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?


I-170 Mess in December AND 2008

As you may have heard, starting tomorrow, southbound I-170 will be reduced to one lane from Galleria Parkway to Eager Road for approximately two weeks. Dan Galvin said on Fox 2 that this is “not going to be pretty”. Already the two lanes of southbound I-170 back up to at least the Galleria Parkway as people try to get on Highway 40 or Eager Road. Now, imagine that’s one lane, and I can see backups extending to Forest Park Parkway or even further north.

Now, you may think this is a temporary inconvenience, since MoDOT has stated that this will only last for two weeks. However, you need to look more closely at the construction plans come the shutdown on January 2nd, 2008. Here’s the lane layout that Gateway Constructors has published:

http://www.thenewi64.org/download/construction_zone/2008%20Brentwood-Eager%20Details.pdf

Sure, if you’re going east on Highway 40 from I-170, you’ll have two lanes on the new flyover ramp. But if you’re headed anywhere else (Hanley, Brentwood, Eager, etc.), you need to look a little more closely:

I-170 at Eager Rd during Highway 40 construction

There will be just a single lane from Galleria Parkway to Eager Road. Not only that, but, as the blue arrow shows, you won’t have any separate turn lanes onto Eager. All traffic will be funneled through the intersection in a single lane. I have confirmed this with Gateway Constructors.

How many cars can you send through that light at a time? 20, 30? Is there any hope that this configuration will handle all the traffic trying to get onto Eager and the Brentwood Promenade?


Wash U, Downtown to Introduce Car Sharing Program

A few months ago at a breakfast on employer strategies for the Highway 40/I-64 shutdown, I had the opportunity to hear how Washington University is handling the construction and their general parking woes. Steve Hoffner, Assistant Vice Chancellor at Washington University, began the presentation by highlighting an area that critics like to bring up with Wash U: its big spending. Wash U is building a new student center that includes a 500-car underground parking garage. The cost per parking space? $43,000!

Even for a school with a giant endowment like Wash U, those kind of dollars spent on parking just don’t make a lot of sense. So, what are they doing to handle their parking problems and the Highway 40 construction? Some of it is the usual: flex-scheduling, carpooling, and telecommuting. Wash U is also in their second year of the “U-Pass”, an unlimited pass for Metro buses and trains given to full-time students and staff. This program gave out 17,000 passes in the first year with 1.9 million trips taken on Metro. This cost Wash U $2.2 million, which Mr. Hoffner insisted was not a “special deal” for Wash U.

Most interesting, though was the announcement that Washington University is going to introduce a car sharing program by the end of this calendar year. The two major players in car sharing, Flexcar and Zipcar (who will merge into one company), have thus far missed the St. Louis area in their rollout. Instead, Wash U will be partnering with Enterprise, the locally-based rental car giant. Details so far are sparse — reservations will be online and unlocking the car will be done using a personal computer chip. Rates and car types are thus far unknown. (Zipcar and Flexcar are roughly $8/hour and often have hybrids in their fleet).

Don’t go to Wash U? Don’t worry. According to the Citizens for Modern Transit, the partnership also includes Pyramid Construction and Loftworks, allowing those downtown to car share as well.


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.


Prediction: I-270 Bears the Brunt of the Highway 40 Construction (Updated)

With the January 2nd shutdown of Highway 40/I-64 just two months away, the conventional wisdom is that the major traffic headaches will be seen on roads that parallel the closed portion of the highway. Clayton, Ladue, Manchester, and Olive will surely see substantial increases in traffic. As will I-44 and I-70, though those interstates will be able to absorb the traffic due to the added lanes on those roads (see recent article on the safety of that move). Yet, I don’t think it’s any of these roads that will bear the worst part of the traffic congestion after the shutdown. Rather, it will be I-270 that gets hit with the crawling traffic on a day-to-day basis.

First, we need to realize that I-270 is already running near capacity during most rush hours. Next, imagine the fire hose of traffic that’s eastbound on Highway 40 any morning. It will be forced to divert north or south on I-270, as shown on the map below. Chances are that most of drivers will choose the southbound route, since I-44 exits are closer to their Highway 40 counterparts than I-70. The result? Delays and jams on I-270, particularly between Highway 40 and I-44.


[Zoom and pan the map as needed; Click on markers/routes for more information; full map]

It won’t be just I-270 that gets the diverted traffic. Many of the north-south arteries in West County, such as 141 and Lindbergh, will struggle under the load of drivers finding new routes to their destinations.

It seems that some of the county’s traffic experts are worried as well. Garry Earls, director of the County’s Department of Highways and Traffic, had the following to say at a recent meeting of the I-64 Connection Subcommittee:

Garry Earls strongly recommended that state transportation officials do everything within their power to encourage east-bound I-64 motorists to take north-bound I-270 – once the interstate closures begin early next year. Earls is concerned that too many I-64/40 drivers will try to circumvent the closure by taking I-270 south to I-44, and thence to Elm Avenue. “The overwhelming majority of east-bound I-64 traffic is headed for Clayton, and I-44 won’t be able to handle them,” Earls predicted. “We have to figure out how to get those cars to the north – not the south, because we don’t have a place to put them. We have a place to park them, and that place is Webster Groves.

