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City Makes Intersection Dangerous at Request of Grand Center and Saint Louis University

August 8, 2007 Planning & Design, SLU, Transportation 19 Comments

Crossing busy four lane streets as a pedestrian can be a dangerous proposition even at intersections with good crosswalks and proper signals. Change that intersection so that traffic doesn’t have to stop and simply turn off the pedestrian signals and you’ve created a situation just waiting for a tragic accident. This is exactly what has happened at Vandeventer and West Pine at the request of Grand Center and SLU (this is confirmed via internal email, not speculation on my part).

I’m not suggesting they intentionally sought to make the area more dangerous for pedestrians but in the quest to make it easier for motorists they’ve made it much more challenging for pedestrians and bicyclists in the area. Motorists leaving the SLU parking lots at the intersection may also have to risk an accident to find a break in traffic for a left turn.


Above, the pedestrian oasis of the former West Pine closed by SLU in the 1990s awaits the pedestrian if they can make it across the street. The traffic signal is flashing red in this direction and the pedestrian signals are unplugged. Press the walk buttons that still remain in place and nothing happens.


Look both ways before crossing. From here you can see a continual line of cars heading northbound on Vandeventer where they have a flashing yellow light allowing them to continue through the intersection. One of the two parking lots for SLU can be seen at the right.


Stepping back from the intersection we see parking lots for SLU on both sides of West Pine. Students, faculty and staff using these parking lots daily as well as people coming from the adjacent neighborhood or a bus stop must all attempt to cross Vandeventer. These pedestrian do, I suppose, have the option to go south to Laclede to cross. However, at Laclede the intersection does not have any pedestrian signals like those turned off at West Pine. Lindell, which is closer anyway, does have working pedestrian signals. Still, many campus buildings are along this pedestrian spine so having a good connection for pedestrians would make sense.


From the opposite view, above, we see three women attempting to cross Vandeventer to reach their car parked on the other side of the street. Classes resume later this month but already we see cars from SLU faculty/staff or students. As you can see, SLU has their own branding on the street sign and some traffic signals are painted blue. For more pictures click here.

It is amazing how similar this intersection is to a one in Kansas City. In KC, a university removed vehicular traffic from a street to create a pedestrian only street. However, the city failed, the court found recently, to properly control the remaining intersection and unfortunately a student was struck and killed. From the court opinion:

Opinion modified by court’s own motion on May 1, 2007. This substitution does not constitute a new opinion.
Appeal of a judgment on a jury verdict in a wrongful death action against the City of Kansas City. The plaintiffs, parents of a deceased student struck by a vehicle while crossing Troost Avenue in a pedestrian crosswalk, contended that the City negligently created a dangerous condition of property at the intersection of 53rd and Troost Avenue by installing a pedestrian crosswalk and then failing to adequately control traffic and failing to adequately warn vehicles of the existence of the crosswalk. The City contended the claim was barred by governmental immunity pursuant to Section 537.600 RSMo 2000.

Division holds: (1) The plaintiffs showed that the City waived immunity by creating a dangerous intersection and by failing to take appropriate action to mitigate the danger to pedestrians, although the City had notice of the danger caused by the inadequate warnings and controls at the intersection; (2) The plaintiffs also showed that the death of the deceased directly resulted from the City’s negligence, and that the City remained proximately at fault, although the City’s negligence concurred with the negligence of the driver whose vehicle struck the deceased; and (3) the waiver of immunity in 537.600 is an absolute waiver of immunity, regardless of whether the City’s actions would otherwise have been protected by “discretionary immunity.”

In short, a city cannot be immune to negligence for an intersection they control. Several options exist for this intersection.

One ‘solution’ is to leave the dangerous situation exactly as it is and we simply wait until someone is seriously injured or killed before correcting the situation. As you might imagine, I’m not fond of doing nothing. The simplest and least costly solution is to take the traffic lights off flash mode and turn the pedestrian signals back on. This could be done via regular cycles or on a 3-way red flash mode so that traffic stops at the intersection but doesn’t have to wait for the light to turn green if they have the right of way. A good compromise to keeping traffic moving along Vandeventer but allowing for pedestrians is to allow them to activate the signal so that traffic stops when pedestrians are present. This, however, doesn’t help motorists, bicyclists or scooterists trying to turn left onto Vandeventer from West Pine. If we can stop traffic along Grand for a pedestrian crossing on the other end of the pedestrianized West Pine we can find a way to be as considerate on this end as well.


Currently there are "19 comments" on this Article:

  1. WWSPD says:

    Do you have any information on whether the status of the pedestrian signals is temporary from those internal e-mails or is this permanent?

    [SLP — It is not permanent in that the city could easily change them from flashing to cycling again.  However, this was not done just temporarily — it was done as a change requested by SLU and Grand Center.  Unless we raise enough concern, this will remain.]

  2. Sam says:

    If the city would get their heads out of their collective asses, and manage to remotely sync up the lights in the city, this wouldn’t happen. But because they can’t seem to do it, that no matter what direction you were traveling, that was a guaranteed light you would hit. But if the crosswalk is present, doesn’t that give the pedestrians a right of way in the case of a flashing yellow light? I’d be willing to bet that 90% of drivers don’t know that, particularly with the usual traveling speed along Vandeventer.

  3. landuse says:

    Yesterday, at the corner of Hampton and Chippewa, a whole family, adults and children, maybe 7 or 8 people, jaywalked across Hampton from the McDonalds to the Target lot, right into the middle of heavy southbound Hampton traffic.

    Cars had to slam on their brakes to avoid mowing down these rude, fat, lazy, selfish, slob pedestrians. Yes, they were fat. The rest of the adjectives are my impression. Cars were haphazardly backed up into the intersection, the whole episode causing multiple near-miss collisions.

    I just wish our cops would write more tickets to idiot pedestrians, don’t you?

    [SLP — I actually have a friend that while visiting Seattle was ticketed for jaywalking.  Uniform enforcement is important.  I think looking at the design of the McDonalds and Target you can see why someone on one of the hottest days of the year might try to save some time in the heat.  If these buildings were urban buildings located up to the sidewalks with corner entrances these people might not have taken the short route.  It is easy to call someone else lazy from the comfort of your own vehicle with the AC on high.  But, let’s not get off course too much — I want to stay focused on the design of the heavily used intersection that is the subject of this post.]

  4. John says:

    Thanks for exposing this. Here is the text of an email message I was sent when I emailed Joe Roddy about this problem:

    The signal was put on flash at the request of Father Biondi and the
    Grand Center. We have gotten a few complaints on the pedestrian crossing,
    but when the signal is put on flash the peds don’t work.

    Let me or Runde know if you desire any changes.

  5. landuse says:

    Actually, I’m driving a car without A/C, and this incident took place around 7:30 PM. When I passed them, I slowed down, beeped the horn, and flashed the whole group a big “thumbs up”! The gesture caught them off guard. They all had these curious, blank, looks on their faces. Do you think they thought I approved of their sticking up traffic? Okay, I’m done. Well, one more quick observation. No other driver made any notice, honked the horn, or did anything about this jaywalking family. See? STL people really are nice. Too nice maybe.

  6. Matt B says:

    I would argue that blinking red-lights at this intersection might be the worst solution.

    At least with the yellow, pedestrians can predict that drivers will just go straight through the intersection and they can time their crossing accordingly. With a blinking red, it is difficult to predict what the driver will do. Will they fly through intersection? Will they do a rolling stop and ignore you? Do I need to make eye contact with the driver to know it is safe to cross, and if I do will the guy in the adjacent lane stop?

    I cross Arsenal four times a day with my dogs going into Tower Grove Park at a four-way stop with a crosswalk, and the behavior of drivers at this stop is completely unpredictable. One time a driver came to an apparent stop, we started to runs across then he went ahead and hit one of the dogs, luckily she was OK. My biggest fear is drivers (and bicyclists) in the adjacent lane that completely ignore or roll through the stop because the other driver was courteous enough to stop and let us cross. Many times with a long line of traffic stopped at the sign you wouldn’t even be able to see someone in that lane. I think the West Pine intersection would be very similar.

