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A Grand Test

September 11, 2009 South City, Transportation 28 Comments

A few days ago a big change was made to a small section of South Grand, Arsenal (link) to Utah. What had been four lanes (2 per direction) was now 2 with a center turn lane.  No, the streetscape was not done overnight.  Paint and Jersey barriers are the visible techniques in this short-term test:

St. Louis, MO, September 8, 2009 — On Tuesday, September 8, 2009, East-West Gateway Council of Governments and the City of St. Louis will begin a 30-day test on South Grand from Arsenal to Utah. The test, part of the South Grand Great Streets project, will change the timing of traffic signals, reduce the number of traffic lanes from four to three, simulate curb extensions at intersections, and close the two alleys on the west side of Grand between Arsenal and Juniata. The purpose is to test the viability of these proposed changes under real traffic conditions for 30 days before committing to a final preferred alternative for the corridor.
At a series of public meetings in August, members of the public and business community favored an option to reconfigure South Grand from Arsenal to Utah from four through lanes to two through lanes and a center turn lane. If the 30-day test shows that the lane reduction will not handle the traffic volumes adequately, the project will keep the existing four-lane configuration and focus on retiming signals and adding curb extensions.
The goals of the South Grand Great Streets project are to improve pedestrian safety while maintaining traffic flow; enhance the appearance and functionality of the corridor through lighting, signage, and landscaping; and provide opportunities for continued economic development. Approximately $2.7 million for design and construction have been secured through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) by East-West Gateway Council of Governments.
For additional information on the 30-day test, please contact (314) 776-2423. For more information on the South Grand Great Streets project, visit http://www.ewgateway.org/GreatStreets/greatstreets.htm.

Anytime you do a test you should ideally design the test to create successful outcomes.  But this test was designed with failure in mind.

Blue indicates 6-block area being tested with 2 through lanes and a center turn lane. Red indicates 4 through lanes, green is 2 through lanes.

The blue section of Grand above shows the 6-block test area that for the next month is two lanes with a center turn lane.  The red above and below are four lane sections of Grand and the green at the bottom has been two lanes for a while.  So the first problem is 4-lane section between Utah and Chippewa.  At a minimum the section from Utah to Gravois should have also been tested at 2 + center.  I know the funding for the street improvements is limited to the 6-block area but the bottleneck created for only six blocks is going to turn everyone off.

The second problem is the lack of notice.  Drivers are already upon the change before they are told of the change. The first lighted sign should have been 3-4 blocks prior.

The above is looking South on Grand.  The intersection ahead is Arsenal. You can see the changing in the stripes causing the former right through lane to now be a right turn only lane.  In the right side of the image you see the first sign indicating the change.  Too late!  By the time you see the sign you are already upon the change.  Fail #1.

Heading Northbound you have the same late notice situation.  You can see the sign in the distance but that is after you need to be in the correct lane.  Fail #2.

I’d say someone wants to make sure drivers call the flashing phone number to complain about the change so that after the test ends they can say the reduced lanes were problematic.  The only way I see the Grand district improving is to have only two total through lanes of traffic.

The other failure is the brevity.  Only six blocks.  A branch library is just beyond the end of the test area.  Heading North from Meramec you have a single Northbound lane.  Then you have two.  Then suddenly one again.  The back to two after Arsenal.  Geez.

Pick the number of lanes and stick to it for more than six blocks.  The other failure is the simulated curb bulb outs:

Yikes, ugly.  Who is going to call the number and proclaim, “I love it!”  Nobody.  Well, but me.  And hopefully you.  The goal is to lesson the impact of the traffic. Those that want to get through the area faster will find alternate routes: Kingshighway, Gustine, Compton, Jefferson, or I-55.  I say skip the planned bike lanes and make the sidewalks wider.  Bicyclists seem to prefer Gustine and Compton anyway.  I suspect that will still be the case even if Grand receives bike lanes for these additional six blocks.  Continue the bike lanes past Gravois, Chippewa and Meramec and connect with the bike lanes on Holly Hills at Carondelet Park and then you’ve got something worth considering.  Six blocks?  Not so much.

– Steve Patterson


Currently there are "28 comments" on this Article:

  1. Tim says:

    I live on Connecticut St and had heard about the project on the neighborhood discussion board and was still surprised when I drove through for the first time last night. There really does need to be better, and earlier, signage. Personally, I don’t see the need for this. This area was generally busy enough that it became a two lane road in practice with people using the right lane to pull in and out of parking spots and to drop-off/pick-up.

  2. Anon says:

    If street narrowing can’t fly in the hipster/urbanist TGS enclave, forget about it in our more behind the curve neighborhoods.

  3. john says:

    “this test was designed with failure in mind.” Exactly and that is why the gap between potential and reality continues to grow in the Lou region. Look no further than the Metro Extension, the Lambert Extension and the New 64 to see the the same problems.
    – –
    But infrastructure is destiny. Preferring parking spots to usable bike lanes is exactly why the gap between potential and reality remains a serious problem here.

  4. Jason says:

    From the 15th Ward email distribution list, there has been much positive response about the lightness of traffic through the area with the barricades up. While I haven’t yet drove through it, I do believe that having less lanes is going to be great for the area. Too many times, as a pedestrian, I’ve intentionally not crossed the street to get to the other businesses, because it would have been a pain in the butt. I’m happy for the change, and hope it proves successful, as drivers don’t need to use that stretch like a highway.

  5. Dustin Bopp says:

    This is a very good thing for peds and motorists alike. What I don’t understand is the need for a “test.” There are countless examples of this configuration that can be evaluated. For instance, just a few miles away — Delmar in the Loop was converted this way and by all accounts (mine included) it is a great success. I also wonder, why only Arsenal to Utah and not all the way to Chippewa? Creating a more pedestrian friendly environment while moving traffic will go a long way to extending the success of “Grand S. Grand” all the way to Gravois, if not to Chippewa. Yes, this is a busy through street with the most popular (and crowded) bus line in the system it is the best of all worlds with the available R.O.W. As Steve said, I am sure one of the arguments will be funding. Fine. I agree that they can do all the pretty streetscape stuff between Arsenal & Utah (in the “business district”) and simply restripe everything south (that costs almost nothing) and allow street parking (with meters) between McDonald and Potomac (between Potomac and Gravois has been destroyed by fast food and Walgreen’s curb cuts). Businesses down that way seem to struggle and I think its because parking is prohibited on Grand for BLOCKS. Why? Street parking here would not only make it more convenient to visit these businesses but make it a more pleasant place to be on the sidewalk with parked cars providing a buffer from fast moving traffic.

    I am not convinced that this test was “designed to fail,” but I do know that it will frustrate people — mostly because of the inconsistency. I see no reason why this configuration is not implemented all the way from Arsenal to Chippewa making everything south of Arsenal the same. When they restriped (nothing more than paint) Grand south of Meramec several years ago it made a dramatic difference in not only the character of the street but the number of accidents from people trying to change lanes abruptly to avoid sitting behind someone making a left turn and the number of sideswipes — not to mention the added comfort level of exiting the driver’s side when parking at the curb.

    I am guessing they want to close the alleys to cut down on pedestrian/vehicle conflict on the sidewalk and fewer cars unexpectedly turning out into traffic. When you park at the lot next to Mangia (though I usually park on the street) you have to go through the alley to exit back on Grand and visibility of both pedestrians and traffic is limited. I haven’t looked at it but I suppose cars have to either go through the exceptionally narrow alley that connects to Hartford to the north (behind Mangia and City Diner) or all the to Spring on the west.

    As for cyclists, the ideal is a dedicated lane between the curb and parked cars (like in Europe) but there is no room for that AND a center turn lane. I ride my bike between Dutchtown and Forest Park at least once a week. I just use side streets. Luckily, we have a street grid with lots of options.

  6. Scott O says:

    I’d use the center turning lane space for a bike lane in both directions, personally.

  7. Aragornman says:

    I personally love the new configuration! I live just off Grand and think that bulb-outs, a turn lane, and a bike lane on each side would not only improve the flow of traffic, but be safer for pedestrians and bicyclists and better for the businesses.

    Traffic study after study has shown that transforming a four-lane road in a central business district to a two-lane with a center turn lane, improves the flow of traffic (by getting pesky turninig vehicles out of the way) and helps to revitalize the area (by improving bikability and walkability and access to businesses). It is really a win-win-win. I hope they make the change, and make it all the way to Chippewa.

  8. Matt B says:

    Reaction at the 7:00pm public meeting was pretty positive to the changes so far. East-West Gateway people were impressed with the smooth movement of traffic and lack of congestion. This was announced publicly at the beginning of the meeting and I also spoke privately with one of the traffic guys from East-West Gateway. 70% of meeting attendees preferred the three lane option.

    My trip down Grand from Arsenal (6:45 PM) showed a steady and consistent flow of traffic at reduced speeds. I think I was slowed to a stop at one point but did not have to wait at any red lights.

    Some other observations:
    I understand the simulated bulb-outs but I am not sure what they really add to the test. By the nature of the barriers they restrict vision which would not be the actual case for with the bulb-outs. While a good idea initially, I think it would be would be good to remove them for the test, since they don’t add anything, make the street look ugly during the test and may be potentially dangerous to both pedestrians and cars.

    Traffic guy from East West Gateway said that emergency vehicles have had no complaints about the change and may actually prefer it since the center lane gives them a clear path through the six block area. Many times they have to weave in and out, or if there is a red-light cars are stopped in all four lanes creating delays.

    An unexpected benefit… Finally I can make left turns off of Grand! Living just a few blocks west of Grand traveling north I would always have to stop in a traffic lane and make a left turn at Humphery. This would inevitably result in a back-up of cars behind me, honking, and cars whipping into the other lane to get around which can be dangerous. If I missed that turn my options were to turn right and circle around or go all the way up to Tower Grove Park or Magnolia to make a left. Now I can just move to the center turn lane and make a left at any street that is not one-way.

    If you are happy with the way things are going, please call the number flashing on the signs along Grand. I can’t remember it off the top of my head. If anyone has it please share.

  9. Jimmy Z says:

    One, at least they didn’t block the sidewalks with the changeable message signs. Two, I think that doing a test IS a good thing – Joe Average Citizen has a hard time visualizing how changes like this will impact their lives, so a test allows feedback before way more money gets spent, potentially poorly, and/or we won’t feel like the government, again, is ramming something down our throats. And three, the lack of notice, for both the change happening and for the lanes ending, definitely deserves your failing grade.

    Bigger picture, I don’t have a problem with the limited scope of the “test”. Remember, this is a test. If the results are positive, there will be momentum and valid reasons to extend the changes further south. And if it’s a failure or has significant problems, it’s a whole lot easier to change 6 blocks than it would be to change 20 or 30.

  10. Deborah Moulton says:

    I didn’t have the same reaction to the signage. I noted the changes in the street striping and just went with the flow of traffic. This may have been easier for me because I used to live in the neighborhood and accepted a long time ago that South Grand always has a somewhat chaotic traffic flow in those few concentrated blocks of businesses and restaurants.

    While the hodge-podge of materials gathered at the corners to represent the corner curb bulbs were a bit awkward, I feel it’s a reasonable test of a great idea. Under the 3-lane plan, the sidewalks would be extended from the current 12′ to 15′ wide. Even with the curb bulbs, the on-street parking is expected to remain the same. And there would be shared car-bike lanes in the through lanes. Based on what the many bicyclists said at the public meeting last night, that is OK if the reconfiguration slows traffic to the speed limit of 25 mph instead of the usual 40+ mph that cars currently go in that area. Based on initial reports, the consensus was that the trial 3-lane configuration had slowed traffic to about 25-27 mph and really improved the bicyclists sense of safety while commuting through the neighborhood. Interestingly, the bikers weren’t in favor of a separated bike lane as it puts them in closer contact with parked cars and the safety hazard of car doors from the parking zone opening into the bike lane.

    In a process that was new to me, the East-West Gateway presentation in the public meeting included devices for electronic polling during the meeting. The meeting ran long, but I thought the extent and depth of the choices given to attendees to vote on during the presentation was impressive. From lane configuration and neighborhood amenities to changes in lighting and signage, the public had an excellent opportunity to give their input prior to the final design stage of the project. It will be interesting to see what the specific design specs will be and we won’t have long to wait as they will be finalized by year’s end.

    East-West Gateway has a page dedicated to the South Grand Project at http://tinyurl.com/lkkj8v.

  11. Webby says:

    I was very apprehensive when I got the email (only a day or two in advance) that this test was being done, but now that i’ve seen it, I LOVE the new configuration. Cars turning left are no longer blocking a lane of traffic and causing people to weave back and forth from lane to lane to get around them. It’s easier to turn left since there’s only one lane of traffic coming at you. The lanes are a bit wider, which feels safer. Without two lanes for weaving, traffic is slower. I haven’t tried it yet, but I’m sure crossing the street on foot is MUCH easier. I’d be happy if Grand were restriped in this manner all the way from Arsenal to Chippewa.

    I didn’t even notice the signs…I agree they are not very useful in their current position. And the barriers simulating the curb bulbs appear to be blocking some of the ADA ramps. I’m not sure the corner bulbs are necessary, but wouldn’t be against them.

  12. Fluffer says:

    The South Grand CID collaborated with EW Gateway, that’s why it only goes from Arsenal to Utah. Those are the boundaries of the CID.

  13. CIDs are a great mechanism for creating funding and inertia where little exists, but that doesn’t justify not thinking more holistically. Like I said, use the limited dedicated funds to redo the sidewalks and associated amenities within the CID and simply restripe all the rest south to Chippewa. This will alleviate the constant jockeying (not to mention confusion and consternation) I witness every day at Grand & Chippewa where it transitions from two lanes in each direction to one in addition to the other advantages I outlined above. We must set as consistent expectations as possible so people know how to behave. The constant change causes nothing but frustration for both the people who are not familiar and the people who have deal with them.

  14. Matt B says:

    “What I don’t understand is the need for a “test.” There are countless examples of this configuration that can be evaluated. For instance, just a few miles away — Delmar in the Loop was converted this way and by all accounts (mine included) it is a great success.”

    While I am very supportive of the three lane option, the average daily traffic volume on this stretch of Grand (going into the three lane section) is about 20% higher than the similar area of the Delmar Loop and 30% higher than downtown Maplewood, both places that have seen success where four lanes are squeezed to three. I think the traffic peaks in the Loop are much higher which could account for occasional gridlock through there.

  15. bridgett says:

    I live just north of this, on Halliday. I am very happy that this is happening–people fly down grand all the time and the more we can tighten that up, the better. I bike, too, and I never use that part of Grand becuase I want to stay alive. I always take Arkansas. I suspect some traffic will increase on those next streets–Arkansas, Gustine, Spring–but I love the center turn lane and the single lane through the business district. I’ve often driven through the loop and wondered why the heck we couldn’t do the same.

  16. Dave says:

    Living on Compton, I’m slightly concerned about an increase in traffic as a result of this. However, I think this change will be great for S. Grand.

    I would hope once this is in place that business will pick up and expand north and south. This may allow for a continuation of this street layout at least south of the six blocks where “hopefully” it will be in place shortly.

  17. JimmyZ said:

    “Bigger picture, I don’t have a problem with the limited scope of the “test”. Remember, this is a test. If the results are positive, there will be momentum and valid reasons to extend the changes further south. And if it’s a failure or has significant problems, it’s a whole lot easier to change 6 blocks than it would be to change 20 or 30.”

    Jim, I understand what you are saying about the limited scope of the test. I just fear people who do not have the ability to extrapolate the benefits will let the confusion of where it starts and stops will complain about it and drown out the voices of those who are in favor.

