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World’s Narrowest Bike Lane Located in St. Louis

January 23, 2009 Bicycling 26 Comments

St. Louis may have the “honor” of having the world’s narrowest dedicated bike lane.  How narrow you ask?  I didn’t take out a tape measure but the pictures reveal the sad reality of what constitutes a bike lane in St. Louis.

But before I show you the specific lane in question we need to step back and look at the big picture.  From BikeStLouis.org:

The Great Rivers Greenway District celebrated the opening of 57 miles of additional on-street Bike St. Louis routes through St. Louis County and St. Louis City on May 8, 2008 with ribbon cutting ceremonies in the Cities of Maplewood, Clayton and St. Louis. With the expansion, the Bike St. Louis system now totals 77 miles of dedicated bike lanes and shared traffic lanes.

The Bike St. Louis website has a nice map showing these 57 miles:

Portion of overall map from Bike St. Louis
Portion of overall map from Bike St. Louis

The map also has a nice graphic legend to help you understand which miles are shared lanes and which have dedicated bike lanes:

Graphic showing dedicated bike lanes.
Graphic showing dedicated bike lanes.

Recently a few blocks of this “system” caught my attention.  Specifically five blocks of dedicated bike lane along Chouteau Ave. from Tucker to Truman Parkway (17th):

Center of above image shows the bike route on Chouteau changing from shared to dedicated as it goes West of Tiucker.
Center of above image shows the bike route on Chouteau changing from shared to dedicated as it goes West of Tucker.

It looks great of paper.  But what about on the pavement?  As the headline proclaims, I think we have the world’s narrowest dedicated bike lane:

Looking West along Chouteau from Tucker (12th)
Route switches from shared lane to dedicated lane as you cross Tucker. The Bike St. Louis sign is visible on the pole.
The dedicated lane is not to the left of the curb but the gap between the two stripes!
The dedicated lane is not to the left of the curb but the gap between the two stripes!
A little further West at 13th we see the impossible narrow bike lane and on-street parking to the right of the lane.
A little further West at 13th we see the impossible narrow bike lane and on-street parking to the right of the lane.
Above we see how the parking lane squeezees down to make room for an auto left turn lane.
Above we see how the parking lane squeezes down to make room for an auto left turn lane at 14th.
At Truman Parkway (17th) you see the too narrow lane continues straight while the sign points you left.
At Truman Parkway (17th) you see the too narrow lane continues straight while the sign points you left.

Bike lanes in St. Louis are simply a feel-good & cheap way to get rid of excess roadway.  It is not a functional or useful system as you might see in a city like Amsterdam.  This is our tax dollars hard at work!

So how wide should a dedicated bike lane be?

Minimum width of bike lanes, with curb and gutter: “(For a) bike lane along the outer portion of an urban curbed street where parking is prohibited, the recommended width of a bike lane is 1.5 m (5 feet) from the face of a curb or guardrail to the bike lane stripe. This 1.5-m (5-foot) width should be sufficient in cases where a 0.3-0.6 m (1-2 foot) wide concrete gutter pan exists….” Page 23 (Source)

Why they even bothered calling this dedicated bike lanes is beyond me.  It is embarrassing!  Of course shared lanes are little more than normal lanes with additional markers (on pavement or posted signs).  So we have 57 miles now.  How useful are they?


Currently there are "26 comments" on this Article:

  1. Jay says:

    Those were striped for bike lanes at first, but MoDOT resurfaced the road shortly thereafter and what you see has been there for a while now.

  2. Joe Frank says:

    I think it’d be safe to use the parking lane as a bike lane, in practice. Rarely are there actually cars parked here.

    Is there a bicycle lane on the newly reopened Jefferson viaduct? There’s a wide shoulder, anyway. I actually did see a cyclist on there this morning, northbound (the only side that’s open right now).

  3. JJSons says:

    F’ing classic. Bicycles are not considered a serious transportation option by anyone with the authority to recognize them as such. Therefore we will continue to see such crap.

  4. Dave says:

    I ride my bike frequently from Tower Grove East to downtown, although I have never taken the Chouteau route. While this certainly is sad and embarassing, I generally use the Bike STL lanes as guides rather than the absolute. Thankfully there are many better routes to go east-west through this same area (Russell and Park Ave).

    What we do need is more north-south routes through the city. Currently there are no good north-south route between the river and towergrove, a distance of about 2 miles. Having these routes would allow myself and many others to much more easily commute from/to work and our homes in north/south city.

  5. Joe says:

    I’ve ridden this and didn’t even pay attention to it. I thought the bike lane was between the two stripes and the curb. You are right Steve. I wonder what the good folks from the Bike Fed think about this. I’ll tell Patty when she gets a moment to look at this.

