St. Louis Calms Traffic With Heavy Concrete Globes

Photo: nextSTL
Photo: nextSTL

Wide streets encourage speeding and make it uncomfortable to walk and bike. One solution is to expand sidewalks at intersections, making it easier to cross the street and slowing down turning motorists. Rebuilding curbs and drainage can be expensive and time-consuming, however.

For the last 10 years, St. Louis has been using an inexpensive substitute for full sidewalk expansions: giant concrete globes, nicknamed “Slay balls” after former Mayor Francis Slay. The city recently installed a new round of Slay balls in Tower Grove East, and motorists are complaining about them, reports nextSTL‘s Michael Allen. But they respond to a real need for traffic calming and were requested by nearby residents, he explains:

In the 6th ward, where the bollards are now in place, Alderwoman Christine Ingrassia uses participatory budgeting as a form of popular input to determine how to spend money that City Hall still allows to be directed on the granular level of the ward. Ingrassia started a process in 2015 where a majority of residents who participated elected to place Slay balls up and down the street. Less ugly options, such as building out new curbs, exceeded available funds.

This particular configuration, where the bollards are placed in the roadbed to make car turns tighter and shorten crossing distances, is relatively new for St. Louis. Some people may not like the way they look, but the globes are a cost-effective solution to dangerously designed streets.

More recommended reading today: Bike Portland writes that an international cycling expert is none-too-impressed with the city’s bike infrastructure. Tri-TAG evaluates how well the city of Kitchener, Ontario, keeps its sidewalks clear of winter snow and ice. And Cleveland Scene reports the local transit agency RTA is offering free rides and shelters in stations as the east gets pummeled with bitter cold and wind.

  • I think they look kind of nice. I’m sad I didn’t notice any of them when I was in St. Louis earlier this year.

  • Jeff
  • TakeFive

    Hilarious, Sad or just plain Idiotic?

    “Less than 24 hours after it was erected – squat in the middle of West End Avenue – two of the reflective posts were destroyed. After just a few days, all of them (each about a foot tall) have been knocked off by cars leaving six just little black plastic base mounts that drivers can’t see – especially at night.

    It is an idiotic hazard that cars are constantly running over. At about 4:00 am a taxi drove over them and had a small accident.”

  • 1980Gardener

    I like it, but maybe a planter with flowers would be better?

  • gneiss

    It’s important to point out that Vision Zero does not mean an end to collisions and crashes by motorists. Nor does it mean that drivers will not be inconvenienced by these treatments. Putting street furniture like this into roadways will initially cause more motorists to damage their cars as some of them fail to get use to the new configurations. Planners and traffic engineers need to hold firm in face of these criticisms, however, because the longer term benefits (slowing drivers, reducing crossing distances for people walking and biking) far outweigh any minimal costs in vehicle damages in the reduction of serious injuries and deaths that comes from these measures.

  • c2check

    I still can’t believe they removed Slow Zone signage and barriers when they got hit too many times…. yeah, that’s the point.
    Make them HEAVIER and STURDIER and if you as a driver can’t see the thing, then that’s your problem. You’re lucky it wasn’t a human you hit there.

  • Jeff

    I have a feeling that the real reason they removed the Slow Zone signage and barriers had to do more with taking up space formerly occupied by… well, you know, the same reason any street safety project gets watered down.

  • Michael

    Why doesn’t the city ask whoever is building those concrete bollards for them to fabricate a bump-out? It would just be a shaped concrete slab. If we’re going to use a low cost, quasi-temporary solution, at least it would resemble the intended future-state solution.

  • Ben Schumacher

    They look like the same balls Target uses, except not red. I feel like it would be good to have them not be a concrete color, though I don’t think they would need to be traffic safety yellow. Maybe they should let the community paint them in vibrant colors.

  • deadindenver

    I support the quieting of streets, but this one doesn’t seem well thought out. Does anyone else think a heavy truck or vehicle could push one these concrete globes off it’s base and the subsequent rolling around (it is round) could cause far more damage? Maybe something with a broad base, brightly colored and reflectors for night?


    Well, if the operator of said truck is worth the money their paid, they’ll do their job and not hit it.

  • Steven Fleming

    We had these in my city. They removed them when they scratched a few cars.

  • Steven Fleming

    Drivers complain of scratches if they are inept. If I’m inept as a cyclist, I’m dead! Those motorists need a dose of perspective.

