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The good and bad of St. Louis’ first Open Streets event

May 4, 2010 Bicycling, Pedestrian Mall, Transportation 22 Comments
ABOVE: cyclists on Locust St.

This past Saturday I participated in the first of four planned “Open Streets” events in St. Louis.  I went from my loft at 16th & Locust to Forest Park.  Most doing the route were on bikes.  Some were jogging while others were walking, some pushing strollers.  I did the 10-mile round trip in my power wheelchair.

ABOVE: St. Louis Mayor Fracis Slay talks to participants at Olive & Lindell.
ABOVE: St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay (left) talks to participants at Olive & Lindell.

I had a good time, took 140 pictures and saw many people I know but I have mixed feelings about the event.

The Good:

  • Hundreds, if not more, participated in the event.
  • People got out and biked in the city, exploring areas they might not have seen otherwise.
  • People were active and physical.
  • I met and talked to strangers.

The Bad:

  • Reinforces the false notion that you can’t bike safely on urban streets with cars.
  • The city is off the hook for the poor condition of the sidewalks and a lack of accessibility.
  • Much of the route has very little traffic most weekends anyway.
  • Cars got through in too many places so it wasn’t truly car-free.
  • At Sarah & Lindell the traffic signal remained on it despite the fact cars had only one option. The signal should have been placed on a all red flash.
  • In the past such events led to the creation of pedestrian malls where cars are banned 24/7 and people usually stayed away as well.
ABOVE: Sidewalk along Locust St
ABOVE: Sidewalk along Locust St

The remaining three will be:

  • June 13, 2010
  • September 19, 2010
  • October 9, 2010

For more information see http://stlouis.missouri.org/open-streets/

– Steve Patterson


Currently there are "22 comments" on this Article:

  1. JZ71 says:

    One, you've got some great batteries in that chair. Two, the odds of miles of city streets in St. Louis being converted to pedestrian malls are pretty slim – that's so 1970's, plus we don't have the dollars to do it. Three, it's interesting that they're only doing them on nice, spring and autumn weekends – if there were a real demand, they'd be happening every week or month, year-round. And four, I'd like to know what the cost-benefit equation turns out to be – if only “hunderds” are participating, there's a lot of money being spent (to bag meters, put up and take down barricades and for police) on relatively few people. Admitedly, it's only the first time out, but a comparable event, the Moonlight Ramble, attracts thousands, not hunderds of participants . . .

    • Helen Yane says:

      This is a first time event that attracted approximately 1,500 people. Expecting Moonlight Ramble crowds in an inaugural season is unreasonable, but we hope to attract more over the course of the year. The City scheduled four events in 2010 to assess the interest of our regional residents, gauge the support of our local businesses and evaluate the benefits. If Open Streets proves popular and beneficial, we will increase the number in future years.

      • JZ71 says:

        Then why did crowds flock to the two public events associated with the Highway 40 reconstruction project, yet far fewer came to this one? Even in better weather?

        “If Open Streets proves popular and beneficial, we will increase the number in future years.” And if it doesn't, will it fade away?

    • samizdat says:

      When the Moonlight Ramble started lo these many years ago, only a handful of people showed up. A little patience Mr. Crankypants. Rome…, etc, etc, etc.

      • JZ71 says:

        I may sound cranky, but I'm trying to be realistic. It's hard for any one event to work well for multiple constituencies. The Moonlight Ramble works well because it's only for cyclists. The Komen Race for the Cure woeks great for runners and walkers. And Rib America works great for carnivores.

        I'd be less “cranky” if this effort were being spearheaded by a private group, not a city agency. There's a significant budget involved (but not publicized), and there needs to be accountability for how effectively our tax dollars are being spent. It's one thing to spoend $10,000 to attract 1,500 participants. It's a whole 'nuther thing to spend $100,000 or $500,000 and to get a small turnout.

        Every government has limited resources. We have existing parks, trails, services and events all looking for funding. Yes, new events should have a chance, but there also needs to be criteria for defining success, and, no, it doesn't have to be just the first time. Personally, I think the concept is sound, I just think they started too big, and if they want to succeed, they need to both have a better focus and to right-size the event.

  2. Chris says:

    The Good: Reclaiming the streets from automobiles, if only for a day. It was fun to stroll down a street that I hadn’t explored very much.

    The Bad: I was constantly almost run over by bicyclists flying by me at 30-35 mph—about the same speed as auto traffic normally moves on Locust and Lindell. Their contempt for my pedestrian presence was enunciated by various snide remarks as they blew by inches away from me

    The Ugly: Towards the end, I got so tired of almost being run over by bicyclists that I went ahead and just started walking on the sidewalk. Kinda defeats the whole purpose, doesn’t it? Pedestrians remain second class citizens in favor of wheeled transportation users filled with a sense of entitlement. It was so bad I actually asked a volunteer working the event if I had misunderstood the original advertisement saying the event was for both pedestrians and bicyclists.

    • H. Yane says:

      Your comment highlights Open Streets' need to address the aggressive nature of some of our more competitive cyclists. This event is indeed supposed to be for everyone and your experience speaks to the opposite. We regret that your day at Open Streets was not as we intended, but we are committed to improving. Our goal for the next event is to encourage more pedestrians and skaters to take advantage of Open Streets and concurrently work to ensure their safety.

