The Gravois. (An Ode to a St. Louis Stroad)

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Note: This goofy poem tells the story of a very cool grassroots effort called the Greater Gravois Initiative, which advocated successfully to make Gravois road a better place for people. I highly recommend you read more on the effort here from NEXT STL.

The Gravois

On the South side of town
And curving toward West
Is a long winding thoroughfare that seldom does rest
A rumbling road that the neighbors detest.

It’s the street called the Mighty Gravois.

Now come a bit closer and sit at my knee boy
I’ll tell you the tale and I’ll make it quite quick
Of a momentous feat that few would predict
I’ll tell you the taming of the Mighty Gravois.

An asphalt behemoth, a bustling beast
Funneling cars to the North the South West and East
Like a concrete river
It carved a curved path
Through historic neighborhoods it cuts a wide swath.

And they cars they did love it
It’s not hard to see why
The street was built for their comfort
It was built six lanes wide!

So the semi-trucks trucked and the convertibles cruised
And speed limit signs were ignored and abused
Where they were going well that we don’t know
We just know they were going and they’d go go go go!

The crosswalks were few and appeared only rarely
And to try to use them could prove quite scary
Among bicyclists only the most intrepid breed
Would hazard the cars and their harrowing speed.

But one day a question came from the grassroots
From walkers who walk and scooters that scoot
From small businesses too quickly passed by
From neighborhoods split by the Gravois divide
From parents with strollers and bussers who bus
“Well why can’t this road be also for us?!?!”

{Small businesses along Gravois. Pedestrian-oriented commercial buildings can struggle along high-speed roads.}

And so began efforts to create a new plan
Of crosswalks and bike lanes and places to stand
And lanes for the cars of course they’re still there
With restrictions in place that they’ll just have to bear.

Unused to this challenge oh MODOT did wail
“We’ve been trained to use hammers why can’t we just nail?”
But this broad coalition continued their stand
And re-explained concepts like induced demand.

And against all odds a new road appeared
And showed that MODOT overcame their old fears
A road on which people can walk, bike, and survive
Restricted from six lanes, it now counts just five!

Grumps predicted confusion and traffic kerfuffles
And cars moving along at barely a shuffle
But to their surprise if not their delight
Even at rush hour the cars are alright.

Sure, it could be better I have to admit
The bike lanes often just suddenly quit
Car speeds are still reckless especially at night
But the improvement is major not merely just slight.

So heed my words now that I’ve told you this story
The champions for change have sure earned their glory
It’s cause for celebration but there’s no time for rest
We’ve tamed the Mighty Gravois now which road is next?

{Gravois at Jefferson, looking northeast, in its new configuration. A lane of traffic was removed in each direction, and replaced with bike lanes and a center turn lane. The road now also has several “zebra crosswalks” that increase pedestrian visibility.}

__________________________

Sometimes something other than a straightforward story is the best way to share a success story. Thanks to Joe for writing and allowing to re-post. This poem first appeared on Joe’s This damn city. blog.

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  • Nick

    Meaning people aren’t going to bike 20 miles to their jobs every day, not that they physically can’t because of lack of infrastructure. The only way you can make your point is by misunderstanding mine.

    • Adam

      Whatever makes you feel like you win, Nick.

    • HawkSTL

      Don’t worry, Nick. Adam and others here live in an alternate universe where no one drives cars and more bike lanes are needed because . . . well, they have a fever, and the only cure is more cowbell!

      • Adam

        Yeah, surely there aren’t any places that do pedestrian and bike infrastructure better than St. Louis in this universe. We get it, Hawk. You wanna get where you’re going fast and you don’t wanna share. I just wanna ride my bike to work and not get killed by entitled drivers. (Don’t forget the “4 blocks” or “5 blocks” or whatever it was. That shit’s gold.)

        • HawkSTL

          Wasn’t the response to Nick? Oh well. Your entire commute on FPP was 4 whole blocks. 4 blocks!

        • HawkSTL

          I’ve realized what irks me and others (like Nick, mpbaker22) about the way these bike lanes have been planned and implemented. The pro-bike lane people and the few that actually use the bike lanes are the same as the rugby players and LARPERs in Forest Park. Not very many of them. But, they are loud and gripe about the lack of catering to them. Never mind that they are few in number. Never mind that, once built, their facilities are rarely used. And, never mind that, catering to them means pain for the rest of us (as in, fewer fields that have actual use . . . well too bad; your commute route has been effectively taken away because a single bike appears on Saturdays every so often . . . too bad). You guys are the worst. You adversely affect everyone else. And you don’t even care. Case in point = 4 blocks. You’re on board with major changes to FPP, when you don’t really use it. Sigh.

