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Seven Lanes, No Waiting

February 20, 2009 Transportation 23 Comments

Seven lanes, no waiting.  No, not the checkout, that has plenty of waiting.  I’m talking roads.  We’ve got ridiculously wide roads around here.

Jefferson & Market come to mind.  Jefferson North of I-64 and Market West of Jefferson each have seven lanes — three travel lanes per direction and a center turn lane.  Seven!  These wide roads pre-date our interstate system.  Roads like these two, Natural Bridge and others were widened to serve a city with a population over 800,000 and expected to top a million by 1970. Instead of passing a million residents we were at 622,236 in 1970 and by 2000 we were under 350,000.  Yet our roads are still designed for much greater traffic than is typically present.

When the highways like I-70, I-64, I-55 and I-44 these excessively wide roads returned to their prior status as local arterial roads.  Except that somebody forgot to come back and trim down the road width.

The new Jefferson viaduct between I-64 and Chouteau is finally open in both directions.  It contains two travel lanes per direction, a reasonable number.  I can think of no arterial roads in the City of St. Louis that need more than two travel lanes per direction.  It is no surprise that the areas adjacent to these wide roads are lifeless.

Formerly wide streets like Delmar (West of Kingshighway) have received new planted medians to consume excess width.  Ditto for Grand between Arsenal & I-44.  I’ve expressed before my wish to use the width for modern streetcar lines.  However, medians can be built down the center now and streetcars run in the outside lanes later.  One thing is certain, these streets are not going to magically reinvent themselves.  Government intervention created the current widths and it will take government intervention (aka $$$) to remake them in a more reasonable for.

Of course funding projects in the city today is more challenging because we have fewer people to split the cost.  Back then they were clearing away obstrucxtions to make room for an increasing number of automobiles.  Today we’d be spending money for different purposes — to reactivate the streets and the private property along them.  Some of the adjacent land is public such as the long vacant Pruitt-Igoe site at Jefferson & Cass (map).  Redoing Jefferson & the Pruitt-Igoe site go hand and hand.

If only we had slimming these streets ready to go as “shovel ready.”


Currently there are "23 comments" on this Article:

  1. Nameless says:

    I am not a fan of street cars. I get tired of yielding to idiot motorists; yielding to damn street cars would get annoying. More annoying than the bi-state buses but less annoying than all of the school buses with hardly any kids on them [and their horrible, inconsiderate, and ignorant drivers].
    I am also not a fan of landscaped medians close to cross street intersections and driveways. The landscaped median on the Jefferson Avenue Viaduct and roadways approaches is acceptable as it does not affect turning sight distances. Ditto that for the landscaped median south of Park. I hate the landscaped medians on Grand south of Russell. I have difficulty seeing northbound traffic when I attempt to make a left out of the Jack in the Crack.

  2. Jimmy Z says:

    To clarify – “I can think of no roads in the City of St. Louis that need more than two travel lanes per direction.” That excludes the interstate highways? If so I agree, as long as accessory lanes can be added where required – turn lanes, accel/decel lanes, parking lanes, HOV/bus lanes and/or bike lanes are all possibilities that come to mind.
    I also have a problem with adding “planted medians to consume excess width” as the de facto or preferred “solution”/mitigation. One, it ranks up there with “make it a park” as a knee jerk, high maintenance, low usage “answer”. Much like plopping plazas in front of buildings downtown, the vast majority of medians are (hopefully) nice to look at, but offer little to the immediate residents or pedestrians. In “my” world, I’d much rather see the curbs reconstructed, the streets narrowed and the added width dedicated to the adjacent properties, whether it’s for tree lawns or sidewalk dining . . .

  3. adam flath says:

    Yep, I gotta agree with the above two comments.
    I dislike the planted median as well.

    How about making nice big, dedicated, painted, BIKE LANES. Like Tempe, AZ or any other modern city.

    Maybe it is because it is the winter… but that planted medium on Delmar looks HORRIBLE. A complete eye soar. They need to plan a lot more trees… which adds more maintence costs, and that still might not make that median look nice 🙁

  4. Chris says:

    I live in St. Louis near some of these absurdly wide streets, and Steve is right; these streets were designed for pre-interstate St. Louis, and are way too wide. Time after time, I have witnessed how these extra wide streets encourage speeding. The wider the street, the safer fast drivers feel. Look at Kingshighway by the hospitals; I call that the Racetrack. They are planning on making Grand two lanes on the new viaduct, which as a daily user of that stretch, I say is fine. The outer lanes are too narrow often and blocked by illegally parked cars. Pedestrians avoid wide streets, killing commerce along them. Look at poor Gravois; filled with beautiful storefronts east of Grand that are mostly empty.

  5. john says:

    Driving at law breaking speeds has become more than common in the St. Louis region as law enforcement is weak. Average speeds on Skinker, Kingshighway, Clayton Rd, and others is closer to the 45-50 range then the posted 30-35. The New 64 continues with this debauchery as the former 55 mph limit is now replaced with average speeds between 70-85. The Car Culture with all its negative fallout prospers in the Lou and local leaders wonder why we have depopulation problems.

  6. Reconstructing the curb and putting in a dedicated bike lane style called a cycle track would be an excellent use of some of this space. It isn’t as wide as a full lane and provides true difference between the motorway and the cycleway. Plus the businesses or homes could still get more lawn or sidewalk space back. The link bellow explains it and has pictures.


  7. Luqman says:

    I agree with the general sentiment of Steve’s post, but I rather see the city systematically widen sidewalks while adding street trees and bike lanes rather than adding medians. The sidewalks would give streets a more intimate feel and create a more pleasant pedestrian experience all while not unduly hindering the drivability of the streets.

  8. john says:

    You’re right, plenty of room for bike lanes but read what was written about this design by others, including cycling advocates, on 1-23-09 by Steve titled “World’s Narrowest Bike Lane”. The Lou region has 1000 upon 1000s miles of roads/highways and is proud that it has less than 100 miles of bike lanes. And STR isn’t effective without proper education and effective law enforcement.

  9. Tim E says:

    Great post, great thoughts. I changed my original opinion in favor of adding Medians like you see on Delmar. But, the wide streets do give a unique opportunity for streetcars. I’m not supporter of them everywhere. But, you could add them on some select North/South corridors like Grand Ave.

    Nameless, are you a fan of anything? Blues, Cardinals, something

  10. Nameless says:


    You bet! I just like to see a good game, regardless of what it is or who is participating. However, as you can tell, I take driving very seriously because I’m paying for it. It only takes one bad driver out of 100 to really screw with what you’re paying for–licensing, insurance, inspections, property taxes, and your time to meet all of the requirements. Driving is just not taken seriously and that’s BS.

    I could write a book complete with pictures on stupidity while driving. Just late last night, I was working the late shift and I was driving south on Compton Viaduct over Mill Creek when I encountered two southbound headed vehicles stopped side-by-side in the middle of the bridge. They got the hint and both went into the left lane–the lane that I was in. The traffic signal at Chouteau turned green while all three of us were headed down the south approach. The first driver [Tahoe with large shiny wheels] acted as if they were executing a normal left turn when they decided to make an illegal u-turn at Chouteau! The second driver [Lincoln with tinted windows] was acting as they were going to follow so I blared my horn, they stopped and blared their horn at me as I drove by (I still can’t figure out what I did). After I had passed, they completed the u-turn and followed the Tahoe back north up Compton.

    What was the point in that story? Nobody pays to experience drivers like that. People must wake up and drive. Steve complains about ADA access all of the time. ADA access is inconvenient but it does not harm the volume of people to the extent that crappy driving does.

  11. Adam says:

    i agree with your sentiments about respectful driving but c’mon:
    “yielding to damn street cars would get annoying. More annoying than the bi-state buses but less annoying than all of the school buses with hardly any kids on them…”
    god forbid you be inconvenienced so people who don’t have/choose not to have cars can still go about their daily lives. speaking of inconsiderate…

  12. b says:

    Chris, narrow Gravois East of Grand; widen the sidewalks to allow for cafe tables with plenty of walking space and you’ll see that area come to life. It’s way too close to Soulard for that not to happen.

    If that’s done properly, you’ll likely to see the Western part of Cherokee come to life as well.

  13. Brian S. says:

    I’d add Olive in Midtown to your list of ridiculously wide streets.