      • JZ71 says:

        The best solution then might be to do a shorter route, say downtown to Jefferson or just in Forest Park. Most pedestrians aren't interested in a 5 or 10 mile hike, while 5 miles makes for a great circuit for serious cyclists. Or, to look at it another way, this event, with 1,500 particpants, had a full car length of pavement for each person. Tighten it up and it'll feel less empty and be a lot more fun.

  3. bob dunnell says:

    That part of the sidewalk on Locust has been a mess for a while. I have pretty much the same picture from when I tripped on it almost a year ago. It's tricky to walk over, let alone get any sort of human-powered wheels over.

  4. Melanie Harvey says:

    More Bad:
    – re-routing of buses was a hardship for many who depend on buses to get to work and to weekend shopping (e.g. groceries at Lindell Marketplace)
    – Metro was not notified enough in advance to notify all bus riders re-routes
    – extra car traffic on side streets was an aggravation for local residents
    Banishing cars is a great idea – we should do more of it ! Bicyclists and pedestrians are critical to a vibrant City – as is mass transit. Walking, power-chairing, and bicycling should be everyday transportation, along with trains and buses.
    Recreation belongs in parks not on transportation routes – or perhaps alongside transportation routes (but not usurping them).

    • Chris says:

      While I might have had a little bit of a negative experience, I still greatly appreciate this idea. I don't consider it recreation, but rather a concept that there are other ways to get around the city without a car. There are plenty of long streets in St. Louis with no bus service to be interrupted (not that it was affected much by Saturday's closure, was it?) for future events of this type.

      • Melanie says:

        Yes, bus service was affected along Lindell: the #10 was rerouted to Forest Park Parkway, three blocks from Schnuck's and other stores, a long way if you are in a wheelchair, or shopping with small children, or carrying groceries. I agree it is important to show that there are other ways to get around without a car – including buses, for those who can't use bicycles.

  5. matthb says:

    I had a overall positive experience running the whole length starting a 9:00. The weird thing was they had the streets block off and were turning cars around and I was the only person on the street. It was like it was all just for me. Finally a huge pack of casual bikers passed me by, very friendly. Only negatives, need more crowds early, booths and performing groups along the way looked lonely, several cars did get through, confusion at major intersections where cars still were able to go north south.

    I think adding a running and bike race at the beginning of the event would serve many purposes…
    You attract more runners and bikers
    You attract their family and friends
    Additional promotional outlets
    Nice photos with tons of people to promote the next event
    Competitive bikers can “get it out of their system”
    As a runner this area needs more 10K races and this would have been a perfect fit for a race.
    This method worked for both I-64 events.

  6. Martin Pion says:

    I'm personally not a particular fan of these events. How do they encourage the use of bicycles for transportation, or ensure that cyclists are treated as drivers of vehicles with the same rights and duties as motorists?
    On the contrary, doesn't this event imply that cyclists DON'T have such rights, and can only use roads safely when motor vehicles are banned from them?
    That is contrary to the facts.

    Martin Pion, B.Sc. <mpion@swbell.net>
    Conservion – “Think Bicycling!”
    League Cycling Instructor #628

  7. How would you fix that sidewalk? Tear down the tree?

  8. abernajb says:

    Steve, Aren't sidewalks the responsibility of the property owner, not the City?

    • The city wants us to think that but in various court cases sidewalks have been shown to be the city's responsibility. The sidewalks are located within the public-right-of-way.

      • JZ71 says:

        Um, no, not really – see http://www.slpl.lib.mo.us/cco/code/data/t2026.htm While the city has a “duty is to use ordinary care to keep a sidewalk in a reasonably safe condition for travel in all circumstances”, subsequent legislation makes it pretty clear that it's the property owner's financial responsibility, either fully or as a part of the city's 50/50 matching program:

        “20.26.010 Repairs–Notice to owner. Whenever any sidewalk . . . shall need repair, the Director of Streets shall report the fact to the Board of Public Service, and the Board shall notify the owner of the property adjoining the sidewalk, or his agent, through the mail, to have the same repaired to the satisfaction of the Director of Streets within five days from the date of the notice . . . The owner shall show cause why the Board should not have the sidewalk . . . repaired, and the cost thereof assessed as a tax against the property abutting the sidewalk area in which the work is done.”

        “20.18.080 Private construction–Permit required. The board of public service is authorized to grant permission to the owners of property fronting upon or adjoining any street, avenue, public highway or alley to grade, construct or reconstruct the curbing, guttering, roadway paving or sidewalk paving of the street, avenue, public highway or alley at the property owner’s own cost and expense.”

        “20.26.180 Hazardous sidewalks–Notice to repair. Whenever the Director of Streets, or his authorized representative shall be informed that any sidewalk lawfully used by the public in the City, is in a hazardous condition likely to cause bodily injury to persons using the same, he shall cause reasonable protective measures to be taken to guard the public and shall notify the owner through reasonable means of the situation and at such time command the owner to repair or replace the sidewalk within thirty days from the receipt of the notification . . .”

        • I'll repeat myself: the city wants you to believe sidewalks are your responsibility but court rulings have determined the city has the ultimate responsibility.

          • JZ71 says:

            Sounds like red light cameras – it'll boil down to a battle of lawyers, and it's probabaly easier and cheaper to pay your $500 (or whatever) just to get it done than it will be to pay a lawyer several times that to argue the point in court. Fortunately (or not), our aldermen seem to be pretty effective in shielding our residents from doing much or anything, while not adequately funding or forcing Streets and/or Forestry to keep up with backlog of bad sidewalks. Bottom line, someone needs to be responsible for addressing the situation, IF we want a walkable city.

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