St. Louis City Hiring Traffic Engineer to Coordinate Pedestrian/Bicycle Infrastructure

Chestnut Street protected bike lane - St. Louis, MO

St. Louis City is hiring a traffic engineer. This is good news. See, not all traffic engineers are bad. Not all traffic engineers think an “upgraded” street means more and faster vehicles. Some traffic engineers do more to balance transportation options. They’re called bicycle pedestrian coordinators.

St. Louis City desperately needs a bicycle pedestrian coordinator. The city has made some significant and smart investments in pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure lately. What’s long been missing is someone at the table to ensure that these investments make sense and work for everyone. And if you’re wondering, this isn’t a job for the lazily caricatured St. Louis hipster on a fixie, it’s a professional engineering position charged with created a more sustainable, safer, more inviting city for residents and visitors.

It’s too much to expect Great Rivers Greenway, St. Louis City Streets, City Parks, Trailnet, and others to coordinate projects into an overall plan. It’s too much for each to understand how to interpret, prioritize, and implement Bike St. Louis Phase III, the mayor’s Sustainability Action Agenda, the city’s enhanced Complete Streets policy, and the USDOT Mayor’s Challenge. And what about the languishing effort to bring bike share to St. Louis? You know, to catch up to super hip experimental places like Indianapolis and Kansas City.

Bike Saint Louis Phase III-page-002{Bike St. Louis is just one effort that suffers from lack of planning coordination}

And in case you’re worried about St. Louis breaking new ground and getting out in front of other cities with some hippie experiment, all but two of the 40 largest cities in the U.S. employ bicycle and pedestrian specific staff. So do dozens of smaller communities across the nation. Kansas City has a bicycle pedestrian coordinator. Columbia, MO has a bicycle pedestrian coordinator and commission.

In fact, bicycle pedestrian coordinators and infrastructure is so mainstream that the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) years ago challenged “transportation agencies to go beyond the minimum requirements, and proactively provide convenient, safe, and context-sensitive facilities that foster increased use by bicyclists and pedestrians of all ages and abilities”. The primary resources in this nation for transportation planning, AASHTO, NACTO, and ITE, each produce pedestrian and cycling specific infrastructure guides.

St. Louis has added some needed bicycle infrastructure in recent years, including bike lanes on Arsenal Street, Tower Grove Avenue, Oakland Avenue, and Union Boulevard, to name just a few. Yet information has been difficult to find, inaccurate, and owned by no one. The very welcome Chestnut Street protected bike lane (top image) is just the latest example. A collaborative project between the City of St. Louis and Great Rivers Greenway, the planning, implementation, and publicity was lacking.

The city should receive recognition for these investments. They should be applauded. That’s hard to do if there’s no information available. Inquiries about the project were sometimes answered by the city’s streets department. No drawings were available. No one who would use it, and understand it well, was presented as being available for comment. When local television news showed up to tell the story of confused motorists, they luckily happened upon Tom Fucoloro, a St. Louis native, and owner of Seattle Bike Blog.

Most discovered the project only once it was being painted. We’re told it’s part of the Bike St. Louis Phase III plan, though it can’t be found on any publicly available Bike St. Louis planning documents. The reality seems to be that Chestnut was being resurfaced and so presented an opportunity to add valuable bicycle infrastructure. That’s great, but not how a bicycle pedestrian infrastructure system should be planned or implemented.

Great Rivers Greenway Midtown Loop{the Great Rivers Greenway plan in the city should be coordinated with City Streets, Metro, City Parks, and MoDOT to ensure the significant investment provides real value}

This is why even the good bicycle infrastructure planning in St. Louis feels like the same old behind the scenes, “don’t worry we got this”, way of doing business. Something similar may have happened with the MoDOT plan for Gravois Avenue. When this site published MoDOT plans to close 16 city streets, one response was “don’t worry, a second phase includes a road diet and bike lanes”. However, those plans also do exist in any public form, were not presented by MoDOT, and appear to have not yet been engineered. Luckily, in that case residents under the banner of the Greater Gravois Initiative have engaged local politicians and MoDOT to create a better project.

Need another example? Steve Patterson at Urban Review STL highlights a bike lane that existed on Bike St. Louis maps since 2009, but doesn’t appear to have ever been painted. I recently rode from the city’s Forest Park Southeast neighborhood (The Grove) to downtown, used the Chestnut Street protected bike lane, and was happy to find the Jefferson Avenue bike lane on a busy Thursday afternoon (though it needed swept and painted), but the long stretch of Chouteau Avenue was a terrible experience. A bike lane would have been welcome.

So far I’ve focused on the city’s bicycling planning because I have no idea what it’s doing for pedestrians. As we’ve noted, the city’s doesn’t prioritize, nor protect pedestrian movement. In case of conflict, cars and car lanes win – in one case creating an 8-minute pedestrian intersection. Investments happen almost exclusively in locations that do not conflict with motorists.

The city’s standard crosswalks are inadequate. Significant, meaningful, cheap, and quick improvement are possible with a little coordination. Our crosswalks to and from major city parks should receive extra attention and better design. Pedestrian and bicycle crossings at major intersections should be studied and improved. The affect of one-way streets on the pedestrian and bicycle experience in downtown St. Louis should be studied.

Union Boulevard bike lanes - St. Louis, MO{where can better bicycle pedestrian infrastructure be built, and does it work once installed – above: bike lanes on Union Boulevard near Forest Park}

How about the inglorious sewer pots that close off city streets? What about traffic calming bump outs? Curb bulb outs? Raised intersections? Angled parking? Affect of recent land diet projects and consideration of new reductions? Re-examining the city’s sidewalk replacement program and schedule? All of these things are possible to accomplish with a coordinating traffic engineer, and simply won’t happen without one.

If that’s all a little long-winded, Mayor Slay summarizes the issue quite well in the press release announcing the position, “As we continue to grow our network of on-street bicycle routes and focus on improvements for pedestrians, we want a professional dedicated solely to this effort so that we can create a strategic master plan, better address the concerns and needs of pedestrians, and promote healthy and active lifestyles. Our new Bike/Pedestrian Coordinator will help make St. Louis a more bikable, walkable place to live, work, and explore by considering everyone — not just those behind the wheel — when it comes to designing and maintaining our streets.”

Those who generally favor more, better, or different pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure, as well as those opposed, should support the hiring of a new city traffic engineer. Bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure investments made without planning and coordination are ideal for anyone. A coordinating position to examine our city’s infrastructure and how it works for all modes of transportation will ensure smarter investment, and a greater understanding of what works and what doesn’t in St. Louis. That should be easy to support.