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Olive & Tucker Designed for Pedestrian-Vehicle Conflict

The intersection of two major downtown streets — Olive St & Tucker Blvd — is poorly designed for pedestrians. The are a number of problems, but this post is about poor communication to pedestrians that puts them in harms way. Specifically, vehicles that get a left-turn arrow from Tucker to Olive are on a collision course with pedestrians that don’t realize cars will be turning left into their path.

Vehicles traveling Northbound & Southbound on Tucker each get a dedicated left-turn lane onto Olive, Westbound & Eastbound. respectively.  Each gets a left arrow, so drivers assume they have the right-of-way. “What’s the problem?” you ask. Pedestrians can also think,due to a lack of pedestrian signals, they have the right-of-way.

  1. At the start of the cycle SB vehicles on Tucker get a green light, left onto EB Olive get an arrow.
  2. After a bit the arrow goes away and NB traffic gets a green.
  3. Later the SB traffic gets a red and those going NB get a left arrow onto WB Olive.

Pedestrians & vehicles can’t both have the right to be in the same place at the same time!

You might be thinking “pedestrians should just look at the vehicle signals to know when it’s OK to cross Olive.” For SB pedestrians on the East side of Tucker & NB pedestrians on the West side of Tucker the vehicle signals don’t indicate vehicles have a left-turn arrow.

SB on the East side of Tucker we can't see the signal on the right -- it's turned toward cars in the left-turn lane.
SB on the East side of Tucker we can’t see the signal on the right — it’s turned toward cars in the left-turn lane.
NB on the West side of Tucker we see a woman crossing with the green. What you can't see ifs the left-turn lane has an an arrow to turn right in her path!
NB on the West side of Tucker we see a woman crossing with the green. What you can’t see ifs the left-turn lane has an an arrow to turn right in her path!

So the first should be a relatively easy to get to achieve minimally acceptable communications — turn the signal head so pedestrians can see the green & left arrow. But the second isn’t as simple.

If possible, the bare minimum would be to change the signal head so it includes an arrow. The problem with this is the arrow might suddenly appear as a person is halfway across Olive. This really needs a pedestrian signal with a countdown timer. Another option is to redo the signal configuration — allow both left turns to happen simultaneously — then give them a red while NB/SB vehicles get a green.

Ok, so one intersection — fix it and move on, right? If the woman in blue in the 2nd image keeps waking North she’ll encounter the same conflict one block up at Locust St!

As at Olive, the signal is green but pedestrians walking North don''t know a left-turn arrow is going to send vehicles into their path.
As at Olive, the signal is green but pedestrians walking North don”t know a left-turn arrow is going to send vehicles into their path.

These are just a few examples of the dangers designed into our auto-centric system. I’ve been through these intersections many times, but had never noticed the conflict — because I’m familiar with the vehicle flow. A downtown visitor, however, might not be confused, or worse, became a pedestrian death statistic. If a pedestrian is hit by a left-turning car in these examples it’s no “accident” — it’s by design! Sadly, these conflicts have likely existed for years — perhaps even decades!

Every intersection in the city/region needs to be critically evaluated to catch conflict by design. Prioritize then and then set about correcting them. I pointed out the conflicts at Olive to St. Louis’ new Bike/Pedestrian Coordinator, Jamie Wilson, last week as we walked/rolled to lunch.

I’ve volunteered to:

  • Start a custom Google map where I can catalog problems I encounter.
  • Go out with him and other, upon request, to demonstrate the problems with out pedestrian infrastructure

Below is time-lapse video looking South and then North

— Steve Patterson


Currently there are "24 comments" on this Article:

  1. RyleyinSTL says:

    What I fail to understand is how this kind of situation happens. Presumably any number of “engineers” will have reviewed this intersection as traffic lights, road improvements and other things have been done to it over the last ~200 years. How exactly did the city let things get to this point? We need to understand that to prevent it from continuing.

    Also…what role does the new ped/cycle Grand Poobah play in the dynamics of intersection refurbishment? Can we hold them accountable going forward when we find these kinds of issues at intersections that have been updated in some way?

    Your map link is showing a 504 error at the moment.

    • It’s really very simple, a young & persuasive Harland Bartholomew arrived in St. Louis after 1915 — he proceeded to make the city, and my extension, region, very auto-centric. Nobody has given any thought to pedestrians since. Meanwhile, our pedestrian death rate is skyrocketing.

      I personally showed the new bike/ped coordinator this intersection. I told him I’d give him a chance to do his job. At some point I expect to see substantive progress — before the next mayor is sworn In a year from now.

      • JZ71 says:

        I have a big problem with absolute statements like “Nobody has given any thought to pedestrians since.” No, pedestrians HAVE been thought about, not just in the way and/or to the degree that you think that they should be “considered”. The fundamental problem the City has is a lack of funding, for everthing everybody thinks should / needs to be done. I’m pretty sure that the people in the Streets Department have a lengthy “wish list” that would address many of the concerns that you raise, but I’m guessing that they’re lucky to get 20%-25% of what they request in the budget every year. No money = things get cut from what can (and should) be done. Unfortunately, in the bigger scheme of things, pedestrians DO rank down the priority list, so their needs DO get short shrift (and this intersection is an egregious example). Until that mindset changes, little is going to change on the funding side . . .

        • gmichaud says:

          No one is thinking of pedestrians to any extent when they do these projects. The costs to include pedestrians is minuscule unless you start talking about major projects and even then pedestrians are not a major financial factor. In a nutshell the biggest gap in policy conception and implementation is including pedestrians as an equal partner.
          If you have a priority list then you are part of the problem. When human beings have to be cited as a priority to be considered as factors in projects then that leads to the problems that St. Louis currently exhibits.
          That failure is why St. Louis is behind in growth and economic development

          • JZ71 says:

            Let me simplify it for you. Stop lights cost money. Adding pedestrian signals cost more money. There is only so much money. As a pedestrian, would you prefer to cross an intersection with a stop light or a stop sign? If more intersections receive pedestrian signals, fewer intersections will have signals, of any sort, and will just have stop signs. Pick the lesser of two evils.

          • Let me simplify it for you — pedestrian signals are the cost of business in pedestrian-heavy areas. But, the city through making the environmental extremely hostile to pedestrians has managed to reducer the numbers of walkers…and residents. You’d do well in Flint — save a penny but cost a buck!

          • Mark-AL says:

            Responsible city planners have to balance their “want” column against the “need” column, just as I did when I bought our second car, a stripped down Toyota Corolla, manual trans. I wanted a Land Rover. But I also needed to pay school tuition and fees, the house mortgage, violin and cello lessons, hockey ice-time, etc. We all do the balancing act. When that doesn’t happen in city government, all the residents suffer in the long run. The conditions at the location you cited are deplorable, but I think you’ll get the City’s attention on this one! But given the financial challenges in STL, it’s likely that the next intersection won’t get fixed until you and Jamie Wilson continue to raise hell, just as I won’t replace my living room wood flooring until my wife ‘raises hell’….and she will.

          • JZ71 says:

            Government budgeting, at the local level, is almost always a case of too many demands and too few resources. Local citizens are resistant to paying more in taxes, unless they’re given a good reason to do so (see the effort the Zoo is currently making). Yes, better pedestrian facilities would be wonderful, but so would more police, better schools, better parks, more rec centers, more bike paths, more affordable housing, “free” trash collection (remember that?), and on and on and on. The best way to accomplish what you want (doubling or tripling the number of pedestrian signals) would be probably to pass a bond issue dedicated to pedestrian (and bike? and transit?) infrastructure. What are the odds of something like that passing? When the bulk of the benefits would be concentrated in only a few neighborhoods? You do a great job of explaining why these changes would be great for pedestrians. You don’t make a very good argument about how to fund them.

