What is cyclist Karen Karabell doing amidst a lot of heavy traffic and slushy snow?!
Scary stuff? It certainly looks like it as Karen Karabell waits on her bike at a stop light signalling a planned left turn from Brentwood Blvd. onto Eager Rd. in St. Louis County.
Veteran St. Louis Post-Dispatch photographer, Robert Cohen, took the above dramatic photo of Karen Karabell on Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014. Cohen and fellow photographer, Jim Forbes, were following Karen by car as she biked from the Clayton Metrolink station on a shopping trip in Brentwood, returning home via the Brentwood Metrolink station.
When I asked Karen what she was thinking when this photo was taken she replied:
“I was as calm as could be. Safe traffic cycling skills are often counter-intuitive. While this looks unusual to an untrained eye, using “driver behavior” truly is the safest way for a cyclist to navigate this intersection.”
The photo, one of several taken along Karen’s route, accompanied a front-page story in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch headlined Complete Streets bike-friendly plan hits bumpy road in St. Louis County.
A recent heavy snowfall made it look challenging but the photo is deceptive, as will be evident from reviewing the entire series of photos below. First, here’s a map showing Karen’s route, followed by the first photo in the series as Karen alights at the Clayton Metrolink station:
“Before we left the Clayton Metrolink station, I stood with Post-Dispatch photographers Robert Cohen and Jim Forbes by Jim’s car parked at the curb on Central Avenue to discuss my route. I explained that I would be turning right onto Shaw Park Drive, [A continuation of Forest Park Pkwy] and then left onto Brentwood Boulevard. My first stop was at BMO Harris Bank. They intended to follow me to the bank, with Jim driving and Robert shooting photographs.
I got all the way to the bank without them behind me!
I was surprised, because I thought I had been very clear when describing my route. I parked my bike and went inside to make my deposit. When I came out, they were waiting in the parking lot.
So much for motor vehicles being more efficient than human-powered vehicles in an urban setting!”
“I am on Brentwood Boulevard, in the right of three travel lanes going south alongside the Galleria. Robert and Jim are keeping pace with me in the middle of the travel lanes. If you look closely, this photo shows me monitoring conditions in my rearview mirror. We have lots of motorists stacked up behind us as we “block” two traffic lanes for Robert to take photos of me! I keep expecting someone to get impatient and start honking, but nobody does. I am amazed, and gratified to again confirm my belief that St. Louis motorists are some of the most courteous on the planet.
When they are satisfied they have enough photos, Jim and Robert zoom ahead to wait for me to arrive for my left turn onto Eager Road.”
Karen mentioned to me that she and the Post-Dispatch car were occupying two adjoining lanes going at about 12mph while traffic patiently waited behind. And there was a lot of traffic because this was the first day the road was clear after St. Louis County plowed it.
Above is the photo originally shown at the top of this blog with Karen signaling while waiting at a stop light. I’ve restored the original caption.
“I’m hoisting my bicycle and $100 worth of groceries onto the unshoveled sidewalk to trudge to the Brentwood Metrolink station. “This is the hardest thing I’ve done all day,” I complain to Robert (Cohen).”
After the story was published Karen wrote to a Post-Dispatch reporter to express her appreciation and discuss bike-related issues:
Karen Karabell <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: Steve Giegerich <SGiegerich@post-dispatch.com>
Jan 10, 2014 6:26 am
Subject: After yesterday’s photo shoot, I want to offer 15 more words
Hilary, your photo editor, chose to follow me on my rounds yesterday. She sent Robert Cohen and Jim Forbes (as photographer & driver) to meet me. Brentwood Boulevard from downtown Clayton to Trader Joes was my main route. As usual, it was a totally uneventful and courteous ride. There was not a hint of incivility from the motorists sharing the road with me (Robert & Jim can confirm). There was one thing special: Those guys turned my ordinary errand-running and shopping trip into especially great fun!
On the phone Hilary asked me why I was against the Complete Streets ordinance. Our streets are already complete, I responded. This was reaffirmed yesterday—as has been the case on my many thousands of cycling trips. But I never clearly expressed this to you, so want to offer the below 15 words, in the hope that you might find them useful clarification for this side of the story:
For cyclists, our streets are complete — and a lot easier to use without bike lanes.
BACK STORY TO KAREN’S BIKE RIDE TO BANK & TRADER JOE’S
In December 2013, I learned from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch of efforts by St. Louis County Council to enact a Complete Streets ordinance. The name “Complete Streets” conjures up rosy pictures of all road users being treated equitably but unfortunately, for cyclists, Complete Streets typically boils down to promoting bike lanes.
Bike lanes may sound like a good idea, and they have a lot of support from those who view them as encouraging cycling or improving safety. However, my experience is that they complicate car-bike interactions where they’re potentially most dangerous – at intersections – so I’m generally opposed to them.
Consequently, I decided to speak out against this Complete Streets bill during the public portion of a regularly scheduled weekly meeting of St. Louis County Council on Tuesday, December 3rd, and invited other on-road cyclists to join me. A number did, including Karen Karabell, her husband Harold, and son Eli, all three of them cycling to that first meeting, and numerous meetings following, from their Central West End home. I drove to the Council meeting from Ferguson, accompanied by Nick Kasoff, another experienced on-road cyclist who lives near me.
Karen is a highly experienced certified CyclingSavvy Instructor (CSI) who runs CyclingSavvy St. Louis, after first becoming certified as a League of American Bicyclists Cycling Instructor (LCI) like me.
I posted all the relevant public comments of that December 3rd, 2013, council meeting here: