Experiencing the Fatal Flaw of Cycling Infrastructure On the Centennial Greenway

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on Facebook0Share on Reddit0Print this pageEmail this to someone

A few weeks ago my four year old son wanted to go on a bike ride. He’s been pedaling around the parking lot of a vacant school near our home over the past two years without training wheels. He’s pretty good on his bike, for a guy who’s four.

But he’s kind of outgrown the parking lot, and the sidewalks which worked well for his balance bike. A trip to Hilton Head Island this year, and several miles of riding on bike paths each day, really spoiled him (and the rest of our family).

Returning to St. Louis I became a little more determined that we make bike riding a more common activity. The nearest bike path to our home is the Centennial Greenway that begins in Clayton’s Shaw Park. Because of poor street crossings and a lack of protected on-street infrastructure, we can’t easily ride there from our house.

Having to drive to ride perhaps best highlights the essential problem with bicycle infrastructure across St. Louis. Places aren’t connected. Investment in addressing these barriers would have a greater impact on mobility and safety than the long linear (and cheaper and easier) projects we see.

Anyway, we drove to Shaw Park, unloaded our bikes and headed off to explore the Centennial Greenway. A quick glance at the map showed we could ride two miles north to Olive Boulevard and then likely turnaround for our ride back.

The first mile of the greenway is pretty easy. You’re looking at mulch piles and the backs of buildings, but it’s a good easy ride. Crossing Ladue Road isn’t bad. It’s nothing more than a simple crossing, but the surface treatment and a little landscaping give drivers a cue that people may be present. Surface treatment in the strip mall driveway also seems to work OK. It’s clear to people on bikes where to go, and there’s some indicator to drivers that something is different, that they should be aware.

The next section is nice, skirting the Ladue Crossing shopping center and crossing a lightly travelled street that serves solely as a long driveway from Delmar Boulevard to the shopping center (it’s an odd, wasteful street made sort of necessary by a lack of street connections in the surrounding suburban development). Then you come to Delmar Boulevard.

Crossing Delmar Boulevard is intimidating, hazardous, and ruins the greenway experience. The crossing is convoluted, unclear, and seemingly not designed by anyone who would actually use it. Here, the bicycle pedestrian infrastructure mantra of if it doesn’t work for children or the elderly, then it doesn’t work, fits perfectly.

Here’s the setup: 1) cross wide radius Interstate right turn off-ramp, 2) cross Delmar Boulevard, 3) cross northbound McKnight Road, 4) cross wide radius southbound McKnight road onto Delmar, 5) cross northbound I-170 on-ramp. This is what you do on your bike, alongside a four-year-old on his bike.

{the view of Delmar at McKnight looking southeast}

{the view looking north across Delmar to McKnight}

So that’s five crossings. For us it ended up being seven…seven crossings at one intersection. Crossing the first off-ramp turn lane, we kept going straight. The tiny island isn’t big enough for even two of us to be there comfortably, it doesn’t feel safe. We reached to southwest corner only to discover you can’t cross Delmar from there, so we turned back, then crossed Delmar, squeezed onto the tiny patch of space allotted on the northeast corner, and so on.

The intersection can and should require just two crossings, one at Delmar and one at McKnight. The quick image below illustrating how this should work doesn’t show the cost, complications with the state DOT (Delmar is a state route), etc. But infrastructure like the greenway is only as good as it’s worst part, and this is it. The big investment doesn’t work unless this works.

In the future, we won’t be crossing this intersection. On this occasion we did. The next mile of the greenway is terrible. You ride below power lines and alongside a deafening Interstate. The video below is likely the worst stretch. The endpoint at Olive makes it clear that it’s time to turn around as you’re staring at the I-170 at Olive interchange.

The Centennial Greenway experience along I-170:

In general, if I understand the idea correctly, greenways are meant to provide recreational space, and a less interrupted path between our neighborhoods and towns. This doesn’t work when the points of conflict don’t work. In fact, putting all our resources into safe and easily understood intersections would do more to connect places than strips of concrete that fail where needed most.

Although billed as connecting Clayton, Ladue, Olivette and University City, and as an option for exercising, commuting and connecting to nature, the Centennial Greenway doesn’t work for my family. Will we be back? Maybe, eventually (and turn around at Delmar) since there are so few alternatives. What choice do we have? We’ll also ride bikes much less that we would if there were better, safer crossings, and usable bicycle infrastructure nearby.

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on Facebook0Share on Reddit0Print this pageEmail this to someone
  • john

    You missed the most important “trail to nowhere” part of this area. If you look closely, the path in Shaw Park is only built to run north – the important and necessary link runs south. The south route would take one from Shaw Park past Corporate Park then over Brentwood Blvd, over Clayton Road and then directly to RH Metro Station. From there the Galleria, Whole Foods, REI and numerous other shops, restaurants could be easily accessed. Imagine a route that a cyclist, runner, pedestrian would not have to cross busy streets and battle dangerous traffic? It’s available but not supported by

    The possibility of connecting with many more desired places could be facilitated by opening the sound wall at the east end of Everett. From there a short paved route to Hanley Rd would offer many more desired access points on Hanley, Dale and Eager. I have written MoDOT to have this wall opened and it is on their list of priorities.

