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St. Louis County runners, walkers want Sam Page to veto bill keeping them off streets

A sidewalk along Bellefontaine Road in Bellefontaine Neighbors doesn't quite make it to the Metro bus stop.
Joseph Leahy
/
St. Louis Public Radio
A sidewalk along Bellefontaine Road in Bellefontaine Neighbors ends before the bus stop. A measure before St. Louis County Executive Sam Page would prohibit walking, running and standing in roads where there are sidewalks available.

Walkers and runners in St. Louis County are objecting to a bill passed by the County Council that would prohibit walking, running and standing on streets that have sidewalks.

They’re urging County Executive Sam Page to veto the bill, which would allow police to fine people in the street when there are sidewalks available to use. It would require pedestrians to walk facing oncoming traffic on streets with no sidewalks.

The council this month approved the billproposed by Councilman Ernie Trakas, who said having too many people in the street makes county roads unsafe.

“During and post-COVID there was a significant increase in incidences where people [were] walking on roadways or running on roadways,” he said. “So I felt it was important to address it. And I believe that the legislation that the council passed does exactly that.”

According to the St. Louis-based nonprofit group Trailnet, fatalities from crashes involving pedestrians have increased in St. Louis County over the past decade, peaking during the coronavirus pandemic. In 2022, 19 people died in such crashes.

But Trailnet officials have spoken out against the bill. In a statement, they said it could disproportionately harm low-income people in the county who don’t have vehicles.

Others have said the bill could make traveling difficult for people with disabilities. Some critics of the bill told the County Council that it could affect people experiencing homelessness who solicit donations on roadways and medians.

Michael Carmody, a member of the grassroots group Safer Streets Kirkwood and St. Louis County, said county officials should address refurbishing sidewalks before forcing people to use them.

“What about folks in wheelchairs?” he said. “If there's not a sidewalk — or if there is and it's cracked — it's not only a trip hazard for folks walking but a fall hazard from your wheelchairs. … These are not long reaches; these are things that folks in our region face every day.”

St. Louis Run Crew founderRicky Hughes and others have said it’s often safer to use the street when sidewalks are broken, dark or have uneven pavement.

“I just have seen the transformative effects of running in terms of how it has helped me and my peers, and our mental health and our physical health,” said Hughes, who often runs in Florissant and Hazelwood near his home.

But in the county, many of the sidewalks are in disrepair. “They’re broken apart,” he said. “There's complete spaces sometimes in between patches of sidewalk.”

Hughes said the rule could make his runs, which normally feel freeing and exhilarating, more stressful.

“To be transparent — as a young black runner, it's going to give [an] opportunity for policing in a space where I didn't feel like I wouldn't necessarily be policed,” he said.

Trakas said he considered exceptions for runners. But he said that to keep people from being hit by cars, the law needs to apply to all pedestrians.

Exceptions for runners, joggers and walkers wouldn’t be fair, he said.

“The idea that somehow, we have to make roadways available for runners from joggers, because they're there and ignore safety issues, is absurd,” Trakas said. “Neutrality was essential. I wanted it to be completely fair and applicable to all and excluding none. And that’s how we’ll wind up getting safer streets.”

Maintenance workers, law enforcement officers and other government officials engaged in business would be allowed to walk in the road.

A spokesman for Page said he’s still considering whether to sign the bill and will likely make a decision early next week.

Sarah Fentem is the health reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.