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Jefferson Avenue Needs A Road Diet, Corridor Study Part 1

September 24, 2013 Featured, Planning & Design, Walkability 34 Comments

Jefferson Avenue is a 5+ mile north-south arterial road in south, central, and north St. Louis (map). Along this stretch the road has 4-6 travel lanes, a center turn lane, and sometimes 2 parking lanes. What’s pretty consistent is the public right-of-way and curb to curb widths are excessively wide.

A female pedestrian makes her way across Jefferson at Russell
A female pedestrian makes her way across Jefferson at Russell

Here are some examples of the right-of-way width in locations you might be familiar:

  • Jefferson @ Russell: 120 feet
  • Lindell @ Euclid: 100 feet
  • Kingshighway @ Delmar: 100 feet
  • Grand @ Hardford: 80 feet
  • Chouteau @ Mississippi: 80 feet
  • Manchester @ Taylor: 70 feet

The above figures are from Sanborn Maps, mostly from 1909. Again, these are the public right-of-way (PROW), which includes the road and sidewalks. In an urban context this is measured from the face of a building to the face of the building on the opposite side. The road & sidewalk widths can vary within the PROW.

At Russell, Jefferson has a wider PROW than streets like Grand, Lindell, and yes — Kingshighway! This partly explains why Jefferson doesn’t have the same “feel” as South Grand. The wider the curb to curb, the faster traffic travels. The faster the traffic, the fewer the pedestrians. Fewer pedestrians & faster traffic means businesses will focus on customers in cars, not pedestrians. This reality conflicts with adjacent neighborhoods that seek a more urban environment, like McKinley Heights whose code required Family Dollar to build more urban than usual.

Construction of the new SouthSide Early Childhood Center is underway on the SE corner
Construction of the new SouthSide Early Childhood Center is underway on the SE corner

Jefferson passes by many neighborhoods and political wards, with different ones on the east & west sides. With schools & residents on both sides crossing the street is important. Some intersections have pedestrian signals, others, like Russell, do not.  The east side is the McKinley Heights neighborhood & 7th Ward while the west side is the Fox Park neighborhood and the 6th ward, such fragmentation makes it challenging to get projects done.

Hopefully enough residents from both neighborhoods can convince Phyllis Young (7) and Christine Ingrassia (6) to take a closer look at Jefferson Ave.

I’d like to see the following in the short-term:

  1. Stripe Jefferson to just 4 travel lanes end to end
  2. Include a solid white outside line separating the right travel lane from the parking lane as MoDOT did on Gravois
  3. Add pedestrian signals with countdown timers at existing signalized intersections currently lacking pedestrian signals
  4. Stripe crosswalks in the more visible “Continental” pattern

In the longer term I’d like to see:

  1. A detailed corridor study looking at all transportation modes (car, bike, transit, pedestrian), development patterns & potential, etc
  2. A charrette to look at designing a new streetscape.

In the coming weeks & months I’ll post more about problems & solutions for Jefferson Ave.

— Steve Patterson


Currently there are "34 comments" on this Article:

  1. samizdat says:

    All rather ironic, when one considers that Jefferson–at least at the time it carried streetcars, and as illustrated in Andrew Young’s books–was about forty or so feet narrower.

  2. JZ71 says:

    This is a microcosm of the issues we’ve been kicking around in the previous post about merging the city and county – allocating resources and many, apparently disinterested, players. Let’s start with the obvious – as a street, it currently functions pretty well for drivers; for pedestrians, it could be better, but so could most other city streets. Significant improvements / changes will take significant efforts and significant dollars. Why should I care about spending money here, along a corridor I rarely use, when I live in the 23rd ward, where Jamieson and Wabash have similar issues?

    Yes, paint is cheap and can be used effectively to define the outer edge of the travel lane and to paint “continental” blocks to better define crosswalks. The question is the same old bugaboo – priorities. Paint may be cheap, but it ain’t free, and it takes money to both install and to maintain. Do we raise taxes, citywide, to do this or do we cut back in other public works areas, like installing curb ramps at every intersection or filling potholes in a timely manner? Or, do we take money from the 23rd ward and spend it along Jefferson because there are more festivals and older, denser, urban buildings in this part of the city?