Earls continued to say that these motorists – rather than using I-44 to access the central corridor – must be given every incentive to take I-270 north from I-64 to reach Olive and Page.

MoDOT’s Ron Morris responded that the state can’t force motorists to take I-270 north from I-64, but that he would consult with other MoDOT traffic engineers about the possibility of providing an additional exit lane onto northbound I-270 for I-64 drivers to
use.

[source]

What are your thoughts? Where will the worst jams be in January of 2008? Leave a comment by clicking on the link below.

UPDATE 11/4/07:

It seems Fox 2 liked this posting. Friday they had an interview with Gerry Earls and showed a map very similar to the one above (down to the color of the routes). Glad someone’s reading!


Prediction: Eager Road becomes parking lot in 2008

Today, Gateway Constructors and MoDOT announced the official plans for the Highway 40/I-64 shutdown on January 2, 2008. Perhaps it was wishful thinking on my part, but I expected that Brentwood access to Highway 40 would remain intact. Alas, no. There will be no access between Highway 40 and Brentwood Blvd. In the map below, I’ve highlighted the key ramps that will be closed.


[Zoom and pan the map as needed; Click on markers for more information; Full map]

What’s the implication of this? Well, Eager Road (highlighted in red), already a nightmare during rush hour with the current construction, will only get worse. Drivers going between Brentwood and Hanley/Highway 40 will add to the already heavy traffic going to the multiple big box stores along Eager. Don’t count on returning those Christmas gifts to Best Buy or Target after January 2nd.

What about the Galleria? St. Louisans need their shopping fix, so the map above highlights a couple of alternate routes. The one in blue exits at Hanley Road, then Clayton Road to the Galleria. Although the shortest, I anticipate the Hanley exit will be extremely congested. In that case, take the scenic route, going north on I-170 (there will be two lanes to northbound I-170 from Highway 40). Then take your first exit, Forest Park Parkway. Exit at Brentwood Blvd going south to the Galleria. Then enjoy having most of the mall to yourself, since everyone else will be scared away from this area.


Tamm Avenue Opening & Lane Shifts Revisited

MoDOGYesterday, the first small portion of the Highway 40 reconstruction project was completed. The Tamm Avenue bridge opened up to traffic six months to the day after the old overpass had been imploded. I attended the opening, and much of it was the mundane: the political speeches, the posing for the media, and the propaganda banner proclaiming “A Milestone Delivered” . However, there were some things that highlighted the uniqueness of the area: the unveiling of Bob Casilly’s reconstructed snake biting the bridge, turtle races on the bridge, a cute “MoDOG”, and a surprisingly poignant speech by Sunny Glassberg, who helped found Turtle Park.

At the same time, I was curious if six months of lane shifts had changed driver behavior around Tamm Avenue, which I highlighted several months ago in this video.

A summary of it all is in the video below.

By the way, the Post-Dispatch had a nice article in today’s paper about the overpass opening. It features a photo of my son keeping an eye on the wayward traffic on the highway below.


Are Narrow Lanes on I-44 and I-70 Safe?

In preparation for the Highway 40/I-64 shutdown this January, MO-DOT is in the process of restriping I-44 and I-70, a process which will add an additional lane for the anticipated alternate route traffic from the shutdown. The Post-Dispatch covered the topic in an article today. What caught my eye, though, was this section:

Officials say there’s no evidence that the narrower lanes will increase the number of traffic crashes.

“We haven’t seen any difference in the accident statistics,” said Linda Wilson, spokeswoman for the Transportation Department. “We aren’t aware of any research that shows statistically more accidents.”

Really? I did a quick Google search for “narrow lane accident rate”. The second item on the list was a study from the U.S Department Transportation on how adding a lane on an urban highway affects accident rates. It’s key finding:


The analysis results indicate that narrow-lane or shoulder-use-lane projects on urban freeways increase accident frequencies for four- to five-lane conversion projects.


(from: “Safety Effects of Using Narrow Lanes and Shoulder-Use Lanes to Increase the Capacity of Urban Freeways“)

Now, as with any study, there are a lot of details. I sorted through the discussion on Empirical Bayes Analysis and statistically significant results. The above results are statistically significant. The only caveat is that many projects in the study added a High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lane as part of the project, which could contribute to the accident rate, though that was not analyzed specifically.

Furthermore, the study postulates that “downstream” traffic may also have increased traffic rates. An example of this in St. Louis would be eastbound I-44 which will be restriped to have 5 lanes. Near the I-55 junction, though, those 5 lanes get reduced to just 2. That junction may prove to be more accident-prone according to the study.

So, a 10 minute Google search by a non-traffic engineer turns up a study showing statistically more accidents when lanes are narrowed on urban highways. Yet MoDOT couldn’t find such evidence? Did they really look, or was it more convenient to state that their actions are safe? I don’t expect a MoDOT spokesperson to be thoroughly read on all the latest traffic engineering studies. But I do expect that MoDOT employs traffic engineers who do read these studies and who consider those studies when making traffic changes.


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    Highway 40 Insight analyzes the Highway 40 construction project from the perspective of an everyday driver. Entries are written by Jason Hunt, who has no education in traffic engineering, but doesn't let that stop him from commenting on traffic matters.
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