Archive for the ‘traffic’ Category

What does a Transportation Improvement Program mean for future of the Arch Grounds?

Monday, August 8th, 2011

The East-West Gateway Council of Governments is the designated regional planning agency for the St. Louis metropolitan region. East-West Gateway coordinates region-wide initiatives across metropolitan boundaries to fulfill its mission:

To help create a better sense of “region” among our unique local government constituency by acting as a catalyst to achieve consensus on regional issues, plan alternative actions, and aggressively pursue positive change in the physical, economic, and social environment.

One of the major responsibilities of the agency is to oversee the regional Transportation Improvement Program (TIP). The TIP is essentially a schedule that allots federal resources to local transportation projects. TIPs combine the many government’s plans in the St. Louis region into one coherent regional strategy, clearing the way for specific federal funding channels to be available for transportation projects in our region. Included plans cover highway construction as well as public transportation and all significant highway and major transit projects must be included in the region’s TIP plan in order to land funding. East-West Gateway is currently in the process of issuing a new TIP for the period 2012-2015, a timeframe consistent with the 2015 City Arch River Foundation deadline for the completion of improvements to the Arch grounds.

Many projects included in previous TIPs have had significant impacts on the region. Several such completed or current projects are the new I-70 Mississippi River Bridge and the rebuild of I-64 from the City of St. Louis to Ballas Road in St. Louis County. The new inclusion of funding for improvements connected with the Arch grounds project puts highway funding for the Arch improvement effort directly on the region’s priority list.

TIP plans for the Arch grounds include $1,000,000 in Metro funding for improved cycling and pedestrian connections (classified as sustainable development) and $25,373,000 in MODOT funding for 1.65 miles of roadway reconstruction on or near Memorial Drive and I-70 from the Poplar Street Bridge to Washington Avenue (classified as preservation).

The specifics of the MODOT proposal have not been released to the public however the image shown on the cover the East-West Gateway TIP document features a view of the Old Court House shot from Memorial Drive at the depressed lanes. Whatever the exact nature of the $25 million in highway-related construction, it is troubling that automobile-centered transportation is being prioritized by a 25:1 ratio in the urban center of our region.

Why sever connections?

Friday, October 8th, 2010

Protecting current accessibility while creating more and better connections is the challenge currently faced by the winning design team of Michael Van Valkenburgh and Associates (MVVA). A primary mission of the effort to re-imagine the Arch grounds, and its surroundings, is to better connect the city to the Arch and riverfront. This is best accomplished by keeping the downtown street grid intact, and reconnecting it where connections have been broken.

The barrier presented to the downtown St. Louis pedestrian, driver, or bicyclist is the unpredictability of the current street grid. One-way streets, interruptions by I-70 (and other interstates,) and closed streets all create a less predictable, less inviting experience. City streets serve to connect. Storefronts, cafes, sidewalks and trees serve as attractors of pedestrian activity.  Every change from a basic grid makes it less functional, and more of an impediment to those who use it.

Now, it appears possible that the new design for the Arch grounds may remove no less than three current downtown streets, further severing connections between the City, Arch, and River. It has yet to be explained how fewer, less-predictable connections effectively weave these three elements together.

MVVA’s winning design proposes closing Lenor K. Sullivan Boulevard along the levee for the length of the Arch grounds. It also proposes closing Washington Avenue adjacent to the Eads Bridge, and now competition organizers are suggesting that Memorial Drive may be closed, an idea that MVVA did not propose.

The removal of three downtown streets represents a significant step backwards in the development of downtown. The solution to connectivity, additional real-estate development, and a more livable, attractive, and sustainable city is the introduction of more connections, more connected downtown streets, and a return to a connected street grid.

Currently, Lenor K. Sullivan Boulevard provides a north-south connection that allows visitors to avoid the unfriendly and confusing tangle of Memorial Drive and I-70. Its closure would place additional traffic on Memorial Drive. The closure of Washington Avenue would remove the last east-west connection that reaches our river for miles to the north and south. It would truncate the heart of downtown’s most vibrant district, introducing a new and unexpected barrier.  Finally, it would sever the historic, and spiritual link from east to west. While the Arch symbolizes the gateway to the West, the Eads Bridge and Washington Avenue served, and continue to serve, as the physical manifestation of that gateway.

The closure of Memorial Drive at the Gateway Mall would introduce the most significant, disruptive and negative result of the three. A traffic-free connection between Luther Ely Smith Square and the Arch grounds provides a dubious benefit to pedestrians while introducing a major barrier to vehicles.  Urban spaces with equal access for all forms of traffic, vehicular, bicycle, and pedestrian, are the most healthy, organic, and vibrant.  Experience has shown that segregating these forms of traffic into their own spheres promotes decay, and ultimately provides a disincentive for investment and development.

