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How St. Louis is Allowing MoDOT and the 85th Percentile Rule to Kill Gravois

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Gravois feature

If the city street in front of your home were posted with a 35MPH speed limit would you feel safe? If one of every seven vehicles on the street travelled faster than 47MPH would you be OK letting your children play on the sidewalk or cross the street?

If the traffic on the city street through your neighborhood routinely traveled 46MPH in a 30MPH zone, would you enjoy walking to a restaurant, or feel comfortable parallel parking at a business on the street?

St. Louis is creating dead zones in the city, places with no economic role, streets that decrease adjacent property value and hurt the city’s economy. City leaders are either unable or unwilling to serve the interests of the city and its residents.

We have written extensively about plans for Gravois Avenue, initial acquiescence by city officials and alderman, community engagement, and MoDOT’s willingness to listen and modify its plan. What we didn’t have was the raw information with which MoDOT was basing design decisions. Now, with MoDOT’s Gravois speed study, it’s more obvious that it’s time for the City of St. Louis to re-take ownership of its streets.

Gravois Avenue, among other city streets, is maintained and administered by the Missouri Department of Transportation. This means that the streets inherently serve a statewide purpose. This means that the role of the street is to move as many vehicles as quickly as possible through the City of St. Louis.

The city has been happy with this arrangement as it means that MoDOT money pays for paving, lights, and other infrastructure. However, this “savings” continues to cost the city.

How and why? MoDOT and the City of St. Louis have been planning the repaving and reconfiguration of the almost six-mile long Gravois Avenue from the city limits to I-44 just south of downtown. MoDOT has approached this project as MoDOT approaches projects, applying its standard traffic engineering process.

What this means in a practical sense is that MoDOT conducted a speed study to assess whether there is a need to change any of the existing speed limits along eight segments of Gravois. Five of these segments are currently signed at 30MPH, three at 35MPH.

How does MoDOT determine the correct speed limit? It uses a standard traffic engineering standard known as the 85th percentile. This measurement relies on drivers to set the speed limit. The speed of traffic is measured and it is assumed that the speed 85% of all drivers do not exceed is the correct speed limit. This is often referred to as the “rational” speed limit, meaning rational for drivers who are passing through.

MPH segments graph

There is a practical reason for such as standard. On an open highway it can be assumed that a large majority of drivers will travel at a speed at which they feel is safe, for themselves. Setting the speed limit at that speed is practical. It is assumed that there will always be some drivers (15% or so) who will drive above any posted limit.

Setting a speed limit artificially low creates its own problems. If an open highway is signed at 40MPH a few drivers would travel at the legal speed, but many more would travel at the speed which is comfortable to them. This is why simply changing the speed limit on a road is often not a good way to increase safety.

But what works on an Interstate, or rural highway does not work on an urban street. There are, or should be, considerations in addition to traffic speed and capacity. Does the street design support adjacent property values? Does it support adjacent businesses? Does it support a safe, walkable neighborhood? Does it encourage greater pedestrian activity? Has it increased or decreased tax revenue?

The 85th percentile rule is a terrible way to determine the speed limit of a urban street. Though perhaps this is the argument, whether Gravois through south city is an urban street. It was once. Then everyone bought a car, then two, and drivers demanded that more space be given to them, and that they be given access to wherever, whenever they chose. Cities often acquiesced in the name of progress, or from fear of upsetting drivers.

By signing on to the MoDOT Gravois plan, the City of St. Louis and the aldermen through whose wards Gravois crosses, have failed the city and its residents. The city should initiate a strategic plan now that would reclaim management of its streets, allowing them to serve the city and its businesses and residents first.

What the MoDOT speed study shows is incredible and depressing. Every segment measured (16 total including east and west bound lanes) found 1-in-7 drivers exceeding the speed limit by at least 20%. The worst was the westbound segment from Kingshighway to Morganford where more than 1-in-7 drivers exceeded the posted 30MPH speed limit by 53%. This means they were traveling at 46MPH or faster. This stretch is lined with commercial storefronts and single-family home neighborhoods. This stretch is primarily in the 13th Ward of Alderwoman Beth Murphy. Gravois also crosses the 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 12th, 14th, 15th, 20th, 25th Wards.

Grand to Jefferson{Gravois from Jefferson to Grand: signed 35MPH, 85th percentile 43MPH eastbound, 46MPH westbound}

Other speed measurements show more than 1-in-7 eastbound drivers from Hampton to Kingshighway driving 44 in a 30MPH zone, or 47% above the posted limit. The number for eastbound Kingshighway-Morganford and westbound Chippewa-Gustine exceeds 40%, with eight other segments exceeding 30%.

What this means is that drivers are consistently exceeding posted speed limits on Gravois. What this means to MoDOT, using the 85th percentile rule, is that speed limits should not be decreased. What this should mean for the City of St. Louis, aldermen, business owners and residents, is that the street should be designed to slow traffic.

