Skip navigation

I’m delighted this issue got a substantial airing in a front page below-the-fold story by reporter Steve Giegerich in Sunday’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch. There are always things to take issue with in any story, especially when they are matters of fact. This story seems to cover both sides fairly well, but still requires a significant number of corrections and comments, dealt with below.

1. Let’s start with the headline “Complete Streets bike-friendly plan.” The goal of Trailnet’s bike plans is invariably to add bike lanes which relegate cyclists to what is typically the worst and most dangerous part of the roadway, near the edge. That is not bike friendly at all: it’s bike-unfriendly.

2. The sub-headlines:
Supporters say: Complete Streets opens roads to walkers, cyclists.
Critics say: Program will ratchet up costs, cause traffic congestion

Firstly, generally the streets are already “open … to walkers (and) cyclists,” the former with sidewalks, and the latter if they just acquire the skills and knowledge to use a bicycle safely on-road.
Secondly, putting in bike lanes, as urged by Complete Streets boosters, doesn’t just cause traffic congestion when traffic lanes are removed to accommodate them. They also substantially increase the risks of injury and death to cyclists in bike lanes due to turning car-bike collisions at intersections, and “dooring” when a motorist opens a parked vehicle door alongside a bike lane.

3. The following sentence appears to contain at least one contradiction:

Critics charge that Complete Streets will require the installation of costly sidewalks, spend public money to widen streets and cause unnecessary congestion when traffic lanes are reduced to accommodate bicyclists.

If the road is widened why would you also need to remove traffic lanes? It’s only when bike lanes are added in an existing right-of-way, as happened with MoDOT’s restriping of Manchester-MO Route 100, that removal of a traffic lane becomes necessary, leading to safety and congestion problems for both motorists and cyclists.

4. Dolan met last week with Complete Streets foes. Councilman Dolan was good enough to meet with me, Karen Karabell, and Nick Kasoff but he was noncommittal in his remarks.

5. Ann Rivers Mack, Trailnet’s chief executive officer, brushes aside the charge that her group is using Complete Streets to advance its own agenda. …
“They are clearly making things up,” Mack said of critics who claim Trailnet has played an oversized role in shaping regional Complete Streets policies.

Ann Mack’s attempt to play down their pivotal role in this legislation is absurd. They are the ones who wrote this revision to the bill, after taking exception to the original version, which had County Highways and Traffic Department (H&T) support. They clearly objected to the discretion it gave to H&T, and also wanted a way to exert direct influence on them by adding an unprecedented oversight panel on which they would serve.

6. Most area residents are likely not aware that partial funding for Complete Streets was folded into a 2013 ballot initiative focused primarily on upgrades to the public space at the Gateway Arch grounds.

I’m not sure that ANY of the funding Great Rivers Greenway gets from the sales tax is supposed to be spent on facilities other than off-road trails. That concern was expressed by County Executive Charlie Dooley at one of the county council meetings, as reported as follows in the 2013-11-26 Post-Dispatch story “St. Louis County Council puts Complete Streets legislation on hold”:

Dooley and county officials maintain Great Rivers Greenway funds are to be directed to trails and not county roads.

7. St. Louis has used the [Complete Streets] program to accommodate bicycle traffic along a 1.1-mile section of Chippewa Street. Clayton has used Complete Streets to install curb ramps mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Bicycles were already accommodated on this road before bike lanes were added, only now they’re relegated to the road edge.
And since curb cuts were already mandated by the ADA, it’s ridiculous to suggest that Clayton needed to wait for Complete Streets legislation to act.

8. Wrone’s remarks [about the $300 million taxpayer bill] spurred the continuing presence of a coalition of bicycle commuters, cycling enthusiasts and big-government opponents at council meetings.

That is NOT what motivated me nor, I believe, my main cycling allies. My concern was that this would lead to more bike lane construction on county roads, which are often important bicycling routes, compromising my safety and that of other knowledgeable on-road cyclists.

9. “Bike lanes are blind spots,” said Nick Kasoff, of Ferguson, a bicycle commuter.

To that I would add that motorists also often misjudge their speed relative to an edge-riding cyclist, leading motorists to turn directly across the cyclist’s path at the intersection. This is discussed in detail in the blog I posted on January 4th:
Do bike lanes improve safety?

10. (Karen Karabell) acknowledges that little empirical evidence exists to support the contention that bicycle education programs provide bikers with a greater level of safety than bike lanes.