  14. John M. says:

    “Unsafe at any speed”, to take the book out of context, is my observation for many cell phone using drivers. I hear people complain of speeds in excess of the posted speed limit, which I am sure can be valid arguments for many situations.
    I tend to think the speeds of many roads are not only inconsistently applied for the conditions but in fact are artificially low. This isn’t 1923 and cars do handle better than in years past. I argue that if people were paying attention, we could and should drive faster.
    What is the point of all of this updated or advanced equipment, in both safety and speed if we are not going to wring it out when appropriate? The new 40/64 shows a speed limit of 55, what a joke. As an example, my standard speed on an interstate with uninterrupted flow is 72MPH. I find this to not only be a safe speed but in fact is fast enough to demand my attention.
    If I was forced to drive 55 or slower in the same traffic condition, due to increased enforcement of an arbitrary speed limit, I am in fact more dangerous due to its inability to keep my attention. Things are not coming fast enough, so it allows too much natural inattentiveness to creep in.
    The desire by some to keep vehicles gingerly pace consistent with peoples inability to stay interested in the task at hand is the wrong message to send. I don’t believe that I have extraordinary skills, but even now, after 22 years of driving, I still enjoy it.
    You are not going to find me racing through your subdivision, where in fact 20/25 MPH is just fine for the things that one finds there. But out on major arterial roads and highways, heck yes, put down that phone and keep pace with the majority of traffic that wants to move through things and get to their destination.
    I see your point Chris, on the section of road you spoke. John, not so much.

  15. MH says:

    People who constantly gripe about the medians on Grand have obviously never WALKED much in the neighborhoods or on Grand. That street is so much nicer to walk along and to cross, where before it was a nightmare of speeding, inconsiderate drivers. Pedestrians and residents on these streets are to be as much considered as the idiots driving on them. Who cares if they have to slow down a few mph?

  16. Jimmy Z says:

    This is only tangentially related, but the thought occurred to me today that St. Louis drivers might not value rail transit (light rail or streetcars) as much as they should because here, unlike in many other cities, it’s, for the most part, “out of sight, out of mind”. Other than random grade crossings or bridges, the only two places you can compare your progress, stuck in rush hour traffic, against the train, is along the Inner Belt/170, between Forest Park Parkway and 40/64, and on Forest Park Parkway between Kingshighway and Big Bend! If you’re coming in from one of our many ‘burbs, you reallly can’t follow the train to a station, and if you’re not familiar with downtown, it’s not all that easy to locate the stations (and once you do, you have to trust that waiting underground is a safe option).
    Go to Portland, Seattle, Toronto, Dallas, Houston, Salt Lake, Phoenix, Denver, Minneapolis and even Chicago, and rail transit is on/over city streets and/or running parallel to major freeways. I know we once had an extensive streetcar system here, but as the members of the “greatest generation” die off, it’s becoming more of a historical footnote than a viable alternative in most people’s minds. I know the “official” reason is that much of Metro’s system uses old railroad rights of way, and that the part that’s buried in Clayton was done to appease the neighbors. I can’t help wondering, however, if a little of this gets back to (subconsciously?) not really wanting to embrace public transit?!

  17. studs lonigan says:

    I love the South Grand medians. I love the people who are responsible for the hard work of getting them there. I love helping clean them up in the fall. I love them even more if they make cars go slower on Grand. Attractive and functional. Pure love. It will always trump purevil. I feel so full of love when I see the S. Grand medians, I can scarcely contain myself.

    I don’t love “Jack in the crack”. It epitomizes what’s wrong with that segment of Grand and this country: trash, fat food, a squawk box and that smarmy-ass “Jack” character on TV.

  18. Kara says:

    I’m thankful for the overly wide roads in our city because someday in the future, when our leaders embrace public transit, it will be very affordable to put in some streetcar lines. They won’t even have to tear down any of our beautiful buildings to do so.

  19. Maurice says:

    Poor Jack…He was hit by a bus and in intensive care. Wonder what he would say about more busses now??????

    just google Jack and bus. quite funny.

  20. Dennis says:

    Once again looks like I will be last to post on a subject. The last word, ha ha. Kara, don’t give up on the idea of street cars. We may see them sooner than you might think. I’ve seen the plans for stations maped out up and down Jefferson on the south side and up Florrisant Ave. and out Natural Bridge on the north side. I was told that IF Metro can get the funding for it those will be the next routes to be built and they WILL in fact be running at street level. The cars would be very similar in appearance to the present Metrolink cars, only just a bit smaller and they would be lower. Of course that’s a big IF.
    Jimmy Z, our former street car system was never really intended to be totally eliminated and absorbed by buses. It just happened naturally as the result of street widening and interstate highway building, both to accomodate the autocentric cultur we now live in. Jefferson, north of 40, was long over due for widening when it was finally done in the late 50’s and it was so much cheaper and easier to just replace the streetcar tracks with buses. It was the same thing with the Grand car line when it was time to rebuild the viaduct over Mill Creek Valley in 1960. The buses that replaced the streetcars were much faster and routes could easily be altered to accomodate any situation. A streetcar route is FIXED. Period! You cant just pick it up and move it around at will.
    I don’t car for any of the tree lined medians either. I know we need trees in the city but I thought that’s what the parks were for.

