South Grand Traffic Lane Reduction Experiment Likely to Stay Until Permanent Work Begins

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If you’ve been following the Urban Workshop you know that East-West Gateway has led an effort to transform South Grand Avenue from Arsenal to Utah. Public workshops were held and residents in the area loudly stated their desire for a more pedestrian-friendly South Grand. A 30-day test lane reduction began September 8 and remains in place.

The test barricades and re-striped traffic lanes have been so successful in creating a better pedestrian environment that they will likely remain in place until work is started next summer. This success, defined by East-West Gateway partially as the ability to maintain traffic flow while also enhancing the pedestrian experience took some by surprise.

The most interesting idea to come from the experiment has been raised by Rick Bonasch at STL Rising In part, Rick states, “The concrete barriers and restriping create an immediate, noticeable change. It makes a statement: “We’re gonna do something to clam traffic around here, and we’re gonna do it now. We’re not waiting for millions of dollars from somewhere else, we can do this now.” Why not do as Rick suggests? Not every street in St. Louis is going to get $2.7M in stimulus funding. Our city is oh-so-fond of using highway barricades and sewer planters to close streets, so why not use them in this way too?

Now The Architects Newspaper (a trade publication for “architects, designers, engineers, landscape architects, lighting designers, interior designers, academics, developers, contractors, and other parties interested in the built urban environment”) has the story about improvements on South Grand and staying power of the experiment. The full story can be read here. The bold text below is my own emphasis.

“The overall notion of the ‘Great Streets’ project is to use these sites as demonstration projects to illustrate the concept of ‘complete streets,’” said Kurt Culbertson of Design Workshop in Aspen, Colorado and principal landscape architect for two of the four projects.

The new design reduces four traffic lanes to three, changes the timing of traffic lights, adds curb “bulb-outs” to reduce the amount of yardage pedestrians need to cross from 56 to 40 feet, and increases lighting and landscaping. About $2.7 million in federal stimulus funds have been awarded for the work.

….

South Grand, the test site, is a busy street lined with restaurants and shops. But traffic, signage, and aging infrastructure are a problem. Drivers routinely speed, and the street saw 80 accidents and one pedestrian death in the first eight months of 2009

Alderman Steve Conway, whose ward is on the east side of the street, said the results of the mock test have been positive, with public feedback about ten-to-one in favor. “I was concerned about getting 25,000 cars a day through at Grand and Arsenal,” he said. “And now, we’re getting the cars through, and we’ve slowed the traffic.”

One of the problems is that commuters tend to use Grand as a thoroughfare rather than a destination, said Terry Freeland, manager of corridor studies for East-West Gateway. “Is it to serve the neighborhoods and the businesses, or is it to help people get through the area as quickly as possible?” Freeland said. “The idea here is to try to balance those two needs.”

The four Great Streets projects include South Grand, Natural Bridge, Front Street in Labadie and Manchester Road in west St. Louis County. I’m not sure why a landscape architect from Aspen, CO is being used on this project, and another, instead of a local firm. That’s not to say anything about the work being done on this project, but the stated goal of the Great Streets Initiative is to “trigger economic and social benefits for communities by centering them around interesting, lively and attractive streets that serve all modes of transportation.” Wouldn’t contracting with a local firm have helped trigger economic benefit for our community?


{a view of the test barricades on South Grand}

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