Forest Park Great Streets Study

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.

My Trip to the Zoo

Kali the Polar Bear and Fans

We went to the zoo, which was crowded. It being a Saturday and an unusually warm one at that. Many of the animals appeared lethargic in the heat, but not Polar bear Kali. He was doing laps in one of his chilled-water pools. Much to the joy of his adoring young fans. I recently had a discussion about the ethical nature of zoos. Are they an instrument for education and conservation? Or are they simply an animal prison? I would have to say yes to both questions. In truth though, I find this duality of the zoo to be part of its allure.

Animals, often quite intelligent ones are held there against their will. You can see the effects of captivity on some individuals, what with their resorting to repetitive motion syndromes. I wondered, watching Kali’s “laps” whether that was what I was witnessing, because with each completed circuit of the pool there was a certain synchronicity with the last one that only Olympic swimmers come close to duplicating and only after years of practice.

The great apes can be especially troubling. They are more manlike than any other animals, both in appearance and in manner. They spend every day under the gaze of hundreds of human eyes, which is probably why they tend to hide in any out-of-the-way corner that they can find. One of the orangutans had a cloth that it used like a hijab, to hide its face from the sight of other people.

I don’t like to see animals suffer, which is why I am probably over empathizing here about them. All the animals at the Saint Louis Zoo are cared for by trained and dedicated professionals. They are given the best care humanly possible. Just this year our zoo was named best in the nation. It is a city treasure that rivals the Arch as a source of pride. Admission is free, paid for by Saint Louis citizenry.

Formally, Saint Louis Zoological Park, its genesis was the Smithsonian’s exhibit at 1904 World’s Fair. This walk-through birdcage is still there today. In the Sixties, former zoo director Marlin Perkins rose to national prominence as host of the TV nature show, Wild Kingdom. On his show, Perkins was an early advocate for the preservation of endangered species. These few points are only part of the zoo’s long pedigree. 

It is for this greater good, the survival of these species that the justification for the zoo rests. I see the specimens in the zoo as representatives to humanity for their species. Their educational value is inestimable. The children pictured above and hundreds of others are daily taught the esthetics of conservation, preservation and stewardship. They are the future, both theirs and ours.