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A Look At The State Of The Region's Sidewalks — And How To Improve Them

The city of St. Louis alone contains roughly 2,000 miles worth of sidewalks, which vary widely in design and overall condition.
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

In an age of crumbling infrastructure across the U.S., sidewalks have been no exception to the pattern of decay. The city of St. Louis alone is home to roughly 2,000 miles worth of sidewalks, and both the physical condition and suitability of those streetside pathways vary widely.

David Newburger, St. Louis’ commissioner on the disabled, thinks about sidewalks quite a bit. He notes that he’s old enough to remember when curb cuts — sloped curb faces that are particularly critical for someone using a wheelchair — were few and far between. These days, Newburger says, a lot of effort goes into the design of new sidewalks to ensure that they are safe and passable for everyone, including pedestrians with disabilities.

As he and colleagues work to update sidewalks and maintain ADA compliance, they’re also thinking about sidewalks within the context of streets as a whole, and organizations including Trailnet continue to push for long-term policy fixes aimed at keeping people safer. Meanwhile, local municipalities including St. Louis and Kirkwood are participating in the National Complete Streets Coalition, which is focused on making roads better for all types of users rather than prioritizing drivers.

From left, Kara Wurtz, David Newburger and Cindy Mense joined Friday's talk show.
Credit Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio
From left, Kara Wurtz, David Newburger and Cindy Mense joined Friday's talk show.

U.S. Department of Transportation statistics on pedestrian deaths show there’s still much work to be done. Overall pedestrian deaths across the country declined in the 1980s and ’90s, representing about 12% of total motor vehicle fatalities as of a decade ago. But by 2015 they were back on the rise, comprising 15% of motor vehicle fatalities. Between 2008 and 2017, pedestrian deaths increased 34.5%, with 779 people being killed in Missouri.

For Kirkwood City Councilwoman Kara Wurtz, the fact that Missouri ranks among the more dangerous states for pedestrians is a problem. She’s made addressing it within her municipality’s borders a focus.

On Friday’s St. Louis on the Air, Wurtz and Newburger joined host Sarah Fenske for a discussion about the state of the region’s sidewalks and what needs to happen to improve pedestrian comfort and safety. Also participating in the conversation was Cindy Mense, CEO of Trailnet.

The talk-show team also heard from many listeners who called in and posted messages on social media with their thoughts on sidewalks. More than 200 people weighed in on an informal Twitter poll about common sidewalk issues, some of them replying with sidewalk "pet peeves" of their own.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The engineer is Aaron Doerr, and production assistance is provided by Charlie McDonald.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.

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Evie was a producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.