Closing Memorial Drive has been studied, and its impact is generally understood. However, alternatives have not been studied. The impact of returning downtown streets to two-way traffic, the potential to reconnect streets, the reorganization of confusing intersections, and the removal of the I-70 trench and elevated lanes have not been considered. Only a comprehensive understanding of all issues and options at hand should inform decisions. To this end, City to River continues to advocate for a comprehensive transportation study of downtown and the I-70 corridor, before any binding decisions are made regarding street closures.

Predictability and accommodation are the best attributes for encouraging pedestrian activity. The closure of Memorial Drive may provide a dedicated pedestrian space, but it introduces other problems. To encourage visitors to explore the Arch grounds and downtown St. Louis, connections should be many and similar. The removal of I-70 and its replacement with an urban boulevard accomplishes this by providing predictable, accommodating pedestrian and vehicle access throughout the entire length of the Arch grounds and further north.

The closure of Memorial Drive creates barriers. Drivers must negotiate four 90-degree turns, additional stop lights, and several blocks to simply drive north-south. All traffic wishing to use Memorial Drive is diverted onto Market, 4th and Chestnut streets.  Severely disrupting vehicular connectivity to allow pedestrians to cross one street makes little sense when any pedestrian visiting the Arch will have to cross one or more of these other streets in any event. A visitor walking the Gateway Mall from Union Station to the Arch will cross 14 city streets. Will the prospect of crossing a 15th prevent visitors from reaching the Arch?

One MVVA idea lauded by the competition jury was the placing of remote ticketing kiosks around downtown. This would allow visitors to purchase a tram ticket and spend any time waiting to explore downtown, get a bite to eat and do some shopping. Obviously, this would require crossing many downtown streets. Crossing streets is not something that can, or should, be avoided in downtown St. Louis, or any urban environment.  While City to River advocates for a better pedestrian experience, the elimination of downtown streets is an old and failed idea. The introduction of new barriers can and should be avoided in downtown St. Louis.

In many respects, MVVA has created an exciting and compelling vision for the future of the Arch grounds and downtown St. Louis.  In our view, though, refining of the team’s plan for street connections is necessary.  In fewer than 90 days, the MVVA winning design plan will be converted into a more final construction plan. City to River continues to focus on creating more and better connections between our City, Arch, and River.  We look forward to working with those considering how best to accomplish those connections.

Self-Healing Roads: Strong Track Record of Success for Highway Removal

Thursday, July 22nd, 2010

The idea that a highway segment can be replaced with an urban boulevard without creating significant traffic problems strikes some people as unlikely.  Time and again around the world, though, highway removals have shown traffic patterns to be flexible and adaptive, with doomsday predictions of gridlock proving false.  This “self-healing” nature of road networks suggests that City to River’s proposal to replace the downtown portion of (soon-to-be-former) Interstate 70 with an urban boulevard is likely to cause minimal adverse effects on the vast majority of drivers traveling through the St. Louis area.

Although it seems counterintuitive, many traffic experts understand that creating more road capacity via highways actually tends to increase congestion in urban areas.  Highways force (or, at least, cause) too many drivers to use a single route that often has inadequate access points to a city, rather than distributing the traffic more evenly over a network of roads.  High-speed routes introduce inefficiencies by inducing drivers to go out of their way in an attempt to save a minute or two, as opposed to taking a more direct route on local streets.  Even the mere ability of drivers to move faster can cause traffic problems.  As explained in a 2006 SmartMobility report, “[s]peed is confused with capacity.  An urban street can carry more vehicle traffic at 30 m.p.h. than it can at 50 m.p.h. because the capacity is controlled at signalized intersections.”

More and more cities are recognizing the problems caused by highways cutting through their urban cores, and the benefits that can be achieved when those highways are removed.  Highway removal and restoration of the urban grid thus has become a preferred choice for an ever-growing number of cities.  Even the U.S. Department of Transportation has recognized that replacing an urban highway with a surface boulevard is the more financially and environmentally sensible choice for some cities, and is consistent with USDOT’s goal of ensuring that “[p]edestrians, bicyclists, motorists and public transport users of all ages and abilities are able to move safely and comfortably along and across a complete street.”

When a highway is eliminated, traffic tends to adapt quickly.  Drivers spread across grid networks, with replacement streets serving much of the same traffic and previously underutilized routes absorbing the rest.  Often, traffic in the impacted area appears to simply “disappear,” as drivers adopt alternative routes, travel times, and even modes of transportation.  As noted in a 1998 study that analyzed the effects of seventy cases of reduced road capacity (although not necessarily highway removal), “traffic problems are usually far less serious that predicted,” and “widespread, long-term disruption is hardly ever reported.”

These are more than abstract theories, but rather have been proven time and again in successful urban highway removals around the world.  Here are just a few examples of highway removals that have not caused the major traffic problems predicted by experts and feared by the public: