South Grand Great Streets to Test Reduced Traffic Lanes: Premise Sets Stage for Failure

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Yesterday, East-West Gateway in coordination with St. Louis City began a 30-day test to evaluate reduced traffic lanes and improved pedestrian amenities on South Grand Avenue between Arsenal and Juniata. This appears to be the favored alternative of residents of the Tower Grove neighborhood, and testing the local preference would appear to be a good idea. The problem is made clear to anyone reading the St. Louis Great Streets Initiative press release:

The goals of the South Grand Great Streets project are to improve pedestrian safety while maintaining traffic flow… If the 30-day test shows that the lane reduction will not handle the traffic volumes adequately, the project will keep the existing four-lane configuration…

Why? Why not only add back the two lanes of traffic if and only if the enhanced pedestrian experience offered by fewer traffic lanes can be maintained? Why isn’t the pedestrian realm protected as the default?

The presented options for a new South Grand streetscape all offer a more pedestrian friendly environment than what currently exists. But given the premise that pedestrian amenities can be maximized only if traffic flow is maintained, greatly reduces the chance that the final decision will be made in favor of the pedestrian. How will it be decided if traffic flow has been maintained or if this portion of South Grand can “handle the traffic volumes adequately.” Traffic is relative and I can guarantee that two lanes on South Grand can handle the traffic volumes adequately.

Planning “Great Streets” for pedestrians as long as it doesn’t negatively affect traffic is a bit like designing unique and interesting architecture as long as it doesn’t negatively affect the cost of the building. When will St. Louis find an advocate for pedestrians instead of cars? In the end, providing an environment for people requires a policy choice and not a traffic study.

For additional information on the 30-day test, you can contact the South Grand Project Hotline at (314)776-2423 or visit St. Louis Great Streets Initiative.

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