            “The cost of business”, especially at the Flint and, yes, St. Louis level, is patching things together, not spending money on frills that will benefit only a small portion of the population. A half million people haven’t left the city over the last 75 years because they didn’t have pedestrian signals, they left because crime got worse, schools got worse, neighborhoods were integrated, freeways were built, their jobs left and because they could! Lambert didn’t lose half of its flights because of poor pedestrian infrastructure, it just reflects a fundamental, structural change in the local economy. And when you have an infrastructure built for 800,000 plus, and 340,000 people are trying to pay for it, guess what? Choices have to be made, every day, it’s called prioritizing, stretching a dollar.

            I don’t disagree that there are fundamental safety issues at this intersection. My only question is how do we pay to fix them? Skip hiring one more police officer for one more year? Tell retired city employees sorry, no cost of living increases for you, this year? Skip building a couple of dozen needed curb ramps? Yes, everything *should* be a priority, but everything simply can’t be a(n equal) priority when you can’t pay for it (see Illinois state government). Hopefully, you and Jamie Wilson can figure out a viable political argument for “moving the needle” on pedestrian funding, but given all the other competing interests / demands, it’s gonna be tough . . .

    • Mark-AL says:

      What are the quotation marks all about? I laugh whenever people appear to denigrate the field of engineering. Maybe the problem areas on the roads in St Louis would be better solved by an English or humanities major! Around the US, I find that certain groups of iron workers and carpenters (NOT ALL!) snicker when the “ENGINEERS” insist on industry-standard rebar and tendon-placement and establishment patterns. I’ve also found that those who are most critical are also those who are still bending over, still wearing work gloves, placing and tying rebar vs standing upright and supervising those who are bent over! An MS program for traffic engineering requires a min. 30 hour degree study BEYOND a BS degree in civil engineering. And in your first year in a BS civil program, you’ll study, among other subjects, Calculus 1 for engineers (not the same course that a history major takes!), chemistry for engineers, essay writing for engineers (we didn’t read the Iliad and the Odyssey!!!!) , and you’ll attend engineering and technology forums that require hours (and then some!) of weekly preparation. Then, later, you’ll study Calculus 2, linear algebra and differential equations (all for engineers, not for English majors), electricity, magnetism and fluids, waves, optics, thermodynamics, hydraulics, structural analysis and dynamics, geotechnical engineering, and then you’ll get your first taste of structural design.(And there’s TONS of math study required in each of the above categories!) The bottom line: Traffic engineers are not social workers. Their decisions are not based on hunches and merely on experience and even best practices. And if they’re degreed and licensed, then they likely know their stuff! Here’s the problem with traffic engineers. It’s not the most widely-sought-out field of engineering among students, and cities around the country find it costly to employ them because of their fewer number and especially because of shrinking municipal budgets. I have friends in the traffic engineering business who out-earn me and are not required to travel for work. Maybe you should become a traffic engineer so you can solve all the city’s problems, but lose the quotation marks, please. And, no!, “any number of engineers” have likely NOT reviewed this intersection. If STL would raise taxes and thus increase their general fund, MAYBE the city could afford to hire “any number of engineers” who could sit around every day and discuss how to deal with all the infrastructural issues facing STL city. Until then, issues will have to be dealt with on a discovery/realization basis, just like Steve and Jamie Wilson are doing. It’s not perfect, but it’s obviously all this administration can or wants to do about the problem.

      • RyleyinSTL says:

        “Engineers” simply refers to the many number of city officials (or otherwise) which may or may not have reviewed this (or other) intersections and may or may not have actually been real Engineers.

        In my experience, said Engineers, rarely are actual Engineers.

        • Mark-AL says:

          Sorry, I jumped so hard! It’s uncanny, but two weeks ago I attended a subcommittee meeting at a convention of engineers who discussed the very point of my post. I belong to a national organization of engineers, and we recently discussed the current use of the title “engineer”, not just in the US but just about in all regions of the world. Currently, it is used loosely as a title for commercial construction support staff (assistants to project managers who may or may not even be engineering degreed), to maintenance technicians who have total charge of a building’s maintenance but are also non-degreed, and to just about anyone else who has ever built anything. The uses of the terms “architect” “doctor” are better protected. It is our belief that the title “engineer” should be used only by those who are licensed–not for any reason other than in an effort to better communicate with the public who utilize our services. We’ll see where this goes, if anywhere.

