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Removing Highways to Restructure the St. Louis Region

Rather than spend hundreds of millions on rebuilding highway 40 (I-64 to the rest of the map reading world) we should just tear it out completely. Don’t look so confused, I’m totally serious. This is not a belated April fools joke.

Our highways in the middle of urban areas are relics to the cheap gas economy that is quickly coming to an end. In addition to removing highway 40, we should remove all the highways within our I-270/I-255 Loop: I-55, I-70, I-44, and I-170

I’ve not gone crazy nor have I been smoking anything.

And before you scroll down to the comments section to explain all the conventional wisdom reasons why this won’t work I ask that you hear me out first. I know we cannot just remove the highways and leave the balance of our political entities, zoning and other systems in place and expect this to make a lick of sense. Therefore, I have some basic assumptions & qualifications that would need to accompany the removal of any or all highways in our main urbanized area of the region. The likelihood of this coming together in our lifetime is slim but as the economy changes we will need to change and adapt to remain competitive with other regions.

Keep in mind that 60 years ago men took maps and drew lines where we’d wipe out entire neighborhoods for highways and housing projects. In hindsight, huge mistakes were made that disrupted lives and cost millions. Today we are still dealing with the aftermath of these poor decisions. So I’m taking a map and looking at ways we can undo damage previously done without inflicting new damage.

Take a deep breath and clear your mind of pre-conceived notions about the way our region must be…

Basic Assumptions & Qualifications:

  • The area within I-270 becomes the City of St. Louis with a few possible areas remaining independent municipalities. With this new city comes new forms of government and fewer taxing districts competing for sales tax dollars.
  • Along with consolidation of municipal boundaries so to with school districts.
  • Light rail transit replaces each of the highways removed as does a four-lane road with on-street parking along both sides. The light rail lines are mostly buried as much of the highway system is already below grade. Once the line is constructed it will be covered by the new road. If an existing highway is mostly at grade or above grade it might utilize a BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) line rather than light rail.
  • The new rail & road take up considerably less space than the old highway right of way. The extra land will be sold to developers along with minimum density requirements and maximum parking limitations.
  • A primary goal is to reconnect the street grid that in older areas was bisected for the highways. In more suburban areas to create connections where none have ever existed. A connected grid will enable traffic to disperse throughout the system rather than be forced only the only choice — the highway.
  • It is assumed that gas prices are quickly approached $5/gallon (we are halfway there) and living far from the core has lost all appeal. As a response, developers and builders are seeking new places to build within the basic core of the region.
  • Mass merchants such as Wal-Mart and Target don’t survive the new economy. Nor do big grocery places like Schnucks or Dierberg’s. Locally supplied goods are trucked in smaller quantities to more frequent retail locations. With more stores closer to customers the need to drive long distances is substantially reduced.
  • The massive Mississippi River Bridge project would get broken up into three smaller bridges connecting St. Louis’ street grid with the grids in Illinois.
  • These efforts to remove the highways and develop the land around transit provide sufficient demand for the development areas and density created.
  • I-270 becomes a growth boundary of sorts and areas outside of that are considered “obsolete” As sprawling and winding cul-de-sac subdivisions are abandoned for areas closer to transit and jobs in the core these areas are returned to their rural roots. They help provide land to grow food for local consumption. Some small villages remain although the balance of St. Louis County and surrounding counties are zoned to encourage rural uses with residents in clusters in small town centers or on very large tract farms.
  • True “interstate” traffic is routed around the regional center along the out loop highway. We finally realize that our neighborhoods should be severed from each other simply because someone is driving from Chicago to Tulsa.
  • Highway 40/I-64:

  • From the river to I-270 the old road is gone. Actually, highway 40 in its early years looked like a charming boulevard. When it became I-64 and more and more traffic was funneled its way it become what we have today, an ugly and crowded mess of concrete.
  • Market Street resumes its proper place as a major east-west road.
  • Market runs along the south edge of Forest Park where the westbound lanes of the highway do now. This creates new city blocks between Market and Oakland.
  • In the space between Market & Oakland the density requirement is high so that we get a line of high rise buildings facing the park. and hiding The Highlands project from public view.
  • The area where 40 intersects with I-170 and Brentwood Blvd. becomes a major redevelopment area with most of the current (and planned) projects being leveled and started over with the idea of connectivity in mind.
  • Little is done in Ladue as not much exists to connect with. A classy neighborhood center could be created at McKnight as well as expanding commercial options at Clayton Road.
  • The Lindbergh interchange land and adjacent sprawl centers offer another opportunity for development. A fixed rail line or BRT may need to run north & south along Lindbergh to get riders into the transit system.
  • At the existing I-270 interchange a large portion of the land can be reclaimed for development.
  • I-70:

  • With I-70 gone from the river to past the airport a “lid” is no longer necessary to connect the Arch with the rest of the city.
  • Washington Avenue flows easily into the Eads bridge.
  • Old North St. Louis & Hyde Park are connected with the warehouses and river just to the east.
  • Northside neighborhoods are able to reconnect around a new street where the highway used to exist. Transit along the route makes these neighborhoods more desirable.
  • The airport limits development around I-70 & I-170 but this is a good place for some industrial uses. As airplane fuel is costly fewer people fly. Overnight shipping becomes unaffordable for most packages so less area is needed around the airport for these services. Transit brings those to the airport that are working & flying so less space is devoted to parking.
  • I-55:

  • Traffic going from Chicago to Memphis is routed around the outer loop. Those seeking to see the urban core can take roads into town.
  • The highway no longer separates Soulard from Benton Park, Lafayette Square or downtown.
  • The former interchange where I-55 and I-44 meet becomes a new TOD neighborhood. Density is the key here with lots of varied prices from affordable units to expensive penthouses. Proximity to transit and downtown make this a new hot spot.
  • Areas in South County can introduce more of a street grid and build up density at the current major streets like Bayless and Reavis Barracks.
  • I-44:

  • As noted above, the interchange with I-55 becomes a new neighborhood.
  • Lafayette Square connects once again with McKinnley-Heights to the South.
  • The former McRee town area is connected with Shaw to the South.
  • The Hill is once again whole.
  • Older ring municipalities such as Maplewood, Shrewsbury, and Webster are able to put their charming communities back together.
  • The sprawling wasteland at I-44 and Kirkwood Road/Lindbergh becomes another major TOD opportunity, especially if some form of transit runs along Lindbergh as well as I-44.
  • Okay, so there you go. Not a complete thought but a rough outline as a starting point for discussion. Can you visualize the area without the highways? I can, and I like what I see.

