Delmar Road Diet is Key to Vibrant East Loop

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Loop Trolley - St. Louis, MO
{Delmar in the East Loop envisioned with two traffic lanes and median streetcar}

The idea is being floated to give Delmar Blvd from Des Peres to DeBaliviere a diet. In order to maintain four lanes of traffic along with the trolley several stretches of street parking would be sacrificed. Reducing Delmar to two lanes like it is to the west would keep the street parking. As it is this part of Delmar most of the time has little traffic and motorists often drive too fast. Neither promotes the pedestrian experience that the community would like to extend from the west.

During rush hour westbound traffic backs up due to the reduction of lanes at Des Peres. With the already planned reduction of DeBaliviere fears are mounting. With population declines and good mass transit coverage how can this be? One only need look at a map to see why congestion increases quickly. So many streets have been closed or one-wayed that cars that otherwise wouldn’t be on the major streets must spend more time on them. This funneling overwhelms our bigger streets, and they cannot cope. Take a look at historicaerials.com to see how the street grid was complete back in 1958.

Loop closed streets 2-4 lane
{two lane Delmar = yellow, four lane Delmar = blue, DeBaliviere converting 4-2 lanes = orange, blocked streets = red marks}

My recommendations for the area: 1. (Free) Stripe Delmar for two lanes for a few months. When the world doesn’t end and traffic adjusts, keep it. 2. (Low cost) Open up some streets so that local traffic spends less time on the major streets. 3. (Expensive) Break up some of the super-blocks with new streets. 4. (Expensive) Connect Olive to the streetcar right-of-way and make a new east-west two lane road akin to Vernon in University City.

The one thing we should stop doing is configuring our streetscape solely for easy car movement. St Louis has been doing that for decades and the results are obvious. If we want the dynamism of The Loop to the west to extend to the east this diet is necessary. Many now realize that the best long-term planning decision ever made in the West Loop was removing traffic lanes and widening sidewalks. To thrive, the East Loop needs the same.

Loop Trolley - St. Louis, MO
{the East Loop segment of Delmar is ready for a road diet}

Loop Trolley - St. Louis, MO
{DeBaliviere from Lindell to Delmar is being narrowed for the Trolley and greenway}

Loop Trolley - St. Louis, MO
{a narrowed Delmar and DeBaliviere would be essential for redevelopment of existing Metro garage}

Loop Trolley - St. Louis, MO
{substantial infill, as envisioned here for DeBaliviere could fit with a narrowed Delmar}

Loop Trolley - St. Louis, MO
{Delmar in the East Loop as it appears today}

Loop Trolley - St. Louis, MO
{Delmar in the East Loop with the addition of median Loop Trolley}

Loop Trolley - St. Louis, MO
{streetscaping and infill could help change the experience of the East Loop}

Loop Trolley - St. Louis, MO
{removing traffic lanes and extended pedestrian space is the key to a vibrant East Loop}

Skinker-DeBaliviere Neighborhood Urban Design Plan Public Meeting Presentation (St. Louis) by nextSTL

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  • greencat

    Nice! Is space too tight to squeeze a bike lane into these plans? Opening up the gird in the DeBaliviere neighborhood could help alleviate some of the rush hour congestion on Forest Park Parkway as well.

    • Richard Bose

      DeBaliviere will have them when the greenway comes. There is talk of putting then into the neighborhood plan for Skinker and Des Peres. Doesn’t look like it’s there for Delmar. We’ll bring it up at next meeting Mar 26 at Crossroads

      • http://twitter.com/eee_eff Erich Friesen

        The bike lanes issue was brought up by several at the March 26 meeting; note the repeated statement was that the bike lanes need to be protected and separate from the car traffic, and tied into the larger network of bike lanes being developed in the city.

  • Presbyterian

    Love it. I drive that stretch frequently. The only reason to have four lanes is to allow buses to stop without blocking traffic. That need, however, can be accommodated easily enough through bump-ins at bus stops or other means.

    I also agree about opening up streets. I understand that Skinker-DeBaliviere residents needed to address the perception of crime decades ago, and hence the blocked streets. But now that the neighborhood is safe, those blocked streets only communicate to outsiders that it’s a high crime area going to crazy lengths to insulate themselves from their city. (The reality couldn’t be further from the truth!) Opening up the streets will fix that problem and restore the natural urban traffic flow.

