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Transportation

The Curious Tale of the St. Louis Street Barriers

Thanks to an '80s mania for traffic calming, the St. Louis grid is broken by hundreds of bollards and cul-de-sacs. Critics say it’s time to get rid of them.
City of bollards: Hundreds of St. Louis side streets, like this one in the fast-gentrifying Grove neighborhood, are closed to cars.
City of bollards: Hundreds of St. Louis side streets, like this one in the fast-gentrifying Grove neighborhood, are closed to cars.Jack Grone/CityLab

When Henning Lohse-Busch and his wife, Emily, relocated a few years ago from Chicago to her hometown of St. Louis, he was soon struck by one of the city’s many peculiarities: The street grid is intentionally interrupted by dozens of closed roads. Some are blocked by gates or concrete barriers; others have been converted to cul-de-sacs. “Not being from St. Louis, the whole closed-off street thing is weird,” says Lohse-Busch, who grew up in France and moved to the U.S. as a university student.

But when Lohse-Busch went shopping for a house, he and his family ended up choosing one on a city block (right next door to this reporter) that had been converted in the 1980s to a cul-de-sac. There, he discovered one of the virtues of the arrangement: On warm summer evenings, parents and other adults often gather out front to socialize, sip beer, and watch the kids play together in the street, in what amount to impromptu block parties. “It’s safer because it’s not a through street, and it’s good not having to worry about crazy traffic.” Lohse-Busch says.