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Safety advocates welcome promise of St. Louis traffic fixes, but want quick action

Rachel Lippmann/St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis pedestrians face daily danger near local roadways, some of which far outpace state averages for traffic deaths.

Advocates for pedestrians and cyclists welcomed the news this week that St. Louis will spend $40 million in federal coronavirus relief funds to improve traffic safety in the city, but they urged officials to move quickly.

City officials expect to begin making safety fixes to roadways by the end of the year. They could include narrowing streets, adding roundabouts and improving crosswalks.

But there are ways to make streets safer for pedestrians and cyclists right away, said Sam McRory, who co-writes an annual study of traffic safety in the region for traffic-safety watchdog Trailnet.

“We're in desperate need of infrastructure solutions. We're in desperate need of programs and policy changes like driver's education that they've been talking about, red light cameras and speed cameras. Those things need to happen faster and more efficiently,” McRory said. “People continue to die on St. Louis streets, and we cannot wait another two to three years or four to five years for another plan to be vetted and made to then change things.”

St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones on Wednesday signed a bill into law that earmarks at least $40 million in funds from the American Rescue Plan Act toward safer streets. Plans include improvements to 10 high-crash intersections and implementation of existing traffic studies whose recommendations were never funded.

Road safety has been an issue of particular public interest after high-profile car crashes in consecutive weekends that killed young people.

Two weeks ago, a driver sped past a stop sign and ran into a 17-year-old pedestrian who was in town for a volleyball tournament; doctors later amputated her legs. Last weekend, four teenagers were killed and another four were critically injured when a hit-and-run driver ran a red light at the intersection of South Grand Boulevard and Forest Park Avenue, sending the other vehicle over an overpass.

Cyclists have also taken to social media to describe harrowing experiences with St. Louis motorists, decrying what they see as a reckless driving culture prone to incidents of traffic violence.

Trailnet will release its 2020 Crash Report in mid-March. It finds that the most dangerous St. Louis streets for pedestrians and cyclists in 2022 were Chippewa, Gravois, Grand, Kingshighway, Hampton, Lindell/Olive and Broadway.

Representatives from the Missouri Department of Transportation and the City of St. Louis joined Thursday with Trailnet to study parts of Martin Luther King Boulevard and Page Avenue.

The stretch of road sees six times the state average for road deaths, said Jenifer Wade, an engineer for the city.

State transportation officials plan to resurface the roadway in 2026.

“When we do that, it's a perfect opportunity to put striping down in a different place because we'll have a totally new surface to put it on. And once you start looking at changing striping around, you have opportunities to do a lot of things,” Wade said.

Jeremy is the arts & culture reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.