    Thank you.

    • Richard Bose

      It’s tough. People get very nervous when the idea is floated. No one wants to be the first block to open. The one that gets the most talk is Des Peres at Delmar, but there is much trepidation. I would suggest opening Rosedale two-way form Waterman to Washington as a first step, that way people on the 6100 blocks can reach Waterman to access Skinker to make a left with a light. Maintaining the one-ways would prevent E-W thru traffic. Maybe they could go for that.

      • Presbyterian

        It’s understandable. I’d think a natural way to begin would be open up internal blockages wihin the neighborhood (like Rosedale, like you mention). You could also open up some perimeter streets as one way exits from the neighborhood. If major problems don’t arise, then you’d have the infrastructure in place to experiment with some full perimeter openings.

        The good news is that Skinker-DeBaliviere today has such internal health (after decades of work) — and its surrounding neighborhoods (DeBaliviere Place, Kingsbury Square, East Loop) have seen such rebirth — that the added improvements associated with the Loop trolley will make it feel much easier than if we were gaving this discussion 25 years ago. It’s a lot easier to take down a fence when the neighbors are friendly.

      • onecity

        The blockades make it such a pain in the ass to explore or enter these neighborhoods that I avoid them altogether if there are other equal options on the table. The hassle created by the blockades makes me feel unwelcome. It isn’t a parking issue, BTW (that said, the private streets could stand to be un-privated so less de-densifying surface parking is needed). Walking a few blocks is not a deterrent. But getting needlessly routed around in circles to get to where you think you are trying to go, being told that you can’t park on a completely empty “private” street that still appears to be part of the street grid, getting locked into a one-way that offers no sane way out…it’s total crap and it belongs back in the 1890s/1980s or whatever dated-thinking time warp it came from.

        • Richard Bose

          Agreed, they went overboard. The sense I get from the old-timers is that crime was rampant and desperation high. Mayor Schoemehl lived on one of the blocks and they say even it was really bad.
          Correct me if I’m wrong, are any of the streets in Skinky-D or the West End nabes actually private (That is owned by property owners, not the city)?

          • onecity

            I’m not sure what you mean by private streets not being owned by the property owners – if that’s the case wouldn’t it be pretty easy to end the private status of them? There are too many gated streets in those areas to keep track of. In short I don’t know. Do you mean West End or CWE? I thought West End was pretty much the area immediately north of the East Loop.

          • Richard Bose

            Private to me means not owned and maintained by the city like Portland Place and Westmoreland Place. From what I can tell none of the streets in Skinky-D and the West End nabes are private. Am I missing something?

          • Presbyterian

            Not to my knowledge … unless perhaps the streets in the Kingsbury Square development (Leon Strauss and Pantheon, c. 1980) are private. I don’t seem to recall their being private, though.

  • David Stokes

    As the 5th commenter touched on, solution # 2 would be difficult because many of the blocked streets in the general area are private streets. City governments have no authority to compel the opening of those roads. Nor can a city just take over the road without approval from the residents of the neighborhood along it.

  • John R

    “Many now realize that the best long-term planning decision ever made in the West Loop was removing traffic lanes and widening sidewalks.” How long ago did this happen in the west loop?

    • Richard Bose

      The sidewalks were widened east of Skinker in 2002.

  • John

    Alleviate traffic by allowing cars to cut through my neighborhood (Washington Ave./ Rosedale)? I don’t think so. There is a definite fight here if this is on the board. Opening up the small neighborhood streets to cut through traffic is a horrible idea for the residents and property values. People speed through on Delmar and will do the same on our neighborhood streets. Stay on Delmar, at least our kids will be safe. If Delmar gets congested let people find alternative routes, just not our single family house neighborhoods. Otherwise, Delmar plan looks good.

    • Alex Ihnen

      ^ It seems you successful wrapped every failed notion of cities, safety and traffic into six sentences. Neighborhoods and cities suffer from dead end streets and suburban traffic patterns. The status quo hasn’t served St. Louis well. Narrower streets, and a street grid, help calm traffic. Slower traffic is safer, more eyes on the street is safer. I hope in the coming decade we can begin to reverse the wrong-headed notions that have led us to believe every residential street in the city would be cut off from its surroundings.

