To experience first-hand St. Louis City’s new Parking-Separated Bikeway on Chestnut Street, I videotaped Karen Karabell bicycling along it in September 2015 using forward and backward facing helmet-mounted cameras. And while exercising lane control, we returned to the start along four-lane Market Street.
(Karen is a seasoned on-road CyclingSavvy instructor living in St. Louis City who held the first CyclingSavvy St. Louis workshop in April 2011.)
The result of that 19 minute ride is this 12 minute edited video posted on Vimeo:
Note 1: To view a full-screen version of the above please click on the tab above bottom right or on the link vimeo.com/151155345
Note 2: The video was also uploaded to YouTube on April 3, 2016.
Some insightful comments and criticisms of this new facility
Alex Ihnen, whose nextstl blog is about Urban Living and Transportation, posted one called Riding St. Louis’ First Protected Bike Lane [Video] on July 24, 2015. It includes a forward-facing 2 minute video I assume Alex shot while cycling along the new Chestnut St. bike lane from 20th St. to Tucker. An accompanying discussion elicited 16 Comments.
Among them are critical comments reproduced below from two experienced St. Louis area bicyclists, “Matthew B” and Chris Cleeland. They are worth reading, together with Alex Ihnen’s replies, which often either don’t adequately address their concerns or are dismissive of them.
One of the interesting things about Alex Ihnen’s blog is that, even after he agrees with a litany of concerns about this facility, it doesn’t appear to affect his support one bit, given that he later adds: “I like projects like this a lot.”
Matthew B •
“It’s really a shame this was done without any public comment period. This makes it feel very paternalistic and like the worst of St. Louis’s machine politics at work.
I’m rather concerned that there are (1) almost no sight lines between traffic streams before intersections (often only about 5′ of no parking prior to the intersection), (2) no separate lights for the bicyclists and motorists, and (3) no guidance for drivers on how to safely make turns through the other traffic stream. I see how this probably decreases risk of sideswipe crashes and increases perceived safety, but it seems likely to increase frightening near misses (and potentially collisions) of the drive out, right hook, and left hook types.
I’m also concerned about pedestrian safety for (1) people crossing the street in crosswalks (especially at intersections without lights) as they’ll often be screened from the view of one stream of traffic or the other, and also (2) for people moving to and from their parked cars. There is a real danger to pedestrians from bicyclists who don’t see them coming from between the cars until it’s too late.
The safety section of this report is interesting, and their results are with dedicated traffic signals that make right of way clear. …
I do like the back in angled parking, but I do wish there was more than a 1′ buffer between the bike lane and the parking.
What’s the plan for keeping the bike lanes free of debris?
How is a motorist supposed to make a right from this infrastructure? It seems impossible to merge into the bike lane as is the appropriate procedure for a non-parking-protected lane.
How is a bicyclist supposed to make a left turn? It seems impossible to merge into the travel lane as would be the normal proceedure.
What are the rules that determine right of way when drivers arrive at the same time at an intersection?
What’s the plan for evaluating the safety of this new facility? Is there a plan for monitoring the details of crashes along the infrastructure? i know changing police report forms would require state action, and a crowd sourced option has been discussed (but would be a very biased data source).
Special infrastructure requires special education, education does not require special infrastructure.”
Moderator Alex Ihnen to Mathew B •
“Some great points – I agree with just about all of them. The one thing I would disagree with is that education (cycling classes?) is more important than “special” infrastructure. Investment in cycling infrastructure, separated infrastructure specifically, has been shown to increase safety and ridership. The failure of experienced cyclists, those who are more-or-less happy riding on Clayton Road, or through the city on most streets, to recognize what promotes cycling to the masses hurts ridership. Just like highways, roads, and streets should be designed to guide, inform, and regulate a driver’s speed and movement, bike lanes, paths, and other infrastructure can do the same for cyclists. In the end, I think it’s too easy to rely on education. We need to build places were people feel safe, and are safe. A big part of that is safety in numbers. The more people on bikes, the more motorists expect to see bikes, the more comfortable they are with interactions, and the safer we are.
