The Arch grounds design competition currently underway could potentially bring about major changes to Memorial Drive and the western border of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. Every design team proposes a cap over I-70 between Chestnut and Market which would be a boon to pedestrians crossing to and from downtown and the Arch grounds. Three of the five design teams, however, also propose closing either all or a portion of Memorial Drive to vehicles; and the benefits any such closure of Memorial Drive would produce are not quite so clear.

Memorial Dr as envisioned by the MVVA team, one of five finalists in the Arch ground design competition. // The City+The Arch+The River.

One of the reasons to close Memorial Drive would be to provide a more seamless transition between downtown and the Arch grounds. The Weiss/Manfried team, for example, proposes closing just the block of Memorial Drive between Chestnut and Market, effectively blending Luther Ely Smith Square into the JNEM.

But would closing even a portion of Memorial Drive be a detriment to the traffic, environment, or commerce of the corridor? The answer ultimately depends on the final configuration of Memorial Drive and I-70.

While all five design teams support City to River’s urban boulevard concept, they all also agree that it is unreasonable to expect the complete replacement of I-70 by the design competition’s 2015 deadline. For that reason, every single design team proposed lids over I-70 as deadline compatible alternatives.

So that means there are two scenarios that must be looked at when evaluating changes to Memorial Drive: a lid over I-70 or closure of I-70 and replacement with an urban boulevard.

If I-70 is left in place, little is likely to significantly change or be affected by any closures of Memorial Drive. In all of the proposals, traffic continues to flow and the pedestrian environment is significantly improved in the one block between Chestnut and Market. The Behnisch team’s proposal aside, the biggest change to Memorial Drive is proposed by the PWP team who propose closing Memorial Drive entirely between Washington and Pine. The adjacent looming presence of I-70 is likely to relegate the southbound portion of the road to a kind of no-man’s land. All in all, though, Memorial Drive is likely to remain a glorified connector for traffic entering and exiting the local highways.

If I-70 is removed, however, and replaced with an urban boulevard, then closing portions of Memorial Drive could end up having a much more significant impact. Memorial Drive would become an important through route for traffic traveling through downtown north and south, complementing 4th and Broadway to the west. Buildings fronting Memorial Drive will gain commercial potential with their views of the Arch and would benefit from the addition of on-street parking. Closing a portion of Memorial Drive could thus significantly impact not just traffic, but potential businesses as well.

In the end, the pedestrian experience for visitors to the Arch will be improved, at least somewhat by an addition of a lid over I-70. But Memorial Drive has the potential to become a great street if I-70 is removed. Ultimately, however, the road’s fate lies with the judges of the Arch design competition and how closely the 2015 deadline is adhered to.

Changes to Memorial Drive proposed by finalists of the Arch grounds design competition
Team Description of changes to Memorial Dr Page
Behnisch Closed completely to vehicles. 38, 126
MVVA Left largely as is. Market and Chestnut across I-70 closed to vehicles. 127
PWP Closed from Washington to Pine.
2 lanes on west side of I-70 only from Pine to Walnut.
Left largely as is south of Walnut.
SOM Left largely as is. Market and Chestnut across I-70 closed to vehicles. 84
Weiss/Manfried Northbound closed between Market and Chestnut.
Southbound closed between Walnut and Pine.
55, 115

Posted by Herbie Markwort

I like to write about transportation.