What’s Wrong With Post4TrafficOnline.com?

Post4TrafficOnline.com is the 800-pound gorilla in St. Louis traffic reporting sites. Put together just in time for the Highway 40 closure, this site should combine the in-depth reporting of the Post-Dispatch with the visually appealing videos from Channel 4 KMOV. Endless commercials on KMOV bill it as “the ultimate source for traffic information online in St. Louis”.

In reality, though, this “site” is just a single page that mushes all of the Post-Dispatch and KMOV content into one snapshot. It doesn’t behave as a single site. If you click on the button to play the highlighted video, it opens a new window on the KMOV site (with the video about 1/4 of the size on the home page). Want to click on an accident on the traffic map? Sorry, that pops up a new window as well and then loads the “real” traffic map, where you have to click on the accident again. In the end, you’ve got all kinds of browser windows open and no coherent view of traffic.

This set up might be forgivable, but the content is just wrong.

Here’s three examples:


There’s a mapping tool on the site that’s supposed to route you around the construction. When I asked it to get me from University City to Town and Country, the generated directions routed me onto the closed Highway 40. C’mon, this is basics folks!

Another neat looking feature gives you drive times and congestion reports. The problem? Around the lunch hour today, several areas (I-270, and 40 west of I-270) were reported as “gridlocked”, even though Gateway Guide cameras showed clear sailing throughout.

Well, at least they reported the closed section of Highway 40 as “gridlocked”!

(In fact, as I write this post, the “Drive Times and Congestion” feature is now missing from the Post4TrafficOnline site)

Finally, I found it odd that the featured video this afternoon was the afternoon weather forecast. Is this a traffic web site or a weather web site?

Looks like the Post-Dispatch and KMOV have a little bit of work to do.


Long Light

As the closure of Highway 40 forces thousands to take side streets and wait at stoplights, I imagine the MoDOT and St. Louis County traffic engineers may just take this comic to heart:

Long Light
(Courtesy: xkcd, a great geek comic strip — Original URL)
Long Light comic from xkcd.com


What To Do With All The Empty Concrete?

You may not realize it, but the St. Louis area will be given a gift as part of the Highway 40 shutdown, one that we must decide how to best utilize: One mile of completely vacant concrete!

Ballas and Highway 40 closed section

Everything you see marked in X’s will be vacant, along with another 1/2 mile east towards Spoede. This is outside the construction area, so there’s no rebuilding to do here.

Sure, I can hear Gateway Constructors complaining that they’ll need to run their dump trucks and tractors up and down this section of road, but they don’t need 8 lanes to do it! Give the community the southern half of the highway from the Ballas exit ramp to the temporary Outer Road crossover. That’s well over 5 acres of concrete!

The burning question is what to do with it? I’ve listed some ideas below and welcome yours. Only one rule: no suggestions that involve cars or trucks. They dominate enough of our roads. Besides, the neighbors deserve a break from the traffic noise.

  • Bike Criterium Races — this would be a great addition to the annual Gateway Cup over Labor Day, which tours all the great sites of St. Louis: downtown, Lafayette Square, the Hill, the Loop, and now Highway 40!
  • Skate Park – Skateboarders are always getting chased away from places to ride; let them rip it up on Highway 40
  • Ice Rink — What until it gets below freezing, then send the fire department out to hose it down. The hilly parts would provide a better ride than Art Hill. Just don’t let MoDOT get near the area with their nearby pile of salt.
  • Dog Park — let your dog “doo” on Highway 40 what you always wished you could’ve done while stuck in all those traffic jams.

What do you think St. Louis should do with all this prime concrete real estate?


Highway 40 History

As the major reconstruction project for Highway 40 alters interchange after interchange, you might appreciate a look back to the highway’s origins.

I’ve mentioned previously the nice photo montage that the Post-Dispatch has posted from the highway’s early days (look for the “Historic Photos of Highway 40″ on the right-hand side of the page).

KETC also had a nice feature on Living St. Louis with historic shots of the highway and a preview of the construction:


Red Light Camera Law

As people avoid the Highway 40 shutdown via alternate routes off the interstates, they should keep an eye out for the increasing number of red light cameras. Legal questions seem to arise with the use of these cameras. Here are a few interesting tidbits from web sites:

  • http://www.highwayrobbery.net/ — A very in-depth site on fighting tickets for red light cameras. However, this site is specific to California state law.
  • City of St. Louis Law for Red Light cameras. A notable difference from California law, which identifies the individual driving, is that St. Louis gives the ticket to the vehicle owner, regardless of the actual driver.
  • How long should a light be yellow? MoDOT says 4-5 seconds. For the gory details, see this page and scroll down to the table.

There have been efforts to standardize the laws for red light cameras at the state level, such as this bill which would, among other things, prohibit third-party companies from setting signal timings. However, I haven’t found any indications that these laws were passed.

What are your thoughts on red light cameras? Of course, these cameras are revenue producers, but do they also help with traffic safety?


Weather, Traffic, SPUIs, and DDIs

It seems that it’s not just thinning-hair computer science majors (i.e. myself) that have an interest in the area’s traffic. It looks like Fox 2’s own thinning-hair weatherman, Chris Higgins, has taken a liking to traffic in addition to the area’s humidity and cold fronts.

Chris posted to his blog recently about the proposed interchange at I-270 and Dorsett Road. One option being considered is a Single Point Urban Interchange (SPUI), used at Olive and I-270 and also planned for the Lindbergh, Hampton, and Kingshighway interchanges on Highway 40. Once considered novel, the SPUI is becoming much more commonplace in the St. Louis area.

The second option is completely unconventional. Called a Diverging Diamond Interchange (DDI), this interchange actually has you driving on the “wrong” side of the road under the overpass. Not to mention it’s never been built in the United States. There’s a wikipedia article to explain a DDI, but Chris also has video of MoDOT explaining this very unique intersection. (You can view Chris’s full post here). MoDOT has also posted diagrams of the proposed SPUI and DDI.

This isn’t the first time that MoDOT has been pushing the envelope with traffic designs. Yesterday’s Post-Dispatch highlighted another interesting intersection, the continuous flow interchange, that just opened at Highway 30 and Summit Drive.


MoDOT’s “Map My Trip” Not Working As Advertised

If you’ve ever used Google Maps or Mapquest to get directions somewhere, you’ll know what MoDOT’s “Map My Trip” is supposed to do. Give it a starting point and ending point, and out will come turn-by-turn directions. What makes “Map My Trip” different, though, is that it is supposed to route you around road closures caused by construction in St. Louis city and county.

So, why, on this weekend of a major ramp closure from Highway 40 west to I-170 north, does “Map My Trip” tell you to take that closed ramp? As shown below, when given a fictitious route from Busch Stadium to near 170 and Delmar, the Map My Trip tool blissfully routes you along the closed I-170 ramp.

Sample Map My Trip route

There are many people nervous about traveling in the construction zones, and they are looking for guidance around closed ramps and roads. MoDOT has heavily advertised this tool toward those people. But if MoDOT can’t get it to work properly with such a big ramp closure as this weekend’s, I’d have to doubt the tool’s value at all.


Summary of Highway 40 WebCams and Photos

If you’d like to see how the Highway 40/I-64 construction project is progressing without venturing into traffic, here are a number of web-cams and photo galleries to give you a close-up view:

Kingshighway Web Cam Image
from thenewi64.org

Web-cams

  • The New I-64 Web site — great high-quality shots of the Kingshighway intersection. Try the “time lapse” feature. Views of the I-170 interchange should be coming, but those cameras currently look into someone’s cubicle!
  • Fox 2/Science Center — a view from the Science Center bridge looking on Highway 40
  • Gateway Guide Traffic Camera — Choose the camera at I-170 to see some grainy construction shots

Photo Galleries

  • KMOV Channel 4 — Look for the “construction photos” links. One is a great photo gallery submitted by Don Galvin, spokesman for Gateway Constructors. (As a side note, Dan Galvin is a mountain biker! A full story on Dan was in a St. Louis Business Journal article.)
  • The New I-64 Newsletter — Check out page 2 of the just-released summer newsletter for a nice montage of photos.
  • Post Dispatch Historic Photos — Look for the “Historic Photos of Highway 40″ on the right-hand side of the page

If you know of other webcams or photo galleries, share them in the comments section.


Honking to Reduce Traffic Jams

In order to find ways to help St. Louis drivers negotiate the Highway 40 construction project, I have been scouring academic research reports regarding traffic flow issues. The study I found today, reported by The Onion, seems to be the optimal solution. I’ll be submitting this idea to MoDOT for their inclusion in traffic planning for the upcoming Highway 40 shutdown.

Tired Of Traffic? A New DOT Report Urges Drivers: ‘Honk’


Update: Lane Shift Standards

Lane Shift guidelines In a previous post, I documented drivers’ behavior at the lane shift at Highway 40 and Tamm Avenue, which many of you agreed was dangerous. In looking for ways to make this area safer, I noted that the lane shift at I-270 and Dougherty Ferry used solid white lines for lane markers instead of dashed lines like at Tamm. It was much easier to stay in the lane with these bright solid lines. These two construction projects are handled by different contractors, so I asked MoDOT what standards they specify. I received a quick and professional response from MoDOT:

At the core of the issue, Federal Highway’s Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices dictates the guidelines we use for lane shifts. If you have a dramatic lane shift, or one that requires a quick traffic movement, the manual dictates using solid lanes. If the lane shift is a little more gradual, it is acceptable to use the dashed lines. Often times, the determination on the traffic impact of a lane shift is made by the person designing that particular traffic movement. So, though MoDOT doesn’t provide guidelines per se (since we use Federal mandated guidelines), we will adhere to, and ensure contractors adhere to, those guidelines. As with every guideline, though, there is some area for interpretation.

If you’d like to read the guidelines on lane shifts for yourself, here are links to the notes and the details . The guidelines seem to lean toward using solid lines as lane markers, but does leave it open to some interpretation.

At MoDOT’s recommendation, I will submit a comment form to the Highway 40 project team, asking them to look at the video I shot to see if solid white lines might be an improvement in this area. I’ll keep you up-to-date on their response.

Update 6/22:

I received the following response from the I-64 Community Relations team. They are not considering use of solid lane lines at Tamm, for reasons they describe below. So the best advice for now is to stay vigilant when driving through these lane shifts.

EB I-64 at Tamm, the traffic shift is fairly minor, and the use of solid lines is not recommended. WB I-64 at Tamm the lane shift is more noticeable on the inside lanes and very minor on the outside lane. This is caused by the lanes narrowing from 12′ to 11′ in the work zone, with the outside lane experiencing the smallest shift.

At this time, the use of solid lane lines between each lane is not being considered. One of the main reasons for this is that the transition points for the stripes use curves opposed to hard angle points and taper-style lane shifts. The taper lane shift is shown on the MUTCD excerpt on your blog; meaning, there are hard angle points where the stripes force traffic to turn abruptly to remain in their proper lane. The Tamm workzone lane lines use curves allowing for smooth transitions around the work zone. Plus, the striped curves are designed to handle 55 mph interstate traffic, so no speed reduction signs are necessary. By designing the traffic shift to current speed limit, the need for solid lane lines between lanes is also reduced.


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