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St. Louis County Council Gives Green Light To Complete Streets

Flickr/Jeremy Noble

The legislative fight over a bill to make St. Louis County’s roads friendlier to bicyclists and pedestrians is over.

The St. Louis County Council gave final approval to Councilman Pat Dolan’s “Complete Streets” legislation. It encourages the county’s transportation department to add sidewalks, bike lanes or crosswalks for county road projects when possible.

Dolan’s legislation passed by a 6-0 margin, with Council Chairwoman Hazel Erby, D-University City, abstaining.

Dolan’s bill was stalled for weeks. The county’s transportation department raised concerns about the legislation's potential cost. But the logjam broke last week when Dolan introduced a new version of the bill. It provided more wiggle room for the transportation department to implement Complete Streets elements.

The bill's new version eliminated a provision requiring the transportation department to ensure that exclusions to the policy are “documented with data indicating the basis for the exception.” And the new bill also states, among other things, that the county would “routinely” incorporate Complete Street elements into projects “where practicable, economically feasible and maintainable.”

“It’s on a street-by-street, case-by-case situation,” Dolan said. “Whenever they’re building a new road or working on an existing road, if it’s possible they can add some parts of the Complete Streets policy and it’s fine. If they can’t, then they won’t. But it’s not going to drastically change the county road system as we know it.

“It’s just where it’s possible, where’s cost effective, where it’s practical,” he added.

Indeed, Department of Highways and Traffic spokesman Dave Wrone says his agency is happy with the final version of Dolan’s legislation. He said it gives the department “much greater flexibility when we’re assessing financial constraints and accepted engineering principles when we’re going about our business.

“This isn’t the straitjacket we were seeing in the earlier legislation,” Wrone said. “And we’re very grateful that the council chose to listen to us.”

Before the council made its final decision, roughly 15 people spoke out about Dolan’s bill.

Most of the speakers were bicycle enthusiasts who said that bike lanes weren't safe. Karen Karabell, for instance, said that the “bicycle industrial complex” knows that “separate on-road infrastructure is not truly separate and sooner or later leads to” injuries. 

Credit Jason Rosenbaum/St. Louis Public Radio
Karen Karabell speaks out against the "Complete Streets" bill.

“Infrastructure that creates conflict on our roads between cyclists and motorists is unethical. It is dangerous," Karabell said. "It should be removed before another person is injured or killed.”

But south county resident Charles Wilbur said that when New York City added bike lines to two roads, it decreased in traffic-related injuries to “all street users.” He also said it boosted business along the streets.

“I was going to throw in for the cycling-savvy people and ones who advocate biking in traffic lanes another little stat I came across,” Wilbur said. “Missouri has the seventh worst drivers in the country. Those are the people you’re putting your lives in the hands of when you get out in the traffic lanes. So just bear that in mind.”

St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley says he’ll sign the bill. He said he was satisfied that the bill didn’t serve as a mandate for the transportation department.

“It’s right back where it needs to be with the Highway Department,” Dooley said. “They make good, sound decisions and recommendations."

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.