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Pedestrian death tally remained high in 2021 — ‘an indictment of our system’

Cars drive down I-64 in St. Louis. Busch Stadium is off to the left side of the image.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Cars drive down I-64 in downtown St. Louis. A new Trailnet report shows traffic injuries in the area remained high in 2021.

In 2021, St. Louis motorists continued their deadly onslaught — killing far more pedestrians in St. Louis and St. Louis County than the pre-pandemic normal. That’s according to a new report released by St. Louis nonprofit Trailnet.

Across St. Louis and St. Louis County, 42 people on foot were killed by motorists last year, and another 395 were injured. That’s higher than any recent year before 2020.

Overall crashes were down from the previous year. But Sam McCrory, Trailnet’s program coordinator, said that’s no reason to celebrate.

“2020 was an exceptional year — exceptional in a bad way — for traffic violence,” he said on Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air. “Even if we do see decreases, we're under the belief that any crash that happens is really a failure on our streets, and we should be shooting towards that goal of zero.”

McCrory added that for the first time since 2002, traffic fatalities in the county collectively topped 100. While he knows the issue of traffic violence in St. Louis is not new, he said the fact that the numbers continue to rise is proof that the conversation needs to continue.

“If those roads don't change, that's just even more fodder to say we need to be making changes directly right now to fix these roads,” he said.

Another continuing trend is that a disproportionate number of crashes occur in Black and other marginalized communities.

“We're seeing it year after year, again, the same roads,” he said. “North Grand, Natural Bridge, Kingshighway, Union — those roads that were dangerous last year have continued to be dangerous this year.”

It seems easy to write off each death as an individual issue — drivers are on their phones, or people aren’t walking in crosswalks. But McCrory pointed out that it’s systemic in the city’s roadways. St. Louis was designed to bear the burden of 1 million residents, even though today roughly 300,000 people live here. This means our roads are much wider and faster than they need to be, encouraging drivers to speed and causing perilous situations for pedestrians.

Listen: Sam McCrory on traffic violence in St. Louis

“It speaks to the problem and speaks to some of the pressing issues that we need to be talking to our elected officials about,” he said.

In the past four years, McCrory said that the corridor identified in Trailnet’s report as the county’s most dangerous — Chambers/Airport Road — has only gotten more dangerous for pedestrians.

“Chambers, since four years ago, has gotten worse, and that's an indictment of our system,” he said. “And it's an indictment of how we fund these things as well.”

McCrory said we can start the conversation here in St. Louis, but eventually it’s going to take a lot more help — and money — to make streets safer for pedestrians.

“This conversation could start at the local level, but we also need ginormous funding from the federal level to fix these problems,” he said.

Plus, he added, passing simple legislation that is on the books almost everywhere else in the nation would help — like requiring driver’s ed for new drivers or passing a distracted driving law. Missouri is one of just two states without one.

“Right now that is a black spot on Missouri,” he said. “And distracted driving is a humongous issue.” He added, “It's something that we need to curb along with these infrastructure and policy changes as well.”

McCrory sees bright spots, though, like certain infrastructure developments that have already helped decrease crashes. That includes the renovations to Natural Bridge in north St. Louis.

“I think it's an improvement for that part of the city and for that road. I mean, that road was one of the most dangerous roads in St. Louis,” he said. “I think over time, a lot of people believe that's gonna end up saving lives.”

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 and Kayla Drake. Jane Mather-Glass is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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