Riding St. Louis’ First Protected Bike Lane [Video]

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A couple blocks of a protected bike lane may have flummoxed a motorist or two (and we’re so lucky the local news was there to catch that insightful angle to this story), but it’s a great asset to cyclists in a city just starting to invest in functional bike infrastructure.

The new bicycle infrastructure runs from 20th Street east to 4th Street, with a protected bike lane, buffered bike lane, and other markings at various points. It’s part of the larger Bike St. Louis effort. We took the nextSTL mobile film crew to check out just what it’s like to ride the Chestnut Street protected bike lane:

A few thoughts from the ride:

  • The protected bike lane is fantastic, making a huge difference in the feeling of safety when riding downtown
  • A west bound protected lane is needed next (Pine, Olive?)
  • Bike lanes aren’t much use if they’re littered with glass and debris (Olive, Jefferson)
  • A protected bike lane on Chouteau (LOTS of extra room there) would provide a great connection to/from The Arch, Soulard, Lafayette Square, The Gate District, Shaw, The Grove, Forest Park, and connected neighborhoods
  • Jefferson Avenue bike lane badly needs repainted – a protected lane would be amazing

Chestnut Street protected bike lane - St. Louis, MO{the start of the bike lane at 20th Street}

Chestnut Street protected bike lane - St. Louis, MO{signage directs cars for parking and bikes for riding}

Chestnut Street protected bike lane - St. Louis, MO

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  • Imran

    I usually bike on the roads, in car traffic. I tried this yesterday and it was simply delightful. Great views of Union Station and the Miles fountain, the old churches, apartments, parks. Maybe my bike sits higher than most but I did not have any issues seeing and being seen by traffic crossing at intersections. Now I hope that one day we will have a network of these throughout the city 🙂

  • tbatts666

    Love this so much. This is a pretty awesome first attempt. The people who made it happen should get a medal.

    I would like to see a narrow traffic lane on this street. It could be easier to cross.

    Could use some fresh Kermit green paint on some parts of this.

    I also like the idea of graded levels instead of curbs. Have the street be the lowest, followed by the bike lane, followed by the sidewalk. That way every user knows what kind of cross traffic they may be facing.

  • I would ride on this bike lane. Others just alongside, say, Manchester road are just too close to traffic to be safe. So I usually ride on no-car bike trails like Grant’s, or in Trailnet rides in Illilnois. But this looks safe. Is it one way for bikes? How do you get back? Looks wide enough for two-way bike traffic. Or better yet, get rid of parking on Chestnut and make half of it for bikers and pedestrians separated from the car lane with a very narrow curbed landscaped median.

  • Curious what day/time the video was shot. Based on shadows, I’m guessing 2pm or so?

    For the entire stretch, you encountered a whopping five (!) moving vehicles. Obviously this wasn’t rush hour, but even still — if there’s that little traffic in the early afternoon downtown/west, regardless if its a weekday or weekend, I can’t help but think a protected bike lane is unnecessary. Simply striping a dedicated lane aside existing parking should have sufficed for now.

    • Friday early afternoon, I assume? It used to be a plain old bike lane, though not a very good one as it was 5 feet wide and in the door zone of parked vehicle. A lane of traffic was sacrificed to make room for this parking protected upgrade.

      And if there’s room, and if traffic doesn’t justify the space it occupies, then why settle for plain old bike lane when you can have a parking protected bike lane? By and large, they are both just paint.

    • Alex Ihnen

      Yep – about 3pm this past Friday. You’re right, there wasn’t much traffic, but I think the protected lane is much better for cycling than a simple painted lane regardless.

  • Matthew B

    It’s really a shame this was done without any public comment period. This makes it feel very paternalistic and like the worst of St. Louis’s machine politics at work.

    I’m rather concerned that there are (1) almost no sight lines between traffic streams before intersections (often only about 5′ of no parking prior to the intersection), (2) no separate lights for the bicyclists and motorists, and (3) no guidance for drivers on how to safely make turns through the other traffic stream. I see how this probably decreases risk of sideswipe crashes and increases perceived safety, but it seems likely to increase frightening near misses and (and potentially collisions) of the drive out, right hook, and left hook types.

    I’m also concerned about pedestrian safety for (1) people crossing the street in crosswalks (especially at intersections without lights) as they’ll often be screened from the view of one stream of traffic or the other, and also (2) for people moving to and from their parked cars. There is a real danger to pedestrians from bicyclists who don’t see them coming from between the cars until it’s too late.

    The safety section of this report is interesting, and their results are with dedicated traffic signals that make right of way clear. http://ddot.dc.gov/sites/default/files/dc/sites/ddot/publication/attachments/ddot_bike_facilities_poster_96x48in_0.pdf

    I do like the back in angled parking, but i do wish there was more than a 1′ buffer between the bike lane and the parking.

    What’s the plan for keeping the bike lanes free of debris?

    How is a motorist supposed to make a right from this infrastructure? It seems impossible to merge into the bike lane as is the appropriate procedure for a non-parking-protected lane.

    How is a bicyclist supposed to make a left turn? It seems impossible to merge into the travel lane as would be the normal proceedure.

    What are the rules that determine right of way when drivers arrive at the same time at an intersection?

    What’s the plan for evaluating the safety of this new facility? Is there a plan for monitoring the details of crashes along the infrastructure? i know changing police report forms would require state action, and a crowd sourced option has been discussed (but would be a very biased data source).

    Special infrastructure requires special education, education does not require special infrastructure.

    • Many good points.

    • Alex Ihnen

      Yes (x however many points you make). I didn’t make this point in the short post, but there’s been very little information available about this bike lane, anywhere. There’s a one-pager that doesn’t mention Chestnut or protected bike lanes at all. Then there’s a one-pager for the Chestnut Street protected bike lane that doesn’t include the plan itself. There are several dead links online for the Bike St. Louis Phase 3. What can one say other than at least the system built a protected bike lane this time instead of tearing down buildings, or widening streets…but the system is very much still a problem. The point I’ve made to those involved is that if things like this are going to happen, let’s celebrate them. You can’t do that if there’s no one really in charge, no public input has been sought, and project details aren’t shared. I like projects like this a lot, but it’s certainly not part of the comprehensive well-planned, methodical investment in bike infrastructure that it should be. Hopefully the city’s hiring of a bicycle/ped coordinator will result in more forethought, proactive planning, and accountability.

      https://www.scribd.com/doc/272757987/Bike-St-Louis-Phase-3-Info-Sheet-2015

      https://www.scribd.com/doc/272758244/Chestnut-Street-St-Louis-Protected-Bike-Lane-Handout

      • Chris Cleeland

        Alex, I think you’re reading more into the initial comment than is there. He did not claim that education was more important than infrastructure. The statement was that infrastructure that is special requires special education. The unique infrastructure they’ve built here involves complex interactions between various road users, and provides absolutely no guidance as to how that should be managed. You won’t find anything in the Missouri Driver’s Manual nor in any driver’s ed course (if anybody even takes one anymore). You also won’t find any bike education.

        Which brings me to your assertion that infrastructure is more important than education. That’s absurd. If that was sensible, then we’d just build a bunch of roads and turn anybody who could reach the pedals and see over the steering wheel loose on those roads with no education on how to operate safely amid other road users. Are you genuinely advocating that? Why should bicycle infrastructure be any different?

        I would like to operate my vehicles on roads where people know how to properly use both their chosen vehicle and the infrastructure which we are using.

        • Alex Ihnen

          From all reports (and my experience), motorists, pedestrians, and cyclists have all quickly figured out how to navigate the newly organized Chestnut Street. My point is simply that well-designed and well-implemented infrastructure is rather intuitive. This is true with something like design speed – you can put up signage (try to educate) people that they should drive 25mph, but if the lane is 14ft wide, education isn’t going to work. A 10ft lane – the proper infrastructure for 25mph speeds – will work much better. No one’s anti-education, but I bristle at the idea (which wasn’t exactly said above) that if motorists and others were simply better educated about the rules of the road, or how to operate around bicycles, that we’d be safer, and many more people would ride. I just think that building the right infrastructure is the way to accomplish this goal.

          • Chris Cleeland

            Education and infrastructure need to work together. In my 20+ years of riding, by far the most dangerous aspect is the prevailing belief that bicycles do not belong on the road and that roads are built for cars (which, actually, is somewhat true when you look at the shlock created in the last many years). The infrastructure you’ve highlighted in this post does absolutely NOTHING to combat that problem, and one could easily argue that it actually REINFORCES that notion by segregating based on traffic type where design speeds are slow enough to not warrant separation.

            IMHO, that sort of treatment would be best applied on a roadway with design speeds (for cars) higher than 25 mph, and intersections farther apart. Why farther apart? Because there is really nothing intuitive about how users of the different lanes should negotiate the intersection when the cyclist wants to go straight or left, and the driver wants to go right or straight. There is no precedent for that in normal traffic rules because no right-minded traffic engineer would create such infrastructure. When I read Matthew’s original post, this is exactly what I thought he meant by “special education.”

            Education alone isn’t the answer, but neither is infrastructure. Pinning all hopes on only one or the other will not accomplish the goal. And you really hit upon a key when you said “the right infrastructure”. Just because it’s a bike lane doesn’t make it “right”. Everything must be applied in the appropriate context–which I probably don’t have to tell you considering your architectural background.

  • Sean McElligott

    The city really needs to redo Tucker with a new street scape and road diet.

  • STLEnginerd

    I’m not an everyday rider but I don’t really see the big deal. I always just ride in traffic with everyone else, a bicycle is a legal user of the roads. I’m not sure why this is needed.

    • Alex Ihnen

      I know quite a few people who feel that way, but there’s a whole lot of research and real world examples out there that show bicycle infrastructure like this increases the number of cyclists, and is safer for bikes and vehicles alike. Personally, I can see taking my children on a city bike ride if a good part was a protected bike lane, but certainly not if it’s just on open streets. For myself, I’m an experienced cyclist and absolutely love this, and other bike lanes in STL. I’ll change my route to take advantage of feeling (and being) safer.

      • joe deko

        Alex,
        Just got back from Boston where we spent a week on rented bikes. We used no car or public transport and rode with the kids 10 and 12 about 10 miles a day. We rode in streets, bike shared lanes, park paths from Jamaica Plain to downtown/tourist destinations and back daily. There was no doubt the kids liked trails first (Emerald Necklace and others), bike lanes 2nd and open streets third.
        We ride in the streets here both open and shared with bike lanes and I feel they have the same opinion here – but are obviously more comfortable r/t familiarity here. I think a few bike highways would go a long way for families who want their children to ride with them. Of course, we have never had them and it has never slowed us down.