River des Peres Greenway Extension - Lansdowne/Shrewsbury Metrolink Station to Slay Park

Continuing on my top twenty projects announced or under construction in 2016, we have the Great Rivers Greenway (GRG) River des Peres Greenway Extension that was announced early in the year.

This 1.5 mile extension is part of the larger 7.3 mile River des Peres Greenway that will eventually connect to Forest Park and the Mississippi River in South County. 

I first learned of this project at a community feedback session held in October. This was the last of three public meetings designed to get community feedback, so the project details were fairly refined. As I was browsing the posters and renderings, one thing really stuck out, an important precedent for St. Louis. I'll get to that in a minute.

To make sure I interpreted the design correctly, I sat down with Elizabeth Simon, Great Rivers Greenway Community Program Manager to learn a little bit more about the project. Ms. Simon has lived in St. Louis for 11 years and has worked at GRG for 3.5 years. She has a wealth of information on this project and others and it's the tireless efforts of people like her that help me have solid hope for the future of our city and region.

One of my favorite things about living here is the willingness of people to sit down and give the average citizens the time of day to explain the work they are doing to move our city and in this case, region, forward.

Ms. Simon helped me get the facts straight and answer some of my questions. One of her main roles is soliciting and evaluating feedback from the community before, during and after GRG projects; so her perspective on this project goes back to the very beginning stages of planning.

Why does this < 2 mile extension make my best of 2016 list and not larger, higher dollar projects like NGA or the Armory? Well, this one has a personal connection and there is a big-picture win that makes me hopeful for the future of the entire city and region.

First of all, this entire Greenway project is a testament to the various electorates voting for the future with the region in mind. Sharing and pooling our tax dollars to connect us all, vs. walling off suburban towns from the city is a step in the right direction. This brings us together in the best and healthiest of ways. It is evidence that we would have a better community if we chose to work together instead of fighting and hoarding our assets.

Back in 2000, St. Louis, St. Louis County and St. Charles County voted for a tax increase for Proposition C to raise the funds for the greenway. Then again in 2013 St. Louis and St. Louis County (no St. Charles this time) voted for Proposition P to raise additional funds for the greenways among other items.

Secondly, I have a personal connection to this part of town having lived in the Boulevard Heights Neighborhood for several years.  We owned a house right along a stretch of park ground that would eventually become the Christy Greenway. GRG built an extension going through here that connected Christy ParkJoseph Leisure Park and St. Marcus Commemorative Park to the River des Peres Greenway. We watched every tree get planted and every brick and paverstone laid. We walked the path while under construction and dreamed of where trees should go and it was like they read our minds, planting diverse, native species in threes, planting at the correct depth, excellent placement, and respecting the trees that were already there.  It was perfectly designed and perfectly executed.

We listened closely as the local NIMBYs changed their minds on the trail once they saw the positive activity it brought to these parks. A true community asset came to this part of the city. People walking grocery carts to the Sav-A-Lot on Loughborough, kids learning how to ride bikes or skate, serious cyclists, dog walkers, etc. It was a great vibe.

It'll be great to see the same level of positivity and potential being built in another part of town.

The second reason I like this is while living in Boulevard Heights, I worked in West County and commuted to and from I-64 daily along this stretch of road that the greenway extension will grace. The commute was stressful. I drive small four cylinder cars and this stretch of four lanes is a raceway. When you drive this street in rush hour, it is an unspoken race to get home. People are in their daily commute and racing like NASCAR drivers. It was crazy, but it is what it is...a when in Rome type of thing. When I would drive River des Peres and McCausland at times other than rush hour, I'd still drive it at top speeds as I was conditioned. A friend of mine said "I attacked that street". My wife asked me if everything was alright. It is an overly wide street that is built for speeding and getting the heck out of town and quickly.

This project will bring a road diet, new landscaping, hardscaping and infrastructure to a stretch of road (Lansdowne, Ellendale and Wabash Avenues) that desperately needs it. A road diet is something we need very badly in this city and this location is undeniably established as needing a reduction in lanes. This road diet will set precedent for future traffic calming measures that are greatly needed in other parts of the city (think Jefferson Avenue from Cherokee to I-44). Here's an example of the lane reduction:

Per Ms. Simon's summary of community feedback, t

he lane reduction NIMBYs were the most vocal, but clearly not the majority.

The fear was that lane reduction would cause traffic congestion. These fears were somewhat allayed following a presentation of a thorough traffic study conducted prior to the community sessions.  The data generated were clearly in favor of a road diet and some folks were more receptive after hearing the data-based recommendation.

Others indicated that speeding was one of the main concerns on this stretch. The data showed that the road was overbuilt for the number of cars that were traveling it. The north bound direction was more condensed in the morning rush hour, so that was how they decided to recommend the southbound lane reduction when traffic is less. Makes sense. For a summary of the traffic study click HERE and go to Slide # 25.

But the lane reduction is not the only thing to be excited about. 

This will be the sixth phase of the River des Peres Greenway which is a small part of the massive St. Louis, St. Louis County and St. Charles County masterplan to connect our region with 600 miles of bike/pedestrian trails. This overall plan has the opportunity to set us apart from other cities and regions...and I feel so lucky to live during the time when the construction is happening all over the region.

Per GRG:

The River des Peres Greenway currently has direct connections to the Lansdowne Shrewsbury MetroLink Station, the Holly Hills neighborhood and Carondelet Park. In the fall of 2016, it will connect to Lemay Park, the River City Casino, Jefferson Barracks Park and the Pavilion in Lemay. In the future, the River des Peres Greenway will also connect to Forest Park, Downtown Maplewood and Webster Groves and Grant’s Trail. (source)

This 1.5 mile extension will connect the existing path that terminates at the Shrewsbury Metrolink station at Lansdowne Avenue in the Lindenwood Park Neighborhood and runs all the way north and east to  Francis R. Slay Park in the city's Ellendale Neighborhood on the southwestern edge of St. Louis.

The trail will eventual extend north to one of the jewels of the Midwest: Forest Park. It will also extend west through the inner ring suburb of Maplewood, MO along Canterbury Avenue to connect with the Deer Creek Greenway. The latter is further along in the planning stages than the former...so we'll have to wait to ride all the way to Forest Park. Once construction is completed further south near the city/county line near Lemay Road, you'll be able to connect from Slay Park to the Gravois Greenway (Grant's Trail) and the southern stretch of the Mississippi Greenway.

Another route was considered that would have routed this extension along the easement of the River des Peres itself; but there were engineering, utility and safety concerns due primarily to the steep slope as well as overhead wiring, complicated property ownership landscapes, etc.

They are about to bid out construction, so the actual project cost is yet to be determined; but, GRG successfully received a $1.5M federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality grant to help fund the extension. Along with the lane reduction which has obvious benefits, t

here are other environmental benefits as well:

  • Concrete trail will provide cost‐effective long‐term maintenance

  • New storm water management features are designed to be low maintenance

  • Strategic drainage design minimizes the number of sewer structures

  • Existing sewage pipes and planters will be recycled

  • New trees, native plants and grasses will be planted along the greenway that require minimal maintenance, reduce storm water runoff and prevent erosion.

Some trees will be removed, but overall, a net gain will be observed as more trees will be planted:

Species selection will be determined by the landscape contractor. It will be vetted with the entity that will be responsible for maintenance, in this case the City of St. Louis. Therefore, design will be rudimentary with simple trees and grass that can be mowed.

Now let's take a look at the various sections of the 1.5 mile extension with a couple details on each.

The southern most section of the extension will begin at the Shrewsbury Metro Station.  

A bike counter will be installed near the entrance to the Metro station. These use electromagnetic and infrared sensors to count trail users and whether they are walking or biking. These data are used to determine uses and calculate community benefits of the greenways. A second bike counter will be installed on the northern section of the extension near Esplanade Street.