    On a side note, this is a great site. Keep up the good fight Steve.

  6. Seth Teel says:

    This is my route from Forest Park Southeast to Downtown when I ride work. There is plenty of room for cyclist all the way to Tucker. The Tucker Bridge (northbound) over the tracks can be scary during the morning rush, but I just take the lane. Anyway, I would think the bike lane is between the double white line and the curb. And the double white line represents a “do not cross” for automobiles. Much like the double white line on northbound I-270 approaching I-70. Either way Chouteau is a great East-West route for cyclists; the right of way is huge. Its begging for development and more ped friendly streetscape.

  7. James R. says:

    If you can’t ride in that bike lane you need to practice more. Head up, elbows bent, don’t scrunch your shoulders and have a smooth spin.

  8. Darrin says:

    C’mon now Steve, there is plenty of room for a bike in that lane… provided the bike travels sans rider.

  9. Darrin says:

    Plus, most of the riders I’ve seen as of late are using the sidewalks instead of the actual street.

  10. GMichaud says:

    Finland, a country with excellent bike paths, often double up the sidewalks, make them wide enough for bikes and pedestrians. This sometimes includes paths with enough room for bikes going both ways.
    It looks like in many of your photos this would work and would not even conflict with on street parking in most areas.

  11. john w. says:

    Sell all of your bikes, buy a Hummer, eat a bunch of sausage pizza and get really fat. Get diabetes too. No need for bike riding in a city. Bike riding is for hippies. Buy a Hummer and demand wide streets and huge parking lots. Live in a vinyl house with an eleven car garage and buy a riding lawn mower. Leave the sprinkler running all night, and saturate your driveway with half of the water. Sell all of your bikes and buy Hummer.

  12. ex-stl says:

    a proper seat height and knees kept in.

    it’s all about posture and composure as is everything.

  13. Darrin says:


    Are those lyrics to a Mojo Nixon song?

  14. john w. says:

    It was my daily foray into snarky poetry, composed under the glorious influence of cheap merlot and waning evening consciousness. Suburban sprawl is the work of lunatics.

  15. SillyLocals says:

    The Three Stooges (StlBikeFed, Great Rivers & EWGC Bike-Pedestrian) of biking advocacy prove that the slogan “nothing dumber than a Hummer” is untrue and Lou-serLand becomes reality.

  16. Adam says:

    ^ says the hummer owner, who is taken seriously.

  17. john says:

    Good for a laugh at least. We should be so proud of 77 miles of grossly inadequate bike lanes? The other major lost opportunity is the lack of STR enforcement which reflects advocacy organizations failures to educate the public and officers of the law on the relevant issues.
    – –
    The sign you exhibit displays an outdated design and does not reflect best practices of other cities which promote safe cycling. Designated bike lanes should be between sidewalks and parked cars. But this is the StL region so even crumbs are appreciated. “A protected bicycle path is a symbol that a citizen on a $30 bicycle is equally important as one in a $30,000 car” as explained by Enrique Peñalosa. Cities that care about cyclists have dedicated advocates and organizations that prevent such nonsense. The preferred method here is suggested “bike routes” which are largely a waste of resources and rarely of any value, especially when STR lacks enforcement.

  18. Dennis says:

    In some areas I feel a lot safer riding on the sidewalk than in the street. Helmet or no helmet. The way some idiots drive their cars I just wanna be as far away from them as possible.

  19. Martin Pion says:

    Deanna Venker, P.E., the MoDOT Area Engineer for the City of St. Louis, explained in an e-mail reply to me that the so-called “World’s Narrowest Bike Lane” is, in fact, not so. This is intended to be a “Share the Road” segment.
    MoDOT originally striped the curb lane wider than intended and came back with a second stripe to designate the correct width. They couldn’t easily remove the first stripe, which is thermoplastic, easily so that will have to stay until the next time this section of Route 100 is overlaid in a few years.

    I’d also like to comment on what “john” wrote:
    “Designated bike lanes should be between sidewalks and parked cars.”
    I cannot believe this represents best practices. Putting a bike lane to the right of parked cars would make it next to impossible to make a legal left turn. It would also make it even more difficult to keep the bike lane swept. Cyclists would also have to contend with motorists crossing the bike lane between cars to get to the sidewalk. The only thing it would prevent is dooring by drivers [but not passengers], but that’s something the cyclist can avoid by staying out of bike lanes when they are [inappropiately] located alongside on-street parking.

