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Pedestrian Expert Killed Crossing St. Louis Street A Decade Ago

March 21, 2012 Downtown, Walkability 15 Comments
Susie Stephens

Ten years ago today was a sad day for all of us who fight for pedestrian safety:

ST. LOUIS — A Washington state woman who was one of the country’s top experts on bicycle and pedestrian safety was killed yesterday morning when she was struck by a tour bus while crossing a downtown intersection here.

Susie Stephens, 36, of Winthrop, Wash., was struck shortly after 8:30 a.m.

The driver of the Vandalia Bus Lines vehicle told police he did not see Stephens as he made a left turn.

Stephens, a consultant, was in St. Louis to help stage a conference on innovative approaches to transportation sponsored by the Forest Service, said William “Bill” Wilkinson of the National Center for Bicycling and Walking in Washington. (seattlepi.com)

Susie was a year older than me at the time she was killed:

The Susie Forest is a living, growing, legacy to my daughter Susie and her commitment to creating livable communities. Susie was a bicyclist, an environmentalist, an activist, and a world traveler. She was dedicated to educating others about bicyclist and pedestrian safety, and she was killed in 2002 after being struck by a bus while legally walking across the street in St. Louis. (The Susie Forest)

For details of the accident at 4th & Chestnut click here.

– Steve Patterson


Currently there are "15 comments" on this Article:

  1. Msrdls says:

    One block from the intersection where Leonard Little hit and killed a woman who had a husband and at least one child. I believe Leonard Little received a 3 month suspended sentence. It happened early in the morning. Don’t remember if he was drunk, or if that condition may have been covered up.  In that particular part of the City, just maybe it’s safer to drive!!!!

    • samizdat says:

       Yes, he was drunk, and that’s what pissed off so many people. And what continues to piss off people: drunks get off scott-free too much of the time. Repeatedly.

  2. Rick says:

    St. Louis isn’t easily deciiphered.  Does anyone even know where Leonard Little is from, let alone a “pedestrian expert”?

  3. Moe says:

    I know the death of her was tragic and I remember it on the news at the time.  That said, no matter how much people plan and behave and such…accidents will happen.  There was no drugs or alcohol involved and such.  It was a black mark on the City for those typs of enthusists.  But on the other hand,  playing devils advocate…should not a pedestrian expert know to be aware of your surroundings at all time?  And a bus at that time of the morning at that location could not have been speeding and a bus is rather a big target to overlook.  I’m just saying.

    • samizdat says:

       At the very least, the bus driver was grossly irresponsible. If one is driving a vehicle which weighs in at approximately 40K pounds, and which has poor sight lines, one should know at all times where the bus is in relation to the surrounding environment, and that includes where pedestrians may be on your route. Accidents do indeed happen, but they happen for a r-e-a-s-o-n. They do not occur in a vacuum. A series of events strung along a time line set up the conditions under which Ms. Stephens died that day. Dismissing it as a flippant “accidents will happen” remark cheapens her life and her memory, as well as ignoring the fact that the driver of the bus was probably inadequately trained for his job. Ignoring the conditions of an accident allows those conditions to occur again. I will ignore the fact that drivers of motor vehicles often have an unreasonable animosity towards pedestrians and bicyclists, in the hope that this was not a factor in the unfortunate death of Ms. Stephens.

      It was awfully nice to name a forest after her. She was obviously well-loved, and missed by those who loved her. Very sweet.

  4. JZ71 says:

    Every city develops its own unwritten standards on how pedestrians and vehicles interact, standards that, unfortunately, reflect the level of enforcement, or the lack thereof, of the actual traffic laws.  Drivers in California are much more aware of, and respectful of, pedestrians in general.  In Denver, pedestrians downtown benefitted from the Barnes dance, where they had free reign of the interesction during one phase out of three.  In places like Asheville, NC and Lexington, KY, pedestrians are given a 2-second headstart during the walk cycle in downtown intersections, making them more visible to motorists making turns.  In St. Louis, we seem to have a very low enforcement of both pedestrian-rights laws and jaywalking laws, with motorists being mostly unaware of crosswalks or who may be using them and pedestrians who are either super-vigilent or adapt a go-ahead-and-hit-me arrogance, crossing even against the light.

    I’m afraid that what happened here is that both the victim and the operator were working under completely different sets of assumptions.  The operator was used to working in an environment where a quick glance was good enough and the expert assumed the bus would behave like they do in other, “better” cities, and actually yield.  Yes, legally, the bus operator was wrong for not yielding, but the victim is still dead.  And based on the apparent lack of consequences for the operator, it appears that the local unwritten rules trump a hard-line interpretation of the laws as written.  As with every other set of laws, it all boils down to continued, consistent enforcement, whether it’s crosswalks, handicapped parking spaces, cigarette butts as littering or that stop signs actually mean stop, not just yield!

    • Msrdls says:

      Four days after I first moved to the Los Angeles area 16 years ago, I was ticketed for jaywalking at the corner of Wilshire and Ocean avenues in Santa Monica. My oldest son (two at the time)and I were walking our dog around 10:00 PM, and I was anxious to cross the street against the light to view the statue of St. Monica in Palisades Park… and I had no idea that jaywalking was “so illegal” in California. The streets were virtually empty of vehicles. I paid the fine, which I think was a bit less than $100.00, and that was the last time I can recall jaywalking–regardless of where I was at the time. And now….when I’m walking in downtown Saint Louis, I still don’t jaywalk and conscientiously abide by the traffic signals, although I find myself often being the only pedestrian left waiting on the corner. Go figure.

  5. bonwich says:

    I have a completely different perspective on this, and the police report, which I’d never seen, seems to back me up (although one key piece of evidence is missing).

    One party, and only one, was responsible for that accident: The City of St. Louis. Why? Because — and I’m shocked the driver’s lawyers never figured this out — the City, for many years and despite numerous complaints, used to have traffic signals that SIMULTANEOUSLY showed green arrows and walk signals. So it was possible that traffic at given intersection had an arrow while a pedestrian had a walk signal.

    Based on visiting the scene a day or two after the accident, this was exactly what happened. And it’s worse: The driver had a green left turn arrow ON THE SIGNAL AT THE RIGHT CORNER OF THE INTERSECTION. At the same time, the “walk” signal was illuminated. In other words, the City was grossly negligent, because it set up its walk signal such that a pedestrian was told to walk into an occupied traffic right of way.

    The police-report photos clearly indicate that there’s no left arrow on the left intersection. And shortly after the accident, the City removed conflicting walk signal/arrow configurations both at that corner and at Broadway and Market.

    The situation was a complete tragedy, but it was confounded by the fact that the City’s demonstrable indifference to pedestrian safety was the entire cause.  

  6. Moe says:

    Well you raise an interesting point and I will have to watch more closely at the lights to see this, I do take issue with the “told to walk” statement.  No one orders a pedestrian to walk into traffic.  A pedestrian or cyclist has a responsibility to themselves to be aware of their immediate surroundings and move out of harms way.  It’s this type  of arrogance that gets people killed or mamed.

    • Aviator says:

      I don’t think you understand the physics of the situation.  A 3 mph pedestrian CAN’T get out of the way of a 30 mph vehicle.  That’s why the law is written to protect the pedestrian.  The relative speeds are so different a pedestrian can easily enter a clear intersection and ultimately get hit by a vehicle that wasn’t even in sight (think of cars turning out of driveways or alleys mid-block) when they started to cross.  As addressed above, the solution is to start actually enforcing traffic laws in this state and hold drivers accountable to their responsibility to not kill people.    

  7. Moe says:

    I still disagree.  I understand physics.  What I don’t understand is at least 1) the woman in car ‘think’s she saw the bus’s rear wheels run Susie over.  Thinks?  I don’t know, but I certainly would remember that more than anything else.  and 2) “I can’t believe I was walking right next to her”….the woman driver didn’t see a man nor is it mentioned in the report that the bus driver saw two heads in front of his window…just Susie’s.  So where did the man go? And why didn’t he stick around?  What kind of person is so close to such an accident, to comment to a stranger how lucky it wasn’t him…and then just disappears????  I’m not saying the driver is innocent, but there are just too many questions to just blindly blame the driver.

  8. Moe says:

    At the end of the day, this was seriously a very informative discussion.  It at least made me aware of pedestrian issues.  This is what I witnessed tonight:
    1)At Arsenal and Grand, at 5:30 height of rush hour, the green arrow left onto N. Grand was green, the peds. light was red do not cross (this is a vocal signal as well).  I witnessed her start walking across holding up traffic was a middle age women escorting her 3 kids across the the north bound Grand holding up her hand while holding up the left turn traffic.  The peds. light was red the entire time of her crossing.
    2)In front of Union Station at 6 p.m. , 2 well dressed men were crossing to Union Station at the crosswalk but  again against a red ped. light.  Lucky all the east/west traffic had cleared.
    3) In front of the Post office, I witnessed another family of 2 middle age women and 2 children traveling east…actually stop, waited for the white go light, and then proceeded safely.
    4) In front of the Post Office two employees exited to cross Market, both against the red ped. light.  One did so when there was no traffic, the other he cleared to the other side with only 20 or so feet to spare.
    And that doesn’t include the guy in the scooter who 2 days ago, started to cross over to the post office FULL well knowing that a EMT emergency vehicle was barring down on him…..making the vehicle swerve around him with only 5 or so feet to spare.
    So my point being is that obviously being a pedestrian doing the correct things (waiting for the light to cross, waiting for traffic to clear, etc) is very very much in the minority on this particular day.

    • I’m working on a post about “leading left” vs. “trailing left” for motorists and how pedestrian safety is impacted based on the type of left the motorists are given.

  9. Moe says:

    That will be an interesting article Steve.  But I wa serious about this being informative.  I can’t remember ever paying attention to looking at the arrows/pedestrian signals to see if they match, etc.  But I will now.


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