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What is cyclist Karen Karabell doing amidst a lot of heavy traffic and slushy snow?!

Brentwood & Eager 52d0be422b181

All photos are by St. Louis Post-Dispatch photographer
Robert Cohen <>

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.

PD_photographer_Robert_Cohen_crop red_4841

Robert Cohen
Photo: Martin Pion

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:

Map Clayton for KK bike ride 2014

Karen’s bike route from the Clayton Metrolink station to her bank
and Trader Joe’s, returning via the Brentwood Metrolink station.

Karen arriving Metrolink on way to bank etc 52d1a40ede98b

Caption: Central West End resident Karen Karabell arrives at the Clayton Metrolink stop, on her way to do bank and grocery store errands on Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014.
Photo ref: 52d1a40ede98b

Karen after arriving at Clayton ML en route to bank etc

Caption: After arriving at the Clayton Metrolink stop, Central West End resident Karen Karabell heads down Central Avenue, en route to bank and grocery errands on Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014.           Photo. ref: 52d1a40e41f71

Karen’s comment:
“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!”

Karen passing Galleria en route to Trader Joes  52d1a40cce384

Caption: Central West End resident Karen Karabell passes the Galleria, riding on Brentwood Boulevard en route to a Trader Joe’s shopping trip on Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014. Karabell rode Metrolink from home to the Clayton stop and used her bike the rest of the way.           Photo ref: 52d1a40cce384

“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.

Brentwood &amp; Eager 52d0be422b181

Caption: Central West End resident Karen Karabell makes a turn signal while waiting at a stoplight at Brentwood Boulevard and Eager Road on Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014. Karabell rode to her bank and Trader Joe’s after taking Metrolink from home, getting off at the Clayton stop and biking the rest of the way.       Photo ref: 52d0be422b181

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.

Return via Brentwood Metrolink 52d1a40d9c1e2

Caption: Central West End resident Karen Karabell hoists her grocery-laden bike to the Brentwood Metrolink stop, heading home after running errands in Clayton and Brentwood on Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014.           Photo. ref: 52d1a40d9c1e2

Karen’s comment:
“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 <>
To: Steve Giegerich <>
Jan 10, 2014 6:26 am

Subject: After yesterday’s photo shoot, I want to offer 15 more words

Hi Steve,

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.




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:

2013-12-03 “Complete Streets” bill attracts public opposition at council meeting


  1. I’m a fair weather cyclist, with the greatest respect for my hardier brethren such as yourselves. Thank you for a delightful account.

  2. Oh my god…at last, someone who agrees with me! I’ve long been an outspoken opponent of bicycle lanes, dedicated or shared, on public streets. I’ve spent my whole life riding on the street and find that bike lanes usually do nothing but confuse everyone, all while making car drivers EXTREMELY angry at their perceived loss of road real estate.

    While I’m all for more people riding bicycles, a busy urban street is no place for casual riders. Bicycle lanes entice less experienced bicyclists into the road, where they can then experience conflicts with motor vehicle traffic. I’ve had several unfruitful conversations with our city’s planning engineer about their proposed future bike lane additions…they’re very trendy right now and many politicians are leaping on the bandwagon. Nobody’s listening to any logic which speaks out against bike lanes at the moment.

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