A new MetroLink station and improved bike lanes are among nine possible long-range strategies being considered to transform how people get around St. Louis’ Forest Park.
St. Louis officials and Forest Park Forever, a nonprofit group, reviewed the results of public input over the course of nine months, including 1,300 responses to an online survey and comments from open house meetings. They publicly presented the refined list of suggested improvements during an open house Thursday.
Now they are asking residents to share reactions to these contingency plans. Those comments will be incorporated into the pitches as the East-West Gateway Council of Governments begins the next phase of investigation into the strategies.
Lesley Hoffarth is Forest Park Forever’s president and executive director. She said this “first level” of long-range planning ideas could help improve connections throughout the 2-square-mile park.
“We want to focus more on pedestrians, bicycles, transit and how they connect so overtime we can minimize the impact that cars have on the park,” she said.
Hoffarth said investigating these ideas could help planners make immediate decisions on future capital projects and give direction to neighboring areas as they develop their plans.
Future transit, MetroLink connections
Hoffarth said many people have also complained that it’s too far to walk to park destinations using existing transit options. They want better connections between the different transit systems serving the park, she said.
“If you use the DeBaliviere station, it takes a long time to get to the Science Center from there, for example,” she said. “How could we improve how people use existing transit stations to better access the park?”
Suggested improvements includes running a more efficient Forest Park Trolley, the internal bus system that serves the park. To decrease the time it takes for the trolley to navigate the park, Hoffarth said, one plan involves removing parking on one or both sides of a stretch of Government Drive between Pagoda Circle and the Boathouse on the east and the Zoo and Art Museum on the west. That would allow space for a bus-and-bicycle-only lane “to help with travel times to get around the park,” she said.
Plans may also include a possible new MetroLink stop at the northeast corner of the park.
“A great idea that we got from people that we’re carrying forward to investigate more is the potential of actually having a transit station in Forest Park to serve the east side of the park,” she said. “That is where a lot of major events are held and by connecting regional transit to internal transit options, we can, over time, reduce our dependence on cars to get around the park.”
‘Disconnect’ in bicycling
Hoffarth said officials want to improve bike connections throughout the park by “understanding bicyclists are there for different reasons.” That includes addressing the “disconnect” in how different riders use the the park’s dual-path system, the heavily used six-mile loop around the park. Hoffarth said it sees traffic from “families and kids riding for recreation at slower speeds to experienced cyclists riding their bikes pretty fast.
“Understanding that a lot of bicyclists are actually riding through the park as their mode of transportation, we do want to look at if there is a way to make our on-street bicycling better so it can take some people off the path system,” she said.
That could include the plan mentioned earlier to have fast-moving bicyclists share designated on-street transit lanes with the Forest Park Trolley to ease congestion on the dual-path and improve travel times.
Additionally, making Forest Park a hub in a bike share program has “a lot of merit,” Hoffarth said. She noted that Great Rivers Greenway is continuing to study the possibility of bringing such a program, in which people rent bikes to travel from one point to another, to St. Louis.
Cars and parking
About 13 million visitors come to Forest Park annually, most in cars, Hoffarth said. So planners must work to improving parking and traffic congestion.
She said using off-site parking with shuttles and “trail-blazing” so people can more easily walk into the park during marquee events have been successful solutions that could be used more in the future.
A lot of the park’s parking is “just not necessarily where people want to be,” Hoffarth said. That’s why park officials are considering ways to better communicate where parking is available, best routes to destinations and other information “to improve utilization of our existing parking.”
“If you knew, because we’re sharing that information, that there are 400 parking spaces at the Festival and Parking Plaza and there will be a trolley to pick you up in five minutes and then it’s a five-minute ride to get to the art museum, would you do that or would you sit in traffic for 45 minutes hoping you could possibly get a front-row parking spot?” she said.
She said providing more information will make it easier for people to move more quickly through the park and reduce traffic congestion.
Improving neighborhood connections
Hoffarth said a lot of input planners received focused on improving pedestrian pathways into the park from adjacent neighborhoods.
In the short term, improvements like better signal systems, signal timing and crosswalks are being considered. Hoffarth said these would be similar improvements to the ones installed in the southwest corner of the park last year around Oakland Avenue and at Skinker and Clayton avenues. She said organizers are also looking at possible pedestrian over- or underpasses on the south side of the park by the greenhouses, across Skinker or across Kingshighway.
“On all sides of the park, we heard from people saying, ‘Gosh, wouldn’t it be great if we had a way to have a walkway over the road or under the road?’” she said.
Improving the bus system and potentially adding a MetroLink station could also help “serve the Central West End a little better,” Hoffarth said.
Other long-term strategies include investigating other types of transit to improve neighborhood connections with cultural institutions, but Hoffarth said planners “haven’t gone into the details yet on exactly what that transit might look like.”
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