That appears to be incorrect. In fact, Karen provided a long list of references recently which showed the contrary. I’ve posted the list here:
Most studies conclude bicycle facilities are more dangerous than the road

11. “An extremely small percentage of people” view separate bike lanes as unsafe, said Mack, the Trailnet chief executive.

Nick Kasoff has provided a good written response to this assertion by Ann Mack which he permitted me to reproduce:

That is certainly true. But let’s remember that large majorities of the public have believed all sorts of things that are not true. Like that the earth is flat. Or that bloodletting is an effective medical treatment. Mack claims that we are “under the false impression that everyone” prefers to ride in traffic. Not true. The vast majority of people prefer not to cycle at all. Of those who do cycle, the majority prefers to ride on recreational trails like Grant’s Trail, facilities which Trailnet/GRG developed, and which we support. Very few people use bicycles as transportation on a regular basis. Of those who do, you’ll find that a good many do NOT want bike lanes, because they know from personal experience that they are unsafe.

12. (Ann Mack) said that because Karabell and other opponents like to ride in traffic, “they are under the false impression that everyone does.”

That’s totally untrue. Most people DON’T know how to ride safely in traffic, myself included initially, which is why they are fearful of doing so. The view generally held seems to be that all you need to know is how to balance a bicycle, usually something you learn as a child, and wear a bike helmet, and you’re good to go, PROVIDED there are bike lanes to accommodate you, of course!

13: Council member Steve Stenger emphasized that the amended legislation introduced in late November was never intended as the final word on Complete Streets.
“We always planned on changes to the bill,” Stenger said.

That appears to be a rewrite of history. Councilman Dolan’s substitute bill had overwhelming, if not unanimous, council member support when I first learned about it in the Sunday Post-Dispatch story titled “St. Louis County is poised to approve measure for bike- and pedestrian-friendly roads,” published on November 24, 2013.

A final vote on the bill was unexpectedly postponed at the following county council meeting after last-minute budgetary concerns raised by St. Louis County Highways & Traffic Department. Reporter Steve Giegerich wrote an intriguing story about it published on Tuesday, November 26 headlined: “St. Louis County Council puts Complete Streets legislation on hold”. The story noted: Councilman Pat Dolan, the co-sponsor of the bill, joined Trailnet official Rhonda Smythe in predicting passage of the measure, perhaps as early as next week.

The “next week” was December 3, 2013, when I spoke against it for the first time, joined by Nick Kasoff, Karen Karabell, and other opponents. I’m confident it would have been enacted that same evening otherwise, based on e-mail exchanges with a council member who then supported it.

Here’s the St. Louis Post-Dispatch story, published on Sunday, January 12th, 2014:

Complete Streets bike-friendly plan hits bumpy road in St. Louis County
Supporters say: Complete Streets opens roads to walkers, cyclists.
Critics say: Program will ratchet up costs, cause traffic congestion

Karen Karabell gives a left turn signal while waiting at a stoplight on Brentwood Blvd. to turn left onto Eager Rd. on her way to Trader Joe's after taking the Metrolink from home to the Clayton stop.

Karen Karabell gives a left turn signal while waiting at a stoplight on Brentwood Blvd. after taking the Metrolink to Clayton. She waiting in the left-turn-only lane, preparing to turn left onto Eager Rd. en route to Trader Joe’s.
Photo by Robert Cohen, rcohen@post-dispatch.com

Please mouse click any image to enlarge it. Use the back arrow top left to return to this page.

By Steve Giegerich sgiegerich@post-dispatch.com 314-725-6758
Comments [61 as of 10:20 pm Sunday, January 12, 2014]

