We should have been celebrating this weekend as our new MLS expansion team, CITY SC, opened their season with a stunning win over Austin FC. A game winning goal in the 86th minute was a historic moment and was met with cheers and jubilation around our entire region. But on Sunday, our City was waking up to terrible news: four dead in an overnight traffic crash. On the heels of the downtown crash that left visiting Tennessee teen, Janae Edmundson, with a devastating life altering injury, and a deadly crash on Saturday afternoon, it’s been a horrific week for traffic safety advocates. Headline after headline, story after story. Enough is enough. The traffic violence has to end.
Traffic violence is not a new term, but it is one that has started to emerge in recent weeks in our city, and it is one that we need to continue to use to shift the minds and culture around mobility in St. Louis. Until recent weeks, these deadly crashes have been referred to as accidents, implying that these violent occurrences are some freak tragedy, that no one could have prevented. But the reality is that there are things that we can do to prevent these terrible acts of violence. And we shouldn’t waste another minute before doing them. In both the Downtown St. Louis crash, and the crash at Forest Park Avenue and Grand, victims in these violent crimes were innocent bystanders to a motorist that acted with complete disregard for human life. Sidewalks and streets should be safe places for people to move freely, and when this is in jeopardy, so too is the livelihood of our City. St. Louis. If walking on our sidewalks isn’t safe, how can we succeed or even survive as a community?
We can and should applaud the passage of BB120 and the allocation of nearly $40 million in transportation improvements to our infrastructure that is badly needed. At the same time these transformative improvements are taking place, we should be organizing around visionary changes to transportation & infrastructure in St. Louis. First and foremost, we have to change the way we talk about traffic violence. News outlets and reporters must be intentional about AP Stylebook compliance and stop using the term accident. Focusing on these issues as crashes is a key first step in changing the way we think about traffic violence in St. Louis. It is time we adopt the Safe Systems Approach to infrastructure decisions and roadway design in St. Louis.
A focus on vulnerable road users is important. When we make streets safer for more vulnerable road users, we make our streets safer for everyone, which has significant impacts on health, wellbeing and the quality of life for St. Louis residents. While we make decisions about longer term, projects, there should also be some consideration for lean and interim treatments that can promote safety in the near term. Last year I added an amendment to the City’s budget to allocate $2M in ADA compliance investments citywide – but this should not be a year-to-year choice, it needs to be an ongoing commitment.
In addition to the safe streets approach, we need to adopt a comprehensive safety action plan in St. Louis. East-West Gateway recently received a $580,000 safe streets and roads for all planning grant for their eight county planning region, at the same time the City of Kirkwood received $480,000 for supplemental planning grant money to their Vision Zero plan for just Kirkwood. While I applaud Kirkwood, this highlights an enormous missed opportunity for the City to capitalize on safety money from the federal government. The needs of the City of St. Louis, with our vastly overbuilt roads, declining populations, and significant equity concerns, have distinct safety needs that may not be similar to other portions of our region. And we need to be prepared to apply for the next round of federal funding.
In addition to a safe systems approach, it is past time we have a robust paving plan established for the critical arteries of our city. Relying on measly ward capital and aldermanic allocation is not nearly enough funds and is a system ripe for political favoritism.
A real system costs a lot of money. And we have the perfect starting point – we generate millions on our streets in the for of parking revenue every year. We should start by putting that money back into our streets to make our streets safer and funding long-overdue and needed improvements. During these planned paving projects, we should be identifying new roadway configurations and treatments that better serve everyone in our City, with a focus on more vulnerable road users. Our focus has to look past vehicular needs, with a focus on moving people around our city safely, regardless of mode.
We also need to learn from our past and work toward preventing these terrible tragedies moving forward. The City of Indianapolis, IN recently instituted a Fatal Crash Review Commission, that convened to review fatal and serious injury crashes. The panel brings together professionals from all disciplines (public health, enforcement, engineering, planning, etc.) to review these crashes and identify ways to prevent these moving forward. The panel can identify common themes or even certain locations with ongoing concerns. Such a panel would be a huge win for safety advocates in our City.
Finally (as is discussed several times over on this issue usually), we need to identify ways to increase education and enforcement. It is great to see Mayor Jones considering red-light cameras and bringing automated enforcement back to our City. To continue combating the violence playing out on our streets, it will take a holistic approach to education, enforcement, engineering, and evaluation, while also engaging with the public and focusing on equitable outcomes.
There have been enough of these terrible traffic violence headlines in the news. It’s terribly sad. It’s extremely scary. It’s horrifically violent. But most of all, it is preventable.