  • mpbaker22

    These stupid changes need to stop. The lane reductions on gravois and Union in particular are completely asinine. They create significant congestion for vehicular traffic and provide minimal benefit as bike Lanes
    The reason, because hardly anyone rides their bike on those roads anyway. I rarely see a cyclist on gravois and after making hundreds of trips, I can attest that I have never an a cyclist on Union North of mcpherson.

    I am all for the crosswalks.

    • Adam

      “The reason, because hardly anyone rides their bike on those roads anyway.”

      ah, yes, the old “nobody rides there anyway” argument, which conveniently ignores WHY nobody rides there (too-high speed limits, asshole drivers, no protection from said asshole drivers). i HAVE seen people biking on Gravois. it looks terrifying. these changes can’t happen fast enough. i’m looking forward to becoming a city that gives a f*ck about people who aren’t behind a steering wheel.

      • mpbaker22

        The bike Lanes on Union have been there well over a year. Not a single cyclist. Ever. We will see about gravois.

        I’m a cyclist, btw

        • STLEnginerd

          SO I tend to agree.

          But Gravois was/is in many places a ridiculous street and definitely needed
          some calming, unless the only local businesses we want are fast food
          drive-thru. 5-10 minutes is not a extreme burden to place on those that
          drive through a neighborhood when it is a choice between them or the
          health of the neighborhood through which they are driving. Honestly i
          haven’t witnessed the congestion to which you refer but it is hard to
          believe it is anyway significant.

          If traffic is calmer cyclist will be more likely to ride on a road anyway with or without bike lanes. I’m not a daily rider but i never really mind riding in the street. I haven’t ever seen enough traffic on Gravois for me to be scared of riding with the cars. I would much rather see wider sidewalks than bike lanes. The best option IMHO is a dedicated BRT lane but that is a a whole other endeavor.

          If you want/need uninterrupted driving into and or out of the urban core might i suggest checking out one of our many top tier interstates. They are truly world class and should fit the bill. Long term option should probably be to relocate to somewhere where you have a shorter commute, since this reduces the burden you place on neighborhoods to support your commuting demands.

          • mpbaker22

            Id also say I’m totally fine with removing the third Lane between Jefferson and hodaks. I’m annoyed where it went from 2 lanes to 1 lane between morganford and Kings highway. Since it was stated earlier the bike lane randomly stops and starts it seems that would have been a place for it to stop.

        • Steve Pan

          I ride that lane daily fool.

          • mpbaker22

            From where to where?

        • Framer

          FWIW, during my 30 second drive on Union yesterday (from Lindell to Pershing) I saw 3 seperate bicyclists using the lanes.

      • Nick

        Even in cities with great bike infrastructure built into the street grid, like Chicago, there’s still about 200 cars to every 1 bike….yet a dedicated bike lane takes up 1/10 of the street and costs about the same percentage of the street’s construction. In a city like St. Louis the ratios would be worse yet with dedicated bike lanes. If you truly care about the greatest good for the greatest number of people, for that reason alone it’s a waste of money.

        • Adam

          yeah, except drivers being able to drive fast without obstruction is not equivalent to the “greatest good for the greatest number of people” even if drivers want to drive fast without obstruction. we’ve been favoring driver convenience for decades and bike/pedestrian infrastructure is spotty and discontinuous so it’s no surprise that more people aren’t opting out of their cars yet.

          • Nick

            Actually, in places like Gravois, they are equivalent, by the definition of the concept of greatest good for greatest number of people.

            Seeing as how the majority of commuters who work in the city come from the east side or the county, it doesn’t matter how many bike lanes you put in, they’ll always drive cars. I mean, you’re entitled to your opinion and all, but with the lack of density in the city and the sprawled layout of the region relative to its size, St. Louis will forever be auto-centric. As others have pointed out, the few dedicated bike lanes that have been added are just a waste of a good car lane. It’s a waste of resources that could be used in other ways to improve the city.

          • Adam

            okay, nick. we should design our roads for suburban commuters instead of city residents. you’re right.

          • Nick

            It has nothing to do with some ‘city vs. suburban’ dichotomy. The vast majority of city residents get around by car or bus as well. There’s no other option for most people

          • Andy

            Those people can still drive on the road although a little bit slower. If you need to drive 50+ mph you can get on I-44 or I-55. We have plenty of options for highway speeds, our city streets should not be those options. And I say that as someone who regularly drives too fast when given the ability to.

