Chouteau Bike Lanes Finally Appear, Continue Hit-and-miss Planning

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Chouteau Avenue bike lane - St. Louis, MO

The Chouteau Avenue bike lanes in St. Louis have been something of a mystery. Really. It first appeared on a Bike St. Louis map as far back as 2009. Three miles of painted bike lanes from Vandeventer Avenue at The Grove, to Broadway at the foot of Soulard. The thing is, they didn’t exist, until this month.

It appears to be city policy to paint bike lanes as part of larger resurfacing efforts. This is smart in one way, but also means that we may wait years before lanes are painted. And if a repaving project is delayed, so is the bike lane. Once paved and painted, there’s no established timeline for repainting.

This process precludes any planned, coherent, strategic development of cycling routes and bike lanes in the city. The city continues to paint bike lanes where it’s cheap and convenient, and without significant public feedback. And the lanes continue to fill with debris and be practically unusable.

Chouteau Avenue bike lane - St. Louis, MO

And so the Chouteau bike lanes appeared this month. They represent another good addition to cycling infrastructure in the city, and another missed opportunity. When asked for details of the bike lanes via Twitter before painting, MoDOT St. Louis simply replied that nothing was available to share. Neither the city, nor Trailnet, nor Great Rivers Greenway were able to provide the plan. Chouteau Avenue is also Missouri State Route 100, meaning it’s managed by the state’s DOT.

We were left to guess as to the coming configuration, and put together this image (above) of what to expect. While intersection treatment varies, and four traffic lanes persist past major intersections before being reduced to two, this is basically what was painted.

A much better solution would have been to create a two-way cycle track on the north side of Chouteau as a number of superblocks provide many fewer intersections that would be expected. And although the road diet has reduced traffic lanes, Chouteau remains an open asphalt expanse and drivers treat it as such. Traffic moves fast. On arterial roads like this, cyclists are better served by separated infrastructure.

Chouteau Avenue bike lane - St. Louis, MO

Chouteau Ave corridor

On Chouteau, the solution could have even been a mixed-use path serving both pedestrians and cyclists. The same treatment would be welcome on Jefferson Avenue where an unprotected sidewalk provides pedestrians with an unwelcoming space, and a minimum width bike lane fails to provide a safe place for cyclists. Combining the sidewalk and bike lane into one protected surface would have offered a safe travel zone.

While street parking is maintained along the length of Chouteau east of Grand, on any given day there are close to zero cars parked along long stretches. This adds to the effective street width and encourages faster driving, now with adjacent bike lanes. If nothing else, a little more paint emphasizing the new arrangement would be welcome. (Jefferson Avenue on left)

Jefferson bike lane - green bike lane

St. Louis City desperately needs a better infrastructure plan for all users. With a traffic engineer responsible for bicycle and pedestrian planning now on board, this is more possible than ever. Bike St. Louis isn’t working. A joint partnership between Great Rivers Greenway and the cities of St. Louis, Clayton, Maplewood and Kirkwood.

Collaboration is good, but the reality of Bike St. Louis is that it’s not really a thing. It suffers greatly from having no group or entity assert ownership. Incorrect and incomplete information abounds on Bike St. Louis material. From the Chouteau bike lanes, to Phase III maps and information not mentioning any plans for the Chestnut Street protected bike lane, which was installed in July, the Bike St. Louis effort isn’t a reliable or useful resource. BikeStLouis.org currently redirects to a Great Rivers Greenway page titled “Learn Stuff”, about basic skills and safety.

cycling St. Louis

Ultimately, the bike lanes will be as useful as their connections. To get places, a cyclist doesn’t just cruise along straight stretches of streets, but traverses intersections, weaves through neighborhoods and finds a route to avoid highways, rail yards, etc. Many using the Chouteau bike lanes will also ride Jefferson Avenue (at I-44 above).

And Chouteau has the potential to be a high-traffic cycling corridor as it links The Grove/Forest Park and points west to the Saint Louis University Medical Campus, Grand Avenue – north to the main SLU Campus and Grand Center arts district – south to South Grand and Tower Grove Park, The Gate District, Lafayette Square, Downtown and Downtown West, and Soulard.

For Chouteau, the west end works alright. Once one crosses Vandeventer, The Grove is an easy place to ride. Manchester can be busy, but the design slows traffic to a reasonable speed. Further east, Jefferson is a mess, with a badly faded and uninviting bike lane north, and six lanes of traffic south. I wouldn’t blame anyone for not riding (or walking) due to the horrible experience here, but people chose (and have to) do it daily. They deserve more.

Before and after:

Chouteau Avenue pre-bike lane - St. Louis, MO

Chouteau Avenue bike lane - St. Louis, MO

Chouteau Avenue pre-bike lane - St. Louis, MO

Chouteau Avenue bike lane - St. Louis, MO

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  • Big Ern

    The removal of a lane on each side and the addition of these bike lanes is the most outrageously stupid thing this city has done in a while. I GET IT! WE ALLL GET IT! Bikes are good! BIKERS LIVES MATTER! less emissions, exercise, livability…. WE ALL GET IT! but to so blindly force these changes and take away so much time, life, and relaxation away from the commuters of these streets everyday because you can’t take your ass to the gym and ride a stationary every once in a while is over the line.