          • JZ71 says:

            much like “software architects” . . .

          • Mark-AL says:

            You’re right! The fact that your professional signature includes “AIA” and mine includes “PE” is virtually a non-issue among the general public, given the accepted, widespread misuse of the titles. Mine more-so than yours. It’s misleading. What would happen if a nurse (a very honorable profession) walked around a hospital calling himself a physician? Or if the dental technician called herself “Dr”. What happens if a neighbor hires a “building” engineer neighbor to assist in the design of his backyard deck, not understanding that the engineer’s job title may not qualify him to assist? Professional deck design is the best investment a person can make in his home and in his family’s safety and should not be left to someone whose job is to simply maintain a structure.

          • Engineering is far more diverse than architecture. Two engineers I know I wouldn’t want designing pedestrian facilities in the PROW are a woman who was in my wedding and one of my older brothers. Why not? They’re electrical & petroleum, respectively. A civil and/or traffic engineer might not have any better understanding of pedestrians than either of them.

          • Mark-AL says:

            Well, all I can say is that the name of their profession (traffic engineer)is an indicator that they were trained in and later engage in an undertaking to interpret and implement the needs of pedestrians and vehicles-the whole picture. Who knows? Maybe someone should develop another engineering field, called “pedestrian” engineer. But if they do, the degree requirement need to be more than sensitivity sessions of ignorance sharing and circle-jerk sessions! There has to be some substance to the degree, so that the ‘pedestrian engineer’ can be licensed and then held accountable for his work and is acutely aware of the total traffic-engineering field of responsibility. There’s nothing worse than sitting in a meeting with someone who doesn’t have a clue about the total picture. The pedestrian engineer should first be a degreed civil engineer. Some may think it’s over-kill, but we all know that 75% of what we study in college is never used. Much of it only serves to challenge and expand the mind. Much like the study of Latin or calculus or even algebra for the typical high school student. How many of them ever use “Latin” or even algebra in their daily lives? I was forced to take symbolic logic and philosophy in college, and neither killed me. II’d want the “pedestrian” engineering requirements to include civil engineering FIRST, then the area of specialty can follow. Let it be a degree of substance, so that other designers will bother to pay attention to him….or her.

            Electrical engineering is, in my opinion, the toughest of the engineering fields. It doesn’t follow a civil study program. Petroleum engineers too do not follow a civil study program. So naturally neither of your engineer friends would probably be suitable to work on a pedestrian crossing project.

          • Mark-AL says:

            You’re right that there are fewer distinct architectural fields, but even so, there are several:
            Commercial, Industrial, Landscape, Naval, car design (carchitecture???), and I believe that “residential architecture” should be separately classified as well in that working with clients on their own homes requires “special skills”. I know several commercial architects who don’t care to get involved in designing a house for a friend or client. I know in my business, I am much more familiar with concrete and steel design than I am with wood studs, wood trusses and even residential laminated beams. I can’t imagine that I can design a house structure as efficiently as someone who does it routinely. And then there are “architectural engineers” who we used to kiddingly accuse of experiencing an identity crisis when they declared their major in college.

      • gmichaud says:

        Mark, I’m not sure he couldn’t have just as easily said bureaucrat in quotes. I think he is frustrated with business as usual as we all are I may be wrong but I think he (or she) is questioning who is responsible for these seemingly endless disconnects with daily life.
        I love engineering though, there are the creative types and the technical types, just as in any field (and the business types) Who can deny the beauty of the bridges by the engineer Robert Malliart or that Peter Nervi is not a great engineer and artist.
        The Effiel Tower is the product of an engineer, Gustav. Frank Lloyd Wright was a Civil Engineer. It is a long list of art and engineering goes back to the aquaducts and domes of Rome and the Gardens of Babylon feed by engineering from water miles away.
        The technical side of engineering is so valuable and the one I am most acquainted with. It is more of the hands on side, water flows, pipe flows for plumbing and air flows, solar energy, structural issues, drainage etc.
        I honestly don’t think there was meant to be a disrespect for engineering, engineering is too important for daily lives.
        Take Jarett Walker for instance, he calls himself a transportation planner, yet reading his blog and the comments it is clear there is a heavy engineering focus, probably more so than the social. As a transportation and traffic engineer and planner he does include many social issues.
        Jarrett Walker is always interesting.
        How well do you know LA?, my daughter is going to go to school out there, I’ve been through LAX a few times, that’s it.