    The same goes for “count-down” pedestrian signals – if pedestrians ignore or don’t understand them, why even bother? I’ve seen pedestrians, on multiple occasions, ignore “smarter” count-down signals, “dumb” pedestrian signals and traffic signals at intersections lacking dedicated pedestrian signals entirely, with equal frequency, to say nothing of jaywalking two cars back from an intersection with a marked crosswalk – you can’t fix stupid! Given current traffic volumes and limited city resources, I see bulb outs, better-marked crosswalks and, possibly, center refuge islands as much bigger priorities than installing count-down signals.

    That said, I do see potential for defining an enhanced transit corridor – BRT or, possibly, streetcar – along here, given both the generous existing ROW and development potential. The challenges remain with schools and crime, but the infrastructure and adjacencies here are more conducive to success than some other corridors in the city – it’ll be interesting to follow your analysis.

    • Fozzie says:

      Schools and crime? Didn’t you read the post? Speeding cars are the primary deterrent to development.

      • S. Grand, one mile to the west, has the same schools & similar crime, yet it is a very different street with many restaurants & shops.

        • Greg says:

          South Grand had many restaurants and shops before they did their streetscape work. Just doing streetscape work does not necessarily bring restaurants and shops.

          • Yes, the buildings are also 40 feet closer to each other. It wasn’t ruined by decades of demolition like Jefferson. Caring people live on both sides of Jefferson, they deserve us to look at Jefferson to see if there’s room for improvement.

        • No More Silliness says:

          South Grand is terrifying to cross and drive on. It is too narrow and traffic goes much faster and is much heavier than it was before they junked it up to give it a more urban hip look. It used to be a city street, now it is an engineered bunch of madness. The streetscape feels empty. It is ugly. All because money was spent to make it “better” does not make it so. Grand has greater density of retail than Jefferson at any point. The success of the district on Grand has/had nothing to do with the width of the street. In fact, I go there less now than I did because it seems so desolate with the wide sidewalks and speeding traffic. I guess they have forced me to cross at a crosswalk and that has saved me from being hit by another car that I was never hit by before. Great!

          Also, bigger single family homes makes a difference in the South Grand Area. Section 8 really hurts that South Jefferson area. There isn’t much else going on over that way except Benton Park. And Benton Park is really close to Soulard, so why head to Jefferson and it’s lack of density when you can go to Soulard with its abundance of choices in close proximity to each other.

          • guest says:

            ^ There is so much wrong with the above comment that there’s no point in even discussing.

          • wimp says:

            you are so right, silliness is just sili I guess. what a fucking idiot. the south grand street scape is about 100 times more ped friendly now, now i am discussing, sorry

          • dempster holland says:

            I agree that there are more differences between s grand and
            jefferson than the width of the street. First, s grand has more
            middle income people on both sides than Jefferswon does. Second
            the asian immigrants, for whatever reason, started restaurants on
            S Grand. These two factors created enough of a critical mass
            to induce outsiders to come for shopping or meals, and thus the
            area became self-sustaining. S Grand had a image of lesser
            crime than Jefferson. And, finally, it is true that the narrow street
            gave a more urban image that attracted people. It should be noted
            that in the past five years or so Jefferson is undergoing a slight re-
            vival, probably caused by Benton Park being more gentrified The
            area west of Jefferson has shown some slight signs of gentri-
            fication, but still has its problems

      • guest says:

        ^ Snarkster!

        I say start with re-striping and see what happens. If it turns out well, re-stripe more uber-wide PRsOW, doing one north (say Natural Bridge) and one south (say Gravois), over and over again, until they’re all re-striped. Then encourage lots of cycling and scooter use.

    • School kids cross that intersection daily.

      • JZ71 says:

        And they apparently do so safely, since it’s not in the news.

        • Oh right, let’s wait until a kid gets killed before taking action.