    I am involved in development and aware of multiple projects that have been proposed for Chouteau….. these bike lanes, are NOT helping. Because the people who actually have the money, and are involved in development, just see the traffic,stress, congestion, head shaking, brow grinding MAJORITY….all for a 2-4 people (in more neon then a queer sea hawks fan at a Techno Festival) enjoying a nice ride….which they feel ENTITLED to.

    My stance, BIKE LANES CAN BE A POSITIVE….but not at the expense of everyone else. We need 2 car lanes on each side of Chouteau now, and will ABSOLUTELY need them in the future. Hit the park people, hit the gym, exercise your bike path creativity, but entertain a little SELF-LESS thinking here….for the love of god.

    Live Strong,
    Big Ern

    • Alex Ihnen

      Thanks for reading. As long as the bike lanes are there I hope you’ll do your best to avoid me as I ride by bike.

  • JZ71

    Good data, like this, needs to be a part of any discussion on bike lanes: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/innovation/how-seattle-using-frankenbike-improve-its-bike-trails-180957088/?no-ist

    • kjohnson04

      I’d volunteer my bike for that.

  • kjohnson04

    I saw the lanes this afternoon, and saw three drivers using a protected bike line as a right turn lane at Grand. The Pevely property needs a curb on the south side of the street, or its going to be very entertaining for cyclists.

    • SnakePlissken

      Agreed. Everyday last week I noticed cars using the bike line! Some swerved out after a 30-45 seconds when they realized it was not for autos. This is clearly an infrastructure problem but also an education problem. New rule; mandatory drivers re-licensing every 5 years.

  • Chris Cleeland

    I’m curious about this assertion: “Combining the sidewalk and bike lane into one protected surface would have offered a safe travel zone.” That is only true for cyclists who act like pedestrians and move at similar speeds. For cyclists who move at normal cycling pace (15mph or faster), that is not safe. Take a ride on Grants Trail on a sunny weekend day in the summer to find out why.

    On the other hand, a cyclist operating a bicycle in much the same way as they would operate a car is able to easily move through normal lanes, albeit at slower speeds.

    • Alex Ihnen

      I don’t think this is true along arterial streets where traffic often travels at 35-40mph. Grants Trail and the Forest Park trail can certainly get crowed, but they’re still better/safer than riding on Jefferson Avenue in rush hour traffic. A combined surface here wouldn’t be heavily traveled for better or worse and so wouldn’t experience the problems of some of the area’s recreational trails. With 12 feet and clear markings, it would be a nice experience.

      • Chris Cleeland

        My years of experiences in all cases cited is completely counter to your belief. In rush hour traffic especially, congestion makes traffic move more slowly.

        “A combined surface here wouldn’t be heavily traveled…” So, you’re advocating spending lots of money for something that won’t get used much in the first place?

  • Chris Cleeland

    I sure like the “before” better than the “after” on Chouteau. In the before, I could ride in the middle of the right lane and have substantial space to dodge the flotsam and jetsam. With the after, safety will still dictate riding in the right travel lane rather than the debris-filled narrow bike lane–all at the risk of raising the ire of drivers who would prefer me to be out of their way with little regard for anyone’s safety.

    • Luftmentsch

      The rider-in-the-drive lane model only works if the number of bikers is modest. Once you reach a critical mass, the bikes become a huge obstacle to any reasonable flow of traffic. And I say this as a regular bike commuter. Look at cities that have successful bike cultures: cambridge, twin cities, chicago. You don’t see bikes in the middle of the right lane. You see them in dedicated lanes, and it’s no big deal. I haven’t had this problem with the “flotsam and jetsam.” Potholes is a bigger issue.

      • Chris Cleeland

        that is true when the roads in question have only a single travel lane each direction. when there are two travel lanes in each direction, riders in the right travel lane are no more congestive than any other road user.

        I find it difficult to believe that you’ve never had debris issues in bike lanes. Are you actually in St. Louis? If so, please tell me where these are, because I would truly like to ride those lanes (presuming they’re not poorly designed in other ways).

        The Chouteau Bridge collects LOTS of debris due to its proximity to commercial hauling depot. When I used to ride it frequently (at least once weekly) the edge collected a substantial amount of rock, broken glass, strands of wire, shoes, etc.

  • ScottF

    Not sweeping the bike lines seems to be a very common problem. (Or even worse, sweeping the road debris into the bike lane.) Is there a standard approach to dealing with this issue?

    • Michael B

      Agreed. All I see in these pictures are depositories for glass and trash. I appreciate bike lanes and the effort to improve our infrastructure, but I support safe and useful infrastructure over token infrastructure.

    • Chris Cleeland

      The “standard approach” differs based on jurisdiction that maintains the road. On city-maintained roads I’ve had pretty good success filing a CSB report resulting in a sweep within a week (this has been on Arsenal and on Tower Grove avenues). If it’s a MODoT road, though, they’ll openly laugh at the request. I actually had a modot area engineer tell me that they sweep everything on schedule twice annually and that should be enough.

  • John Tharp

    The author is correct in their criticisms. That being said, keep the bike lanes coming! Improvement is always welcome, and I will be happy to use any new protections afforded by the newly marked lanes.

    • Alex Ihnen

      Yes! Broadly speaking, the more the better. I hope we start a more systematic effort and begin paying more attention to details and the overall network. Feedback from people who use the lanes often is critical.

      • Chris Cleeland

        More does not automatically mean better. Quality counts. Much of what gets painted is not quality.

        • kjohnson04

          Or paid attention to by drivers.