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Complete Streets would be a complete catastrophe

Nick Kasoff

Nick Kasoff

Martin Pion

Martin Pion

By Nick Kasoff and Martin Pion
St. Louis Post-Dispatch on-line
December 31, 2013 9:00 am

St. Louis County is considering a Complete Streets ordinance which would radically change both the structure of our county roads, and the way our county makes decisions about those roads. Motorists, cyclists, taxpayers, and the editorial board of the Post-Dispatch, have opposed this bill, with good reason.

First is the fiscal issue. In the only cost figure advanced so far, a spokesman for the county Department of Highways and Traffic estimated that it would cost $300 million to install bike lanes along just 15 percent of county-maintained roadways. That comes to $2 billion to complete just the bike lane component of Complete Streets, a crippling burden. Yet the council has shown no inclination to investigate the cost, and in a recent council meeting, bill sponsor Pat Dolan declined councilwoman Hazel Erby’s request for a committee hearing to explore this issue. 

As cyclists, we support a road system which is safe and efficient for all users. But Dolan’s bill imposes a controversial strategy which many believe would fail to accomplish this. In fact, the cookie cutter approach which Complete Streets implements is dangerously inappropriate for the vast majority of county roads. 

A recent example is the newly resurfaced Manchester Rd. in St. Louis City, formerly two lanes in each direction at Kingshighway. In October, MoDOT restriped it westbound to one lane and a bike lane adjoining the curb. A month later, this resulted in a crash which could easily have been fatal. 

Susan Herzberg, a cyclist, and mother of an 8-year-old, described it on her Facebook page later that day: 

Was riding my bike in the new bike lane and someone cut right in front of me to get to the gas station @ Kingshighway and I couldn’t stop. Took out her sideview mirror with my arm. ouch. I’m fine, will be bruised tomorrow and bike is fine, rode in the rest of the way to work, but I sure miss having 2 regular traffic lanes both ways on Manchester. I had 2.5 years of safe riding without the bike lane.

The crash went unreported, as do many similar incidents involving cyclists in bike lanes, yet right-hook crashes like this are not uncommon. 

Best practice for cyclists on most urban multi-lane roads is to control the curb lane, thereby minimizing crashes due to motorist turning movements. It also keeps the cyclist out of the car door zone when parking is allowed. A properly trained cyclist on regular multi-lane roads causes minimal inconvenience to others while maximizing personal safety.

As motorists, we oppose a plan which intentionally creates traffic congestion on county arterial roads. It is irresponsible to take hundreds of millions of needed dollars away from road maintenance and improvement to build lightly used bike lanes. American motorists already spend countless hours in traffic jams, costing time and money. Complete Streets would exacerbate this problem for every St. Louis driver, and worsen the region’s serious air pollution problem.

Cyclists already have a comprehensive network of recreational facilities, such as Grant's Trail, which are being continually expanded. We use these trails ourselves. But the family cycling on Grant's Trail for recreation doesn’t prefer to be riding down Watson Road.

Most seriously, the proposed bill would place highway policy in the hands of a short list of special interest groups, many of whom are lobbying in support of the bill. Some of these groups receive considerable public funding, and stand to benefit in both revenue and influence should this bill pass. A handpicked selection of such groups should not be charged with voting on the design of public highway projects instead of highway engineers implementing best practices to advance the public interest. 

Finally, bill supporters point to the European example to illustrate the potential for success, ignoring the substantial differences between the structure of our roads, communities and travel patterns. While nearly nine in ten Americans commute by car, only 13% have a commute shorter than ten minutes.

So how should we proceed? The county already adds bike lanes where appropriate, and improves access for the disabled as required by federal law. By voting against this bill, the council ensures that this policy will continue, considering the needs of various users, the costs, and the engineering details of each road. 

That would be the best outcome for everyone who uses county roads.

Nick Kasoff is a freelance business consultant and avid cyclist living in Ferguson, who rides to clients as far as 30 miles from his home.

Martin Pion is a scientist and 43-year cycle commuter, and a certified League of American Bicyclists Cycling Instructor since 1997. For over 11 years, rain or shine, he cycled from his home in Ferguson to McDonnell Douglas, now Boeing Co., before retiring.

Karen Karabell westbound on resurfaced Manchester Rd just after passing Kingshighway BP station

Karen Karabell westbound on resurfaced Manchester Rd just after passing Kingshighway BP station

Karen Karabell, a CyclingSavvy St. Louis Instructor, controls the curb lane while cycling westbound along Manchester Avenue past the entrance to the BP station at the Kingshighway intersection on Aug. 29. The road had been resurfaced by MoDOT but not yet restriped, so it was still a four-lane road. In mid-October the road was restriped to a bike lane and one lane westbound. On Dec. 16, Susan Herzberg was right-hooked by a motorist turning into this gas station as she was biking in the new westbound bike lane.

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