A 30-day test run of a new streetscape design in St. Louis has been so successful that the city may leave it in place, including restriped lanes and temporary concrete barriers, until final construction can begin next summer. With four city streets chosen for upgrading by the East-West Gateway Council of Governments, the six-block-long slice of South Grand Boulevard is the first that is seeing results.
“The overall notion of the ‘Great Streets’ project is to use these sites as demonstration projects to illustrate the concept of ‘complete streets,’” said Kurt Culbertson of Design Workshop in Aspen, Colorado and principal landscape architect for two of the four projects.
The new design reduces four traffic lanes to three, changes the timing of traffic lights, adds curb “bulb-outs” to reduce the amount of yardage pedestrians need to cross from 56 to 40 feet, and increases lighting and landscaping. About $2.7 million in federal stimulus funds have been awarded for the work.
“The goal is to have 50 percent of the new sections porous surfacing or plantings,” Culbertson said. “If we do that, then the majority of the water that falls will actually percolate into the ground.” St. Louis has a combined sewage-stormwater system, which can be overwhelmed during downpours. The landscaping and permeable pavements are seen as key to improved drainage. New trees will get bigger rootbeds to soak up more water. Rain gardens will be built into the sidewalks. Downspouts will empty into landscaped areas.
South Grand, the test site, is a busy street lined with restaurants and shops. But traffic, signage, and aging infrastructure are a problem. Drivers routinely speed, and the street saw 80 accidents and one pedestrian death in the first eight months of 2009. Alderman Jennifer Florida, whose ward includes the west side of the street, points out that one major intersection has no cues at all for pedestrians to cross.
Alderman Steve Conway, whose ward is on the east side of the street, said the results of the mock test have been positive, with public feedback about ten-to-one in favor. “I was concerned about getting 25,000 cars a day through at Grand and Arsenal,” he said. “And now, we’re getting the cars through, and we’ve slowed the traffic.”
One of the problems is that commuters tend to use Grand as a thoroughfare rather than a destination, said Terry Freeland, manager of corridor studies for East-West Gateway. “Is it to serve the neighborhoods and the businesses, or is it to help people get through the area as quickly as possible?” Freeland said. “The idea here is to try to balance those two needs,”
The project aims to change the way area communities view streets, making them safe and appealing for all modes of transportation, including pedestrians and cyclists. “One of the goals is to see these as models or prototypes for some of the things they can do in their own communities,” said Freeland.
A version of this article appeared in AN 01_10.14.2009_MW.