      • http://twitter.com/eee_eff Erich Friesen

        John is actually on the right track; S-D has been transformed by the traffic calming that has been implemented. The success of the S-D neighborhood speaks for itself.

        Traffic calming can be implemented in many ways but the diagonal diverters implemented in S-D are one: http://trafficcalming.org/volume-control/diagonal-diverters/

        I realize that there are other methods of traffic calming, and the diverters should be maintained and developed in a more aesthetic way, but they have worked very well, and S-D property values have been very stable.

        We need more protected bike lanes, separated from car traffic. That is where our resources should be spent, not providing more roads and options for cars.

  • http://twitter.com/eee_eff Erich Friesen

    I support the road diet on Delmar–it is necessary to make that a
    vibrant and liveable community space. It is a testament to the enormous potential of the East Loop that, even in the very difficult economy we face, it continues to thrive, grow and change for the better.

    However, even though many excellent points are made, it needs to be restated that neighborhoods are just a little more than road networks for cars, but are places for people to live, and for communities to grow.

    Having that perspective, I cannot agree with the one suggestion that is made:

    “2. (Low cost) Open up some streets so that local traffic spends less time on the major streets.”

    The streets were closed to prevent non-local traffic from going through Skinker-DeBaliviere. How would non-local traffic be prevented from going through Skinker-DeBaliviere unless the streets were closed?

    The neighborhoods in Skinker-DeBaliviere have developed and maintained their cohesiveness, in part, precisely because of the low amount of non-local car traffic going through the neighborhood. This effect is described here: http://vimeo.com/16399180

    (Note the diagonal diverter in the background in the interview, just like the ones we have in S-D.)

    Also, it is NOT the case that local traffic goes outside of the S-D grid to go to local destinations. Neighbors do often: Walk, Bike or drive using the alleys, which we all know how to navigate. Opening the streets would make walking and, especially, biking less safe.

    The fact that all S-D residents know how to use the alley network to get around, whereas outsiders don’t, really is a feature, not a bug. Sure, they can occasionally be a pain, but nothing compared to the pain of a lot of non-local traffic going through the neighborhood.

    When I lived on the 6100 block of Washington, I noticed that the non-local traffic going through the 6100 block of Westminster (to get through to DesPeres and points East) was very fast, sometimes 40 or even 50 mph. There is no reason to think that if the streets were opened up the non-local traffic on Washington, Kingsbury or McPherson would be more well-behaved than the non-local traffic I observed on 6100 Westminster. (Some traffic calming, by the way should occur on that block, hope that gets in the plan)

    So, thanks for the ideas about Delmar, but I don’t think the changes to the internal road networks that you are suggesting would be beneficial.

    • Alex Ihnen

      IMO – closing and altering streets can have a positive affect on specific neighborhoods but are detrimental to a city.

      • http://twitter.com/eee_eff Erich Friesen

        I am doubtful that something can harm a city when it increases the vibrancy of a neighborhood. If all of Saint Louis’s neighborhoods were in the shape that S-D is in now, we’d have very little problems.

        The way to get there is probably to really complete the greenway system, and have network of bike-able and walkable paths throughout the city, so it can densify.

        • Presbyterian

          I’m not so sure the street closures are making S-D vibrant. When I go down DesPeres Avenue, the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood feels like a neglected inner city slum with commercial corner buildings that have either been boarded-up or bulldozed. That’s what happens over time when an Avenue linking the Loop and Forest Park is converted into a suburban-style cul-de-sac. While residential streets have gentrified, the central avenue through the neighborhood will never come back to life until it becomes a real avenue again. Then you’ll see the corners rebuilt or renovated with bookstores and antique stores and neighborhood cafes. That’s what vibrant will look like. But the cost is an open street.

          • john

            No… East Loop is proof that opening a neighborhood to through traffic is not necessary for development of a main thorough-fare (Delmar). Delmar continues its development to the east from Skinker without the opening of closed neighborhood streets. I guess the question to “Presbyterian” is, do you and your family want to live in a neighborhood or a thorough-fare? Then you can go rent in that neighborhood.