Street not Thru: The Cul-De-Sacking of St. Louis

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Street NotThru Sign

St. Louis needs a more formalized process for opening and closing streets. Closed streets should be reviewed periodically or at least by request, and closing them in the first place should take more than asking the alderman and passing a bill via aldermanic courtesy. Perhaps they should reopen by default after a certain amount of time unless reauthorized. The streets belong to the whole city; we all pay for them. They don’t belong just to the block they front. There are much better ways to calm traffic. The blockages make traffic worse overall; they don’t just move it elsewhere. #healthegrid

One closed street, the Thurman underpass, where Thurman Avenue passes under Interstate 44, has spawned a design competition. Despite some creative talent and time put into the project, it remains closed. Hopefully its days are numbered as the closure now divides two relatively prosperous neighborhoods, and the old prejudices may fail to keep barricades in place. As with many street closures in the city, this one can be easily undone. At least one person has had enough:

We see this sign too often in St. Louis. Too Many of our streets have been cut off and the street grid interrupted.
Some for highways
Some for parking
Some for stroads
Some for failed housing projects
Some for new developments
Some for pedestrian areas
Some for universities
Some for parks
Some for stadiums
Some for a national monument
The most frustrating are the ones that block otherwise passable streets.
Some are pretty
Some are bollards
Some are Jersey barriers
Some are Schoemehl pots. Named after the mayor in the 80s.
Most of them are in neighborhoods. They came to be out of fear and desperation. Fear of thru traffic. Fear of scarce parking. Fear of crime. Fear of outsiders, fear of the next block over. The street grid best absorbs and distributes traffic. It best supports multimodal transportation. It creates the best platform for wealth creation. It provides the most eyes on the street. It permits the most flexibility in adjacent land use. It evolved over the centuries all over the world for these reasons. The hierarchical street structure developed in order to make car-oriented places. The cul-de-sacking of St. Louis hasn’t solved our problems. It’s given us the worst of both worlds- streets that don’t go thru and stroads that can’t handle peak traffic volumes all at a high cost. Removing most of them just takes courage and choosing to have an open city. Let’s heal the grid. #healthegrid

For more on the value of the street grid see this video from

Streets Not Through_Analysis of the Blockages and Barricades to the St. Louis Street Network by

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  • marcelj

    I read the piece in The Atlantic Cities (and the research it cited), which provided food for thought as to cul-de-sacs’ effect on community cohesiveness. For me, though, the bigger issue is traffic. When a residential street reaches the point at which the speed and volume of through traffic make it a frightening, and potentially dangerous, environment for the children and the elderly who live on it, there is a limit to how much can be achieved by traffic-calming measures. I take on board the general point that decisions should be periodically reviewed, but I’m not sure that it would make much sense in this case. If traffic increases (uniformly) in a city, it strengthens the case for keeping a road closed, while if it decreases, the capacity of alternative routes should suffice.

  • guest

    jesus, you people act like this is the cure for cancer. closing a street should be up to the residents of that street. it is a crime deterrent. you seem to imply that fear of crime is ridiculous. im not sure why fear of physical or emotional trauma is something to scoff at and why residents should put traffic flow on main roads ahead of their personal well-being.

    oh, and the reason that traffic in the grove sucks is because BJC keeps growing (and its employees discovered a southerly route out of work during the 40 rebuild a couple of years ago) and because the neighborhood is coming back. streets closed at one end have a very small impact, at best. of course, the underlying problem is a poor transit system, but you knew that.

    by the way, traffic in the neighborhood really only sucks from about 7-9 am and 4-6 pm…other than that, the Grove and St Louis as a whole is probably one of the easiest and quickest cities in the country to navigate by car

    • rgbose

      No, it’s no a cure all. There’s no such thing as a silver bullet. It’s a third tier issue that few politicians are willing to spend political capital on, so we’re trying to raise its profile here.

      No, it shouldn’t be up to a few loud residents on a block because the effects are felt more widely. A reader had a great idea which is it should be like getting a liquor license where proponents should have to get signatures from property owners, residents, and business operators within a certain distance of the closure.

      No I don’t imply fear of crime is ridiculous, I’m pointing out that fear of crime as motivation a long time ago for a closure doesn’t justify the closure enduring forever.

      “it is a crime deterrent” Do you have any scholarly work on that? I’d be interested in reading it. I can see how a closed block lowers drive-by shootings or drive-thru drug dealing, but I’d bet it’s more appealing to a burglar or mugger. Tower Grove South has few of these, Shaw has a lot. Can anyone comment on types and rates of crime correlating to the closed streets?

      We’re planning on a diet for Delmar east of Des Peres. Residents in the West End neighborhood cried citing worse traffic on Delmar. I think that’s bunk anyways seeing Delmar during evening rush, but if they’d open up some of the streets in the West End their traffic flow would be better.

  • Barry Williams

    I’m a longtime resident of St. Louis’ Ward 17 and member of the Park Central Development Corporation’s Central West End Infrastructure Committee. I formerly served as the executive director of the Central West End Association and as a research analyst to Mayor Clarence Harmon. The Post-Dispatch published a letter of mine on this subject 3 months ago (Dec. 12, 2013). The letter follows. The opinion expressed is my own.
    Dear Editor:

    Those familiar with St. Louis’ busy Kingshighway-Manchester intersection know how dysfunctional it has become, especially during peak traffic periods. This is due in part to the closing of five residential streets at Kingshighway at the request of some Forest Park Southeast residents.

    Over time, Cadet, Wichita, Oakland, and Arco avenues and Old Kingshighway Blvd. have been closed at Kingshighway, forcing neighborhood traffic to funnel through the overburdened Kingshighway-Manchester intersection. Previously, this traffic flowed equally among the aforementioned streets, imposing little burden on any one of them. This is the genius of old-city street grids and one of the attractions of city living. Grid systems move traffic efficiently … and egalitarianly.

    To ease traffic congestion at Kingshighway-Manchester, I hope the neighborhood will agree to reopen Oakland at Kingshighway and restore a short street connection near the Lambskin Temple to allow northbound local traffic to enter Old Kingshighway from Kingshighway.

    A small number of residents who live closest to these street closures will likely oppose this idea, but most Forest Park Southeast residents would benefit from restoring the original grid and the decentralized traffic flows it offered. The planners who built this neighborhood a century ago knew what they were doing.

    Barry Williams

  • STLExplorer

    I live in FPSE and use Alleys when I drive around the neighborhood. It’s less than ideal. Occasionally you’ll see tracks through side yards where people have just driven around the barricaded intersections. During recent periods of heavy snow, blocked streets have made it nearly impossible for people to escape their protected blocks. Drug dealers hang out at some of the blocked intersections knowing that they can run toward whichever side of the street the cops aren’t on (you can hear the ATV cops coming so they aren’t much of a deterrent – luckily the bike cops are pretty effective regardless of street closures). Also, people rarely come to complete stops at stop signs, making the area dangerous for pedestrians. There are a lot of bad side effects that come along with these streets that aren’t thru.

  • Eric4364

    Not sure I agree. There are some studies that suggest cul-de-sacs are better for building community among the street’s residents. Meanwhile, in suburban areas, cul-de-sacs make pedestrian navigation extremely difficult because there are no direct walking paths. However, most of the dead-ends in the city allow pedestrians to walk through. So you get both the possibly stronger community, and the easy pedestrian navigation. You increase traffic on the remaining through streets, but with the city’s declining population few of these actually have a capacity problem.

    • Alex Ihnen

      Here’s that study:

      And my response (from Facebook): That’s is an interesting study, but obviously doesn’t address a wide range of issues, even sociological ones. The more homogeneous and self-selected a group is, the more cohesive one might expect it to be. This doesn’t mean it’s a social good, not to mention the non-sociological impacts. There are some small cul-de-sacs that remain pretty well connected to their surroundings. Check out Alta Dena Court in University City – two sidewalks connect to adjacent neighborhood, and it’s a small cul-de-sac (~12 homes). There’s Gurney Court and Heger Court in the city, and Shaw Place. Perhaps places like Compton Heights and University Heights and Parkview are hybrids that seem to work well.

    • rgbose

      I’m interested in any scholarly work on the subject. Do closed streets reduce crime? They can stop drive-thru drug dealing. That’s why 4500 Oakland is closed. I’ve heard the argument that they make crime worse because a criminal only has to worry about being seen from one direction (easier to defend one flank instead of two) and can escape both, while a car cannot follow through the barricade.
      What about emergency response time?
      The lower traffic claim. They double the local traffic since a car entering the block has to go to the other end and come back, if there is no driveway to turn around in. They stop thru traffic of course. I fear if one street is opened, traffic spikes, and people freak out and don’t want to open more, when had they opened multiple the new traffic would have been spread out.

      • T-Leb

        The insistence on scholarly work is not different than a forum monster saying CITE YOUR SOURCE… are you trying to engage discussion or shut it down? Communities are not studied in a vacuum. Are you honestly looking for soft science studies?

        • rgbose

          Not trying to shut down anything. I hear the crime reduction claim every time I bring tup the subject. I think the claim is coming from emotion rather than results.

    • STLEnginerd

      My gut tells me you are right on some level. For instance in the CWE there were certainly reasons to close some streets at the height of the 1980s and 1990s. Crime deterrence superseded accessibility. The neighborhood had to be stabilized to be saved.

      RG has a strong argument that things change and currently there is strong reasons to open some of those streets again. So a review process for street closures is a valid request. And the review should not be controlled by one alderman.