A Tale of Two Bicycle Cities: Editorializing in Kansas City and St. Louis

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Chestnut Street protected bike lane - St. Louis, MO

Call it a Tale of Two Bicycle Cities. While The Kansas City Star pushes for that city to speed up completion of its downtown bicycle infrastructure, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch chooses the cynical route, mocking what is commonplace, and working in other cities.

From “Pedal faster to finish new bike lanes in Kansas City”:

It’s also regrettable that City Hall has not made enough headway in completing the other parts of the BikeKC Downtown Loop and Neighborhood Connector, which will offer about 13 miles of dedicated bike lanes in the heart of the city. Grand Boulevard is the spine and needs to be completed first. It’s clear now that the rest of the loop won’t be put in place until later in 2016.

The typical Kansas City way of doing things — let’s talk, compromise, and then talk some more — is responsible for some of the frustrating delays. Property owners along Grand as well as on 18th Street, Southwest Boulevard and 20th Street questioned how the new bike lanes could affect them, especially when it came to parking. Ultimately, a lot of the on-street parking was kept in place.

That article quotes the Kansas City Public Works Department’s bicycle pedestrian coordinator. In fact, all but two of the largest 40 cities have bicycle-pedestrian specific staff. A quick search shows that cities and towns from Brownsville, TX and Bettendorf, IA to Omaha and Tucson employ bicycle-pedestrian coordinators.

In St. Louis, the Post-Dispatch publishes a column in response to the city announcing that it would hire someone for a similar position is derision and mocking. We won’t link to that item, but here’s how the author wrapped it up:

I was able to obtain a secret copy of the test that will be administered. I might as well disclose it here:

1. Bicycles are way better than cars because:
a. They don’t pollute.
b. They make you healthy.
c. They confer a higher degree of moral purity on the operator.
d. All of the above.

2. When countering skeptics, the most effective argument a bike czar can make is:
a. “Look at Denmark.”
b. “We should strive to be Copenhagen.”
c. “Denmark, Denmark, Denmark.”
d. “If St. Louis was spelled St. Løis, with one of those slash-Os like they have in Danish, we’d be much cooler.”

3. A bicyclist who rides on a sidewalk in the opposite direction of street traffic is:
a. Asking for trouble because drivers at intersections aren’t expecting to see him.
b. Merely exercising his devil-may-care hipster attitude.
c. A victim of a benighted streets policy that doesn’t allow for enough bike lanes.
d. B or C but definitely not A.

4. For every 1,000 motorists inconvenienced, how many bicyclists must use a route each day before traffic lanes are reduced so bike lanes can be added?
a. 10.
b. 100.
c. 1.
d. Zero. Stripe it and they will come.

5. A pedestrian wearing black pants and a black jacket dashes into a busy street at midnight. He is struck by a car. What is the proper response?
a. Jaywalking is dangerous.
b. We need more pedestrian crosswalks.
c. Motorists should be more alert.
d. If only everyone rode bicycles.

6. The most coveted award in St. Løis is:
a. The World Series trophy.
b. The Stanley Cup.
c. The Lombardi Trophy.
d. The Bike Friendly Community Platinum Award.

7. What would happen if St. Løis had a Citi Bike rental service like New York City?
a. Lots of stolen bikes.
b. Lots of unused bikes.
c. A thousand flowers would bloom.
d. Tech-savvy hipsters would flock here, creating thousands of new jobs and eliminating urban blight.

8. How do you reply to someone who says bicyclists aren’t entitled to full use of roads because bicycles aren’t taxed?
a. “Communist!”
b. “Hitler taxed bicycles.”
c. “Bikes provide indirect benefits far greater than taxes.”
d. “That’s not how they do it in Denmark.”

9. Since bicyclists are entitled to share the roads, shouldn’t they be required to obey traffic signals and stop signs?
a. If they feel like it.
b. Don’t be ridiculous.
c. Of course not.
d. All of the above.

10. Essay question: Please describe the best route for a St. Løis bicyclist to follow in carrying back to his loft a load of IKEA meatballs to his partner (of whatever sex) and their dog.

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  • Chicagoan

    I know this is supposed to be satire, but it’s not really funny, and he kind of missed on his whole joke. People tend to point to the Netherlands regarding the whole cycling craze before Denmark, though the Danes do love it as well. If St. Louis wants to start drawing young people as they so wish, this kind of thing hurts. People are going to Kansas City and not St. Louis (at least, as often) because KC has made a genuine effort to be more “urban”.

    • jhoff1257

      I live in KC (Midtown/Plaza) and have to disagree with that. St. Louis is far more urban then KC could ever wish to be. It’s not even a contest. Even our inner core suburbs are relatively urban. KC is getting a lot more press about it’s Downtown development then St. Louis is. But all the same things that are happening here are happening in St. Louis’ Central Corridor and several South Side (and even a couple Near North) neighborhoods. St. Louis’ reputation has taken some huge hits in the last couple years and the national media (and for some reason St. Louis people) have really only focused on the bad in STL while they’ve been rather friendly to KC lately and that’s where I think a lot of this sentiment comes from. I love KC, I’ve lived here for 8 years but it can never hope to be as urban, walkable, and as dense as St. Louis currently is. Hell, KC’s population density is far closer to Joplin, Missouri then it is to St. Louis. Outside of what is known as the Southwest Corridor in KC, they suffer from all the same problems St. Louis does. Companies are building million (even billion-Cerner) dollar campuses in the burbs, highway expansion is huge right now here and suburban Johnson County is still leading the way. The vast majority of population growth in this city is North of the River and in the deep suburban south. The urban core in KC is home to maybe 200,000 people (it peaked at 500,000). At last official count it was 180,000, but I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt with some of the recent growth.

