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Poor/Inconsistent Pedestrian Experience: 18th Street & Olive Street

June 14, 2016 Downtown, Featured, Planning & Design, Walkability No Comments

I thought I was done pointing out glaringly bad intersections for pedestrians, but on Saturday I went through one that was odd. Yesterday I returned to study.  Usually when I cross Olive Street at 18th I do so on the East side of 18th. Though I’ve lived nearby for over 8 years, I can’t think of one time I crossed Olive on the West side — until Saturday afternoon.

We were headed to the St. Louis Science Center, catching MetroLink and then a MetroBus. Knowing we’d need to be on on the West side of 18th I crossed at Locust and headed South. At Olive I pressed the button for a walk signal — something I shouldn’t need to do in a pedestrian-friendly city. The traffic light turned green but the pedestrian signal remained don’t walk. We were in a hurry to catch the train so we went based on the green traffic signal. Yesterday morning I went back to try to figure out why I didn’t get a walk signal after pressing the button. What I found is this intersection is one of the most inconsistent in the city.

Each crossing point in an intersection is called a leg, typical intersections have four legs. Intersections where are four are treated consistently is a challenge, but the is among the worst — if not the worst in the city. And it’s recent work!

Looking South across Olive from the NW corner
Looking South across Olive from the NW corner

At the NW corner of 18th & Olive I see the traffic light turn green and the pedestrian signal remain on don’t walk. I press the button at the next red and when the light turns green the pedestrian signal remains don’t walk. At the next red I press the other button marked for crossing 18th Street. This time when the light turns green the pedestrian signal gives a walk symbol. It should be noted, the pedestrian signal to cross 18th St always gives a walk sign when the traffic signal is green.

Looking South across Olive from the NW corner
Looking South across Olive from the NW corner

Pushing a button to cross Olive but not a side street is consistent with the other intersections redone along Olive at the same time. After posting about Olive & Leffingwell in April I was told by the City’s bike/ped coordinator, Jamie Wilson, that a button was necessary to cross Olive there because vehicle traffic on Leffingwell is infrequent and they didn’t want to stop traffic on Olive to cycle through stops when there were no pedestrians or vehicles to cross.  Makes sense…at Leffingwell.  Leffingwell is one of the many streets where the city gave away the public right-of-way to private interests a block South of Olive. PROW that doesn’t so through sees fewer vehicles & pedestrians.

Back to 18th & Olive — 18th Street is always a busy street. Recently many MetroBus routes were moved to 18th. So switch the buttons and it’s fine?  I decided to check every corner to see. So I pressed the button to cross 18th  so I’d get a walk signal to cross Olive.

Looking North across Olive from the SW corner
Looking North across Olive from the SW corner

At the SW corner I pressed the button to cross Olive. Like the NW corner, I didn’t get a walk sign. Thinking it must also be reversed like the NW corner, I pressed the button to cross 18th. Still nothing, neither button activates the walk signal for NB pedestrians wanting to cross Olive on the West side of 18th Street!

Looking North across Olive from the SE corner
Looking North across Olive from the SE corner

I crossed 18th to the SE corner — no button is necessary — these always give the walk signal when vehicles get a green light. Interestingly, the pedestrian signal gives a walk sign when the traffic light is green regardless of the button or not. It’s possible pressing the button adds additional crossing time. I crossed to the NE corner.

Looking South across Olive from the NE corner, the automatic walk light
Looking South across Olive from the NE corner, the automatic walk light

Southbound pedestrians don’t need to press the button to cross Olive on the East side of 18th. Same as those crossing NB. What’s different is those crossing SB get a countdown timer, those crossing NB do not.

Looking South across Olive from the NE corner, the countdown timer has started
Looking South across Olive from the NE corner, the countdown timer has started

So I have many questions for Jamie Wilson:

  1. Why only one countdown timer?
  2. Why do three legs automatically get a walk sign, while the forth doesn’t?
  3.  Why don’t NB pedestrians on the West side of 18th ever get a walk sign?
  4. For the legs where pedestrians do get a walk sign, does pressing the button give additional crossing time?
  5. Why not have all four legs automatically get a walk sign?

It should be noted this work was done prior to Mr. Wilson starting his current position. It was done either by the Board of Public Service  (BPS) or the Streets Dept, not sure which. Hopefully I’ll know more soon, and the city will clean up this intersection’s bad pedestrian experience.

— Steve Patterson

 

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