Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Opening to Little Fanfare

In case you missed it, it appears the multimodal transportation hub has finally opened in downtown St. Louis.

Signs for Greyhound and Amtrak went up on the superstructure yesterday, and for the past few days, more and more people have been seen inside the scaly looking, multi-color windowed building. I'm not an architecture critic. Suffice it to say to me the building looks cool, and it's in the perfect location.

The people inside looked like they're waiting for a train or bus connection, so let's hope the new hub is open for business. If you're interested in seeing the place, do a Metrolink layover at the Civic Center station, walk up the 20 or so foot grade and check it out.

Since it's home to Greyhound, does this mean the old Greyhound station at Cass and 12th on the near northside is closing? The old station, once a grand bank building, has potential for other use. Maybe we'll see it restored for an interesting future serving downtown and the near northside residents?


GMichaud said...

I would like to debate the statement it is a perfect location. A perfect location would have jettisoned patrons of transit into an active commercial center. Instead Saavis Center is the main attraction, with a good walk to any shops that might be open daily.

If you take the main station in Helsinki (designed by Eliel Saarinen father of Eero, designer of the arch), it fronts a square surrounded by a commercial district and that leads directly to all of downtown as well as the rest of Finland.
Or Victoria Station in London is similar. The main building opens up onto small scale commercial activity, streets full of people.
In neither case is parking evident It is pushed to less desirable areas of city planning (although both cities have a much higher transit ridership than St. Louis and the region).
There are many places in the world that more effectively utilize location.
There has been a obvious lack of comprehensive planning to allow this central station to be built without supporting structures surrounding the station.
If I was a visitor entering St. Louis for the first time in this central train station, the first thing I would ask is where is everything (unless there was a night event at the Saavis)

In Helsinki and in London you are dropped into the center of the action.
So in my view, the site is poorly chosen or the development plan of the surrounding land has been poorly handled. In any case, it is not an ideal location for the gateway to St. Louis (where is the closest hotel please?)

The building seems fine, although I haven't been in it. Rather than the architecture, it is the lack of a cohesive strategy for developing public space within sight of what is supposed to be a major station, or even "the one and only" major station and ultimately destroys the importance of the location.

Location, location, location, becomes poor planning, poor planning, poor planning.

Rick Bonasch said...

The thing that it does do is hook you right in to Metrolink. So if you arrive by Amtrak or Greyhound, you have options.

You can walk to City Hall and the Courts buildings plus a number of hotels.

You can catch buses and Metrolink to other highlight desinations throughout the region, including the airport.

Most Greyhound and Amtrak stations I've seen in other places require immediate connection to someone picking you up in a car.

Arriving in St. Louis at the new transit center allows visitors to remain car free and get to places like the U City Loop, Clayton, all of downtown, Laclede's Landing, Forest Park, Lambert, points in Metro East, etc.

And since Metro is so affordable to passengers ($2 for a one way trip throughout the system) , arrving by Greyhound or Amtrak keeps St. Louis affordable to travelers as well.

GMichaud said...

What you say is true, however it does not mean the environment surrounding the station is good urban design. There has been much redevelopment in that area in the past decade or two. It could have easily pointed towards the creation of a pedestrian friendly environment.
Even now there is a great deal of left over space that could accommodate a people orientated public space and commercial center.
If you apply the international standard of 400 feet between transit stops and convert that to comfortable walking distances (which is what the measure is about), you find a great deal of dead space surrounding the multi modal center.
Without consideration of the many technical problems the ideal location of a multi modal center might be the Gateway Mall or closer to the center of the city.
There were many railroad tracks in the city, so who knows what could have creatively be done.
In the end the multi modal center serves the Saavis Center and nothing else well.
It is about more than simply making connections to go elsewhere, that is only one function of the center. The center is also an introduction to the city, the gateway so to speak.
And while the connection to the metrolink is a good thing, it still is not as comprehensive as the Finnish or English examples. This is in part because the transit systems of these countries are multilevel and comprehensive in a way most American cities are not close to.
Overlooking the failures of this urban design would be a serious mistake.
In fact I would say it is the major weakness in much of the design that is undertaken in the city.
It is an economic failure also. A major transit center such as this should be able to generate economic activity to a high degree, but as the metro stations demonstrate this is not happening.
It all goes back to careless city planning over and over.
I looked carefully at planning in Helsinki and London. In both cases carefully crafted urban spaces are produced, and skillfully turning natural gathering places for people into economic successes.
For whatever reason, I cannot find evidence this is occurring in St. Louis.

GMichaud said...

I think what I'm trying to say is that the location could be improved.
For instance connecting the North and South of downtown should be a priority. A streetcar would be better than a bus, however there are ways to utilize buses effectively.
The purpose is to create identity and character by enhancing routes around downtown back to the center.
A new center should stimulate economic activity. A new plaza, commercial buildings, something, anything to support economic growth should be considered in planning the environment around the center.

It is the difference between a staid, practical entrance into St. Louis or a vibrant, interesting introduction to the city.

Mark R said...

Following the European protocols for placement and design would have doubled or tripled the cost, and it took long enough to get something as good as we gotten. If the American public actually used Greyhound and Amtrak as much as Europe and supported it politically we would have gotten it, but "only think about now" Americans still only think car, car, car, car, car.....