I didn’t make this point in the short post, but there’s been very little information available about this bike lane, anywhere. There’s a one-pager that doesn’t mention Chestnut or protected bike lanes at all. Then there’s a one-pager for the Chestnut Street protected bike lane that doesn’t include the plan itself. There are several dead links online for the Bike St. Louis Phase 3. What can one say other than at least the system built a protected bike lane this time instead of tearing down buildings, or widening streets…but the system is very much still a problem. The point I’ve made to those involved is that if things like this are going to happen, let’s celebrate them. You can’t do that if there’s no one really in charge, no public input has been sought, and project details aren’t shared. I like projects like this a lot, but it’s certainly not part of the comprehensive well-planned, methodical investment in bike infrastructure that it should be. Hopefully the city’s hiring of a bicycle/ped coordinator will result in more forethought, proactive planning, and accountability.”
Chris Cleeland to Moderator Alex Ihnen •
“Alex, I think you’re reading more into the initial comment than is there. He [Matthew B] did not claim that education was more important than infrastructure. The statement was that infrastructure that is special requires special education. The unique infrastructure they’ve built here involves complex interactions between various road users, and provides absolutely no guidance as to how that should be managed. You won’t find anything in the Missouri Driver’s Manual nor in any driver’s ed course (if anybody even takes one anymore). You also won’t find any bike education.
Which brings me to your assertion that infrastructure is more important than education. That’s absurd. If that was sensible, then we’d just build a bunch of roads and turn anybody who could reach the pedals and see over the steering wheel loose on those roads with no education on how to operate safely amid other road users. Are you genuinely advocating that? Why should bicycle infrastructure be any different?
I would like to operate my vehicles on roads where people know how to properly use both their chosen vehicle and the infrastructure which we are using.”
Moderator Alex Ihnen to Chris Cleeland •
“You’re right. From all reports (and my experience), motorists, pedestrians, and cyclists have all quickly figured out how to navigate the newly organized Chestnut Street. My point is simply that well-designed and well-implemented infrastructure is rather intuitive. This is true with something like design speed – you can put up signage (try to educate) people that they should drive 25mph, but if the lane is 14ft wide, education isn’t going to work. A 10ft lane – the proper infrastructure for 25mph speeds – will work much better. No one’s anti-education, but I bristle at the idea (which wasn’t exactly said above) that if motorists and others were simply better educated about the rules of the road, or how to operate around bicycles, that we’d be safer, and many more people would ride. I just think that building the right infrastructure is the way to accomplish this goal.”
Chris Cleeland to Moderator Alex Ihnen •
“Education and infrastructure need to work together. In my 20+ years of riding, by far the most dangerous aspect is the prevailing belief that bicycles do not belong on the road and that roads are built for cars (which, actually, is somewhat true when you look at the shlock created in the last many years). The infrastructure you’ve highlighted in this post does absolutely NOTHING to combat that problem, and one could easily argue that it actually REINFORCES that notion by segregating based on traffic type where design speeds are slow enough to not warrant separation.
IMHO, that sort of treatment would be best applied on a roadway with design speeds (for cars) higher than 25 mph, and intersections farther apart. Why farther apart? Because there is really nothing intuitive about how users of the different lanes should negotiate the intersection when the cyclist wants to go straight or left, and the driver wants to go right or straight. There is no precedent for that in normal traffic rules because no right-minded traffic engineer would create such infrastructure. When I read Matthew’s original post, this is exactly what I thought he meant by “special education.”
Education alone isn’t the answer, but neither is infrastructure. Pinning all hopes on only one or the other will not accomplish the goal. And you really hit upon a key when you said “the right infrastructure”. Just because it’s a bike lane doesn’t make it “right”. Everything must be applied in the appropriate context–which I probably don’t have to tell you considering your architectural background.”