          • JZ71 says:

            We’re NEVER going to design a perfectly safe world. There’s this thing called personal responsibility and being careful. As a kid, I was taught to look both ways before crossing the street, and I’ve successfully crossed many, many streets, both legally / properly and illegally. Sure, it would be great if we could afford to rebuild every corner to make them potentially safer for pedestrians of all ages, but my priority is fixing the missing connections – missing curb ramps and missing segments / chunks of sidewalks, not rebuilding existing intersections where there is no history of problems.

          • No More Silliness says:

            Or, maybe we address problems that are actually problems like crime in the city. Taking out traffic lanes for bike lanes does nothing more than mis-allocate gasoline tax money from the upkeep of roads to the upkeep of bike lanes. That tax is ostensibly a use-tax. If the money gets used for bike lanes, then the gas tax needs to be reduced and there needs to be an additional tax on bicycles.

            How do all the entitled cyclist who block traffic while riding too slow and then blow through all the stop signs and traffic lights that they can like that???

            Why don’t you start talking about where money can be cut to pay for all of slices of pie in the sky, Steve? You have all these ideas to use other people’s money. Where is the money going to come from to do all of this stuff? Please, tell me what gets sacrificed in the endless pursuit of ridiculous ideas to “enhance” your world. I love your blog, but can’t you ever be rational about the fact that all of this nutty stuff costs money that does not exist unless it is taken from people who work hard and just want to be able to drive their freaking cars. You may hate cars, but America seems to like them. Hardly anyone ever uses all of these ridiculous bike lanes. However, I know that I find myself sitting (idling) in traffic back-ups that are a result of the bike lanes. Maybe you should take the time to examine bike lane use and whether or not they make sense when compared to the pollution they create due to the traffic congestion that they cause. That would be a really interesting read. Bike lanes use versus cost of bike lanes.

          • No More Silliness says:

            The silly timed signals aren’t needed. They are useless. What good do they do? I mean measurable good? People have crossed streets for centuries. We have evolved to be good at it. No one is getting hit by cars at this intersection. Why do ANY of what you want? None of it is necessary. That is what we need now, necessary improvements, not stuff because it looks nice and assumes the inadequacy of the human race to function sans government intervention. Let’s paint the crosswalk so the cars will know where they should have stopped when they actual stop three feet over the 2-foot wide bright white line. Ugh…

          • guest says:

            ^ Steve, I think your blog has been discovered by the Tea Party Patriots. Sad. They probably circulate a list of “liberal” blogs, to pollute with their own special brand of anger and hatred.

          • JZ71 says:

            So, questioning government spending makes us Tea Party Patriots? Government, at any level, is socialism. It takes money from wealthier citizens and spends it on things that poorer citizens cannot afford to do themselves. Nobody likes to pay taxes, especially when they’re working hard, but we (in the working class) realize that certain / many government functions ARE needed and deserve our support and funding. Police, the courts, fire protection and public health services are all pretty much givens, as is maintaining the infrastructure the public has already invested significant dollars in. Questioning how taxes are spent to REbuild existing infrastructure is not some Tea Party, conservative conspiracy, it’s pragmatism at its finest. There is no unlimited supply of tax dollars. It doesn’t matter if they come from local taxes – property, sales, income – or if they come from the state or federal level – it’s still money being taken from taxpayers and being spent on public infrastructure. We can’t afford to do perfect everywhere, so do we do perfect a little at a time, leaving the rest of the city untouched? Or do we spread the wealth around, trying to help all citizens all the time, not just a select, chosen few, one major project at a time?

          • guest says:

            It’s Tea Party when it is communicated as an irrational anti-government rant. Saying “all government is socialism” is a bit over the top. Check that; it’s way over the top.

          • samizdat says:

            Timed signals have been shown to save travel times, in addition to saving fuel and lowering emissions. Sorry if facts get in the way of your agenda.

          • JZ71 says:

            I think we have conflicting terminology going on – I agree with what you’re say re. vehicle travel – what No More Silliness is referring to the pedestrian signals that show a timed count-down from “Walk” to “Don’t Walk”.

          • guest says:

            ^ Some people are just obsessed with crime. Bring up an infrastructure suggestion, and these people turn the talk into crime. Maybe it’s the “CopTalk” crowd, lurking on blogs, working to ensure every last dime of disposable city funding goes into cop pay and cop pensions.

          • Tom says:

            Please answer my previous question: If I build you an alley behind my barn, would you want to move in to my bunkhouse?

          • guest says:

            I might if I wanted chipmunks, possum, ticks, and armadillos for neighbors. But I prefer people, so I don’t think it would work. Thanks, anyway!

          • Tom says:

            OK, but let me know if you change your mind. One day and one night with the chipmunks will magically put you in the Christmas mood–even in July!

          • moe says:

            there are all of those in Forest Park and Tower Grove Park. There is more nature in the City than you think guest and Tom. BTW…why an alley? Are we not allowed to use the main gate?

          • tpekren says:

            Having a hundred plus feet of pavement for a city street right of way misallocates tax money, spending money to paint bike lanes is a minor expense in the scheme of pavement. In other words, your rant makes absolutely no sense when actually looking at city, state or federal transportation budgets. But then again, I have never heard of anyone sitting in traffic because of bike lanes on city streets. Please provide Steve a picture of this mess you so clearly are upset about so he can post it because I sit in traffic everyday on a ten lane freeway that has no bike lanes. But I’m absolutely positive somewhere, some how it is because of bike lanes.

          • JZ71 says:

            Right of way does not equal pavement. Tree lawns, the stretch of grass between the sidewalk and the curb, along with the sidewalk, itself, is typically part of the public right of way. The only real negative with a wide ROW is that it creates an unchangeable building setback line – it’s nearly impossible to build a private structure on public property – and it’s very difficult to legally reduce the width of the ROW / convert it to private property. What Steve is advocating for is less ROW dedicated to vehicles and more ROW dedicated to pedestrians, landscaping, outdoor dining, etc.

          • Yes, but I’m still in favor of four travel lanes. We can move as many cars, or more, at lower overall speeds. Safer for motorists & pedestrians!

          • JMM says:

            Local roads are funded by property taxes and not by gas tax money the way state and federal roads are. So you wouldn’t be “misallocating gasoline tax money” away from cars and to bikes. You would be using money that comes from the residents of St. Louis to provide an array of safe options besides just car, car, car. Who decided that we needed to spend 100% of money allocated to the roadways in St. Louis to make driving as convenient as possible?

            Also, the gas tax no longer covers 100% of providing road infrastructure for cars. Do you know where money to fill in the budget deficit comes from? It comes from general funds, that is, tax money paid by everyone, including those that don’t drive, can’t drive, won’t drive, or prefer to walk, bike, or use transit. So really, we don’t need “an additional tax on bicycles” because bicyclists are already paying for things like highways which they can’t even use. The additional tax should come from drivers, who already spend “other people’s money” to the tune of millions of dollars a year.

          • moe says:

            JMM….true enough, but some local roads are actually state roads. Gravois and Chippewa come to mind. But there are many residents that prefer their alley paved over a street in, say, North St. Louis…or really any place outside of their ward. (Personally I think determining road status by local whim to be an inefficient use of resources).

            As for the gas tax…this is the age old argument and no one’s been able to solve it since the dawn of the highway tax. Certain vehicles put more wear and tear on a roadway than others, but the tax provides for a base of coverage, not for all of it. Thats’ part of the cost of living in a society. Some use more resources than others. Toll roads might be the only solution to this, and unfortunately, I think we’ll have them in this State too soon enough already. Though some cyclist are using the roads, most have other vehicles. I don’t think we need a transportation cycle tax, but I do wish they would obey the rules of the road.

  3. Michael says:

    This blog necessarily address one-off problems many days. This “where will the money come from” for each and every projects is tiresome. There’s money. All streets citywide should have a future plan, logically based on size and usage but also on a shared vision for the future, that includes a wide variety of things: maintenance, repaving, bus shelter updates, bike lane additions, crosswalk additions with signage, ada corners among other things. And then there should be a schedule for implementation based on a budget.

    A vision: We need more infill between our amazing neighborhoods with street-level amenities like shops (Stl Style and MoModern are good examples), restaurants (Olio, Chronicle coffee), services (like places on Lindell east of the CWE), parks, etc, all travelled safely, with frequent mass transit, on foot, by bike, by car. What do you all think?


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