  21. Nameless says:


    I don’t understand your logic. Street cars are a luxury. School and METRO bus drivers do not respect the traffic around them. The passengers aren’t the ones driving, now are they?


    The school bus system in the City is in desperate need of an overhaul. METRO is bloated, especially at the top. Spend MY MONEY more wisely!

  22. Jimmy Z says:

    Dennis, in many ways I agree. One huge challenge with any investment in rail (versus buses) is the maintenance cycle. A typical urban transit bus is assumed to have a 12-year life span. Like your personal auto, it requires increasing maintenance as it ages and more things wear out. It’s pretty easy to understand why and when vehicle replacement needs to occur. In contrast, I believe a typical light rail vehicle is assumed to have a 20 year life before a major overhaul is required, and a 35-40 year life before it gets scrapped. It requires a big investment to get started, you can go many years with minimal maintenance, then you face a huge hit. The question then becomes does it make more sense to convert to buses, for the same or less money, or to reinvest in the existing rail line? Combine that with the spatial changes that inevitably occur over decades, and the economic arguments / justifications can and do change significantly. And, like I’ve pointed out before, politicians are more likely to advocate for and support something “new” (the Cross-County Extension) than they are to support a large maintenance investment (replacing the failing wood ties on the original Metrolink line).
    I understand why some riders, urban designers and developers like the certainty that rail lines offer. And, as a transit advocate, I understand the attractions buses offer, including more flexibilty to respond to changing rider demands and a lower initial investment (which allows providing more service to more people). I’ve also learned that there is no “right” answer or technology. The best systems deploy the most-appropriate solution (small bus, big bus, express bus, streetcars, light rail, heavy rail, water taxis, ferries, etc.) on every route, along with frequent service, extended service and great connections between routes, to maximize a cohesive SYSTEM! As designers, we tend to focus on technology and design solutions. Most daily riders simply don’t care what the specific vehicle is as long as the trip it provides gets them to their destination quickly, safely and at a low cost. The big challenge Metro faces is that its buses and its rail system are defined, marketed and perceived to be two different products. The minimum-wage worker (and their employer) in Chesterfield does care, big time, that their bus is going away, while the typical resident / taxpayer is questioning why they should pay more in taxes when there are no plans to bring Metrolink to the valley! Until we get past this fundamental disconnect, we’re going to struggle with supporting a viable public transit system.
    Public transit is saddled with the classic chicken-or-egg conundrum – it takes frequent service to attract more riders, and it takes more riders to justify more-frequent service. Especially in suburban areas, it takes a huge leap of faith that more than a handful of riders will give up their cars if the buses (yes, buses), instead of running every hour, run every 30, 20, 15 or 10 minutes. And if you can’t justify increasing bus service, it’s nearly impossible to justify a more-expensive rail alternative! We’re very close to that tipping point here – with the upcoming service reductions, there’s even less reason, obviously, for many county voters to support metro, and many city voters are going to find out the hard way that when Metrolink quits running at 9 pm and the game goes into extra innings or you lose track of time at the bar, a taxi is a-lot-more-expensive way to get back home. We can rail all we want (bad pun, I know) about why the public needs to support public transit with our taxes, but the reality remains, low taxes = little service. The truly transit-dependent simply can’t afford the actual $8, $10, $12 or $20 cost of providing each trip. As a community, we need to decide how much we value their, and our, needs . . .

  23. john says:

    There is no desire to “keep vehicles gingerly paced” but rather in balance with a number and range of road users and neighborhood residents. Sure cars can drive in mass at 40 mph through 20 mph neighborhood zones as long as pedestrians, especially children, are told not to walk or play near streets or in their front yards. Yes our cars have been designed to run faster and safer against each other but have we redesigned individuals to be equipped with safety devices like MichelinMan so they can’t get hurt if hit by one? What about cyclists?
    – –
    The more dangerous we make our roads for pedestrians and cyclists, the more likely everyone will choose unsustainable options (cars, SUVs, etc) over healthier ones. The new speed on the New 64 is 60 and that means most drive 70-85 mph. Speeding on side roads are a problem too, thus if we want the average top speed to be 30, what should the posted speed be? 45?
    – –
    An additional 5 mph speed doesn’t sound like much until you do your math. Depending on your car and average reaction times, this extra speed typically adds 20-30 feet in stopping distance. Reality TV: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WxOEHMWCg-M


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