      The Post-Dispatch screwed themselves here, but at the end of the day St. Louis leads KC in bike infrastructure. I would kill to have something like Great Rivers Greenway or Bike St. Louis here. Right now it’s just a bunch of cities with their own bike plans with lanes and trails here and there. There really isn’t a large comprehensive system here like in STL. Lots of work to do still.

      • Chicagoan

        I meant that Kansas City seems to be making more of an effort to increase the urban feel of the city, while St. Louis seems to be trending in the opposite direction. I’ll need to take a trip to Kansas City, though.

        • jhoff1257

          I’m not exactly sure what makes you think STL is trending in the wrong direction. Sure there are some egregious mistakes, like a QuikTrip at Jefferson and Chouteau. But KC is building and doing the same things here. Even in the Crossroads and Westport districts developers want to tear down historic buildings for parking lots and garages because of the larger crowds that frequent the areas now. You should have seen the uproar when the city OK’ed a Jimmy Johns with a drive thru on Broadway Downtown (which included some demolition of existing urban structures). You would have thought the world was ending.

          I’ve been following development in St. Louis for years now and I think many parts of the city are seeing far better urban development now then in the past. There is nothing that compares to a South Grand or Cheorkee street here. Nothing like a Soulard, a Benton Park, or a Lafayette Square (granted those are older districts but much of the life they currently see is new). Many of the modern urban additions in KC have counterparts going up in the CWE, the Grove, Midtown, Clayton, U City and others. Maybe they just don’t have the visibility as STL is starting to see this development spread to many areas of the city instead of just concentrating in downtown and midtown like KC. Either way, both cities have made incredible strides in building a more urban future. The difference is where KC has maybe 10-20 true dense urban neighborhoods, if that, while St. Louis has over 70 (of course many of those need some love, but still) and that doesn’t include older dense suburbs like U City and Clayton.

          Now, despite my thoughts on KC, it still is an amazing place with some stunning neighborhoods. I’d be more then happy to show you around if you ever made it up here! 🙂

  • Brendan Beirne

    This article is an embarrassment to The Post-Dispatch and, to the extent that it represents a general sentiment among St. Louisans, the city itself. I’ve never lived anywhere that was this hostile to cycling. As the article demonstrates, a significant (and rather vocal) portion of the population here seems to associate cycling with youth, liberalism, tolerance, technology, sustainability, etc. — you know, all the things that are destroying ‘Murica.

  • Reader

    10. Essay question: Please describe the best route for a St. Løis bicyclist to follow in carrying back to his loft a load of IKEA meatballs to his partner (of whatever sex) and their dog.

    Veiled homophobia? Just terrible.

  • JZ71

    In the Post-Dispatch’s defense, I’m sensing sarcasm and humor, not an outright stance against the new bike-ped position. It was likely published as clickbait, under the “Deputy Editorial Page Editor”s byline. I’d loosen up a bit (some of it IS the truth), but if you have serious concerns, send the guy an email: [email protected]

    • Eddie Roth

      Yes, it is one of Kevin Horrigan’s often light-hearted Sunday columns, not an editorial.

      • Adam

        Whether or not it’s officially labeled “editorial,” he is editorializing. And it’s only “light-hearted” if you’re an entitled motorist or an entitled-motorist sympathizer. Please. The column is straight-forward mockery, which is what accompanies every change proposed to move St. Louis into the current century.

      • Scott Ogilvie

        Ah, clever Kevin Horrigan. Light-heartedly mocking gays, people injured in car crashes, and people too poor to own cars from his perch in Pacific, Missouri. Certainly a valuable perspective relevant to St. Louis City government.

        • tbatts666

          Right. Many of us know people who have been hurt of killed in these streets.

          Not that I think it’s offensive persay. I think it’s scary.

        • Alex Ihnen

          Another snippet from the item:

          “The argument for hiring a bike czar is that bicycling is popular among young people, and the city wants to appeal to young people. Now that there’s an IKEA store set to open, the city is zeroing in on young people, gay people, dog-owners and bicyclists. If you are a young gay person in a tech field who owns a dog and rides a bike, you can probably get tax incentives.”

      • John R

        It isn’t an editorial but it appears reflective of his thinking. And if you can’t make it funny then don’t run it. I think a good-natured piece could make bike-ped proponents laugh at themselves a bit while at the same time making the subtle point that we really do need to join the 21rst century. Kevin is better than that and we don’t need another Joe Hollerman at the Post-Dispatch keeping us in the 1970s.

        And Eddie, I don’t want to say our Greater Downtown is becoming a crap-hole b/c there are some good things going on, but it is quickly being left behind by such exotic places like Kansas City, Cleveland, Indianapolis and Detroit. You guys in leadership got to turn things around ASAP. Best of luck!!

        • LovetheStl

          Exotic? I’ve been to KC and Indianapolis – our city is so much better than both. We have stuff for all ages and more than one entertainment district (Washington Ave, Ballpark Village, The Grove, S. Grand, Soulard, Locust Street, CWE..) In KC, there’s 3 entertainment districts Art District, the Plaza, the Power & Light District – and each pretty small areas comparatively speaking. Indianapolis I think just had the one main strip – the place where you can’t have a conversation because its also the strip for motorcyclists to cruise on Fri and Sat and see who can gun it the loudest.

          • John R

            My use of “exotic” was deliberate because these places have been stepping up their game in recent years compared to our downtown and offering exotic things like bike share & uber & bike share & streetcar construction. Since pulling away from the Great Recession in 2011 or so, other downtowns have catapulted forward while we’ve more or less just treaded water… adding just 350 or so people a year and few jobs is not enough to keep up with the Joneses. (Also, while entertainment districts are 1 element of a thriving downtown, I place a much greater emphasis upon daytime population counts, particularly on workers and residents, and diversity of retail offerings, etc.)