    Again, I question the need for a test. This stuff is fairly empirical. Albeit with a number of variables that not every scenario may or may not recognize or address well (law of unintended consequences, you like to say). For those not familiar, the streetscape/parking in this area has been discussed/studied/planned ad nauseum at least since I moved on to Grand 12 years ago. No more studies. No more tests. Let’s just do what we know already works. We’ve been talking for years!

    Also, I do take exception to the block between Hartford and Arsenal. In what seems to be an attempt to transition from one lane northbound to two north of arsenal, there are two lanes in that direction and one south. I think the transition should occur on the other side of Arsenal just before Crittendon — thereby preserving the character of blocks to the south all the way to the end of what should be a cohesive commercial strip (after Salon St. Louis). With that center turn lane preserved there could be a left turn arrow from northbound Grand to westbound Arsenal. That is a selfish one for me. I constantly find it frustrating that I can’t turn there.

  18. CarondeletNinja says:

    Used it today around lunchtime. I like the changes. The only thing I didn’t like was at one of the stop lights, a large delivery truck (many of which frequent the area) was in the center turn lane making a left hand turn. I was unable to see beyond that truck to see if any opposing traffic was in the turn opposite the light, waiting to make a left hand turn, possibly in front of me or into me since the truck would have been blocking their vision as well. Might be helpful to have some large traffic mirrors on the corner light poles, or a “left turn on green arrow only” at the lights (although many people won’t pay attention to those) to avoid accidents.

  19. Mary says:

    I have to concur with some of the Tim’s comments. I live in the Gravois Park neighborhood and frequently travel on Grand. Last night travelling southbound I entered the vortex of WTF?!? just south of Magnolia and found myself again beyond belief at the screwy methods, designs, etc. used to manipulate traffic flow in the city.

    I’ve lived in South City most of my 10 years in St. Louis and I work in Clayton. That noted I can say that the City doesn’t have a monopoly on implementing less than intuitive traffic flow measures. An example that comes readily to mind is the mess around Eager Road and Hanley.

    Anyway – I’m in favor of widening the sidewalks along South Grand between Arsenal and Potomac and narrowing Grand to two lanes with a center turn lane. I’d like to see that stretch turned into a more pedestrian friendly thoroughfare. In doing so I’d also like that drivers on Grand be given ample notice prior to entering an area where this kind of change is being tested. This is a section of roadway that sees high volumes of traffic and where I’ve often witnessed highly erratic driving.

    What I encountered last night seems like a recipe for disaster.

  20. Kevin says:

    I’m with you on all points but the bike lane issue. The reason folks ride bikes on Gustine and Compton is a constant fear of reckless driving on Grand instead of an actual preference. I try to bike on Grand as much as I can just to make cars more aware of cyclists but it’s definitely not safe now. Many people ride the side streets and wind up being threatened and harassed, when dedicated bike lanes on a main street would allow a path that was more populated and safely lit. As it is now Grand is more like a quarter mile racetrack than a business district so I can’t see anything wrong with something that cuts the overall traffic speed.

  21. Missy says:

    I went to the neighborhood meeting at Pius V and there were no raving lunatics, just interested citizens asking (mostly) intelligent questions*. If, as stated, the changes are to “calm” traffic, these reductions should do it.

    Initially I was not excited about it (I rarely stop in the area so getting THRU is more important for me personally than getting TO), but I’m on board with it now. The show and the positive audience response was persuasive.

    Now we just need to get this loveliness and redevelopment extended & smoodged south to Dutchtown’s business district. 😉

    *One of the polling questions asked if something should be left to the discretion of an arborist/architect/some knowledgeable professional and a woman asked if “they would know what they were doing”.

  22. Alissa says:

    I live a few blocks east of Grand JUST south of the restriping, and I see a definite need to extend this further south. Not just for the library (which, given the number of children in the area should be a no-brainer), but due to the high volume of pedestrians crossing Grand at Cherokee between the bus stop and Schnucks. It’s 1. incredibly dangerous and 2. would help with that terrible strip around Gravois, and maybe encourage more folks from the Tower Grove Heights/East area to walk down to Schnucks for their groceries.

  23. John USA says:

    Yes, I agree, bikeriders already have their preferred paths.
    The U City Loop is a destination point with little flow-through. Grand is a major thoroughfare. Any detour would go through residential areas (not possible in U City) or add significant delay to autos.
    Keep four lanes. Get rid of curb parking. Widen the sidewalks. Become known as a speed-trap, if necessary.

  24. matt says:

    John USA, get rid of curb parking? Grand is both a destination and a thoroughfare, depending on what time of day. Most traffic is probably at least semi-local, however. A little congestion isn’t the end of the world, if the neighborhood becomes a little healthier in the process. Widening the sidewalks at the expense of curb parking is like shooting yourself in the foot through a pair of expensive shoes.

  25. Ms. Racette says:

    Just an update…
    The warning sign as you head south on Grand has been moved (north) next to the middle entrance of Tower Grove Park giving motorists a more advanced warning about the lane shift. I have not seen if the northbound direction also has the change.

    As a resident of the area, I am very pleased with the test so far. Traffic has slowed, not in any detrimental way but in a way that will make the area more friendly for any non-motorized person travelling. It is nice to cross the street and not fear for my life!

    As for diversion to other streets, there is a fantastic grid in this neighborhood that can handle it without causing any trouble. There are so many other N/S Streets! Spring/Oak Hill/Compton/Louisiana/Jefferson/Kingshighway just to name a few. They will handle a small uptick in traffic just fine!

  26. john says:

    Believe it or not the primary purpose of streets is for the movement of people. Providing more space on roads for parking cars represent barriers to movement. Carheads prefer preferential treatment and subsidies at the expense of the public good, wider sidewalks and bike lanes be damn.
    If businesses are truly car dependent then off street parking can and should be provided by the beneficiaries. Otherwise one type of street user is being totally ignored or sacrificed to benefit another type of user, street discrimination at work. Great Streets permit discrimination in contrast to Complete Streets.

  27. Jimmy Z says:

    Something I learned years ago is that traffic is like water, it finds the path of least resistance. If Grand is/becomes “too congested”, some drivers will simply find other alternatives. Fortunately, St. Louis has the infrastructure to accomodate more traffic, between streets built wide enough for long-gone streetcars and a population of 800,000, not our present 350,000. The challenge is the NIMBY factor – the residents along Compton or Spring may be less welcoming of more traffic than other neighborhood residents, who are/will be less-directly impacted by more traffic.

    As for testing versus just do it, yes, there’s plenty of empirical data to support multiple conclusions. Just remember that politics is the art of the possible, and that consensus building is a better way of getting results than a dictatorship. The cost of the test is much less than redoing curbs and paving once they’re permanently installed – see the ADA ramps being redone along Lindbergh Boulevard, for the third time, at taxpayer expense!

    We did go down for a late lunch at the Diner on Friday, and things seemed to be a bit congested, but moving. My two observations were that someone needed to start a pool for when the first Jersey barrier gets hit and that, yes, the two-lane part needs to continue all the way south from Arsenal.

  28. Tony says:

    I do not like the changes that have been made. I recently moved to St. Louis and have never seen a city wanting to create a bottleneck when one does not exist. The problem I’m more familiar with is how to eliminate an existing bottleneck. With four lanes of traffic, there was already a left turn lane for both sides of the street. There was an alternate lane for you to go around the vehicle turning left. Now, with all of the cabs dropping people off and picking people up, they block the one remaining lane and everyone is going around them in the middle turn lane. This was not a problem before. To my understanding, this project is to create safer streets for pedestrians. Pedestrians would stay safe if they did not jaywalk as I see every day. They have existing pedestrian walkways with walk/don’t walk lights for their safety already. As for bikers, this is less safe for them b/c there is no bike lane and bikers still use the street. Now traffic has to go in the middle turn lane to go around them. At least before cars had an actual alternate lane to go around them.


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