KMOV investigates road diet in The Grove: “What’s being done to give the drivers a break?”

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KMOV has found an intersection in St. Louis where traffic backs up and wants to know, "What's being done to give the drivers a break." An offending sidewalk, a single bump-out is targeted; it "eliminates an entire lane of traffic," the news report states. The report mentions the larger streetscape project and yet fails utterly to understand the project and the bump-out. (KMOV video below)

According to a KMOV story, the sidewalk in The Grove is "wider than normal" and some people in cars don't seem to like it. The new Manchester Avenue streetscape project has been highlighted on this website several times and may most closely resemble Manchester Avenue in downtown Maplewood when finished. Manchester between Vandeventer and Kingshighway, and area known as The Grove is being reduced from four traffic lanes to two with a center turn lane.

The bump-out is the point where four traffic lanes are reduced to two. The only effect it has is that that there aren't four full traffic lanes for the first 104 feet west of Taylor Avenue, only for for the remaining 800 feet approaching Kingshighway. Taylor Avenue to the north and south of Manchester and Manchester to the east are all two lanes. The issue, if there is one, is that the lanes have not been adequately restriped.


{design schematic for Manchester-Taylor intersection)

It's a little difficult to discern the issue drivers may have with this, other than the seemingly insatiable demand for more traffic lanes. Eliminating the bump-out and wider sidewalk at this point would do nothing to alleviate traffic back ups. But someone other than those driving must be to blame for there being so many people driving that they can't travel uninterrupted across St. Louis.

There's always a balance to be sought between accommodating commuters in cars and residents in city neighborhoods, through which commuters pass, but the City isn't built to serve cars above all other interests. St. Louis has subordinated its built environment to the automobile, and doing so has not benefited the city.

There's even a budding awareness, in some limited circles, that people sometimes choose to live in cities, and even walk in that same city. The idea appears to be taking hold in the City Street Department as well. Director Todd Waelterman is quoted as saying, "If you have a wide open area, you tend to put the pedal to the medal. By doing this [lane restriction]…you slow down." Todd Waelterman and the City of St. Louis get it.

The South Grand and Manchester Avenue projects are exactly the type of things St. Louis should be doing to make the city more livable and not just a high speed pass-through for commuters. On the other hand, the city's history, and ongoing willingness, to close streets sets up inevitably worse traffic patterns.


{blue highlights two-lane Taylor and Manchester Avenues, yellow highlights four-lane Manchester, red marker is point of bump-out and lane reduction}

Why does traffic back up on Manchester Avenue at Kingshighway at evening rush hour? The simple answer is that it's rush hour. We can't and shouldn't build roads to accommodate the added demand for the peak period of each day. Kingshighway is a major north-south arterial road in St. Louis, carrying in excess of 50,000 vehicles every day. The priority is to keep traffic moving on Kingshighway itself, resulting in traffic backing up on side streets.

But there's a simple systematic reason that traffic builds at specific, if limited, intersections across the city. We have systematically closed city streets over and over again. One closure leads to another. Some are more structural than others. The rail line defining the south side of Forest Park Southeast has been a barrier for well over a century. Interstate 64 to the north resulted in more closed streets. Then Oakland was closed at Kingshighway. Bethold no longer goes through to Macklind to the west. Wichita is a cul-de-sac. Clayton Avenue west is an on-ramp for Kingshighway.

As a large number of commuters leave the Washington University/Barnes-Jewish Medical Center, they find Euclid is closed, dead-ending Scott Avenue, Children's Place and Duncan Avenue from the east and Children's Place and Parkview Avenue from the west. Drivers are funneled to Forest Park Avenue, Kingshighway, or through the Forest Park Southeast neighborhood.


{red highlights closed streets, green highlights driver options for accessing Kingshighway}

We're then told by drivers that the remaining roads are too busy…and sidewalks are to blame. It's a traffic pyramid scheme. And that's a news story. Why have we been, or should we be so reluctant to claim our own neighborhoods? The homes, the parks, the gardens, the sidewalks and the streets?

This video via Strong Towns is for entertainment purposes only. At least in the case of Manchester Avenue, the city streets department understands the issue. Enjoy…

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