        • Mark-AL says:

          I know LA well. I lived west of LA in Santa Monica for several years. If your daughter is a student in or around UCLA or at one of the UCLA-affiliated hospitals, she’s living in a very safe area, and very convenient to the Santa Monica beach. The campus at UCLA is probably brighter at night than it is during the day (hyperbole)! Those folks take student safety very seriously. USC is located in a more urban area.

          Actually few average “workhorse” engineers can take credit or responsibility for the architectural design of any structure– commercial or residential. Typically the architect creates the building’s exterior and interior designs, then visits with the engineer for his input on the most effective way to structure the building. With Maillart, a civil engineer and pioneer in the PRACTICAL, streamline use of reinforced concrete and other traditional materials (steel, cast iron) used to create a “lighter”/less bulky appearance in several bridge projects, it is recognized that his designs were driven first by the performance expectations and limitations of the material used primarily in the design. Typically the architect will create a rendering of the design, and together with the engineers, decisions about suitable materials will be discussed. In Maillart’s case, he decided first which material would be primarily used in a certain project, then the design followed–based on the performance expectations of the materials. The Salginatobel Bridge is a classic. And his widespread use of the “mushroom head” column, found in several warehouses around the world, including some/most of the loft buildings in St Louis, allowed architects to economize the structure by avoiding the traditional beam-and-girder systems and replacing them with flat-soffit slabs, bearing simply on columns with extended capitals. This represented a huge breakthrough in the use of flat-soffit slabs (and in the meantime saved as much as 18-24 inches PER FLOOR of essentially wasted building height). Few engineers claim to be architects. Our designs tend to be too bulky, loading up with as much rebar and concrete as the form will allow. It makes for fewer sleep-deprived nights.

          • gmichaud says:

            The Salginatobel Bridge is a classic. It is beautiful but what is also amazing is the organization of construction. What a difficult engineering problem, my best guess is the the pour on place concrete had to be cantilevered out section by section until it meet in the middle to form a beam. I have no idea how they could have built the bridge otherwise.
            My daughter is attending the Art of Acting Studio at 1017 North Orange Drive off of Santa Monica Blvd. She wants to act, I think it’s good, dive in, see what happens, it is a two year program. Robert DeNiro, Marlon Brando and James Coburn are alumni so it must be a decent school. She has a couple of friends who are attending the Meisner Studio. She looked at a bunch of schools and universities and this is what she wants to do.
            Anyway can you recommend any neighborhoods that would work for an 18 yr old young woman who has some street smarts. The ideal profile is reasonable price, close to school and transit. She will likely work also. We are trying to avoid the hassle of a car. I know the stuff around the studio is fairly expensive, but if you have any suggestions I would appreciate it and I’ll pass it along to her. I spent a little time with Google maps so I have a general idea of the layout and neighborhood names.
            She likely will end up sharing a apt, but a few of her friends are staying with relatives for the time being so she has to make other arrangements. There is 5 or 6 of her friends going out there, some for dance, all from Grand Center Arts Academy across from Powell Hall.
            The beauty of youth, when all is possible.

    • gmichaud says:

      I agree with you 100 per cent, we need to understand why situations continue in the same fashion, usually, actually always, at the expense of the pedestrian.
      That pedestrian issue is evident on a larger scale, as per Steve’s post a short while ago about McKee wanting to build several small autocentric developments on the Northside. Where are the pedestrian concerns?
      So if Mr Wilson is effective these issues should be headlines After all McKee’s proposal was treated as a major project without any analysis by the press.
      So how is it the City of St Louis keeps doing these things? It is a private club and you and I and the rest of the public are not invited.