  • gb52

    Agree. The lines on the street clearly indicate a barrier that should not be crossed and a scratched car could just as easily have been another pedestrian hit by a car or run over by a truck. We should actually do more of this; getting drivers to actually pay attention to the road and adapt to the situation rather than flying through.

    As for the ball, a simple reflector wouldn’t hurt, but I hope they are bolted to the ground.

  • Brendan Murphy

    The bollards didn’t scratch the cars — people scratched their cars on the bollards by not driving properly. You wouldn’t say that trees damaged cars driven into them.

  • Frank Kotter

    No and sure.

  • Steven H

    Wow, the anti-post commenters aren’t really thinking their arguments through… one seems to be having a problem with basic driving tasks (like “managing” both oncoming traffic and pedestrians, and staying in his own lane while turning), and another wants to know how a one foot tall post that the driver “can’t even see when he’s next to it” is supposed to protect pedestrians. It’s like listening to Oregan drivers talking about pumping gas.

  • Greg
  • disqus_1pvtRUVrlr

    Because it isn’t nearly that simple or cheap. The article even specifically said that. The biggest thing is altering drainage.

  • disqus_1pvtRUVrlr

    More hyperbole; “…dangerously designed streets”. 36′ curb-to-curb is a typical, urban neighborhood gridded street. There’s even a 4-way stop at the intersection. Maybe what is dangerous are the people driving.

  • Charles Siegel

    You can create bulb outs that preserve the current drainage. You have to leave a gutter between the bulb-out and the existing street with a metal covering that can be lifted to clean out the gutter – same thing they do with parklets.

  • Michael

    Correct, it would cost a some money to do the permanent bulb-out and move the drainage, but if we’re just going to drop chunks of concrete on the ground why not use ones that replicate the shape of the bulb out?

  • neroden

    No, that’s an absurdly large street. My upstate NY small town neighborhood has 16′ curb-to-curb streets. What’s the extra 20′ for?

    However, of course the drivers are dangerous — there are no standards for drivers’ licenses in this country. Any idiot can get a driver’s license and keep it after recklessly running over multiple people — the DMV will never revoke the license no matter how much reckless driving there is.

    Unfortunately there is nothing the City of St Louis can do about the Missouri State Government’s reckless issuance of driver’s licenses to reckless drivers. All they can do is make the streets safer.

  • neroden

    Make them strong enough that if a reckless driver hits it, it will destroy the car *and* kill the reckless driver inside it.

    I know of no other way to get reckless drivers off the road, since the DMV will never revoke licenses no matter how many reckless driving tickets someone has.

  • Jeff

    //What’s the extra 20′ for?//


  • Bernard Finucane

    Wow this is really great. It’s particularly spectacular coming from St. Louis.

  • Bernard Finucane

    A sign can be run over by a truck, but I don’t see that as an argument against signs.

  • Bernard Finucane

    Yes, they probably would be better, but this is faster, cheaper, and less ambiguous.

  • 1980Gardener

    True – definitely faster and cheaper.

    Just thought flowers would be a pretty addition to the neighborhood. Though, I am partial to flowers generally.

  • lite

    Buuut you can’t park in the intersection/crosswalk.

  • Jeff

    That’s not what the question was. His question was why St. Louis had 36′ curb-to-curb streets.

    2 travel lanes, plus parking on both sides of the street.

    Maximum allowable vehicle width in the US is 102″ or 8.5′ x 2 travel lanes = 17′ add that again for parking on each side = 34′ Add in 2′ to give a little buffer space, and there you go… 36′ street width.

    It’s pretty standard.

  • Jeff

    The difference between his upstate NY town and St. Louis is also fairly obvious. His upstate town was likely settled and built before the proliferation of the motor vehicle, and the St. Louis neighborhood was likely built after.

    This is the same reason why LA is different from NYC or Boston.

  • disqus_1pvtRUVrlr

    Precisely! I don’t know why this is such a hard issue to grasp. Very small “yield streets” are appropriate in some places, but a typical urban neighborhood street with parking is not “absurdly large”. And when vehicles are parked, that street isn’t effectively as wide, or speed-inducing.

    Also, the vehicle width measurement doesn’t include mirrors. A bus, delivery truck, fire engine, etc exceed 10′ with mirrors. This particular intersection has transit and school bus routes.

  • nullbull

    So it’s the maximum allowable… plus 2 feet.

    That’s a lot of asphalt just sitting there wasting space. Could be sidewalks, bigger lots for people’s houses/businesses, etc.

    Instead it’s just asphalt.

  • nullbull

    Car logic – The drivers are so bad we need street calming, but the drivers are so bad that they will run into the street calming… so the street calming is a bad idea.

    Cracks me up that people will show up to say these are a bad idea for the exact same reason they are necessary. As if it’s worse to have bad drivers hitting inanimate objects than it is having them hit people’s possessions (parked cars) or, ya know, PEOPLE.

  • Jeff

    Yes, imagine two busses passing on a street, both the maximum allowable width. That two feet is so they’re not scraping against each other or parked cars when they pass.

    Is it that hard to comprehend?

  • nullbull

    What’s hard to comprehend is why a large majority of roads are built to this spec, to handle a situation that only a tiny minority of roads (2 buses passing) will ever be presented with.

    The other 364.99 days of the year when 2 buses aren’t passing each other on the street, this is an asphalt wasteland.

  • Jeff

    If that’s hard to comprehend for you, then you obviously haven’t thought it through.

    I invite you to step outside your limited experience and visualize the system you live inside as a whole, to understand why city streets are designed the way they are. There are many things that happen in a city (and outside it) that are invisible to you as a young urbanite. It’s a sign of progress that you don’t have to think about how the things that make your life possible are produced and distributed, but one shouldn’t get to the point where you’re railing against the things that make your life possible. Stop for a moment and look around your apartment. Think of the people who made the stuff you see around you, where it was made, and how it arrived there. Now, think about how the policies you propose would affect the production and distribution of those things, and whether your life would be nearly as cushy without them.

    Your proposals only make sense if you ignore the rest of the larger system in which you exist.

  • nullbull

    1. Not young
    2. I live in a city with much smaller streets that functions fine.
    3. You seem incapable of imagining mobility absent the motor vehicle, yet spend most of your snark lecturing someone else about an environment he’s spent his entire life living in, as if I’m unfamiliar with how it works.
    4. I’ve lived in Boston, LA, Chicago, Dallas, Seattle, and Portland. But please tell me again about the systems of a city and how they work. I’m so ignorant and in need of being patronized which is how people learn.
    5. What % of St. Louis streets are built to this spec have 2 way bus routes on them? Or 2 way truck traffic?

  • dfiler

    Ironically, a broader perspective would be the opposite of what appears to be your stance. Outside of circa 20th century America, the street design shown here is uncommon. Many places in the world have a functional an urban fabric that doesn’t require roads wide enough for parking and two way truck traffic without slowing down. Many places have evaluated the tradeoffs and decided that they would prefer a structure where parking and truck traffic are not paramount.

    Proposing narrow streets optimized for humans is not “ignoring the rest of the larger system”. Instead, it is seeing past the myopic view of settling for the status quo that seems normal within one’s own point in time and city of residence.


Designing City Streets to Suit 47 MPH Drivers Is a Recipe for Failure

Gravois Avenue is an important commercial street in St. Louis that also happens to be designated a state highway. It’s currently slated for a redesign, providing a huge opportunity to make the street work better for walking and biking. But unfortunately the highway-like mentality of state transportation planners persists. Alex Ihnen at NextSTL reports that Missouri DOT is using highway design […]

Louisville Plans 100 Miles of Bike Boulevards

What would it take to make Louisville a bike-friendly city? Bike Louisville, a city agency, is proposing a network of traffic-calmed, low-stress streets to fill gaps in the current bike network and increase safety. Network blog Broken Sidewalk describes the plan for roughly 100 miles of “bike boulevards” that prioritize active transportation: Bike Louisville is finishing the […]

Fight Street Crime With Speed Bumps and Crosswalks

In Gabe Klein’s exit interview with Chicago Mag, the outgoing transportation commissioner predicted that in the next few years, cities will be paying more attention to the correlation between lawbreaking by drivers and other kinds of crime. “I think it’s a broken windows effect,” Klein said. “If you get control of the traffic crime, I […]

“Summer Streets” Aren’t Enough

New York has them. San Francisco has them. Portland, too. Now St. Louis might be getting its own version of Summer Streets. Streetsblog Network member St. Louis Urban Workshop is happy with Mayor Francis Slay’s proposal to close some of the city’s streets to motor vehicles on summer weekends. But the blog calls for more […]