  7. a.torch says:

    Unreal! This intersection is way too busy with an enourmous amount of people crossing it (especially when school is in session) to have the lights be flashing yellow or flashing red! Send your emails to the city and SLU.

  8. Jim Zavist says:

    Proper engineering can solve most of these issues – connect the pedestrian push buttons to activate a red cycle and add a sensitve pavement loop or camera for eastbound Pine for vehicles. They do this many, many other places around here – it’s definitely not rocket science or black magic. Yes, a fixed cycle probably doesn’t make much sense here, but this “solution” is simply a step backwards (but it sure was cheap to implement)! Just another example of what happens when politicians try to design something (that’s better left to trained professionals) . . .

  9. ? says:

    I almost get hit every day at this intersection. I was wondering what was up.

  10. Steel says:

    When this light was first switched over the University got so many complaints from students, faculty and staff that for a week straight a Public Safety officer had to sit in a vehicle and monitor pedestrian traffic across the intersection. This was done for 3 hours at a time twice a day (what was considered peak ped traffic times for that intersection). The officer had to mark down the number of pedestrians/cyclist crossing at the intersection, how long they had to wait to be able to cross, and how many near misses occurred. If I recall the average wait time was over a minute, and the longest wait time was 3 minutes. This monitoring was done at the request of Fr. Biondi so that he could report back there was no reason to turn the light back on. I was told that he didn’t want the light on because during rush hour or when the Fox lets out he is trapped in his driveway and can’t get out. So because he can’t wait a couple of minutes to exit his driveway, we must all wait to cross at the crosswalk. (usually unsafely).

  11. notsograndfather says:

    Fr. Biondi AND Grand Center? I thought they were one and the same.

  12. Brad Mello says:

    Said friend and alleged jaywalker actually fought that ticket and won!

    Interesting discussion — funny that here in Arlington they are working on ways to make intersections MORE pedestrian friendly — and both business leaders and gov’t leaders seem to be on the same page. Keeping potential consumers alive to patronize businesses in the area seems to be a priority!

  13. city says:

    Brad, as an ex-pat, are you working on your plan to return to STL? Someday maybe? Never?

    [SLP — Brad is not from St. Louis.  In fact, he has only been here once.  He is from the east coast and we met in college in Oklahoma.  He did love his visit to St. Louis and plans to visit again but I doubt he will be moving here.]

  14. pw says:

    Actually, I think the really dangerous intersection is at Grand at the student union – during school days it is very busy and there seem to be a lot of car/pedestrian conflicts. Very heavy traffic and narrow lanes. I think a wide island at the crosswalk would help as well as better timing and putting the stop lines farther back.

  15. Steel says:

    Nothing is needed at the Grand and West Pine crosswalks except people to follow the traffic signals, especially the pedestrians. I have seen 5 people hit at that intersection and only one of them was crossing with the light.

  16. LisaS says:

    I noticed this the last time we went to MOCRA …. I thought maybe it was just because it was Saturday, but apparently not. JZ (as usual) has the solution. Heck, if Steel’s story is true maybe Father Biondi could have a camera in his driveway, too. The man does have important places to go and people to see, after all ….

    There definitely is a problem with pedestrians (including me) crossing mid-block–dangerous to walkers and motorists alike. Supposing there were enforcement, perhaps jaywalkers should be sentenced to listen to this song for an hour: http://play.rhapsody.com/theymightbegiants/no/inthemiddleinthemiddleinthemiddle

  17. a.torch says:

    READ ALL ABOUT IT: ‘Injuring students at crosswalks are worth it so he doesn’t have to wait a few minutes in his driveway!’ Biondi is such an ass! Try crossing that intersection after a major event (graduation, groundbreaking, etc) on a flashing yellow!

  18. john says:

    As the appeal court made apparent, governmental units can be and should be held responsible for their negligence. It is important that citizens begin to send notifications regarding “hazardous conditions” so as to create a link to enforce responsible governmental spending. All around us are dangerous intersections and hazardous conditions that are obvious but ignored by our leaders and their appointed officials. This is systemic negligence and these irresponsible individuals are on the public payroll. They are creating unfunded liabilities on a grand scale.

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