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Opinion: Proposed Crosswalk “Improvements:” On Grand Won’t Improve Pedestrian Safety

May 30, 2018 Featured, Midtown, Planning & Design, SLU, Walkability Comments Off on Opinion: Proposed Crosswalk “Improvements:” On Grand Won’t Improve Pedestrian Safety

Grand Avenue runs through Saint Louis University’s main campus. It’s very busy because other North-South options like Spring & Theresa were vacated years ago. This means North-South that had 5 options now have 3: Vandeventer, Grand, and Compton. To handled the increased volume, on-street parking was removed. Without having to slow for cars parking, speeds increased. For pedestrians this is dangerous.

Since the city has given away public right-of-way (aka streets) to private property owners for years this problem exists throughout the city.  The proposed solution is the same superficial one — decorative crosswalks. The warm & fuzzy element of urban planning.

SLU’s rendering of proposed changes to Grand where West Pine used to be

Here again is what SLU is planning at Lindell, where West Pine used to be, and Laclede:

The project calls for the elimination of one of the three northbound lanes on Grand, which will allow the remaining lanes and the median to be widened. Bollards will also be installed to protect pedestrians who are about to cross the street as well as those who might be standing in the median. The roadway where the crosswalk is, will be changed to a brick-like surface to enhance the look and remind drivers to slow down. (KMOV)

Let’s take a closer look at each element.

  • Removal of one Northbound travel lane: Reducing the number of travel lanes is good.
  • Widen the remaining travel lanes & median: While widening the median is ok. increasing the width of travel lanes is the wrong thing to do! Wider lanes means driver’s feel safe at higher speeds. The remaining lanes should either be kept at their current width or reduced if you want to slow vehicles to increase pedestrian safety.
  • Bollards installed: In this context bollards gov an impression of safety, though they might help since cars will be going even faster on wider lanes.

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I’ve long been interested in the Grand & formerly West Pine crosswalk. I visited and observed at 4:45pm on Tuesday September 21, 2010 — nearly 8 years ago.

The crosswalk was highly visible to pedestrians & motorists, September 2010

After I observed the crosswalk and took the photo (above) I decided to record what I was witnessing,

Here are the problems I listed at the end of the video:

  1. Signal timing is too long for pedestrians, they get tired of waiting and cross when they can. The timing needs to change so pedestrians can safely cross more frequently.
  2. The pedestrian button, like most in St. Louis, doesn’t do anything. Even the one person who pressed the button crossed before getting the “walk” signal.  Eliminate the button or make the signal change quickly once pressed.

The fixes, save for shortening the crossing distance & giving students more space to stand between traffic, won’t make this crossing any safer. It’s possible the dark bricks will be less noticeable to motorists than the white paint. I know from a wheelchair perspective brick crosswalks are highly annoying. Motorists need to slow down before they reach the crosswalk.

Looking North on the East side of Grand, June 2011

One of the big problems is the lack of anything to get motorists to slow down: parked cars, narrow lanes, or — my favorite — street trees. It feels too wide open so motorists feel ok going faster than they should. Other things to do would be rumble strips in the pavement prior to reaching the crosswalk. make traffic stop more frequently during busy times, embed flashing LED lights in the lane markers ,a lighted sign overhead, etc.

Sadly too many are fooled by this region’s superficial efforts to appear to make pedestrian-friendly environments. Here’s the results of the recent non-scioentiofic Sunday Poll:

Q: Agree or disagree: Proposed changes to the crosswalk on Grand South of Lindell will greatly improve safety for pedestrians.

  • Strongly agree 3 [13.64%]
  • Agree 3 [13.64%]
  • Somewhat agree 7 [31.82%]
  • Neither agree or disagree 2 [9.09%]
  • Somewhat disagree 2 [9.09%]
  • Disagree 4 [18.18%]
  • Strongly disagree 1 [4.55%]
  • Unsure/No Answer 0 [0%]

This crosswalk will, to most eyes, look better. Aesthetics aside, it won’t perform any better — it might be worse. This is a way for SLU to mitigate damages from a future lawsuit by claiming they made an effort to improve safety. Actual safety is perceived as too inconvenient to motorists.

— Steve Patterson

 

 

Sunday Poll: Will New Crosswalks Improve Pedestrian Safety?

May 27, 2018 Featured, Sunday Poll, Walkability Comments Off on Sunday Poll: Will New Crosswalks Improve Pedestrian Safety?
Please vote below

Regular readers know I’ve often blogged about crosswalks, so it’s no surprise I was interested in a story last week on improvements to three crosswalks on Grand where it runs through the Saint Louis University campusL: Laclede. Lindell, and the point between those two.

The project calls for the elimination of one of the three northbound lanes on Grand, which will allow the remaining lanes and the median to be widened. Bollards will also be installed to protect pedestrians who are about to cross the street as well as those who might be standing in the median. The roadway where the crosswalk is, will be changed to a brick-like surface to enhance the look and remind drivers to slow down. (KMOV)

The work will be funded by SLU, not the city. Here’s more from NextSTL:

SLU to begin Grand crosswalk improvements and road diet

The busiest of the three planned crosswalks is the one halfway between Lindell and Laclede — this is the subject of today’s poll

This poll will close at 8pm tonight.

— Steve Patterson

 

Opinion: Wholesale Demolition Has Not Served St Louis Well, Yet Many Still Think It Is The Solution

May 23, 2018 Featured, Media, Planning & Design Comments Off on Opinion: Wholesale Demolition Has Not Served St Louis Well, Yet Many Still Think It Is The Solution

I applaud KMOV’s Doug Vaughn for raising questions about the appearance of the riverfront to the north & south of the Arch grounds. Yes, we can and should improve these areas.

If you’re  unfamilar, see the following three Doug Unplugged videos:

  1. Urban Decay
  2. We can preserve historic buildings and still revitalize the riverfront
  3. Clean up the eyesores

Vaughn repeatedly used the term “eyesore” which is highly subjective. It means “something unpleasant to look at”Different people can see the same thing very differently. What Vaughn views as unpleasant I see as beautiful, historic, with great potential.

While I agree a problem exists, I strongly disagree as to the best solution to solve the problem(s).

Vaughn’s proposal is tear down what exists and plant grass.  This is been St. Louis’ answer for well over a century, we’ve been tearing down our city for generations. Luther Ely Smith, who has a square named after him in front of KMOV’s building, was the one who championed the project that would erase 40 city blocks of our city’s origins. He was also instrumental in hiring Harland Bartholomew, who spent decades tearing down many hundreds pf acres of St. Louis, ignoring calls for commuter rail to the new suburbs, and making a car a requirement. Bartholomew famously miscalculated the impact of his massive tear down and rebuilding projects — population dropped rather than increase, as he had thought.

KMOV’s Doug Vaughn wants to continue generations of removing the old from view. Yet it’s the renovation of the old that we celebrate today and has been shown to boost population. Forty years ago Vaughn would’ve spoken in favor of razing Union Station  — it was such a vacant eyesore it was used in the filming of the post-apocalyptic film Escape From New York.

The beauty of Carl Milles’ work with Union Station in the background

Thirty years ago Vaughn likely would’ve advocated razing all the vacant warehouses just West of the downtown business district, the streets around these had also been in the 1981 film. Thankfully few were razed, and most have been converted into condos & apartments. It took the city investing in narrowing Washington Ave. to get long-stalled loft projects off the drawing boards and under construction. Private investors needed to see the city was committed. Once they saw the commitment, they invested.

Formerly vacant eyesores now fully occupied, Washington Ave at 16th
A 2011 interior photo of our loft, where I’ve lived for over a decade.

The North & South riverfronts have had no such commitment from the city. In fact, the city has repeatedly sent the message to investors the North riverfront is expendable. You can’t blame developers for not investing in an area the city doesn’t care about.

In one “unplugged’ segment Vaughn suggested tearing down the old elevated railroad trestles.

Doug Vaughn is obviously unaware these elevated rail lines are still in use. Yes, the auto lanes on top of the old MacArthur Bridge has been abandoned since 1981 — but the rail level is used daily by freight and Amtrak. . The bridge and elevated lines are owned by the Terminal Railroad Association — acquired in an exchange for the Eads Bridge. These rusty old trestles are part of what I love about St. Louis. Their repetition is pleasing to my eye, the shadows they cast intriguing.

Razing and planting grass hasn’t worked yet for St. Louis yet those without vision who like vinyl-clad boxes with faux “shutters” too small to cover adjacent windows continue to advocate this failed strategy. Sadly, for too long people have listened. Our city & region can’t afford to continue listening to those who espouse a tired failed strategy.

Each Sunday’s poll typically gets about 32 votes — plus or minus 20% depending upon the topic. I could tell right away the recent non-scientific Sunday Poll was being hijacked but I decided to let it go — I wanted to see how far they’d go to defend failed ideas — and I wanted the ad revenue.

Q: Agree or disagree: KMOV’s Doug Vaughn is right, the old vacant buildings on the North & South riverfront should be torn down.

  • Strongly agree 120 [65.57%]
  • Agree 23 [12.57%]
  • Somewhat agree 13 [7.1%]
  • Neither agree or disagree 2 [1.09%]
  • Somewhat disagree 3 [1.64%]
  • Disagree 7 [3.83%]
  • Strongly disagree 15 [8.2%]
  • Unsure/No Answer 0 [0%]

The vote total in 12 hours was 183 — 571% more than usual for a typical week of regular readers. Clearly someone orchestrated a campaign to get the results that support their view.

As I’ve said before, I’m not a “preservationist.” I’m an urbanist — someone who loves urban environments,  which is best when it’s a mix of old & new. The North & South riverfronts could be incredible neighborhoods — if we renovate the remaining buildings and fill in the holes with new construction. Perhaps we can organize a charrette to brainstorm a vision for these areas beyond…grass.

— Steve Patterson

 

Dead Sidewalks Won’t Come Back To Life With Overhead Walkways Gone

May 21, 2018 Downtown, Featured, Planning & Design, Walkability Comments Off on Dead Sidewalks Won’t Come Back To Life With Overhead Walkways Gone

Enclosed walkways over public sidewalks are generally a bad idea — removing pedestrians from the public realm. However, with these elevated walkways often comes the real culprits to killing sidewalk life: blank walls, inward focus, etc.

A prime example of what not to do in a downtown was downtown St. Louis’ St. Louis Centre indoor mall.

Blank walls faced the public sidewalk, under the walkways it was dark.

ABOVE: Looking east on May 27, 2010

It was 8 years ago today that a big event was held to begin the removal of the very oppressive walkway from over Washington Ave — the first step in transforming the inward-focused mall into outward-facing MX retail with the interior becoming a parking garage.

See:

 

Two other walkways have been removed in the last year, one on each side of the former Southwestern Bell headquarters, later an AT&T building on Chestnut between 9th & 10th. The walkways connected the now vacant tower, now longer owned by AT&T with an older Bell building to the West and a 90s data center to the East.

Former walkway over 9th Street, 2009 photo
Similar walkway over 10th St, also a 2009 photo

These walkways were very different than those at the former St. Louis Centre — up high, small, transparent, These allowed employees to walk to/from all 3 buildings without having to keep going through security. With AT&T’s significant reduction in the number of downtown employees the center towner became unnecessary. The tower’s new owners needed to reconfigure the tower from a single-occupany headquarters into a multi-tenant building. For them and AT&T that meant disconnecting the three buildings.

In SEptember 2017 the walkway over 9th was gone, though work remained to fill in the hole in the West side of the data center created by removing the walkway.

The exteriors are all repaired now, though all three buildings are lifeless at the sidewalk level. This us by design. The removal of these two walkways won’t have the dramatic results we’ve seen at MX.

St. Louis has systematically killed street life block by block, neighborhoods by neighborhood. Attempting to bring back vibrant sidewalks for more than a few blocks here or there is likely a waste of time at this point.

— Steve Patterson

 

Permanent Lane Shifts Can Be Problematic

May 7, 2018 Featured, Planning & Design, Transportation Comments Off on Permanent Lane Shifts Can Be Problematic

St. Louis has numerous places where, if you drive, you know the lanes shift left or right. The recent work to raise Forest Park Parkway/Ave up to be an at-grade intersection with Kingshighway added two more: WB Forest Park Ave at Euclid Ave and SB Kingshighway at Forest Park. The other day I photographed the former.

Looking East toward Forest Park & Euclid — All 3 lanes of Westbound traffic must shift top the right while crossing Euclid
Looking East from the pedestrian refuge.
The planter protecting pedestrians has been hit numerous times, the yellow markers have been added to make them more visible.

On numerous occasions I’ve been on the #10 MetroBus in the left-turn lane from SB Kingshighway onto EB Forest Park and I’ve seen cars in the center of the 3  SB Kingshighway lanes just continue straight — not shifting to the right. This puts them in the left most of 3 lanes. The problem occurs when a car is also in the left lane and shifts to the right to avoid hitting the pedestrian refuge planter — suddenly you have two vehicles wanting to occupy the same space. I’m rarely in either intersection as a motorist though I have driven both since the change was made.

I have experienced our car nearly being hit in a similar situation on EB Chippewa at Meramec. When traveling EB on Chippewa you have two EB lanes until just past Morganford Rd when only the left lane continues EB and the right lane goes off right to Meramec St. Again, on numerous occasions I’ve seen vehicles in the right lane just continue straight ahead — nearly hitting our car at least once. When I’m driving I’m aware this intersection is poorly designed — so I anticipate other drivers might not be aware of what is expected.

Back ar Forest Park and Kingshighway & Euclid the volume of cars is much higher. Both pedestrian refuge planters have been hit/damaged by vehicles. I suspect traffic accidents have been caused when a motorist doesn’t shift to the right — going straight ahead which means they’re changing lanes in the middle of an intersection.

Most drivers who regularly travel these routes will learn/remember to shift. It only takes one driver not paying attention or visitor to cause an accident or hit the planter and damage their vehicle.

How will future autonomous vehicles handle these shifts? We can and should do better in our street design!

— Steve Patterson

 

 

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