The Lansdowne bridge section of the trail will the same width as the rest of he trail (~10 feet), so the existing pedestrian section will be widened.

The section of Wabash Avenue from Lansdowne to I-44 will have several interesting elements:

One of three "nodes" will be constructed at the southeastern section of Lansdowne and Wabash. These will include a resting area with trees, trash receptacles and possible interpretive signage and public art. Information could include historic facts of the area, the significance of the River des Peres as a watershed, bird migratory patterns, etc. The installation of public artwork is part of the plan for the future and would be a unique element for the River des Peres Greenway.

Parking along Wabash will remain in both directions along Wabash Avenue, and will be freshly striped to clearly designate the parking lanes.

Bump outs on the corners will be constructed to calm traffic, protect the parking lanes and pedestrians using the trails. The bump outs will be planted with grass and trees to avoid runoff and provide a green buffer. These light green areas in the maps indicate storm water mitigation "best management practices" (BMPs) as defined by the sewer district, MSD.  BMPs including rain gardens,  bioswales, etc to minimize ground water runoff into the sewers and are mandated by MSD when new pavement is being added. In this case, grass channels with trees will allow for absorption via amended soil and grass.

Driveway restoration will take place to make the ten foot trail seamlessly intersect with the many driveways along the route.

The only designated pedestrian crossing on this extension will be placed between Lindenwood Place and Mardel Avenue. It will have solar-powered flashing signals, signs, and striping on the roadway to alert drivers that they are approaching a crossing. There is a refuge in the median for people to pause when they are crossing so that they are only watching for cars traveling in one direction at a time. There are no signalized intersections on Wabash/Ellendale between Lansdowne and Canterbury, so the mid-block crossing is an opportunity to cross where there are fewer points of conflict (no cars turning – the cars on each side of the crossing are only traveling in one direction). Another benefit of this location is that the width of Wabash Avenue is the most narrow at this location. Pedestrians are only crossing three travel lanes (two northbound, one southbound, and no parking lanes).

The first of several raised pedestrian crossings will be constructed at Tholozan Avenue. These crossings will feature slight ramps with an elevation change of only four inches over six feet in each direction from the ten foot trail allowing a very slow decline in each direction. It'll be a unique surface that will be a visual queue to drivers to inform them that they are coming to a greenway passage. 

The other raised pedestrian crossings will be located at Manhattan Avenue, Piccadilly Avenue and Esplanade Street.

The I-44 underpass will feature a stained concrete surface. The walls and interstate deck piers will be painted to define the area and provide interest. The north and southbound trail lanes will be split around the piers. The underpass will be lit for safety, think of the Macklind tunnel going to Forest Park.

While the section along Wabash Avenue has sidewalks, much of the 1.5 mile section along Ellendale Avenue does not. Some sections have steep slopes, so significant grading will be necessary. This will be one of the most aesthetically pleasing elements of the plan as the current views are less than ideal:

St. James Square, Leamington Avenue and Tremont Avenue will be closed to vehicle traffic to Ellendale/Wabash. Cul-de-sacs will be installed; while emergency vehicle and pedestrian access will remain. These are dangerous access points, neighbors were mixed but overall in favor due to the traffic calming elements and play spaces that cul-de-sacs bring. Folks not in favor feared it would add to their drive time to go around to the other streets.

The second "node" will be at the entrance to Slay Park and the third in the median greenspace on McCausland Avenue.

The entire roadway surface will be resurfaced and re-striped. The cyclists who prefer to ride on the road was in favor of this clear striping. This is a much needed upgrade over current conditions:

When both projects are complete, there will be a continuous corridor from Francis R. Slay Park (Intersection of Canterbury & Ellendale) in the City of St. Louis all the way to Jefferson Barracks County Park in St. Louis County!

Aerial views of the full north and south sections of the greenways are available from GRG.

Construction is expected to start in March with completion in late 2017.