  2. If you’re cataloging these situations downtown, have him look at 11th and Market, the pattern there is bizarre. At one point, there’s an all-way stop for auto traffic AND ped traffic, except for peds crossing Market on the east side of 11th. It confuses the hell out of everyone. Broadway and Market also has bad ped signals.

    Outside of downtown, I’d love for him to look at the situation of people trying to get across Grand to Tower Grove Park. The ped signal at Pestalozzi is not sufficient, it takes forever to switch. And the wheelchair ramp at Magnolia has been out for like a week for some reason (intren?)

  3. Ted says:

    The pedestrian situation in the east-west direction at this intersection is also screwed up. Walking east or west on the north side of Olive, across Tucker, turning traffic gets their arrow first, before the walk signal. This leads to a situation where they keep turning and don’t let pedestrians cross. And the crossing time has to be incorrect. As an able-bodied, brisk walker, I barely have enough time to make it across. For those a little slower, I’d imagine it’s a nightmare.

  4. JZ71 says:

    More on signal timing, from the Ask the Road Crew chat on the Post-Dispatch website:

    As a follow-up to some comments or questions over the past few months:

    Signal timing is one of the biggest issues any transportation organization faces. Optimally, we would like to give every one using the roadway a green light just as they need it. Realistically, with the volumes and necessity to meet the needs for all roadway users (including transit, bikes and pedestrians), that cannot happen. The best any department can do is to balance the timing along a corridor – trying to ensure that all users get their fair piece of available green time. That means that the roadway with the most traffic should be the one that gets the most green time. Unfortunately, several arterials carry large amounts of traffic east and west, or north and south, and usually cross. The corridor is balanced (or optimized) to provide as much seamless progression along the corridor as possible for a vehicle traveling the posted speed limit.

    Ideally, a major traffic corridor has a certain ebb and flow to it, or “pattern.” The goal for engineers is to move traffic into the corridor from side streets with a minimal delay for the overall, safe flow of traffic along the corridor. When you add roads with high numbers of vehicles (such as an interstate or a major crossroad), that creates breaks in the corridor’s ebb and flow. It is often more efficient, when looking at the overall corridor movement, for traffic engineers to do what they can to incorporate those major roadways into the corridor’s existing flow. That may mean stopping traffic near that major roadway on either side to get them into the corridor’s “pattern.”

    The challenge is when you have two major roadways that intersect – especially if one is an interstate. You see the biggest concerns at the I-44 or I-64 ramps at roadways such as Jefferson, Kingshighway, Hampton or any other major city artery. The first priority is clearing the interstate ramp – you do not want the traffic backing all the way up onto the interstate and backing up traffic there – it’s just not safe. But, when you have an interchange with a major road, you want to minimize the backups on that major roadway as well. Traffic engineers have to find the balance on both roads — and consider the overall traffic flow at not only the interchange, but the corridor. For instance, in the morning at I-44 and Jefferson, engineers have to balance the volume of traffic on both the eastbound ramp with the traffic heading north on Jefferson coming from Russell. Lafayette and Russell remain green to clear traffic out of the way for the ramp traffic. Once the eastbound I-44 ramp traffic enters Jefferson headed north, it passes the westbound ramp and some traffic gets stopped at the Lafayette signal to get into the “pattern” for the Jefferson corridor. If the signals are “synched” at the ramps, Lafayette and Russell, then traffic may flow worse further along the corridor.

    This is complicated by several items:

    • Many of the signals along corridors are older equipment

    • Several signals along the corridor don’t have pedestrian buttons (which means that engineers must give time every cycle to possible pedestrians (even if there is nobody there)

    • Signals are owned and operated by two different organizations with two different signal control systems.

    Our engineers work diligently with the city to keep the major corridors (such as Kingshighway, Hampton, Chouteau, Jefferson, Chippewa and Gravois) flowing consistently and smoothly. Andrew Gates, MoDOT Communications

    by andrew.gates May 11 at 11:18 AM


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