    I have attempted for years to get Trailnet and GRG to be open minded and to use their resources to make helpful/productive bike routes. Unfortunately they have never shown any interest in doing such.

    Imagine a route that a cyclists, runners, pedestrian would not have to cross busy streets, battle dangerous traffic, connect desired points of interest? The bridges over the roads already exists. It’s available but not supported by our advocate organizations.

    • Chris Cleeland

      our advocate organizations seem to do little advocacy, but lots of consulting

  • Todd Antoine

    Alex–you made some very good observations and I agree that there are some design issues, particularly at Delmar. Working with MoDOT can be challenging at times and this is a particularly tough spot given the I-170 ramps and the adjacent roads and driveways.
    We will look into what we can do to improve the intersection.

    • Chris Cleeland

      Interesting that others have complained about this poorly-designed intersection since its inception and zero was done.

  • joe deko

    Alex, you lived in a neighborhood with 4 year old safe access to Forest Park and its abundant biking. Your post ought to at least acknowledge that. Every neighborhood can’t have equal access to parks and greenways.

    • Alex Ihnen

      I don’t think anyone believes every neighborhood can have equal access to parks and greenways – though access can and should be improved everywhere. The main message here is that if we’re going to spend millions on greenways (and Forest Park paths), they should better connect to neighborhoods and better address the points of greatest conflict.

      The sidewalks and I-64 footbridge were falling apart when I live in the neighborhood. Their replacement just before I moved were really welcome, but the connections have never been completed. The Chouteau Greenway still doesn’t exist, the connection at the north end of the footbridge is a mess, and cyclists have to ride against traffic to get on the Forest Park path from Clayton Avenue. Going south there’s not a bike lane on Tower Grove, but the Vandeventer intersection is bad. Riding Vandeventer and Chouteau isn’t inviting. Crossing Kingshighway isn’t safe. If people on bikes (and foot) were a priority, these would all be improved (safer, easier).

      Anyway, this post is about a very specific experience on a specific (and expensive) greenway, and how it could be improved. More people should definitely ride in the city and county and enjoy what we have. It’s better than many places. I get that some see conversations like this as nitpicking, but I don’t think things get better without awareness of what’s missing here, and what could be better.

  • Chris

    Bike paths. Complain about them. Nice. 151 murders in STL this year. Worst school districts in the state. Underfunded civic programs. Failing infrastructure. But you know what lets all complain about bike paths.

    • Luftmentsch

      Bike paths = quality of life = more offices & businesses = more tax revenue = better schools/civic programs/infrastructure

      • John R

        Plus we’re all paying for the greenways through sales taxes… getting the best results from them as possible is an important issue regardless of whether we use them or not.

    • Chaifetz10

      Or you could go read the articles about crime in St. Louis that NextSTL has posted. Alex and his writing staff have hit on that subject multiple times.

      Not every single post has to be about gun crime. It seems like you just wanted to complain to complain, without any desire to further a discussion.

  • Luftmentsch

    I agree that we need better connections between neighborhoods and especially to public amenities like parks and bike paths. On the other hand, you made a choice to live in the County, which is significantly worse in this regard than the city. Dogtown, Skinker-Debaliviere, Shaw, and Tower Grove South all have reasonably good biking infrastructure. The much-maligned Schoemehl pots create safe zones for kids to get confident on their bikes. Forest Park & TGP both have better entrance points than they used to. We’re never going to have a region where every neighborhood is a biker’s paradise.

    • tbatts666

      He probably made the choice for good reasons.

      Safety should be a priority in every city.

      • Luftmentsch

        Safety is exactly what we’re talking about. Children are safer (in the long run) if they can learn to be independent. They’re safer if they walk in walkable neighborhoods and ride bikes where the drivers don’t act like the streets belong to them. They’re safer in the city, hombre!

    • Alex Ihnen

      Some places are better than others, and many city streets are comfortable to ride on, but that doesn’t equal “good biking infrastructure” in my opinion. I lived on a block with Schoemehl posts for several years (before kids started riding bikes) and it didn’t feel safe. Cars drove fast down the dead end and traffic was double in front of my house because everyone coming and going had to pass my home twice.

    • Chris Cleeland

      Shouldn’t matter whether he’s in the county or the city–somebody spent time designing and implementing that path and it’s silly. We all paid for it, which is also silly.

  • JZ71

    You nailed it in one paragraph: “Having to drive to ride perhaps best highlights the essential problem with bicycle infrastructure across St. Louis. Places aren’t connected. Investment in addressing these barriers would have a greater impact on mobility and safety than the long linear (and cheaper and easier) projects we see.” Rivers, railroads and freeways all create significant barriers, locally and regionally, to using quieter, neighborhood streets. Fixing those “missing links”, instead of focusing on eye candy, would be a far wiser expenditure of public money . . .

    • kjohnson04

      It gets back to a fundamental problem of local governance in St. Louis. Rarely, if ever, do municipalities work together on mutual goals, in particular if it has do with connecting or enhancing connections with the city.

  • And of course there’s the double 90° dogleg to cross the street between Schnucks and Delmar that would be impossible to navigate without dismounting if you’re riding a tandem or pulling a bike trailer. Oh and the ramps on the Ladue crossing are only 4-ft wide rather than the full 10-ft width of the trail.