Friday, July 23, 2010

Freeway Jam

"Freeway" is a word I grew up with. Living in California, people say "freeway". Freeways are supposed to zip you from point A to point B, with little thought of what happens in between.

It's not about the journey; it's about the destination. Unfortunately, you don't always zip. You often sit. And in California, most of the time, there are no alternatives for the freeway. So you can sit a looong time.

This week, drivers in St. Louis got a taste of what it's like to get stuck on a freeway. Bad weather caused accidents and flooding, stranding drivers on local "freeways" for hours.

Downtown is no different. There are times when cars are stacked up on the freeways around downtown. For these drivers, just like in California, it's not about the journey, it's about the destination. And sitting in a traffic jam is no fun when you're trying to get somewhere.

All of this talk of freeway jams brings us to the final stage of the Arch design competition. If one of the main goals of the competition is to weave connections, then what should we expect from the design teams?

Is it possible that some of the teams are thinking that those connections mean improved highway access to the Arch? More freeway connections? More on and off ramps to serve the Arch grounds?

Are designers envisioning access to the Arch for drivers more interested in the destination than the journey? Do those visitors want an unimpeded freeway connection straight from the freeway into the Arch garage? Are we encouraging an experience for them that begins and ends at the Arch?

Or do we want to create an experience where people enter our city and then arrive at the Arch and the riverfront at the heart of it all? What do connections like that look like? We will soon see. Or will we?

Is it possible that the teams will punt on the connectivity issue, and focus instead on proposing more attractions for the Arch grounds?

In a competition that promotes the goal of reweaving connections, this is our one big chance to make bold plans. Plans that restore the natural connections between downtown, the Arch, and the riverfront. After all, that's what this process is supposed to be all about.

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