    Martin Pion, League Cycling Instructor. http://www.thinkbicycling.com

  20. Amy says:

    OK Steve usually I think you are a bit, shall we say, overzealous about the bike thing-but this truly is ridiculous. I actually laughed out loud at the farce they call a bike lane– though I would have loved a photo of someone actually on a bike trying to stay in between the lines.
    PS I still think the bike thing is a bit much. Two bike questions on the Mayoral and Aldermanic questionaire when people are getting laid off in STL like we are headed into the Depression seems extreme.

    [slp — Bike/ped/transit friendly regions attract young people. Young people attract employers. Regions with employed young people do better than those without — attracting others to see and experience the area. Call that extreme?]

  21. Nameless says:

    Joe Frank,

    The new Jefferson Avenue Viaduct has bicycle lanes for both NB and SB. They are six feet wide (when all is considered, they are VERY EXPENSIVE–bicyclists: please use them, not the sidewalk!). We even made some changes to the islands around the Scott intersection to allow for easier bicycle movements. Although bicyclists are SOL north and south of the viaduct.

    I would have more respect for bicyclists for several reasons: only the “hardcore” bicyclists obey the laws. Bicyclists aren’t required to pay property taxes on their bicycles, they don’t have mandatory insurance and licensing requirements, and they don’t have mandatory inspections. Level the playing field and then I’ll accept bicyclists on the same level as motorists.

  22. john says:

    Why does StL fail so miserably in promoting safe and effective cycling alternatives? Local advocates in the Lou have more excuses than solutions. Gotta love the excuse that these misplaced markers represent STR. The idea that left turns cannot be made from segregated bike lanes are just as true whether the lane is placed on either side of parked cars. Just like automobiles, cyclists need to make lane changes in order to make left and sometimes right turns too.
    – –
    The solution is in the transition area, not in ignoring how other cities have addressed and solved the issue. In addition, just like streets are cleaned so should bike lanes whether they are on the inside or outside of parked cars. The alignment of bike paths next to traveling cars creates debris in the bike lane caused both by cars and street cleaners. A segregated lane with properly designed curbs would prevent this problem. But as long as local advocates are satisfied with putting cyclists “in the back of the bus” by drivers, progress will difficult.
    – –
    “The only thing it would prevent is dooring” by drivers also wrong. Cycling is safer for everyone when more ride. Getting others to ride depends on creating an environment that fosters safety and segregated bike lanes are what most potential riders mention as a necessary feature. VCs have created a hostile environment for most potential riders and thus they use cars instead of their bikes.
    – –
    Ideally STR should rule. But we live in a place where speeding dominates safety and most speeders are allowed to break the law with a low probability of a ticket. In addition, STR is poorly taught, if at all by drivers ed classes, and is rarely respected by the majority of drivers. It is a common problem on four lane roads in StL to have drivers constantly honking and sucking your rear wheel. The hostile comments by “less” are quite revealing. “Level the playing field” is a good idea and it should start with Complete Streets.
    – –
    The Lou represents the “No Can Do” advocates. To learn and understand more, visit Portland, Chicago, Copenhagen, Berlin, etc. where cycling is an important part of transportation options and where solutions trump excuses. Ultimately the designation of whether a city is bike friendly or not is determined by the League of American Wheelmen and StL can’t even earn the lowest rating of honorable mention. Trusting MoDOT with these responsibilities without adequate oversight is how solutions are determined here?

  23. Nameless says:


    With all due respect, a) please define STR, b) this is “St. Louis” not “the Lou,” and c), BICYCLES ARE DEFINED AS VEHICLES. UNTIL BICYCLISTS HAVE TO JUMP THROUGH THE SAME HOOPS (time and financial obligations) AS MOTORISTS, GET OUT OF MY WAY!

    Keeping in mind that this country has an obligation to responsible citizens, it irks me to think that obtaining an operator’s license is as easy as it is. It is bad enough that I have to deal with inattentive motorists, but throw in a bicyclist–who is almost certainly guaranteed to impede traffic at least once during their ride–and my level of service (a transportation engineering term) is going to drop below acceptable levels. Just like the average motorist, I am paying my dues with the aforementioned items and tasks. Until bicyclists have proportional restrictions imposed on them, GET OUT OF MY WAY!

    Wanna talk about school buses next? I already have some good stories and, in the future, I hope to acquire some visual evidence as well.

  24. Jesda says:

    What a joke of a lane! When there’s room, we drivers LOVE cyclists. Its less cars congesting our roads.

  25. Matthew says:

    THAT LANE IS A MISTAKE. If you think it’s appropriately delineating an intended bike lane then you’re as mistaken as the people that painted it.

    [slp — Really? A mistake? You think?]


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