    – Steve


    Currently there are "52 comments" on this Article:

    1. jefferson says:

      I love the fact that you’re thinking out of the box on this issue. One of my biggest dissapointments with the city is the way it’s sliced and diced by expressways.

      You’re assuming a major overhaul of the economy. If that happens, then cities may decide that it’s in there best interests to consolidate inside their outer ring highways, or at least heavily tax development outside of it. Heavy federal assistance, like that that was given in the 1950’s and 60’s, would be required.

      Absent this major overhaul of the economy however, I wouldn’t advocate trying to impose density on the more suburban areas closer to 270. An interesting compromise might be to have Hwy. 44 empty into a wide urban boulevard as it enters the denser parts of the city, perhaps around Grand. Same thing with 55. This way you still get to take care of the “black hole” at the 44/55 interchange. Highway 40 doesn’t bother me as much as it follows what is already basically an industrial corridor in the city. And Hwy 70 I’m okay with as it’s nice to have your airport and convention center linked as many ways as possible, although burying it a little farther from downtown and building a lid would be nice improvements.

    2. will says:

      I’m always mad about our highway situation, never actually thought about tearing it out. I like it though. It would probably never happen though. By the time people started understanding why this would be a good idea, there would be no funding for it.

    3. SMSPlanstu says:

      I have had the same hopes and ideas, but yours are much more expanded upon. However, as much as our professors want us to explore IDEAS for city and regional planning the idea of cutting out I-70/40/44/55/170 is more than burning one’s bridges of ever getting a job. In other words as a planning student, I fear that by accepting your idea that it would prevent me from gainful employment as a Planner except for in Portland and maybe Seattle or Cleveland.

      Your ideas are just beginning to crawl and make babysteps, walking and running for the prize are near impractical for this economy and a difficult road if we change economies. This will be a hard principle to accept and implement in the future.

      This is also reason for creating city-states and establishing powerful regional authorities like East-West Gateway but beefed up.

      Last Inquiry: How do we pay for it or convinve the public that it is worthwhile?
      Reinstate the WPA Work Projects Administration during a looming depression?

      [REPLY – What a sad state of affairs that a young planning student can’t imagine removing interstate highways within an urbanized area. Sure, he could be part of the planning to rebuild the excessive miles of roadway that is a huge financial burden or to plan a billion dollar bridge.

      How is it we can find $500 million to rebuild 12 miles of existing road in this economy but we can’t find money to reduce our need for cars, strenghten our transit options and reconnect our cities in the same economy?

      If we took that same $500 million and took out I-64/hwy 40 from Spoede to the river as well as sold excessive right of way I bet we could have the light rail and a nice urban boulevard lined with new urban buildings. Same money!

      But no, we are going to continue building more and more roads, bridges, sewers, and other infrastructure that some future generation will have to deal with. No us, we can’t change our thinking. – SLP]

    4. Renee says:

      I was wondering if you’d put a slate of ‘approved’ candidates up on your site since tomorrow is election day. I have a few ideas but being incredibly new to the city (and a democrat) I want to make sure I have the biggest impact.
      A daily reader….

      [REPLY – This is off-topic but I endorsed Peter Downs & Donna Jones on March 15: http://www.urbanreviewstl.com/archives/000555.php
      Additionally I support the increased funding for the community college but do not support the effort to change the recall process. – SLP]

    5. Trevor Acorn says:

      Good stuff Steve. You may want to fix some of the grammar errors as they made some points a little confusing.

      I love your ideas and itÂ’s not like this kind of thing has never been done before. We have Portland as a wonderful example.

      IÂ’d be interested in learning, from a political perspective, how the highways got built the first time. Why couldnÂ’t we go about demolishing them the same way? And are there any good studies about PortlandÂ’s work and the change in land-use/value that resulted?

      [REPLYThanks, I didn’t do a sufficient job yesterday on my proof-reading. A number of cities have removed offending highways so this is not totally off base. When San Francisco’s Embarcadero highway collapsed in an earthquake it was feared they’d have massive problems if they didn’t rebuild. Instead, the area has seen growth and interest since completing the boulevard. Traffic engineers want more and more lanes but at some point we must stop listening to them! – SLP]

    6. Ying says:

      Big Thinking. I really like it. However, what you envisioned won’t start to happen unless the gas price is already $5/g or higher. As of now, even if we have the funding to make all the physical changes, as long as Americans stay in their love affair with cars, getting rid of the Highways within the loop would only push all capitals and investments further away from the core and concentrated more along the loop.

    7. SMSPlanstu says:

      Keep in mind the culture and times.

      1940-and on Cars and a suburban lifestyle viewed as modernization and The Future
      Suburbs viewed as the American Dream
      Transit dependent

      2000-auto society
      Some are beginning to get the picture, but to destroy the highways needs to be seen in an upbeat PERCEPTION

      SF, Seattle, Portland, and Cleveland have removed a highway and are benefiting financially but has enough of a case been made on the national scale?

      Again as a student I do want the highways removed inside the outer loop.
      However, this is not even a consideration in the minds of the public, supported by the wider public, practical without more mass transit sooner than later, and more excuses. Shouldn’t we become more dependent on mass transit first and rail vs truck transporting of goods?

      We need a culture shift
      We need to become a transit dependent nation
      We need revival of rail to replace the trucking industry
      We need Urban people to support this scenario
      We need politicians to accept this

    8. Becker says:

      It may be too late but why not “start small” and focus on your earlier idea of eliminating I-70 along Memorial Drive instead of capping it.

      It would be a smaller example that could be used to build public support for larger scale projects in the future.

    9. Trevor Acorn says:

      How was the public convinced of the benefits of highway removal in SF, Seattle, Portland, and Cleveland? Where could this information be found?

    10. nate says:

      I like it in theory, but I’m worried that leaders will lack the forsight to undertake this prior to an economic crash, and that post crash, there won’t be funds for such an ambitious project.

      I’d settle for burying highway 40 from brentwood on in and reopening the macarthur bridge to accomodate the new 40 and other road traffic.

    11. “The massive Mississippi River Bridge project would get broken up into three smaller bridges connecting St. Louis’ street grid with the grids in Illinois.”

      This is a great idea that is within the realm of immediate possibilities. I actually like it, and would love to see if happen. I cannot wait for the McKinley Bridge to reopen, since it will connect the northside street grid to a point just south of urban Madison and Granite City. Such a connection enables local travel through urban areas, unlike the plannned bridge. With the I-270 Chain of Rocks Bridge, interstate traffic still can travel through St. Louis without a new bridge.

      Thanks for thinking so big. I don’t have any comments about the rest of your post at the moment except that it is a great blueprint for a major renewal of the city. It’s the only plan I’ve ever seen that gives us a fighting chance against cities like Cleveland and Seattle.

    12. jefferson says:

      “I’d settle for burying highway 40 from brentwood on in and reopening the macarthur bridge to accomodate the new 40 and other road traffic.”

      In areas where 40 isn’t already depressed I think this would be prohibitively expensive. Hwy. 40 already follows an industrial corridor in the city, and unless you’re talking about getting rid of the train tracks as well, I think it’s fine where it’s at.

      What we might also look at is instead of completely getting rid of highways all the way out to 270, maybe you have a north-south boundary around I-170 or Skinker where the highways stop. At this point people either contiue into the city on the 4-lane road Steve proposes or park and transfer to Metrolink or some other form of mass transit.

      [REPLY – I thought about some sort of halfway point but that only works going West. You can have people drive east on 40 and then divert them onto I-170 but for the folks driving toward downtown on I-44, I-70 or I-55 no such equivalent exists. The compromise could be to leave I-170 in place and remove both 40 & I-70 up to I-170 while removing I-44 and I-55 out to I-270. In the meantime, spending half a billion on redoing 40/I-64 is a waste in my book. – SLP]

    13. Nate says:

      I’m saying bury the trains and HWY 40 from Kingshighway into the city….reclaim all that land for greenspace and bike paths, developing residential units on either side of the new park that would result.

    14. stoptheluvfest says:

      Nevermind that it would cripple the ability of people living in the Metro East to get to work in St. Louis County in a timeline fashion. But I guess you would propose having people move closer to where they work or work closer to where they live anyway.

      Also, it would make it a major hassle for tourists to get to city attractions, so some of them might not even bother.

      There are so many problems with this. I can’t even begin to list them all.

      [REPLY – The next two comments answer some of your points but I’ll add mine in as well. First, $5/gallon gas is going to do wonders to cripple those folks driving from Illinois to St. Louis County to work. I’m doing them a favor by providing transit as an option.

      We’d also be able to attract more tourists because the area will look and function so much better. Just how I’ve driven into Vancouver on local roads (no freeway taking you to downtown) I find a city without highways so much more interesting. This combined with a first-class transit system would allow tourists to check out the region with ease. – SLP]

    15. SMSPlanstu says:

      “How was the public convinced of the
      benefits of highway removal in SF, Seattle,
      Portland, and Cleveland? Where could this
      information be found?”

      The American Planning Association (www.planning,org) magazine “Planning” and web sources like
      http://www.planetizen.com are great resources for these past or future actions. I believe according to the March APA Planning mag that the Cleveland one will be a future occurence and is currently under the process of being incorporated into their comprehensive plan or a special plan for reconnecting neighborhoods to the waterfront west of downtown. Sorry for the run-on sentence.

      I find it a point of debate over why International cities like New York City and Chicago have not removed interstate or limited access highways from their inner cities. Thus, why should major American cities follow the Structuralist highway to transit idea?

    16. Josh says:

      Adding Lanes Makes Traffic Worse…

      “…spending on transit creates twice as many new jobs as spending on highways. Every billion dollars reallocated from road-building to transit creates seven thousand jobs.”

      “In the current structure of subsidization, trucking is heavily faovred over rail transport, even though trucks consume FIFTEEN TIMES the fuel for the same job [emphasis mine].”

      “We try to solve our commuter traffic problems by building highways instead of railways, even though it takes fifteen lanes of highway to move as many people as one lane of track.

      Furthermore, on Steve’s point…

      “When New York’s West Side Highway collapsed in 1973, an NYDOT study showed that 93 percent of the car trips lost did not reappear elsewhere; people simply stopped driving. A similar result accompanied the destruction of San Francisco’s Embarcadero Freeway in the 1989 earthquake. Citizens voted to remove the freeway entirely despite the apocalypted warnings of traffic engineers. Suprisingly, a recent British study found that downtown road removals tend to boost local economies, while new roads lead to higher urban unemployment.

      “This revelation is so counterintuitive that it bears repeating: adding lanes makes traffic worse.”

      These quotes were taken from Duany, Plater-Zyberk, and Speck’s book “Subburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream”

      Our highway system has been on my nerves for years now. Mostly for how it has severed our neighborhoods and without doubt contributed heavily to our steady population decline. I have wanted to see the highways torn out for a while now, though nobody else seems to understand the reality of how this improves everyone’s lives! I thought I was the only person in St. Louis who felt this way.

      I’m 100% behind you Steve, I would love nothing more than to see our Highways gone, routed around the city, and our neighborhoods reconnected.

      And to Eric or stoptheluvfest, most of Europe has been structured with the highways routed around the city, not through it. It certainly has no impact on tourism there!

      Where are your facts? You’re simply speculating that this would cause problems because that’s what you’ve been told you whole life when the fact is that removing highway reduces traffic problems and boosts local economies while adding lanes makes traffic worse.

      Tearing out highways doesn’t mean no way into the city, it means smarter and infinitely more efficient ways into the city. Just as pointed out in Suburban Nation, it takes fifteen lanes of highway to transport the same number of people as one lane of rail.

    17. Mill204 says:

      i like some of the ideas, but there are too many assumptions and beliefs to seem any more than revisionist fantasy.

