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Hampton Avenue’s New ‘Road Diet’ Offers Glimpse Of Lindell’s Future

Automobiles zipper from two lanes down to one just south of Hampton and Chippewa in south St. Louis, at the northernmost end of the project, which ends at Hampton and Gravois.
Evie Hemphill
St. Louis Public Radio
Automobiles zipper from two lanes down to one just south of Hampton and Chippewa in south St. Louis, at the northernmost end of the project, which ends at Hampton and Gravois.

Five years ago, just about a month after Abby Fischer had moved her gift shop into a new space along Hampton Avenue, a car burst through one of its brick walls at 45 miles per hour.

“We were open — there were customers in the store,” Fischer, the owner of Abigail’s Gift Boutique, recalled to St. Louis on the Air. “The car came halfway into the store. It was like a disaster in here. Nobody was hurt, so that was the most important thing. But we were closed for three months while we had to rebuild. … It definitely, I think, was due to the safety of Hampton.”

It wouldn’t be the last time a vehicle struck the shop. And much as Fischer loves the neighborhood where she lives and runs her businesses, the behavior of drivers along Hampton has long been a stressor.

“Almost every day you would hear that screeching sound, and you’d look up and wait to see an accident out front,” she said.

But a few weeks ago, Hampton Avenue changed in a big way: From Gravois to Chippewa, the formerly four-lane thoroughfare has been put on a “road diet.” Now, traffic is limited to one lane in each direction, with the addition of a center turning lane plus wider parking lanes on each side.

Already, Fischer feels like she’s seeing a major difference for the better.

“I know I’ve seen a lot more people with strollers and families and pets out walking, and I feel like they’re more comfortable,” she said. She estimates that her commute takes about 30 seconds longer now but said it’s worth it. “And the feedback that I’m getting from my customers is that they’re more comfortable crossing the streets as well. So for me it’s been 100, 200 times improvement.”

Aldermen Bill Stephens represents St. Louis’ 12th Ward.
Evie Hemphill / St. Louis Public Radio
Aldermen Bill Stephens represents St. Louis’ 12th Ward.

Fischer’s not alone in that opinion. St. Louis Alderman Bill Stephens, whose 12th Ward includes some of the capital improvement project, said even some of his constituents who expressed apprehension prior to the recent repaving and painting now say they’re pleased with the result.

"I was quite surprised at how forthright people were in saying that, ‘You know what, I was wrong, and this was for the better,’” Stephens said, adding, “That said, I did get a text message just about 45 minutes ago from a constituent who doesn’t like it.”

Another such “road diet” is on the horizon just a few miles north of the Hampton project: Lindell Boulevard along Forest Park. There, project plans are drawing ire from some residents, as reported by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Stephens suggested that sometimes the skepticism that accompanies new street plans has to do with needing to see to believe it.

“Trying to envision it and understand what it would be like, versus actually experiencing it and seeing how safe it is, is all the difference,” Stephens said.

In the case of the Hampton project, safety was the big priority. The parking lane along the thoroughfare grew from 7 to 10 feet wide, for instance, creating needed “breathing room,” the alderman said.

“I remember the first time I drove Hampton, and it scared the absolute daylights out of me years and years ago, because everything was so constricted. And everything was fast,” Stephens said. “And I do get to hear the stories [like Fischer’s] — I do have to bear witness to those stories. And I also have to bear witness to the data: Hampton was dangerous.

“A cyclist was hit and killed in an accident at Jamieson and Hampton, right at the corner of Wilmore Park, just a handful of years ago. We’ve had to airlift people out of that intersection,” he continued. “This [road diet] slows cars down. It does increase turning safety — you’re only turning across one lane of traffic, not two. [And] if you’re trying to come in from an alleyway, you don’t have to enter an active lane of traffic to see, ‘Do I have space to enter an active lane of traffic?’”

Safety-Focused ‘Road Diet’ Cuts Hampton Avenue From 4 Through Lanes To 2
Listen as host Sarah Fenske talks with St. Louis 12th Ward Alderman Bill Stephens and community members.

The repaving and restriping cost just under $200,000, Stephens noted, and is just part of a larger vision for Hampton that could include curb bumpouts, crosswalks, more bike-friendly infrastructure — and other changes that keep all types of road users in mind.

Community members joined in the conversation, with a discussion that began on theSt. Louis on the AirFacebook page before the show and continued well after it.

“I live in Southampton, and I love the changes to Hampton,” wrote a listener named Mimi. “Making a left turn from Hampton into the neighborhood was always scary because you never knew if someone was going to come flying around the S curve and smack you in the rear end. The turn lane makes it so much safer! Lots of people complained that it would cause traffic backups, but that hasn't really happened.”

To listener Rachelle, a road diet “makes sense” in business districts.

“Decreasing the lanes from four to two opens up the opportunity for a more walkable/bikeable community,” she explained. “There’s potential for outdoor dining and other activations. Expanding the sidewalk area offers more room for trees to stabilize and grow in a healthy environment lending to a more attractive streetscape.”

But a community member named Tom voiced concerns.

“I hate it when this is done on major ‘arteries’ — it's dangerous, because people aren't always expecting to lose a lane, and they don't know how to drive safely when the transition occurs,” Tom wrote. “I support trains and bike lanes, but until the city has that infrastructure fully developed, we're an auto-based town, and we need to keep traffic flow moving, and safe.”

Others shared their thoughts on Twitter.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Evie was a producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.