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What to do about the Arch? Beacon readers offer their suggestions

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, April 29, 2010 - If you live in St. Louis, chances are you've got an Arch story to tell.


The St. Louis Beacon asked readers through its Public Insight Network to tell us their stories about the Arch and to offer suggestions to the teams and planners working on reconnecting St. Louis' iconic gateway to the rest of downtown.

Here are some of the answers we received.

Patricia Peeples of Kirkwood has an Arch-visit story to tell that is rich in incident and nostalgia. "We took our four sons and went to the top," she wrote. "It was a vacation day for us. They were amazed and wanted to know all about the Arch. It was thrilling to take them to something so much fun and so full of history, yet so very, very modern. We had driven downtown in our 1954 Chevy Bel Air and parked on the levee.

"Downtown was a part of my heritage. We lived on the trolley line on Chouteau Avenue, three blocks from Forest Park. We rode down to the BIG stores, Famous-Barr, Stix, Baer & Fuller, and often took in a movie.

"We ate at Woolworth's, but we were not allowed to eat at the standup 'Negro' bar. They had the best tasting sandwich, but no matter how much I begged, we never ate there. It was 'segregated for our own good'."

Peeples encouraged the planners to think about transportation in their designs.

"I remember the movie 'Meet Me In St. Louis' with Judy Garland. 'Clang, clang, clang went the trolley.' A free (or a minimal fee) trolley ride ... would be another attraction. It should take people where they want to go; it should be fun.

"Every time I go to San Francisco, I ride the cable cars all over, even when I'm not going anywhere."

Dustin Bopp, an architect and planner, has been active for years in city-betterment efforts.

As for the Arch: "I have visited the Arch my entire life, most especially when I worked downtown for 10 years. I routinely walked over from office at lunchtime."

Bopp gave the Arch experience a 7 overall, but "it would be 10 if it were more active and more easily accessed."

That was his segue into a discussion about approaches to the grounds.

"There are no good ways to access it. ... Crossing Memorial Drive has improved but is still a huge deterrent at both the depressed lanes and the highway overpass." Bopp expressed this hope to the competing teams: "I would like to see the elimination of the depressed lanes and the creation of a boulevard. Once Interstate 70 is rerouted over the new bridge the highway can be removed freeing up space for a multi-use boulevard and to free up space for prime development.

"With the relocation of I-70 and the 50th anniversary of the [completion of the Arch] we, as a region, are presented a unique opportunity to recreate our city and create a usable urban space that encourages a pedestrian connection between downtown and the Arch while smoothing vehicular traffic and encouraging premium development."

Ryan Albritten, St. Louis, was emphatic about the need to fix the I-70 problem - by removing it altogether. He cited the City to River organization as having "good ideas and perspectives" about how to make better connections.

"[The] removal of I-70 in downtown ... is the only way to properly reconnect the city to its river origins. There also needs to be infrastructure on the Arch grounds besides the park that exists now. Possibly a permanent amphitheater under the Arch or some restaurants ... anything to make the grounds more interesting and attractive."

Albritten said, "Aside from walking along the levee and up to [Laclede's] Landing, there is not much else to access." He added, "Dodging traffic on Memorial Drive to walk up the mall is quite an adventure."

"Last time I was there,'" he recalled, "I rode the train down to meet a couple people who were giving some visitors a tour of the city. After standing beneath the Arch for a few minutes, we got back on the train and headed to the Central West End.

"Going to the Arch is not something I regularly do as there isn't much to be done there. Visiting the Arch is a 5 -- you get a good view -- but not much else."

A bicycle rider, Kohl Martin, said he rides the Riverfront Trail with some frequency, so he passes by the Arch grounds regularly. He called the Arch site a little dreary, but said it's getting better. He gave the overall Arch experience it a 6 out of 10.

Martin is a student at Harris Stowe State University, a musician and a barista at a Starbucks.

Were he to talk to the planners, he'd ask for better and safer bicycle routes, and the repaving of pot-holed roads. He called for a transportation connector and mentioned Chattanooga, Tenn., as a model.

"They had an electric bus system that ran down the main strip from the train station across downtown and back." He recommended a link that would run from Laclede's Landing, down Leonor K. Sullivan Boulevard, over to Busch Stadium and the Scottrade Center, then Union Station and then down Washington Avenue. "That would be great," he said, "and it would help tourism, I think, too!"

Paul Girouard literally has inside knowledge of the Arch. Girouard, who studied architecture at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said that up until December 2009, "I worked a second job on the weekends for Metro as a tour guide running the Arch tram. This was really just to earn some extra income, but also helped me achieve a special goal of getting to see the behind-the-scene operations at a place that has inspired me since I was a young boy.

"Not many people have had the opportunity to walk down the stairway the entire length of the leg -- I now have!"

Girouard, who now works for the city of St. Louis, said when he worked at the Arch he would often ride his bike to work, or park on the levee.

"I would rate my days going to the Arch to work there as an 8."

On the subject of nearby attractions, he singled out nearby Eads Bridge. He loves riding his bike across the span.

"However," he noted, "this is seriously underutilized [by Arch visitors] because they don't realize how to get there. It is also difficult to access the grounds to begin with coming from the southwest (either walking or bicycling) due to the tangle of bridge overpasses -- there are only a few ways to go, which is unfortunate. As far as being a motorist, the confusing lane switches and odd directional signage make this an area that I tend to avoid."

Mark Groth, who works for Monsanto, said on a recent visit to the Arch he also visited Citygarden on the Gateway Mall. He said getting there from the Arch grounds was memorable: "Getting across the street ... is dangerous and a pedestrian hazard."

To remedy that situation, he recommends the removal of the depressed lanes of I-70. "It completely separates the Arch and its grounds from the city."

"I would like to see the Arch grounds flow into the city," he continued. "There are thousands of tourists that stop by to see this national treasure. We should try to invite them toward downtown, not completely segregate it. There should be pedestrian-scaled developments on our front doorstep, not a bunch of unnecessary interstate connections.

"We have a unique opportunity to do something special with the new Mississippi River Bridge and the Arch grounds redesign.

"Let's bring the city back to the Arch!"

Robert W. Duffy reported on arts and culture for St. Louis Public Radio. He had a 32-year career at the Post-Dispatch, then helped to found the St. Louis Beacon, which merged in January with St. Louis Public Radio. He has written about the visual arts, music, architecture and urban design throughout his career.