A vehicle traveling at 47MPH, which more than 1-in-7 are doing along Gravois from Jefferson to Russell, is simply not going to come to a stop for a pedestrian in a crosswalk. If 15% of vehicles are moving at 47MPH or faster, no pedestrian, bicyclist, or person in a wheelchair will feel safe.

Morganford to Kingshighway{Gravois from Morganford to Kingshighway: signed 30MPH, 85th percentile 43MPH eastbound, 46MPH westbound (top image show streetview)}

The 85th percentile is a guideline that can accept addition inputs. These, however, are all focused on drivers and not the city, economics, or residents. Factors that can lead to a lower speed limit are the vehicle accident rate, a high number of driveways, consistent presence of pedestrians without a sidewalk, and street parking.

MoDOT’s conclusion from the speed study is that the posted speed limits should remain the same along the entire stretch of Gravois. Again, the department’s process allows no input of the impact of that speed on the homes, businesses, community, and residents. That’s not going to change. What can change is for the city to take ownership, in reality or in action, of its streets.

To highlight another shortcoming of the current planning process, current configurations along Gravois call for unprotected bike lanes next to traffic that routine exceeds 40MPH. This is absolute lunacy. This is something any traffic engineer, let alone a bicycle-pedestrian coordinator (which the City of St. Louis recently hired), should reject.

But the painted bike lanes on Gravois aren’t really made for bikes. They’re simply something to do with left over space after painting traffic, parking, and turn lane widths to a standard size. Nothing other than a protected bike lane, separated from 40MPH traffic, makes sense.

It’s obvious that actually changing the curb-to-curb width would be an expensive endeavor. Not only does MoDOT not want to impede the flow of traffic, it doesn’t have the funds, and won’t directly see the reward, of a drastically altered Gravois. The City of St. Louis should take the lead.

With control of Gravois, the city could create a TIF for the corridor to pay for infrastructure improvements as property values increase and businesses thrive. The city could explore functional bike routes (anyone remember Bike St. Louis?) instead of having painted lanes appear and disappear alongside speeding traffic.

As some neighborhood downtowns (and inner ring suburb downtowns) are making a comeback, the historic commercial districts up and down Gravois suffer. The potential to replicate downtown Maplewood, The Grove, or South Grand exists along several stretches. This is the potential that only the city can act upon.

For all the criticism and energy aimed at MoDOT since the initial plan to close many city streets, it’s the city that bears the responsibility of creating a great place to live and do business. As long as it chooses to allow others, with other priorities and processes bias against urban areas, to plan our city, our places will continue to fail.

[Gravois Avenue project graphic with posted speed limits and recorded 85th percentile speeds]

 

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  • neroden

    It should honestly be possible to sue MoDOT for endangering the lives of pedestrians by encouraging fast automobiles on a city street. And win.

    • Db

      Lol. This is the silliest thing I’ve heard in a while. Sue a state agency for people speeding on a city own road. Judge would be amused for about 3.7 seconds

      • Alex Ihnen

        It won’t happen, however, we can sue carmakers for making an unsafe vehicle, companies for producing unsafe food or other products. Those all involve consumer choice but do not absolve the producer of responsibility. This is part of a larger conversation that is starting nationally, in which people regard traffic deaths as “accidents” or simple user error. We see 30,000+ die on our roads each year, more than 800 in Missouri and kind of shrug and say “user error”.

        It’s impossible to image a product (or a disease) that people die using with such frequency not being recalled or being declared a crisis. But for many reasons people dying while driving or riding in a car is just the cost of being able drive places.

        • DB

          It’s not a crisis because it’s not sexy for the media to cover but there are many people who take each death personally and have dedicated their careers to find ways to reduce it.
          MO used to be at 1300 decade ago and last year more miles were driven than ever and it’s down to 800. Good progress is being made.

          Right solution is going to be a mix of safer roads/cars and increased use of public transportation. Even if we tripe the amount of people using transit, we will still have 85% driving.

  • MO4freedom

    Thanks for the awareness jolt. You can bet state involvement in local issues is a huge problem across the board and MUST be fought in terms of overreach through state agencies. BTW, St.Louis needs a constitutionally literate challenger! He’s been in for far too long and the damages are obvious!

  • Alex Ihnen

    Unsurprisingly, most of the comments are about moving traffic. The thing that struck me about the speed study is that 1-in-7 cars are traveling at 47mph in some stretches with businesses, schools, and homes. This is insane.

    • Db

      Drove down Gravois last few days from Southampton. I would says 3 of 7 were going 45 at least. I was going 40 and getting constantly passed. First trip was Sunday at 5:30 pm to hodaks. And this morning at 6:30am

  • Cara

    As one of the Alderman mentioned here, representing Ward 20, I am not apathetic nor enthusiastic about this project. I was notified my MODOT within days of the meeting that there would even be a meeting, with no direct communication about the plan, I was told I could see some info on the website. Hardly a collaborative effort. Unfortunately, the meting time also feel on the night of the Gravois Park Neighborhood Association, so I was unable to attend. Aldermen were given no say, no official input on this project, illuminating the lack of interest in working with local officials on the part of MODOT, an agency which has an abysmal record fairly distributing funds in our state, grossly favoring rural over urban to detriment of our city transportation needs. Have you ever seen a MODOT rural road look half as bad as Gravois? This is a pervasive funding issues and per captia us city folks get a lot of of the transportation dollars than our rural counterparts. On top of this, MODOT is sorely underfunded as it is, and with us getting the short end of the short stick, its no surprise we end up with results like this.

    • MM

      Alderman the MoDOT funding distribution was agreed upon by the entire state. Mayor Slay agreed to it, counties in stl region agreed to it, east west gateway agreed to it. I’m sure you think MoDOT sits in Jeff city and directs where money goes. Try again

      (See photo, $ numbers are outdated but the % are the as they were in 2004, 2010,2012 and every other year I didn’t list since 2003)
      Rural MO 48.75%
      StL 31.50
      KC 16.26 %
      Springfield 3.49%
      We can hate on rural MO all we want but schnucks can’t get its milk and meat in time for our bbq of rural roads suck.

      Also this is a regular repavement job. Not some grand re-build of Gravois. That isn’t MoDOT responsibility. If the city and you want something else, do it. It’s your road. MoDOT maintains curb to curb by agreement.

      • MM

        To add, that 48.75% includes Columbia, Jeff city, st.joe, cape and Joplin. Includes funding for 200 miles of I-70. While yes those 200 are all in rural MO but you got to be silly if you think urban STL, KC and Columbia don’t benefit from a good I-70. Not to mention it’s a national freight corridor for the Feds. Same can be said about I-44

      • Cara

        “MM:” the article states: “By signing on to the MoDOT Gravois plan, the City of St. Louis and the aldermen through whose wards Gravois crosses, have failed the city and its residents.” I was providing evidence that this was not the case. The Aldermen were not given a choice, nor any real input in this project.

        It is a well-known and documented fact that MO overfunds rural roads and underfunds major urbanized areas. Its starts with the sheer volume MODOT has voluntarily taken. MoDOT has the 7th largest highway system in the nations with 34,000 miles. Yet Missouri is 18th in population, 18th in land area, and 18th in revenues for highways. To be 18th, MoDOT would have only 12,000 miles. MoDOT has almost triple the highway miles for state size and funding. MoDOT took over virtually ALL roads classified as Rural Collectors from rural counties and towns. Other states accept only about HALF. This represents 65% of MoDOT’s road miles and 45% of bridges.

        MoDOT accepted responsibility for 6,900 miles of rural roads
        (20% of MoDOT’s miles) which are too local to receive federal
        funds. This is EXPENSIVE! Most states have less than 100 such miles.
        Highway funding is generally 80% federal and 20% state. So,
        these 6,900 miles cost MoDOT FIVE TIMES as much as federally
        funded roads.

        A Brookings Institute study named us ‘Urban Donors’: the
        distribution of the gas & auto sales tax in Missouri “appears to
        penalize cities and urban areas.”

        Even allocating Interstates based on population (mainly urban),
        over 10 years, urban drivers received only 35¢ on their gas and
        auto sales tax dollar. Rural drivers received $4.31. The St. Louis
        County Municipal League noted, “The MODOT system is over-
        weighted with rural roads and currently spends a
        disproportionately high amount on rural roads…”

        • MM

          Pretty sure MoDOT didn’t voluntary take on the county roads. They were given to them by the legislature in the 1950-1960s. And as I posted the % for funding distribution…stl gets 31.50%. And Urbans get 51.15 in total (not counting urban Columbia, st.joe, Joplin and cape) all which are defined as MPOs by Feds. When those are totalled the Urbans get about 70%. Truely rural roads that MoDOT maintains are probably less than 1000 car a day roads, and those are the smallest priority to the state to maintain

          MoDOT gives the city of STL $13m a year from gas tax /car sales tax. City should use that to improve Gravois.

  • DB

    Sadly most people are fine with Gravois as is after the new pavement. Pretty evident by the public meetings. Last year when the city wanted to close 16 streets it was a jam packed house and without much of a public notice. Few weeks ago after the street closures were off the table there was about 25 people in a span of 3 hours from 4-7pm. Even when MoDOT put up signs on grand and Gravois to inform people about the meeting.

    • stef

      I saw one of those signs along Gravois. I knew the meeting was happening. But the way the sign read (and these signs are the ONLY way I ever heard of hese meetings – I saw nothing on Twitter, FB, stltoday.com, ksdk.com, kmov.com, etc.), the meeting started at 4 and ended at 7. I think the wording was:

      Gravois
      Meeting
      (Date Here)
      4-7pm

      That would lead me (and possibly others) to infer that this was a 3-hour meeting. I wouldn’t have been able to arrive before 6, and coming into a meeting with only an hour to go would be 1) rude and 2) a waste of time to those who had been there for the first two hours.

      I think MoDOT could benefit from more and better PR efforts.

      • DB

        See attachments.

        • stef

          Thanks! Yes, I was able to search Twitter to find the same information, after the fact. Perhaps if I kept Twitter open all day/every day, I would have seen this. But again – a project with such a wide reach and impact, should have triggered more information (in a variety of forms/media) for residents.

  • HawkSTL

    I’ll give another example of what I believe is literally “backwards” thinking. Wash. U and BJC are funding a new at-grade intersection at Kingshighway and Forest Park Ave. under the guise that it will be an improved “walkable” intersection. The current traffic configuration takes Forest Park Ave. under a Kingshighway bridge with ramps that house sidewalks for pedestrians.

    All of which begs the question — How does taking 60,000 cars a day on each street and mashing them together at an even larger at-grade stoplight make things better? Congestion around the hospital is already a problem. So, what do you do to address it? Create more congestion apparently. More cowbell!

    People all of a sudden think that the 1950s-60s traffic engineers were dunces. When the new Kingshighway/Forest Park Ave. at grade intersection is complete, they will be vindicated. The traffic studies already show that the new intersection will be a mess. And, anyone who thinks that walking on sidewalks along Kingshighway now is unsafe? Well, just wait.

    • rgbose

      What was traffic like when there was twice as many people living int he city?

      • HawkSTL

        Congested. I would welcome congestion if it is real. I do not see the virtue in creating artificial headaches.

        • rgbose

          Over 50 years the city lost over half its population, spent a ton on infrastructure that we struggle to pay for, and congestion is still a problem? Sound like we’ve been chasing the dragon.

      • HawkSTL

        I should caveat my comments by saying this — I am posting to give you another perspective that is prevalent on my street and in age group (35-50 yrs. old). People with children are not all of a sudden going to use MetroLink (which I like), bicycles (which I don’t like), or other non-car modes of transportation by strangling the major City thoroughfares. I still need to get my kids to daycare or school in the mornings. So, if I need to use the interstate and not visit the businesses in the City along the way home, so be it. But the people on my street and in age group are quite ticked about it actually.

        • John R

          I do agree that one-size can’t fit all, but can you be more specific about which major City thoroughfares have been strangled? As someone in your cohort group who travels from South City to the Central Corridor frequently, the inconveniences due to city streets that have received a road diet in my experience have been slight and the benefits many. I don’t bike, but I do like healthy neighborhoods and the results seem to speak for themselves.

          The only miscue I can recall was for S. Vandeventer, but again that was never an established commercial district and the road diet was eliminated.

          • HawkSTL

            Most East-West thoroughfares are going road diet and/or reduced speed limit. Manchester, Chippewa, Page, Forest Park Ave., Lindell. We’re trying to turn all major road into neighborhood streets. As I said, some are okay and work well (Manchester through the Grove is a good example). But, you can’t turn every major street into a 25-30 mph two-lane road with bike lanes. If people can’t take their kids to school in 10 mins. or drive to work in 15 mins. or less, then that takes away the convenience of living in the City. That is not an improvement. There needs to be more thought and planning than what is currently happening. One size does not fit all (or make a workable long term plan).

          • Adam

            Forest Park Ave isn’t receiving a road diet. Lindell runs through a pedestrian-heavy neighborhood, and a pedestrian was killed crossing Lindell last year.

          • HawkSTL

            Pedestrian accidents are horrible. I don’t know the circumstances, but I always worry about it — especially when walking with my kids. Forest Park Ave. was slowed down to 30 mph which fits the “and/or reduced speed limit” description. With the reduction in speed, construction of the Ikea (temporary, but significant), and BJC’s attempt to control 6-8 blocks of the road, you can’t commute on it anymore. Same for Lindell and Manchester at 25 mph. It forces all of the City traffic onto the interstate. If that’s what we want, great. But, as a City person, I’d prefer not to be forced onto Hwy. 40, I-44 or I-55.

          • Adam

            I just don’t buy the “you can’t commute on it” claim. People DO commute on it despite the lower speed limit. What was the speed limit before? 40? (The speed limit is 40 on the Parkway but, surprise surprise, people regularly drive 50 or above.) The stop lights are all the same. At most your commute down FPA gets extended by a couple of minutes. Again, you would just like your commute to be more convenient, but there has to be a balance between your convenience and the quality of life for people who live/work in between your point A and your point B.

          • HawkSTL

            No one will use a street if it doubles their commute. By making the main thoroughfares 25-30 mph, that doubles the commute downtown. That is why you have to use the interstate. Let me ask the question a different way. What are the speed limits of main thoroughfares (with a lot of commercial activity) in the suburbs? Depending on the municipality, Manchester is 35-40 mph. Same for Page. Gravois is 35-45 mph. Lindbergh is 35-45 mph. All of those have as much or more commercial activity than the City thoroughfares. So, why pretend as though Forest Park Ave. is a narrow residential street? It isn’t.

          • Adam

            “No one will use a street if it doubles their commute.”

            Totally speculative but fine let’s say that’s true.

            “By making the main thoroughfares 25-30 mph, that doubles the commute downtown.”

            Only if the original speed was 50 to 60 mph, which is highway speed, which was never the case on any city street. We’re talking 45 mph to 25 mph at worst. So, no, that does not double the duration of the commute.

            “What are the speed limits of main thoroughfares (with a lot of commercial activity) in the suburbs?”

            Manchester through downtown Maplewood is one lane in each direction. There’s no way the speed limit is 40 mph. Same with downtown Kirkwood: one lane in each direction. No way the speed limit is 40 mph. Lockwood through DT Webster Groves is 25 mph. And what parts of Gravois and Lindbergh are you talking about? The stretches of vacant strip malls and empty storefronts in Affton? The similar mostly-vacant stretches along Lindbergh through Sunset Hills? Direct me to a single stretch of Gravois that has the density of businesses found in downtown Maplewood, Webster Groves, Kirkwood, etc. where the speed limits are 25–35 mph.

            “So, why pretend as though Forest Park Ave. is a narrow residential street?”

            Uh, because it is a residential street. Ever notice all those homes, apartment buildings, and loft conversions on either side, not to mention all the various places of employment? Again, there’s a lot of pedestrian activity in the CWE, including along FPA—all the more reason to lower the speed limit.

          • HawkSTL

            Answers: 1) nobody drives 55 mph on an interstate during rush hour unless traffic is backed up. Regular traffic moves at 10 mph over the speed limit — regardless of whether you are in the city or suburbs; 2) the additional hindrance beyond reducing speeds is stoplights — City traffic did not adjust the timing of the lights to take into account the reduced speed, so now you get stopped many more times (probably by design); 3) Manchester in Maplewood is a bad example because it has been put on road diet, but, if you go beyond Brentwood, Manchester is a 5 lane road with 35 mph to 45 mph speed limits until you exit STL County out west; 4) Lindbergh Blvd. does not exist in Kirkwood (you are referring to Kirkwood Rd.), so again it is a poor example; 5) Lindbergh has a lot of restaurants, shops, strip malls, and car dealerships between Baptist Church Rd. and Lemay Ferry — there is a lot more commercial activity and traffic than in Maplewood; 6) Lindbergh in Sunset Hills is surrounded by residential until you get to Watson — speed limit? 40 mph.; 7) Gravois in Affton is mostly commercial — nice dig, though.; 8) Forest Park Ave. and Parkway were designed to be and are commuter routes. One apartment building designed for SLU students does not make it residential.

            You likely don’t travel downtown on a daily basis. That makes a big difference.

          • Alex Ihnen

            Thanks for adding to the conversation. This seems to be getting into a back-and-forth that isn’t providing new information on the topic. Unfortunately, opinions are too often set in stone and comments only serve to show how entrenched those feelings/beliefs are. I love having people voice an opinion – it’s why this site exists, but it should also have a point and inform others who may be reading.

          • HawkSTL

            Alex – I appreciate your comment. Responding to other commenters — particularly to those who ask questions or respond to a particular point — is part of the process. One of my criticisms of this site is that everyone appears to have the same opinion. Anti-highway, pro-bicycle, anti-stadium, pro-mass transit, anti-gun ownership. I can go on. It is actually one of the problems in our local and national discourse right now. If you can’t understand the other position, then, yes, there is no further point. And, this site does do a good job usually of encouraging discussion.

          • stef

            Although what gun ownership has to do with streets and traffic is beyond me. 🙂

          • Adam

            Alex, this will be my last response, butI need to address the points above:

            1) Well if we’re ignoring speed limits and I can drive 120 mph on the highway I guess that means my commute quadruples on Forest Park Ave.

            2) You get stopped by stoplights regardless of the speed limit. The time spent sitting at stoplights is the same whether the speed limit is 40 mph or 25 mph.

            3) What? You ASKED for examples of speed limits on suburban streets with a lot of commercial activity. You can’t say street X is a “bad example” because it doesn’t have the speed limit you’re looking for. Manchester through Maplewood is dense with businesses—denser than any stretch of Gravois or Lindbergh.

            4) Yes, I meant Kirkwood Rd. And, no, it is in fact another great example of dense commercial activity along a narrow road with a low speed limit. That’s the whole point.

            5) We’re not comparing the sum of all businesses along the entire stretch of Lindbergh to the short stretch of Manchester through downtown Maplewood. That doesn’t make any sense. Manchester has businesses scattered along it’s entire length as well. But there are nearly as many businesses along that short stretch through DT Maplewood as there are on Lindbergh between Baptist Church and Lemay Ferry. Again, the entire point is that narrow streets and low speed limits encourage density.

            6) No, Lindbergh in Sunset Hills is surrounded by subdivisions that primarily face inward on themselves and the majority of businesses are in strip malls. There’s no urban comparison to be made here.

            7) Empty storefronts don’t count, and Gravois through Affton is littered with them. Again, the density of businesses doesn’t compare to the stretches I mentioned above.

            8) Forest Park Ave. predates automobiles. It was once lined with beautiful detached homes, many of which still exist between Boyle and Euclid on the north side of the street. It’s simply not true that it was “designed as a commuter route”, at least not for commuting at automobile speeds. At some point it was widened and the speed limit increased. As for the residential, you’re memory seems to be failing you. In addition to the detached homes I mentioned, there are lofts at both Sarah and Euclid.

            P.S. I used to drive Forest Park Ave on a daily basis when I worked at the Med School. Still drive on it fairly regularly. Never found the traffic to be a concern.

          • HawkSTL

            This will be my last response as well. Your agenda is to “narrow streets and low[er] speed limits [to] encourage density.” That is precisely what I and a lot of other folks who have to drive from one part of the City to another are against as a wide-scale development tool. On a case-by-case basis (e.g. Manchester in the Grove and Maplewood), it can work well. But, you can’t do that to every major thoroughfare. Not everyone can or wishes to work, live, and play in the same neighborhood. The desire to narrow all streets and reduce speed limits fails to consider or address that basic fact. Kids still need to get to school, and people still need to get to work.

            As for your point-by-point response, all I can conclude is that you have not lived, worked, or frequented the areas that you highlight. Example: Lindbergh in Sunset Hills between Rott Rd. and Gravois is all residential. Yes, there are subdivisions. But, the properties that line Lindbergh are also residential. The same is also true for large stretches of Gravois in the same vicinity. Speed limit? 40 mph. to 45 mph depending on the stretch.

            It is great to encourage density. However, doing it artificially by choking all of the roads is counterproductive. We need more 39th Streets and Euclids that were designed for density. And, there are plenty of examples in the City where that can be done without wreaking havoc on the many people who commute.

          • stef

            Have you ever actually *timed* your commute along the various routes you could take? I’ve found, through anecdotal research, that people believe things last longer or are slower just based on how they “feel” the traffic is moving. That 3-minute redlight at Gravois/Cherokee? Not 3 minutes, no matter HOW LONG it “feels” like I’m sitting there.

            People feel like they’re getting to their destinations faster if they feel like they’re “moving” faster.

            I time my commute every morning (my car has a trip timer, but you could also use your phone’s stopwatch app), and have found that no matter which route I take (Gravois, Khwy, Hampton), it takes me the same amount of time – within 2 or 3 minutes. Every. Single. Day. Unless, of course, there’s a wreck with lanes shut down. Then add 10 minutes. 10 minutes added onto my 23-26 minute commute is NBD, because I leave early for work (doesn’t always suck to be a morning person).

          • HawkSTL

            Yes, I’ve timed it. That’s why I am now using the interstate.

          • Luscombe

            Yes, and someone was killed on Lindell in 2013 as well.

        • rgbose

          Have you wondered why good options for daycare, school, and work are impartial to reach via walking, biking, or transit for a greater portion of residents?

    • Alex Ihnen

      “People all of a sudden think that the 1950s-60s traffic engineers were dunces. When the new Kingshighway/Forest Park Ave. at grade intersection is complete, they will be vindicated.”

      We’ll be here to write about it. Traffic studies do not show that the new intersection will be a mess. And while I don’t believe BJC is infallible, it’s betting several million dollars that the new configuration will be better for its workers and patients. Traffic isn’t a science – the 1950s-60s traffic engineers proved that, but we do understand more than we once did, and cities have changed.

      • HawkSTL

        I hope you do write about it. A little inside baseball — BJC keeps asking City traffic if the new intersection will work and will help. The City keeps telling BJC informally that, no, this is not going to be good and will not be safer for pedestrians. But, BJC is paying for it and the City needs to repair the bridge at some point in the future. So, the City is not telling BJC “no” formally. Instead, the City is thinking that BJC will just have to deal with bad results. Unfortunately, that has collateral impact on the surrounding neighborhood, not just BJC workers and patients.

  • HawkSTL

    I live in the City and love it here. But, I disagree with the premise that the City should reduce the speed limit on major thoroughfares and reduce/narrow lanes. The result is artificial congestion, and it is being done all over the City. The other day, a colleague asked me how I traveled home from downtown everyday. I said “the interstate.” The suburbanite questioner was astonished. I live 5 miles from my office, but don’t use the City streets? Yes. Why? I did for over 10 yrs. But now, even though I live in the City, I can’t get home anymore on streets that have been reduced to 25 or 30 mph speed limits. They now have bumper car traffic with narrow lanes. It takes the convenience away from living in the City. So, essentially, I am now a suburban commuter with a City zip code. That is not the situation I moved into. Unfortunately, all of the restaurants and businesses on my more former commute routes no longer get my business. Part of the appeal of living in the City has now been taken away under the guise that artificial congestion is somehow “better.”

    • Alex Ihnen

      The current set up is artificial forced business failure and lower property values. The restaurants and businesses along your former commute are what pay the bills to run a city and provide you services. There’s simply nothing “artificial” about building places for people in a city. That premise betrays a bias toward people driving cars being the only, or primary, purpose of a street – as if cars driving fast through neighborhoods and commercial districts is the natural state of things.

      • HawkSTL

        I disagree. You don’t live in a “real” city by “creating” congestion. Congestion is there or it isn’t. Reducing traffic lanes and posting 25 mph signs also is not friendly to businesses. The result of the changes is that nobody can get to the business (and, by comparison, the subdivision speed limit for the STL County street on which I grew up is 25 mph — compare that narrow suburban drive to Chippewa or Lindell. Why are they the same?). So, neighborhoods like South Hampton, Midtown Alley, Lafayette Sq., and the CWE don’t get my business anymore. My greater desire is to be home in time to put my kids to bed. The City streets no longer allow for that. So again, this position has forced a City resident to be a suburban commuter. In other words, it is having the opposite of the intended effect.

        • John R

          Maybe they aren’t getting your business but on the whole biz is booming in wide swaths of the Central Corridor and South City. And S. Grand has never been better after it’s road diet.

          • HawkSTL

            You’re right on a case-by-case basis. But reducing lanes is not the cure in all situations. Euclid did not need a road diet to be successful. 39th Street used to have a feel like Euclid back in the ’50s. Now, there are the first signs of commerce coming back on 39th the last few years. It didn’t take a road diet. In fact, the same criticism that is being placed on the 1950s and 1960s engineers in this forum can be said of the pro-road diet folks. A one-size-fits-all approach is what got us here, so why are we doing the same in reverse? That is the same unimaginative-with-blinders-on approach.

          • rgbose

            Where are Euclid and 39th more than two lanes?

          • HawkSTL

            That’s the point. By design, Grand, Chippewa, and Lindell are not the same as Euclid and 39th. So, why are we insisting that they should be? All that does is place people, and that includes City people, onto the interstates.

          • Adam

            Considering that only and handful of streets have been reduced and that there’s no talk of narrowing most of them, I would say that we’re not taking a “one-size-fits-all” approach, that we are in fact narrowing on a case-by-case basis, and that you’re exaggerating.

    • Adam

      I don’t understand why it would be “astonishing” that the highways provide convenient work-home routes for some city residents, considering that they cut right through the city.

      I think you’re exaggerating about not being able to get home on city streets. What you mean is, you can’t get home as fast as you used to, or as fast as you would like. The “convenience” of city living isn’t limited to your driving convenience. What about the convenience of people who live along these overbuilt stretches in terms of crossing the street without getting killed? Or having local businesses to walk to? The entire point of a city is efficiency through proximity. A city in which 90% of people drive because there isn’t sufficient transit and it’s unsafe to walk or bike is a dysfunctional city. Not trying to offend, but that you think the “appeal” of city living is to be able to drive fast from point A to point B—and everything in between be damned—exemplifies that dysfunction, IMO.

    • Imran

      Hawk. I have a suggestion.
      Take time out sometime and walk on the sidewalks of one of the convenient travel routes in the city (Kingshighway, Hampton or Gravois for that matter).
      You will realize just how unsettling and obnoxious a car or SUV is to a pedestrian as it speeds down a city road. This is the price that communities and the City are paying just so someone can get from point A-B in the most convenient way possible.
      Controlling vehicle speeds is not about creating artificial congestion. It is about showing respect for others who live next to your road to home or work. And it’s about humanizing the City.

      • HawkSTL

        I live between two major arterial roads in the City and walk with my kids frequently on both of them. Yes, sometimes the speed is unsettling. When I grew up in STL County, my parents (and I when I grew older) thought the same thing outside our subdivision. So, this is not new. Speeders are committing a violation. They should be ticketed. But, instead, we seem to be ignoring the enforcement part and think that the solution is to reduce the speed limit to 25 mph. The City needs revenue. Why not ticket? That would cure it more effectively and create more safety than artificially reduced speed limits. And, think about it, narrowing lanes and creating congestion actually increases the chances of accidents. So, how is that a desired outcome?

        • Alex Ihnen

          Your use of “artificial” is getting old. I’m not sure what’s “natural” about any speed limit, or road, or driving a car for that matter.