Background to this new Parking-Separated Bikeway
This new bike facility, approximately a mile long on one-way Chestnut Street in St. Louis City, is the first of its kind in the metro area. According to Deanna Venker of St. Louis City, it was a collaborative effort by Paul Wojciechowski of ALTA Planning+Design with her and staff.
Paul L. Wojciechowski, AICP, P.E., Associate/Field Office Manager at ALTA Planning+Design, was formerly MoDOT District 6 Director of Planning, and filled several different positions, including Director of Public Works/City Engineer for the City of Clayton, before assuming his present position with ALTA Planning+Design. Paul kindly provided the following information:
“I was hired in May of 2013 by Great Rivers Greenway as the main designer to work on Bike St. Louis Phase III to upgrade and update 60 existing miles of on-street bikeways, and add a further 40 miles. A collaborative effort between Great Rivers Greenway and the City of St. Louis, Chestnut’s mile long parking protected bike lane was the capstone of the project as the final corridor to be implemented.
The planning and design of this route took 6 months with construction taking 2 months, starting in the Summer of 2015, with the City resurfacing Chestnut from 20th Street to Broadway. The Project was completed in July 2015. The improvements on Chestnut were a collaboration of The Bike St. Louis Phase III project funded by Great Rivers Greenway (GRG), and the City of St. Louis.
During design, GRG and the City coordinated to resurface Chestnut so that the final project would be better for the public, in that the surface was in bad shape and the resurfacing made sense along with the restriping of the roadway to relocate space for a bikeway.
The benefit to the whole project was that the City resurfaced the roadway, which eliminated striping removals and gave a blank pallet to work with.
The unit costs were very good since it was for a very large striping project. Smaller striping jobs have higher unit costs since the volume is less in striping.”
Paul added that for the bike-related elements:
“The construction cost for Chestnut was $43,000 and the design cost was around $12,000.”
Deanna Venker, P.E., was appointed in May 2015 as St. Louis Traffic Commissioner after working as MoDOT’s District Engineer for St. Louis City since June 2001.
In her former role with MoDOT she oversaw many projects, including more recently those including bike-related facilities, such as the addition of bike lanes on Manchester Ave. in St. Louis City after it was resurfaced and restriped in October 2013.
What’s new about the Chestnut Street facility is that parking is relocated away from the curb in many places and, with the addition of vertical posts, parked cars provide a barrier between the curbside bike lane and the adjacent travel lane except at intersections. However, the fact that potential intersectional conflicts with turning motorists remains is a major weakness of this design, and is inherent in all bike lanes of which I’m aware. And merging out of the bike lane between intersections can also be problematical.
For additional background on this facility I’ve collected below information from different on-line sources posted in July 2015 when the Parking-Separated Bikeway was nearing completion or already finished. It includes a tweet from Ms. Venker, a story from the Mayor’s Office, and a Great Rivers Greenway post (later reposted by the Missouri Bicycle Federation).
The only video of the facility I could find was that by Alex Ihnen, who generally lauded the new facility on his nextstl blog, prompting both supportive and critical reader comments, some of the latter being reproduced above. One of the interesting things about Alex Ihnen’s blog is that, even after he agrees with a litany of concerns about this facility, it doesn’t appear to affect his support one bit, given that he later adds “I like projects like this a lot.”
Below is a July 24, 2015 tweet from Ms. Deanna Venker @StLcityEngineer relating to progress on the facility with the attached photo: “Educational signs going in on Chestnut!#bikestl”
Prior to the above tweet from Deanna Venker the Mayor’s Office posted a story on stlouis-mo.gov on July 16, 2015 with a photo of a similar facility elsewhere:
On the same date Great Rivers Greenway posted:
Brent Hugh, Executive Director of the Missouri Bicycle Federation, reposted Great Rivers Greenway’s post on July 30, 2015 at: http://mobikefed.org/2015/07/news-city-st-louis-stripes-first-parking-protected-bike-lane-chestnut-st-louis-city