      • there’s no need for st. louis city to expand, only a need for it to become part of the county and the elimination of cities with less that, say, 10,000 people

      • doing the math (at a single point)…
      1 Metrolink car = 72 seated + 106 standing = 178 passengers
      Increase Metrolink train by 50% = 3 cars = 534 passengers/train
      1 Metrolink train every 2min = 30 trains/hr = 16,020 passengers/hr
      (Metrolink as of 11/2006 = 4,272 passengers/hr
      15 highway lanes @ 2,200 veh/hr/lane = 33,000 veh/hr
      6 highway lanes @ 2,200 veh/hr/lane = 13,200 veh/hr (i.e. I-64)

    18. JAED says:

      This is a good post as far as early brainstorming for how to re-“vision” our city without the unsustainable highway system.

      I’d like to suggest some less “visionary” but I think more workable additions to your restructuring of the region.

      St. Louis County abolishes free parking and requires businesses with parking to charge a price where vehicles keep moving in and out similar to pay lots. I think Donald Shoup talks about how free parking is a bigger incentive to use cars than even offering free gas.

      Even if gas was $5/gallon, people would still drive their cars, many because they would have no choice because they live in an exclusive subdivision away from any other mode of transportation other than their car.

      Municipalities in developing, outlying counties are regulated to achieve the necessary density to allow for multi-nucleated Transportation-Oriented-Development that feeds into a more transit-oriented core radiating from the city.

      A moratorium on building new highways. To Josh’s comment, it’s true adding lanes to a highway doesn’t relieve congestion but neither does adding transit. Downs’ “Stuck In Traffic” talks about “Triple Convergence” where when you add lanes of highway, people that avoided the highway and took different routes, traveled at different times, or used transit/biked will be enticed to move back on to the highway and in 6 months its back to capacity. Political decisions have to be made to change urban form so that it is dense enough to support many modes of transportation and not just highways.

      The key is urban form, not the existence or removal of highways, to affect the kind of change you want. Density is the only thing that makes multi-modal networks of transportation work. You can’t “force” it by just removing highways.

      [REPLY – Great points, thank you for your contribution. – SLP]

    19. Jon says:

      A nice theory, $5 a gallon gas and all, but following this plan would criple St. Louis plain and simple. Why? You can tell and ask and show everyone that your plan might make for a better place to live if everyone bought into it and everything outside 270 really were so bad, but it is not the case. People do like to live on large lots if they can and density inside of 270 goes against this point. If you follow your plan all the will happen is St. Charles County will grow faster than ever as people flee the congestion inside of 270.

    20. Michael says:

      Really, it breaks my heart to hear this discussed.

      It is exactly what the city needs (and while we’re at it, can we bury I-70 downtown, so that pedestrians could actually have access to Laclede’s Landing and the Archgrounds?).

      But it’s not going to happen. Maybe in about fifty years, when the cost of removing the highways with gasoline-powered devices is so great that we’ll have no choice but to let them stand. And by then I’ll be old!

      Re: New York. Have you been there? The reason that they haven’t torn out the highways is that they cause very little interference with the street grid. The FDR and the West Side highways run along the outside edges of Manhattan, rather than through it, and what few large onramps are necessary for access to highways heading out of the city are tucked away pretty unobtrusively.

      Had St. Louis done this, we’d be in good shape. Instead, we have this sliced up urban space known as the City, many parts of which we can’t really hope to reclaim, even in the most optimistic of renewal scenarios, unless the highways are knocked down.

    21. cosgrove says:

      Steve, run for mayor for god’s sake.

    22. love in says:


      This idea merits a little more in depth analysis.

      Let’s just consider Hwys 55, 40, 70, and 44 through the city.

      For purposes of discussion, let’s assume each highway has about five miles of roadway running through the city, each with a 200 foot wide right of way.

      To determine the amount of reclaimed city lands, we calculate (5,280 feet/mile) X (200 feet of ROW) x (5 miles avg length) x (4 hwys) for a total of 21,120,000 square feet of reclaimed city land area.

      21,120,000 square feet / 43,560 per acre = 484 reclaimed city acres.

      At an average urban density of 10 units per acre, the reclaimed lands would provide sufficient area to build 4,840 new homes. (Note: Some would consider this density too low, so possible yield projections could be higher.)

      At an average sales price of $200,000 per new home, this would generate $96,800,000 in new development activity.

      At 3.5 persons per average household, this project would increase the city population by
      about 17,000 persons.

      [REPLY – I like the approach but I think the numbers are too low. First, from what I can see from Google Maps the ROW is wider, closer to 250 or 300ft in many areas and wider in others. I would assume densities closer to 50 units/acre in places and pushing 100 units/acre closest to transit.

      I think the average length in the city is closer to six miles. That combined with an average ROW of 250ft gives us 31,680,000 square feet or 727 acres. Built out at 50 units/acre that is 36,350 additional units of housing (plus retail & office). With a more conservative 2.5 average persons per unit that is over 90,000 additional residents within the city. This does not include additional density on land adjacent to the existing ROW. – SLP]

    23. Hubbert's Peak says:

      First of all, to all of you saying that this will without doubt have a detrimental affect on St. Louis and/or help St. Charles grow even faster… you can’t just say that with the degree of certainty that you espouse.

      The truth is that none of us have any idea of how this will affect the city and the county, all we can do is speculate, look to reserach done by others (or do our own) and look to places where similar measures have been taken and guage their success.

      Secondly, while you may find the idea of re-routing or removing highways outlandish now, the global oil peak (Hubbert’s Peak) has been well documented by a large number of experts. While Steve and others here may be pushing these ideas out of a desire to better our communities and our region, there are a plethora of books, dvd’s and articles (mostly untouched by the mainstreem media) that document an impending oil crisis of proportions that will make it impossible to drive and impossible to supply power to the suburbs. I don’t think St. Charles’ population is going to be booming if they’re right. And if they are right, then that also means that cities that don’t try to fix their transportation mess now and start putting money into better transit are going to be the most hard hit.

      Many of them speculate we have already reached peak and that within the next 5-10 years we will enter a period of crisis. While I pretend to be no expert on the subject, I can refer you to books, DVD’s, and studies that all say the same thing. In 10 or so years, no one will be driving. In fact, it’s very likely no one outside of dense urban communities will even have power. Do a search in Amazon or Left Bank on “Peak Oil”. James Howard Kunstler (who most of you are probably familiar with for his writings on urbanism) also has a good book called “The Long Emergency” but this is just one out of a good number of books that have been written on the subject.

      [REPLY – Thank you! I didn’t want to go into all that on my post but this is certainly a reason for acting now. At the very least we should not be spending $500 million to redo an existing highway — leave it as is. Transit takes decades to fund and plan. But once our economy is trashed from peak oil it will be too late to react. – SLP]

    24. Jon says:

      Peak oil maybe all fine and dandy, but lets get real for a moment and understand that all human transportation has sought for flexablity, whether that flexablity be in walking, biking, or auto.

      Taking that basic premis, then I feel pretty comfortable making the next jump, which says that peak oil will likely fuel greater inovations, in the same way we are no longer dependent on whale oil too fuel our lamps.

      So, if or when we make the next jump to the fuel that runs our economy (kepping in mind we have already moved from wood, to cool, to oil, to natural gas, to nucelar,… well you get the idea) its application to transportation will come in the form of flexablity, and for that the auto is in many ways unparalled.

      So, I feel comfortble saying that the idea of the personal auto, whether powered by oil or the sun or a fuel cell, won’t be going anywhere anytime soon. And if this is the case, the roads gotta stay.

    25. Trevor Acorn says:


      All true. It would also spur more rehabbing in places like Old-North and other nearly vacant areas further increasing population.

      St. Louis once had something like 800,000 residence, correct? There is no reason we couldn’t do it again (given that we get rid of the highways).

    26. love in says:


      I think it might be time to crank up your design competition, request-for-proposals machine again.

      The perfect test location would the highway interchange location of I-55 and I-44.

      The proposed development site would reconnect the Lafayette Square, LaSalle Park, Soulard, McKinley Heights, and Benton Park neighborhoods.

      They say St. Louis is a haunted city. Just imagine all the poltergeists we’d raise if we resurrected these long paved-over neighborhoods!

    27. Hubbert's Peak says:

      Jon…. now that’s wishful thinking.

    28. Hubbert's Peak says:

      And Jon, what data do you have to support you claim that personal mobility will go on as you describe? Or are you simply speculating? I’d be interested to read whatever articles or books you know of.

      Because pretty much everything I’ve read or seen is not nearly as optimistic. If you check out any of the works of Richard Heinberg, Matthew Simmons, James Howard Kunstler, Kenneth Deffeyes, Michael C Ruppert or Paul Roberts to name a few, they all say very similar things. There have also been several studies done by the British Department of Transportation that also claim, for similar reasons, personal mobility in the form of the automobile will be non-existent by 2050.

      There’s plenty of other writings out there but where is your information coming from?

    29. Jim Zavist says:

      Great concept! The only thing I’d add are good-sized parking lots at the end-of-line stations on each light rail line . . . While we can dream of a utopia, the reality remains that there will always be folks who choose* (or have) to drive to a light rail station to start or end their trips. This is not all bad – it creates “virtual density” at places that logically wouldn’t have enough to be viable development candidates, and it should get the hoosiers out of their SUV’s and dually crew-cab pickups and onto transit inside “the 270 ring”.

      *If circumstances allow me to telecommute 15-20 days a month and I only need to go downtown a few days a month, why shouldn’t I be able to live in the sticks? Similarly, there are vast swaths of land outside the 270 ring where public transit will never work (too low a density and too high an economic class) – why not let these folks pay to drive the first few miles to a a transit hub and then make it easy for them to switch to the train for the rest of their trip? It still keeps them out of the ring, but allows them to function inside it!

    30. Jon says:

      When I get home from work I will type something longer, but I wonder, are all your theories of lessened personal moblity hung on the rack of peak oil. Because anyone who took a history class can pretty well lay out a historical evolution of transportation and if you do so, it seems clear that when people can they opt for those options that give the greatest flexablity.

      So if the option exists people will take it… auto, bike, walk, horse, buggy, you get the idea i think…

    31. jefferson says:

      “I would assume densities closer to 50 units/acre in places and pushing 100 units/acre closest to transit.”

      I also like the basic premise of this analysis, but I think 100upa is high. Aren’t places like Soulard and Benton Park closer to 20upa? I think 50 may be a good upper limit.

      I tend to agree a little more with Jon’s point. I don’t buy the sky is falling argument. I have read articles that claim that better technology will allow us to extract more oil from existing sources, and so weaning ourselves off oil will be a much more gradual process and we’ll have time to adapt (middle east politics notwithstanding.) The answer is to find a more middle ground, as opposed to swinging to the other side of the spectrum. I also think personal autos will be around for awhile, becoming smaller, used less frequently and powered by alternative energy sources. We should work towards a goal that allows a person to live within a ring area, whether it’s 270 or maybe 170-Hanley, without owning a car, and perhaps using a car-sharing program once in awhile. I think we could achieve this in 50 years.

      Another point that was brought up earlier was how to make maintain suburban communtities but get them to concentrate around established cores. This is also a key part of getting this scenario to work. I don’t see a completely market-based solution to it. It’s going to take a regional authority with some teeth to make suburban municipalites concentrate their jobs in a single location instead of spread along a highway like the I-64 corridor in Chesterfield.

    32. Hubbert's Peak says:

      Jon, I’m not quite sure what you’re asking. How many racks are your theories of personal mobility hanging upon?

      I understand your theory that people opt for the greatest flexibility and agree with you. But you weren’t talking about horse, bike, etc. We’re talking about the kind of mobility afforded by an auto-driven society, the kind you said wouldn’t be going anywhere any time soon.

      Of course I believe that local personal mobility will always exist within a five or so mile radius via bike, scooter, or what not. But you can’t take a bike or horse from Wentzville to downtown St. Louis and expect to get there before rush hour is over.

      Most of the technologies you speak of, at least according to many authors who have written on it, currently require more oil/natural gas to produce than they actually save. How is our society going to finance those “innovations” when the cost of producing them is quadrupled (or greater) every two years? When America reached it’s peak in the seventies the 5% decrease in production cause a 400% increase in cost. Even the most conservative estimates show a production decrease of 3%/yr starting between now and 2007.

      I just think that if we still want to be able to get from St. Louis to West of the Missouri and visa-versa in 10-20 years that we can’t just have faith that some great innovation will occur, assume it will use the highways, and do nothing in the mean time. We need transportation reform now. A good system of public transit and a reallocation of funds from highway building are what I think we need and even if the first step isn’t tearing out highways, I think we need to start planning for it. The future is going to require us to be able to have the kind of connections that have been broken by our messy highway system.

    33. tystl says:

      “Along with consolidation of municipal boundaries so to with school districts.”

      Why is consolidating school districts a good idea?

    34. Jim Zavist says:

      . . . so that all kids can have access to the resources for a quality education, and to eliminate the redundant buracracies/increase efficiency in the delivery of services!

    35. Jason Toon says:

      I would vote for this today if it were on the ballot. Along with the elimination of the streetcar system, the building of the highways was probably the most short-sighted, destructive diktat ever forced upon St. Louisans in the whole sorry history of our little banana republic.

      As for the doubters here, if history shows us anything, it is this: people who assume that the future will look just like the present are always wrong. Jon, this means you.

      We have two choices as a region. We can remain shackled to a sprawl-bound, car-dependent way of life past the point when we can do anything about it, in which case the resulting decline will make the postwar white-flight period look like a Golden Age. Or we can act now to change the way we organize our city, taking our best guess about how to deal with the future and, in the process, emphasizing what makes our city a place worth living in.

      Ideas like this blog post give me hope that, just maybe, we can overcome the lack of civic imagination that seems encoded into our city’s DNA.

    36. Jon says:

      Ultimatly, I come at this from a different direction. The face of history and econmics. So Jason, like it or not, i am not assuming that the future will be just like the past, but that the type of wholesale change that the fear mongers support and is a jump beyond what any reasonable person who looks at the past and current world should expect.

      Peak oil, if it exists, is a question of whether you have a negative vision of the future. Negative views, like those fostered by the peak oil folks, belive that oil will run out and that humanity will run of the table.

      Economists and other who study such things, often have a more level or positive view of the future. Do people strive to achive profit? I think the answer is yes. If so, and If money can be made continutiing an auto culture, won’t people seek to do so?

      This is where peak oil fearmongers fall apart. They don’t understand that if gas is $15 a gallon, that there is profit to be made for those who will sell other energy sources for less than that price.

      So the question becomes, do you or do you not belive that people will exploit this profit potential.

      I think so. Even more, I think that since the long term history of humanity (yeah Jason that more history for you.. see its funny but people often study history to contextualize current world events) people strive for moblity. The profit to be made in energy is for the person who is willing to develope flexable transportation. And so, guess what… that means the car, or something very simmilar.

    37. jefferson says:

      Consequently, I think repressive middle-east regimes constitute a much bigger threat to our energy supply than does peak oil. My problem with the theory is that it claims our way of life will come crashing down within the space of a few years…it’s good for selling books, but not much else.

      Our cars and cities are destined to become more efficient and utilize alternative energy sources, and this vision can include restructuring the highway system inside the 270 ring. Perhaps the amount of developable land freed by such a restructuring would make it attractive enough to give it a try (10,000-20,000 new residential units, located near transit, see post above from love-in and Steve). It depends on how expensive energy – oil, hydro-cell, solar…whatever – becomes. Remember, freedom from an automobile dependent on expensive energy can be a commodity to be sold just as much as the energy itself. And this is where the market, along with finding and selling a new energy source, may get involved.

    38. Hubbert's Peak says:

      Well gentlemen, we’ve reached my peak oil peak. thank you for the debate, unfortunately this is far as I’m going to be able to go with the Peak Oil debate. All I can do at this point is post boring quote’s from different reports, articles, journals, and books that most of you have probably already read.

      Both sides of the peak oil debate (or at least the side of peak oil) has been fairly well represented and I don’t want to turn this forum about the pros/cons of restructuring our transportation system into a discussion about whether or not Peak Oil exists or is a threat. Most geologists and energy experts have already come to the conclusion that it’s no longer a matter of whether or not it exists but simply when the Peak will occur and what measures we should take to prepare for it. So I can’t really debate it beyond that.

      See our own Energy Department’s 93 page Hirsch Report if you haven’t already read it.

      At any rate, I wanted to throw it out there as just another reason why I believe Steve’s idea to be a good one, not the only reason. And whether or not we have Peak Oil on the horizon, I still agree with the basic premise of Steve’s proposal and would love to see St. Louis be an innovative city in the realm of transportation reform.

      [REPLY – Oh man, you were doing so well defending the peak oil theory it made my job easier. As you say peak oil is not really a theory, it is fact. The question is when will it hit and what will the impact be.

      Kunstler and others are painting a dire situation while others, such as Jon, think the market will just fall into place with a subsitute. The truth is it will be neither. We will not all be living an amish lifestyle nor will things just fall into place without any bumps along the way.

      Our government, especially under Bush, will continue fighting wars over the world’s oil supply. This will exact a big toll on our country financially but more importantly on our population as lives are lost and families are separated.

      As fuel prices rise this will have ripples throughout the entire economy. Sure, when gas gets to be $10/gallon the market may have a cheaper solution. But what about between $3/gallon and $10/gallon? All consumer goods will get more costly as transportation costs rise. Something will have to give somewhere.

      I’d rather assume and prepare for the worst when it comes to transportation needs as it takes a good decade to plan and install new rail systems. Can we really survive a decade of not having what we need, I don’t think so. – SLP]

    39. Hubbert's Peak says:

      I do think you exaggerage the Peak Oil “fear mongers” claiming all humanity will run off the table, even the most apocolyptic “peak oil folks” are more or less saying that the United States(more so than most countries) will be faced with some serious hardships if it does not prepare for it… Most countries are far less dependent on oil/natural gas than we are. And from an economic perspective, I’m sure you would also point out that a higer cost of oil/natural gas will affect much more than just transportation, it will also affect the cost of food and other goods making it difficult to survive under the current configuration.

      Anyway, I’m really done now. And btw Jon, while I respectfully disagree, I do appreciate your economic perspective and always appreciate the presentation of all sides of a debate.

    40. Hubbert's Peak says:

      Ha, thanks Steve… pulling me back into the ring…

      I do think your proposition stands well on its own without the peak oil debate. But I do think Peak Oil presents an even greater reason why your proposal should be taken seriously.

      And I do think from an “economic perspective”, Jon and others should recognize the ripple effect Peak Oil will have on our economy. The majority of prediction place Peak before 2010, and even our own Hirsch report speculates that the best case scenario would require 30 years of preparation. If you haven’t read them, Jon, the facts are all outlined there in an economic fashion.

      I think that if Jon and others are going to choose to dis-count Peak Oil in the face of all the facts presented by geologists and energy experts across the planet, as well as energy departments in many world governments including our own… it doesn’t seem there’s much that anyone can do to convince them that Peak Oil is real because the facts are not enough. It won’t be until they’re converting their front lawns into vegetable gardens and trying to trade in a new $25,000 SUV for a scooter and some tomatoes that they’ll think… damnit, we should’ve prepared for that when we knew about it in the 70’s!

      And Jon, have you actually read or seen anything on Peak Oil other than hearing that some “folks” are predicting an apocolyptic scenario?

    41. jefferson says:

      Yes no need to get out of the discussion yet H.P., we’re having a good debate 😉

      Perhaps I have the wrong impression of Peak Oil, I have read a few articles on it but it was enough to turn me off of it, it did seem rather apocolyptic to me. But if all you’re saying is we need to prepare for an era of higher energy prices, then we’re in complete agreement. The only dispute is how fast this change will occur. And in either case I think elements of the highway re-structuring outlined above could be part of the solution.

    42. I love this idea!

      The best part of the city is being able to get around without having to use the highway!

      If we can add more parkways, and connected streets, and reduce the need for a car by increasing mass transit, then highways are no longer needed.

    43. Hubbert's Peak says:

      The peaking of world oil production presents the U.S. and the world with an unprecedented risk management problem. As peaking is approached, liquid fuel prices and price volatility will increase dramatically, and, without timely mitigation,
      the economic, social, and political costs will be unprecedented. Viable mitigation options exist on both the supply and demand sides, but to have substantial impact, they must be initiated more than a decade in advance of peaking.

      That’s how the Hirsch Report, commissioned by our own energy department, begins.

      Jefferson, I could understand how it would be easy to write Peak Oil off as speculation if all you read were things like “Civilization as we know it is coming to an end soon.”

      The facts are that Peak Oil went from theory to fact in the 70’s when the American Geophysicist Dr. M King Hubbert accurately predicted the US Peak in 1970 (it actually happened in 71). He predicted this as early as 1956. His estimates placed global Peak to be somewhere around 2000. Most people are now estimating between 2005-2010.

      The only part of Peak Oil that is theoretical is the impact it will have on American society and we still have to rely on models to estimate when Peak is going to occur (or at this point, if it already has). I wouldn’t call them “fear mongers” like Jon, but there are a lot of people out there who are attempting to propose the worst case scenario in order to get our attention and help us prepare for it.

      If you think you might have the wrong impression and want a more “neutral” perspective then take a look at the Hirsch report. It’s much more dry than Kunstler, who’s known for his satirical commentary, but it may be more in your taste.

      The reason many forecasts are so dire is because the cost of “energy” is tied to virtually every aspect of our lives and is not limited to transportation. But because of how we’ve sprawled and continue to sprawl across the country side (a form of expansion unique to the US), creatiting low-density communities that continue to push away from the inner ring at an alarming rate, we require more energy than most any country in the world. A higher cost of energy will effect every thing from heating our homes to the cost of produce.

      Because more than half of our energy goes into personal transportation (I think it’s about 2/3, but don’t quote me there), one of the many ways we can help prepare for peak is to decrease the number of people driving and decrease the average distance that they travel and the number of trips they make… but you’d have to decrease it pretty significantly to even out the economic burden.

    44. SMSPlanstu says:

      In order to keep the visionary thinking going and not halt with the proven peak oil debate and pure economics theory, how about

      * Convincing City leaders and business
      leaders to collaborate on “what ifs” that
      center on the drastic increase in price for
      gasoline> Business and government forum
      for future transportation
      ^ My best recommendation is having
      private and public interests fund a
      Rail transportation plan to begin
      researching and implementing
      + We still have many of the historic
      industrial factories with adjascent
      + Implementing the plan would require
      fixing the rails, rehabbing the
      factories, and building a sustainable
      and renewable energy source system
      like solar electric panels
      + A major railway hub for unloading
      goods similar to sea ports could be
      built jointly to get a head start
      + This does mean consolidation of truck
      operations on the southside
      + Keep in mind that with these
      initiatives completed ahead or in
      progress during a depression that
      businesses will flock to the City
      with such adequate infrastructure

      ^ Mass Transit plans too for Metrolink,
      Elevated trains, non-Metro long commute
      trains, and lanes dediacted to bicycles
      ^ Create regional taxing district to
      serve the needs that the state does not

    45. Hubbert's Peak says:

      SMS, great suggestions! This would be a great way to start gaining ground on Steve’s highway proposal and beyond that a great way to ensure that the city of St. Louis comes out on top of Hubbert’s Peak. Getting our infrastructure ready for Peak in this way and the others suggested in this forum would not only put us ahead of the game locally and nationally when Peak occurs but also improve our region, create jobs, and greater stimulate growth of population and commerce in the mean time.

      I love the discussion and ideas that are coming out of this post. I think if many of the suggestions here are followed through, they will improve both current and future situations in the St. Louis region and we could see our slow but steady rate of growth stimulated greatly.

    46. Becker says:

      The question is: Is there anyone actually DOING anything due to discussions like this? Or are we all just talking and that is the extent of it?

      Words only will do so much.

      [REPLY Yes, words only do so much. I don’t think folks have been mobilized just yet. After all, it has only been five days since I made this point. Were you expecting action in under a week??? – SLP]

    47. Becker says:

      No. What I expect is that everyone will get excited by these thoughts right now. Within two weeks everyone will forget about it.

      And nothing will change.

      Standard operating procedure in the world we live in.

      And I am daring someone to prove me wrong.

    48. Josh says:

      I know what you’re saying Becker. People have generally short attention spans and unless they have a way to get involved will often forget about things a few weeks later. Though, I know a number of people on here will have this on their minds until something changes, I’ve been thinking about it every time I look out my window at highway 40 for the last few years.

      But I also recognize that for many readers, this idea is in its infancy. It needs discussion to work out the kinks and develop a phasing structure. Presented as it is, a good number of people in the St. Louis region would dis-count the idea as preposterous. People have to be prepared to accept the idea, and I think the psychological element is a good place to begin discussion.

      To most urbanists, this benefit of this proposal is clear from the start. We’ve read things by Kunstler, Holtz Kay, Norquist, Jacobs, Speck, Duany, Heinberg, and a good number of other urbanist writers.

      But I really think there should be a discussion on how to prepare the general public for this idea because cold turkey no one’s going to bite. I mean, unless you have already been exposed to this idea or live in the city and see the damage the highways have done, you’ve gotta think that if someone came to you and said “Let’s get rid of highway 40, 70, 44 and 55” you’d be outraged.

      But preparation also needs to be done quickly. In the face of global peak, while we really don’t know the consequences with certainty, we would definitely be wise to get started early. Steve’s idea about incorporating the county… while in one way makes me cringe… in another way would make it much easier to gain acceptence and eliminate the city vs. county element.

      What suggestions do you have, Becker? While I’m going to be very tied up for the next month or so, after that I’m very open to getting involved. One thing that needs to happen is we need to get the media talking seriously and regularly about peak oil, about urbanism about whatever… people need to realize there are better alternatives to driving.

    49. jefferson says:

      Several people have made good cases for undertaking something like this in response to higher energy prices, and I think this is the case that cities (and the federal government) are most likely to respond to. Cities have to be shown that it will be cheaper to prepare for higher energy costs instead of reacting to them.

      I like some of SMSPlanstuÂ’s suggestions above, and I think it behooves the region to have a plan in place to deal with these potential problems. I donÂ’t see the solutions as being funded locally though, as they would be quite expensive. Perhaps if the federal government sees rising energy costs as a threat to national security, they will offer matching funds for these types of changes similar to the ones they offer with other transportation projects.

      It would certainly be uncharacteristic of St. Louis to get out ahead on an issue like this; but I think a public/private commission could do the job and issue a report on suggested changes, so if the nation finds itself in a pinch, a plan is in place and weÂ’re just waiting for the money to show up.

    50. no man says:

      Ok, If someone has already addressed this, please disregard, but what happens if you remove all the interstates and many people continue to use their personal vehicles? Won’t major city streets like Gravois, Choteau, Jefferson, Manchester, Hampton, Kingshighway, etc., become so congested that getting anywhere in an acceptable amount of time becomes prohibitive? Then what happens to the other streets, does more traffic start flowing through people’s neighborhoods?

      No matter how much public transportation you provide, there will always be places that you can’t get to in a reasonable amount of time by using it and there will always be jobs that require people to be in several different places in such quick succession that public transportation is not an option.

      Also, you would have to drastically increase public transportation from the ‘burbs to the city for the countless people that live in Illinois and the county and other counties. So you’re not just going to have to convince two state governments, county governments and the city to make these drastic changes, but also agencies like Metro. How many billions will this take and how are you going to convince them that they need to spend it?

      It seems to me that you have a tendency to look at things from a city-centric perspective. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems like you believe everyone should just move into the city and revive its population without caring that some people prefer living elsewhere.

      [REPLY Yes, I have a strong city bias. Part of my desire for people to live closer in is so we stop destroying the beautiful Missouri countryside and farmland. But, on topic.

      The interstates running through the middle of the city and older ring suburbs works for those folks living beyond the area — allowing them to live on the edges of the region. But it makes the cities and older suburban areas not function the way they should. As a result, the core is functionally hampered by the needs of those that prefer to live elsewhere. That is not a good formula and it makes things out of wack.

      After I did this post I had to go to meeting in Florissant and was going to take I-170 northbound, during rush hour. After turning off I-70 onto I-170 the traffic came to a near stop. It was a typical rush hour. I took the first exit thinking I’d try my chances on Hanley going North. It was nearly empty.

      So yes, other roads will receive more traffic. That is a good thing. Disburse the traffic through the grid system is the entire point rather than forcing everyone onto the same road while cutting off the efficiency of the grid.

      The other key point is we should not be wasting $500 million to rebuild 12 miles of road. I don’t want people to live in the city anymore than they want to disect my city and make life easier for them to get in and back out to where they prefer to live. – SLP]

    51. CSZ says:

      You’ve presented a great out-of-the-box idea that should help people think about the long-term impact of present-day decisions. But if you really want to see it happen, you should also be encouraging thinking about how we can best get from here to there. I see three major aspects of that:

      1) How can transportion be made more efficient without losing too much of the flexibility (in timing and destination) which most people seem to value? Mass transit in some form is obviously part of it. (Look at the nearest MetroLink stations after a game at Busch Stadium, for example.) But so is personal transit, to handle all the needs that mass transit cannot serve. The local street system has to be made to work better; start by eliminating half of the stop signs in the city and putting traffic flow sensor controls on most of the stoplights.

      2) How can we reduce the need for transportation and still support the wonderful variety of cultural venues and commercial opportunities we currently enjoy? You can’t put a stadium, an art museum or a zoo in every neighborhood, but people need to have such things available.

      3) What kind of incentives are needed to help people want to move in directions that will really solve? You’ve got to offer them something demonstrably better than what they have now.

      Reneighborhoodizing (to coin a word?) offers some valuable benefits, but it is not a panacea. People’s interests are too diverse for them all to be satisfiable within the scope of a small village.

    52. Jesda says:

      Thats a cute fantasy.

      Urban centers will grow, but convenience keeps the automobile in operation, as well as its already established roadways.


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