Kingshighway is one of the most important boulevards in the city. Nine miles long, it stretches across the city from north to south. It borders a handful of parks including Forest Park and Tower Grove Park. It also terminates on the north side at Bellefontaine Cemetery. It’s so meaningful to the lived experience of St. Louisans that Nelly named a song after the boulevard.
But as it exists today, Kingshighway’s purpose is to get you across the city as fast as possible. And while that certainly has its merit, I’m not sure that this is the best purpose for a road that hugs some of the city’s most prized parks.
What purpose should Kingshighway serve?
There is no doubt that a major purpose for roads, and especially major thoroughfares like Kingshighway, is to ferry travelers from one place to another. But how we do that and what modes we prioritize is a worthwhile question that shouldn’t defer to car supremacy. And transportation isn’t the only purpose for streets. Historically, they have also been social places of chance encounters and commerce.
With that in mind, we should reconsider how we allocate space on a boulevard as important as Kingshighway. I see folks jogging, cycling, and scootering on the sidewalk. The 95 bus also runs the length of Kingshighway, often getting stuck in traffic while carrying many more passengers than the individual cars that impede its path. And with the BJC Hospital Complex across the park on Kingshighway, emergency vehicles are regularly weaving through bumper to bumper traffic in a race against the clock to get patients to the hospital.
Kingshighway has just shy of 120′ of width to work with. Currently, the vast majority of that space is dedicated to cars. It is anywhere from 6 to 10 lanes wide for most of its length. The boulevard has been beautified some, though. A median adds some greenery (and takes away some lanes of traffic). Additionally, sidewalks are present. This is roughly what it currently looks like.
I have some ideas in mind for how to better make Kingshighway a boulevard that serves pedestrians, cyclists, buses, cars, and emergency vehicles alike. This configuration would make for a much more pleasant experience for people walking or cycling and may even encourage trips from Forest Park to Tower Grove Park. Additionally, it would better connect neighborhoods divided by the wide and unfriendly thoroughfare.
Running Bus Rapid Transit down the middle of the street could use the median space for station platforms. By placing the bus lanes in the middle of the street, capital costs can be reduced as you only need to build one platform for buses going both ways as opposed to two. This configuration still leaves two lanes for car traffic each way, which is more than enough in a city. Additionally, protected bike lanes can be implemented on both sides to create a healthier option for travel. The connection between the various parks by bike would be well received and a great investment. It could also tie into the Brickline Greenway. Lastly, wider sidewalks add to the pedestrian experience and increase safety.
Now, I know you think I’ve missed one glaring issue: the emergency vehicles. With only two lanes of traffic, they are destined to be stuck in much worse traffic than before, right? Actually, the great thing about creating bus lanes is that emergency vehicles can use them and have a much safer and quicker path to the hospital when transporting patients. In fact, we could also allow freight to use these bus lanes.
This allocation of public right of way ensures that all modes are considered and respected. What’s more is that the proposed configuration can move twice as many people as the current configuration. Cars are just not a very efficient means of transportation.
It’s time for BRT on Kingshighway
The city has received a significant windfall of funds in the last year. One of the best ways to maximize the impact of that money is to use it to provide the local match for federal grants. By building BRT on Kingshighway and other thoroughfares throughout the city, St. Louis can improve its public transit network for everyone.
The city is also at a critical point with its bus service. The system feels as if it’s failing. St. Louis needs to invest big in its public transportation so that all St. Louisans can succeed financially and live a healthy and happy life.
NextSTL – St. Louis Bus System Disintegrating
A reconfiguration of Kingshighway is bold and daring. It will seem questionable to people used to the status quo. But it would make St. Louis a better place to live for all.