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

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on Facebook0Share on Reddit0Share on LinkedIn0Print this pageEmail this to someone

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.

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on Facebook0Share on Reddit0Share on LinkedIn0Print this pageEmail this to someone
  • tbatts666

    Has anyone met him?

    I’m worried he’s a MAMIL (mostly Anglo male in Lycra). I hope he respects and embraces the diversity of non-auto transport.

    • matimal

      please stop the race/ethnicity baiting. It doesn’t help however strongly you feel about it.

      • tbatts666

        Aren’t you concerned his idea of bike infrastructure will be more recreational than practical?

        • matimal

          That’s like a starving man worrying about whether he should eat fatty foods that might give him heart disease or hold out for a salad. Getting people on bikes is the point. St. Louis isn’t Portland. Such worries are WAY ahead of the game and we just don’t have the ability as a city to direct the actions of individuals as we might think.

    • Peter Nagel

      I’m not sure what a MAMIL is supposed to imply, but I do know the new Bike/Pedestrian Coordinator personally. He has already started reaching out to the bike community, groups and individuals, those bike to work and who bike for recreation. Given where St. Louis is right now, he has a tough road ahead of him but I really think that an honest effort will be made to incorporate cyclist and pedestrian concerns in the future. He can’t change the situation alone, MODOT and city planners will still have a large say in what is built and redeveloped. What we need to do now is utilize this new coordinator as an advocate for the people. When we have concerns, bring them to him. When we have a thought or idea, give him a call. Nothing gets better until we speak up, and this new coordinator exists to make sure we are heard.

  • Luftmentsch

    Todd Walterman, when he was head of the City Streets Department, was incredibly cynical about bikes and pedestrians. He simply didn’t care. Now he’s been promoted! It would be nice to know that the new Streets Dept director is actually interested in pedestrian well-being, but I haven’t seen evidence of this yet. Downtown is a disaster in this regard. (Though it’s touching how they build lovely, elaborate streetscapes in areas – e.g. leading up to the new Mississippi bridge – where no one walks!)

  • Here here!!

  • HawkSTL

    I love the City and am a City resident. But, the City is not focusing on bread and butter issues. We need more cops, trash to be picked up, streets to be swept and plowed, and street lights to be timed so that you are not stopping and starting randomly. Those are the minimum requirements for a municipality. And, instead, we are getting a new special bike lane czar? Sorry, City, but you create “niceties” like a new bike lane czar position after you can do the minimum requirements effectively.

    • Alex Ihnen

      I understand the objection to an extent, but real bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure creates a more sustainable, more economically vibrant city. In addition, more than 20% of city residents don’t own a car, schools and parks often aren’t safely accessible to people on bikes, in wheelchairs, or walking. This isn’t about “niceties”, it’s about building a functional city. It’s fun to use the work “czar”, but the city is hiring a traffic engineer to ensure that any investment in infrastructure works for everyone and makes the city a better place to live, visit, and work.

      • jhoff1257

        Not to mention the salary of one engineer wouldn’t come close to being enough to put one officer on the street, with all the necessary equipment, much less solve all those other problems.

        Also what’s with the use of the word “czar?”

        • matimal

          I call it “authoritarian chic.” I’d thought that fad was over though.

      • One of Emanuel’s earliest appointments was Gabe Klein as Commissioner of CDOT (Chicago Dept. of Transportation). Besides being “young” by political standards, at 40 years old, he was also an avid bicyclist.

        As a result, he was vital in implementing many bike/ped-friendly programs, including the Divvy bikeshare network, dedicated bike lanes/signals through downtown/the loop, the Bloomingdale Trail (now “The 606”), “people spots”, and general implementative tactics and principles for pedestrian safety and access, among others.

        He only had the job for three years before moving on to something else, but his stamp is on basically all the initiatives finishing up or moving forward now. Of course, he also had the support and directive from his Mayor to go all-out on these programs — which is huge.

        I hate that it’s making me take the pessimistic view, but I have no faith that STL City’s selected traffic engineer will have the personal interest, political freedom or inherent progessivism to implement any immediate or meaningful programs. Prove me wrong, Slay and Co,!

        • hmmmm

          This. How will some (most likely) internally derided bike person have the clout to get anything done in the City? STL talks the talk but certainly does not walk the walk re: bike stuff. They’ll do it if it’s easy or cheap, but that’s it. And the fact that this person will be tasked with “coordination” (within an embarrassingly bad STL city government) is cause for concern .

    • HawkSTL

      I think folks are missing the main point. When municipalities attempt to do too many things, they wind up doing those things poorly. Who can say with a straight face that the City does an effective job with what it already has on its plate (which is one of the critiques of the article in the bike lane context)? And, if an engineer’s position (pick your label, czar or coordinator or manager) can pay for 2 more cops, then why aren’t we pumping available money into those types of bread and butter issues? If you polled the issue, do you think a majority of City voters would want more cops or a bike lane coordinator?

  • JZ71

    Steve Patterson, not Steve Peterson . . . other than that, a great synopsis! And the real goal should be connecting the myriad missing links, not creating new, disconnected infrastructure.