I visited an open house for the Forest Park Great Streets study on Thursday, which was held at the park’s visitors center. Representatives from the design team were present to curate their poster board presentation. Forest Park Forever funded this study. As the title implies, the study’s emphasis is on transportation and encompasses changes both within the park and in its immediate environs.
After reviewing the presentations, I would say that the primary thrust of this study is for alternative modes of transportation (walking, bicycling and public transit) over automobiles. Don’t get me wrong, I heartily support these goals, but I do expect some pushback by park patrons who are more reliant on their personal vehicles than I am.
Probably the two most contentious aspects of this wide-ranging study are the redesigns of the segments of Skinker and Lindell Boulevards that border the park. Green blub-outs will narrow vehicle lanes, slow traffic and reduce parking, but will also give these two border roads a more park-like look and feel. A new bike path is also proposed for the park side of Lindell, but this will not narrow vehicle lanes. The short section Pine between Grand Drive and Lindell would be closed and the intersection of Lindell and Union would become a traffic circle.
On the south side of park Tamm would also be narrowed to accommodate new bike and pedestrian lanes. This aspect of the plan is contingent on zoo plans, which include eventually moving their adjoining parking lot, south of the highway. When the zoo purchased the old Deaconess Hospital property, it launched that institution’s southward expansion. At that time the zoo had its own similar planning study, which included gondolas over I-64. I asked about them and it appears that they have not made the cut. This is in the nature of early studies, they throw-out all sorts of ideas and then wait and see which ones stick.
Another aspect of the Great Streets plan is public transportation. Bi-State has run for years a Forest Park circulator service. These free buses allow visitors to ride around the park from one attraction to another. However, these repurposed regular buses are neither wheelchair nor stroller friendly. Part of the plan is to replace the existing buses, accommodate all communities and distinguish the circulator buses from the regular Bi-State buses that also ply Forest Park.
Placemaking is a word that I was not familiar with. In this context it means converting underutilized park facilities into go to destinations. In line with circulator improvements, a transit hub is proposed for the upper Muny lot. This hub would include amenities. Steinberg ice rink is only used half the year. The fish hatchery is hardly used at all. All of these languishing resources are placemaking candidates.
There was a lot to take in from this study. Many of its proposals I totally support. I look forward to seeing how this improvement plan evolves. In my twenty years of near constant cycling in the park, Forest Park Forever has been a force for good and has rejuvenated this jewel of a park for Saint Louis.