          And I don’t think this is too nuanced, but to put a find point on it – no one is advocating for just reducing speed limits. In fact, in the post above I state that doing do is a bad idea. Why not ticket? There will never be enough police to ticket everyone (though may be red light cameras could be welcome). And building a road on which drivers “feel” like driving 40, then posting a speed limit of 25 and writing tickets is kind of unfair.

          So, what I, and many here, *are* advocating is the build in the urban environment in a way that accommodates more than one type of use, and which gives residents and visitors safe and attractive choices in transportation (including walking).

          I don’t see too many hard lines being drawn on this side of the argument. I think everyone is for better timed lights and a consistent, predictable flow of traffic. BUT we know that the “artificial” widening and faster traffic on some city streets has decimated property values and retail success.

          This isn’t difficult to understand. Neither is it difficult to understand your viewpoint and frustrations with driving in the city. In the end, I believe that the evidence of the past 50 years fails to show that the city has benefitted by sacrificing commercial and residential districts to accommodate more and faster moving vehicles. In fact, the correlation between cities with traffic “problems” and economically vibrant cities, is almost perfect.

  • Ice_Burned

    Sections that are being re-striped to have narrower or fewer through lanes will see reductions in speed, whether intentional or not, it calms traffic. Perceptible signal progression coordination at the speed limit could help too.

    This is also an enforcement issue however, in my experience, the city police are rarely monitoring speed or watching traffic at all unless there is a special event. Too much else going on maybe? It’s important because between 30 and 40mph is the speed range where peds stuck by vehicles tend to increasingly go from being injured to being killed.

  • D1985

    My goodness Alex. Could you have been more dramatic over a simple repavement job that has no impact on the future of Gravois what so ever. This is all the MoDOT job is. A new surface. So anything beyond that the city wishes or people wish can still be done. And the new pavement would have to be done anyway. So let’s thank MoDOT (20% and Feds 80%) for covering the $5.8m repavement job. This job isn’t the end of Gravois. It’s just a new driving surface. So let’s walk off the ledge. Take a deep breath and push city hall for a greater Gravois. And send MoDOT a thank you card for a brand new surface that’s good for at least 15 years

    • Alex Ihnen

      While I appreciate your comment, this is virtually what the article says – that MoDOT is doing what MoDOT does and that it’s the City that bears responsibility for making it something better. One problem is that if the repaving is good for 15yrs, it’s an easy bet that it will be 20 before any additional discussion is had about Gravois. There is no chance that significant changes will happen soon after the MoDOT project. The issues made clear by this process are also relevant to several other city streets. And lastly, the project isn’t a simple repaving. It started as closing segments of 16 streets, it’s also about signals along six miles of street, crosswalks, bike lanes, parking and more. Projects in the city are virtually never done on this scale – another reason this isn’t a simple resurfacing.

      • D1985

        You have a good grasp for this. I’ll just had some more meat to the bone.

        Signal job just helps the city going forward, modern new signal that can last decades. MoDOT even had to get city sign off to apply for cmaq to replace them since they are not within the roadway that MoDOT maintains by agreement. New signals will revert back to city control and ITS network when job is done

        Pavement job is just a repavement. And that’s it and that’s done by design. Here is why. If anything more than a simple repave is done than it would trigger Feds to say that all Sidewalks along the 7 miles have to been done to and brought up to ADA standards and boom a $5.8m job is now 11.6m and since the sidewalks are not part that MoDOT maintains the city would be on the hook. So the city probably doesn’t want MoDOT to do anything than a simple repave.

        Again new modern signals and a brand new pavement = good for the city. Now they get a brand new house and can take over and style however they want. Lane markings is a easy removal if city wants to do more like protected bike lanes ect

  • pat

    I get the argument of the article that MoDot’s criteria for determining speeds on urban roads is defunct. But is MoDot intendning to increase the speed on Gravois? As it stands, they are reducing the amount of lanes potentially. So I guess, is MoDot really paying that much attention to the 85% rule in this case?

    • Alex Ihnen

      It’s a good point. They’re sort of ignoring it – concluding/admitting that it doesn’t fit this urban context by not raising speed limits. The whole episode and process does well to reveal the shortcomings in urban traffic planning.

    • Alex Ihnen

      Yes, and California is enabling cities to include other factors in speed limits. There isn’t much pedestrian traffic along much of Gravois, even the commercial districts. Reducing speed would encourage more, but expecting pedestrians to show up first is a bit backwards.

      • stef

        We are frequent Gravois pedestrians, along with many of our neighbors and friends. It’s great having restaurants and pubs within easy walking distance, although the game-of-frogger-street-crossing-challenge is a bit daunting. Being “seen” is a good deterrent to crime, but it doesn’t really slow the traffic much (if at all).

        The street racing along Gravois is a big issue (we can hear the cars and/or motorcycles from our house), so there’s that.