The St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial board’s recent thumbs down on St. Louis County’s proposed Complete Streets bill didn’t go unnoticed by Scott Ogilvie, 24th Ward alderman from the City of St. Louis.
Scott Ogilvie was the lone supporter of the bill during the Public Comments portion of Tuesday’s St. Louis County Council meeting. Below is his OpEd which appeared in Thursday’s newspaper.
As of Friday, December 20, 2013 @ 8:32 pm there are 9 Comments from readers, with a small majority favoring Complete Streets.
Make streets safe and appealing for everyone
Transportation • ‘Complete Streets’ legislation benefits all users, not just those driving a car.
The Post-Dispatch editorial board took on a proposed “Complete Streets” policy in St. Louis County on Dec. 13 and concluded, “The council should park this idea.” While the advocates for Complete Streets might have some good ideas, the editorial board makes the claim that, “What they don’t have is numbers.” Unfortunately, it’s the editorial board’s numbers that are completely out of whack.
The board notes that nationally only 0.2 percent of commuter miles are traveled by bike, and therefore, there’s no need to worry about other modes of transportation aside from the automobile. What do we make of this 0.2 percent number?
To begin with, it’s a distraction. A more accurate number is 14.3 percent. That’s the number of people in the St. Louis region that already aren’t using a car to get to work. In other words, one out of seven people. Second, Complete Streets policies are explicitly not about “cars vs. bikes.” They’re about balancing transportation decisions so everyone has a choice of how to get around when they leave their house. And that 14.3 percent is already growing, as St. Louis County residents have driven fewer miles each year since 2007.
Everyone: car driver, pedestrian, cyclist, bus rider, wheelchair user, has a right to safely use the public right of way. But since the 1950s, the enormous majority of transportation spending has been all about the car. The region has built more car infrastructure per person than almost any other region in the country. That can’t be the balance the editorial board claims to be seeking. It’s expensive, redundant and has long ago stopped enhancing quality of life.
The reality is that we all use streets in different ways each day through our lives. The SUV driver is also a pedestrian. She also rides her bike on the weekend. Her kids might walk to school. Today’s runner may someday use a wheelchair. Today’s highway commuter may get a different job and take the bus next month. Even if you don’t walk much, you want to walk sometimes — or your dog does. And you want it to be safe. To say one person is a driver and another person is a cyclist completely misses how people actually behave. Certainly the car dominates the transportation scene in St. Louis, but there’s no Complete Streets policy in existence that ignores the car. Instead, they allow cars to operate in an environment that’s safer for everyone.
Residents want a transportation policy that looks like Councilman Pat Dolan and Trailnet’s Complete Streets policy. Even MoDOT, an agency that both by state dictate and internal orientation has a history of focusing entirely on the car, has data that support this. In a huge local “On the Move” survey, MoDOT summarized St. Louis-area residents’ responses as, “Consider bike/pedestrian elements on all projects and integrate bike/pedestrian elements as much as possible.”
But to make good on those desires, transportation agencies, like the St. Louis County Highway Department, need major changes in how they operate. They need the new direction a Complete Streets policy provides. I’ve had many conversations with the St. Louis County Highway Department and with other transportation engineers on projects I’m involved with. They frequently don’t have the language to talk about anything besides car infrastructure. You know what the most frequent design consideration is in street infrastructure? The turning radius of semi-truck. That’s no way to get to street design that everyone can safely use.
The editorial board seems to think hitting some minimum Americans with Disabilities Act standards are enough. But the ADA is a minimum technical standard for pedestrian and wheelchair accessibility. While a critical component of transportation and building design, it’s easy to build an ADA-compliant intersection that is nonetheless dangerous and utterly unpleasant. A decent Complete Streets policy is also aspirational. It pushes us to design transportation solutions that don’t just meet some basic technical criteria, but are also safe, and dare I say even occasionally pleasant.
It’s easy to find examples in St. Louis County where 60 years of designing only for the car has left almost shockingly unsafe results. Check out Manchester or St. Charles Rock Road, where bus stops are in drainage ditches and walking to the store means praying a car doesn’t run you over in the gutter. It’s not right, and it doesn’t have to be this way.
Transportation decisions are long-term investments. If St. Louis County doesn’t changes course now with something like the proposed Complete Streets policy, we may have the same bus stops in the same drainage ditches 50 years from now. It’s time to do better. The payoff is more transportation choices and safer, more pleasant ways to get around.
Scott Ogilvie is 24th Ward alderman in St. Louis.