            Your argument that most people are coming from the county and Illinois is part of the problem; changes to our infrastructure that encourages development in these areas is what the city needs. More roads that allow people pass THROUGH is not the greatest good for the city.

          • Nick

            People live in the county primarily because they feel it’s safer, the schools are better, and they like having more land. It has absolutely nothing to do with people leaving because of a a poor pedestrian experience on roads like Gravois. Fix crime and schools, then maybe folks would move back into the city, and it might actually make sense to do some of the things you’re talking about. Until then this conversation is pointless

          • Andy

            I don’t believe anyone is making the argument that this is the only issue that the city faces. The answer though isn’t to make infrastructure decisions to benefit those that live outside the city at the expense of residents. The answer is to support desirable places to live within the city and part of that is supporting pedestrian friendly streets with a slower average speed for automobiles.

            These developments also cam help with the issue of crime by putting more eyes on the street. As it was, Gravois was great for criminals: no one on the street to witness anything and fast moving traffic for a quick get away where a speeding car does not stand out.

          • Nick

            All I’m saying is that a city like St. Louis needs to be wiser with its dollars. Hundreds of thousands, or millions of dollars spent on diets on Gravois is just that much less money to go elsewhere towards things that IMO are far more needed.

            And I’m not against biking and pedestrian infrastructure in general. I just think it needs to be targeted better. Other folks in this comment section have talked about Tower Grove Avenue bike lanes between Shaw and the Grove. I think that’s a perfect example of where bike lanes make sense. In fact, a dedicated biking/pedestrian bridge across the railroad tracks from the Grove into Shaw I think would be awesome. And that works because Tower Grove Ave serves as a primary artery across a barrier between two viable neighborhoods. Lack of other access points between the two neighborhoods creates strong demand for good biking access along that route. You just don’t have that need along Gravois as there’s plenty of side streets to access adjacent neighborhoods. Further to that, other than maybe Bevo, Gravois itself doesn’t offer many attractions such that people would desire to bike along it just for the ride.

          • Andy

            I understand what you’re saying but it doesn’t match up with this situation for two reasons:

            1. This was a resurfacing that was going to be done anyway do then the question just becomes how you put the lanes back when you pushing them.

            2. This was done by MODOT as Gravois is a state maintained road. These were not city fund being used.

            Gravois was like a race track before and I’ve noticed that traffic is much calmer along my route since the change.

          • Nick

            Fair enough, but even if the money is coming from state coffers, there’s still an opportunity cost to that spending that could’ve been utilized elsewhere in the city. If you think it’s improved along that stretch of Gravois, maybe it was a good project then.

    • Steve Kluth

      When I moved to St Louis in the 80’s, I stopped riding my bike because it was too dangerous. I used to travel by both car and bicycle year-round, and I moved here from Wisconsin. (Commuter cycling isn’t actually that difficult in Green Bay, even in February, if you dress for it.) I no longer own a bicycle and moved to South County. But the road diets on Gravois, Choteau, Manchester, and Broadway were needed long ago. Give it time. You’ll see more young people use bicycles as a year-round commuting option once it becomes safer than the local highway authorities previously allowed. There are already a few at my old office. (I recently retired.)

      • Adam

        Tower Grove Ave between Tower Grove South and The Grove is a great example of this. I see numerous cyclists commuting between the two ‘hoods every day.

        • mpbaker22

          Agree! I was thinking of that example too. Very good user of a bike lane

        • Wobbuffet

          Yep.

          I’ll be commuting from TGS to Wash U via bike. Without the bike lanes on Tower Grove Avenue and Chouteau (and of course Forest Park), this commute would be more than a little dangerous. With the bike lanes, it’s a snap. I could not have rationalized purchasing a house in TGS without the existence of that particular set of bike lanes.

          • Adam

            It’s a pretty good route. I’ll be using it as well soon in my daily trek from Dutchtown to WashU. The Vandeventer intersection is my biggest concern. The bike lane on either side of Vandeventer gets squeezed in between the right turn lane and through lane near the intersection. It’s neither comfortable nor safe being squeezed in between cars like that, and the bike lane is so narrow that half the time cars are either encroaching on it or completely blocking it. Not a good situation…

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  • John

    Good. We need more success stories in STL.

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  • Michael B

    Love it! Thanks for sharing

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