southbound arrivals are taken directly to B2. In this layout, the garage would be book-ended by curl ramps with a possible secondary access ramp at center. Likewise, each entry could be received at Level 1 but going in different directions, effectively allocating the southern half to south-bounders and the northern half to north-bounders.

There is also potential for secondary entry points at either end in the case of emergencies, clean-up or street-closures (such as for the VP Fair). These, I imagine would be closed down for the most part and only opened to the public on special occasions. In the case of the Fair, the city could elect to allow access from these entries rather than clogging up the central section.

– – –

This Memorial Drive Garage plan — in whichever shape it may take — fulfills multiple needs for downtown St. Louis: It creates parking adjacent to the Archgrounds and the soon-to-be-updated Museum of Westward Expansion. It takes an aging and redundant piece of infrastructure in the I-70 depressed lanes and smartly folds it into a new city plan. It also provides ample new parking space which means the city no longer needs some of it’s more embarrassing structures (Arch garage, Kiener garage). All these things add up to a much healthier connection from the city to the river, a beautiful new Boulevard downtown from north to south and a stronger connection from the city to the Arch at all points along the way.

Right now it seems that the indifferent convenience of highways will once again win out over smart and considerate street-level design. With money from the state and federal government already tagged to further expand the highway infrastructure near the Archgrounds and a street-level plan that severs an existing north-south route, it will become harder and harder to see the City to River plan implemented. However, if support continues to grow, and the city’s current and future leaders begin making bold decisions for our future,we still have a chance. We just need a set of sensible and actionable plans such as this ready when that chance presents itself.

(One more hat-tip to Gateway Streets who did the legwork on this idea. Its newest article, “Once Upon A Boulevard,” is very appropriate as it gives a really interesting look at the short-lived Memorial Drive Boulevard)

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2 comments

  1. that's what we thought about dc, too bad it's in dc. until fenty came in, admiring bloomberg and getting the right smart growth people. It's the mayor, stupid. Not you, I'm just paraphrasing.

  2. would be awesome. too bad saint louis is in missouri…

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