ST. LOUIS COUNTY • What seemed like a simple idea to make roads in St. Louis County more bike and pedestrian friendly has turned into an unfriendly uproar about its potential cost and dangers.
         As a result, the Complete Streets program, once on a fast track to passage by the St. Louis County Council, has stalled.
         “We need to rethink it,” acknowledges council member Pat Dolan, a co-sponsor of the bill.
         Those against the plan to make bicycle and pedestrian access part of road improvement projects began expressing their concerns as the plan was headed to what appeared certain approval by the council.
         Since then critics of a national effort to open more streets and roads to bikers and walkers have been a constant presence, returning to the council week after week.
         Supporters say Complete Streets alterations will in many cases entail a rudimentary restriping of roads to identify lanes for bikers and walkers. They say the majority of the plan would affect rebuilt or new roads, not existing ones.
         Critics charge that Complete Streets will require the installation of costly sidewalks, spend public money to widen streets and cause unnecessary congestion when traffic lanes are reduced to accommodate bicyclists.
         Dolan met last week with Complete Streets foes. He will next sit down with the county highway department to discuss the potential cost of an initiative the agency estimates could exceed $300 million. Highway agency officials say they welcome the opportunity to discuss the matter with Dolan.
         After weeks of hinting that passage is imminent, council members now say there is no timetable for enacting the ordinance.
         Dolan promised the final version of the bill will take into account the points made by opponents as well as the concerns of county highway engineers.
         “This won’t be an unfunded mandate where every road in the county gets a bike path,” the council member pledged.
         Opponents also contend the Complete Streets initiative is a concession to Trailnet, a nonprofit advocate for healthy lifestyles that they say holds undue sway over county lawmakers.
         “This particular bill reeks of self-interest,” said Karen Karabell of St. Louis, a frequent county bicyclist who is against dedicated bike paths on roads. “Trailnet has written the ordinance as a seat for themselves at the table.”
         Ann Rivers Mack, Trailnet’s chief executive officer, brushes aside the charge that her group is using Complete Streets to advance its own agenda.
         The organization, she says, has collaborated with county officials — including representatives of the planning and highway departments — to develop a Complete Streets program they believe serves the best interests of all county residents.
         “They are clearly making things up,” Mack said of critics who claim Trailnet has played an oversized role in shaping regional Complete Streets policies.
         Most area residents are likely not aware that partial funding for Complete Streets was folded into a 2013 ballot initiative focused primarily on upgrades to the public space at the Gateway Arch grounds.
         Proposition P stipulated that 30 percent of the 3/16th-cent sales tax approved by voters goes to the Great Rivers Greenway park district for the expansion of bike and hiking trails throughout the region. A portion of the money would in turn be dedicated to Complete Streets projects.
         Complete Streets has been adopted by approximately 600 communities nationwide. St. Louis, Ferguson and Clayton are among the local communities that have enacted the legislation.
         St. Louis has used the program to accommodate bicycle traffic along a 1.1-mile section of Chippewa Street. Clayton has used Complete Streets to install curb ramps mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act.
         The issue landed in St. Louis County in late October when County Executive Charlie Dooley presented a proposal designed to give the county Highways, Traffic and Public Works Department wide latitude in implementing Complete Streets projects.
         Dolan subsequently amended the original bill to broaden the scope of Complete Streets upgrades throughout the county.
         The revised legislation prompted highway division spokesman David Wrone to publicly challenge the revisions.
         Wrone charged that Dolan had introduced the “massive spending bill” without consulting traffic engineers. He estimated that the legislation, as amended, could saddle taxpayers with a $300 million bill for Complete Streets projects covering only 15 percent of county-maintained roadways.
         Wrone’s remarks spurred the continuing presence of a coalition of bicycle commuters, cycling enthusiasts and big-government opponents at council meetings.
         In addition to raising concerns about cost, some foes argue that dedicated cycling lanes are more dangerous than roads that consolidate bike and vehicular traffic.
         “Bike lanes are blind spots,” said Nick Kasoff, of Ferguson, a bicycle commuter. “When a driver is entering the road from a driveway, they often overlook cyclists who are riding at the side of the road. And when they are making right turns, a cyclist in a bike lane is often in the motorist’s blind spot.”
         Karabell wears a fluorescent vest identifying her as a bicycle safety instructor at council meetings. She maintains that teaching riders how to coexist with traffic is the key to keeping cyclists out of harm’s way.
         She acknowledges that little empirical evidence exists to support the contention that bicycle education programs provide bikers with a greater level of safety than bike lanes.
         According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data, 677 bicyclists lost their lives in 2011 — 2.1 percent of the total fatalities on the nation’s roads. The statistics, the most recent available, are not broken down to reflect how many of the cyclists died while riding in bike lanes.
         “An extremely small percentage of people” view separate bike lanes as unsafe, said Mack, the Trailnet chief executive.
         She said that because Karabell and other opponents like to ride in traffic, “they are under the false impression that everyone does.”
         Council member Steve Stenger emphasized that the amended legislation introduced in late November was never intended as the final word on Complete Streets.
         “We always planned on changes to the bill,” Stenger said.
         Dolan said input from the highway department, an agency traditionally focused on vehicular traffic, will play a key role in shaping the third and what he hopes is the final version of the Complete Streets bill presented to the council.
         A move to accommodate additional bicyclists on roads designed for cars and trucks, the council member noted, is “basically a change of philosophy.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: