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Safety initiative drives change for walkers, cyclists in coming year

On any given day, drivers traveling through the West County area and beyond take to the roads to access work, school, parks and more. In fact, with over 3,100 miles of street pavement and over 184 bridges to be maintained for just short of 1 million residents, St. Louis County’s Department of Transportation [DOT] is one of this state’s largest caretakers of public roadways.

Now, those same entities are currently looking to expand the county’s network even more in order to extend the same safety and maintenance benefits to pedestrians and bicyclists. 

The St. Louis County Action Plan for Walking and Biking is an upcoming project that, through solicited feedback from county residents, will develop a blueprint for projected safety, connectivity and accessibility improvements for pedestrians and bicyclists. The project will focus on roadways, connections to municipal bikeways and sidewalks, and regional trail systems.

The action plan will reflect multiple county planning documents, including the Imagining Tomorrow comprehensive plan and the Parks and Recreation Master Plan. It will also draw from the county’s Age Friendly Communities Initiative. 

In addition to DOT, the plan’s team includes the county’s departments of Planning and Public Works, Public Health, Police and Parks and Recreation. The Core Team will be comprised of representatives from Transportation and Public Works, Parks and Recreation, Planning, and Public Health. A community advisory committee and technical advisory committee will assist with community outreach and input on the project.

“[The plan] has a strong foundation in St. Louis County,” John Hicks, DOT transportation development analyst, said. “Our comprehensive plan “Imagining Tomorrow” talks about mobility improvements for all users, not just automobiles. St. Louis County has an Age-Friendly Communities Initiative because we are an aging population, and walking contributes to healthy living for senior citizens and all county citizens.”

Community feedback will be considered during the conceptual planning process. The final plan will be used to guide design decisions for bicycle and pedestrian facilities and assist with the allocation of funding, labor and other resources.

“We’re really looking at how we can better make on-street connections so that we have a more complete network,” Hicks said. “We’re also looking at the pedestrian aspect because walking is the number one leisure activity and the number one fitness activity in the country, and we’ll be the first to admit that there are gaps in the sidewalk system.”

Concern over pedestrian safety and walkability is not new. Since 1985, the county has required sidewalks with residential developments. Neighborhoods with construction dates prior to 1985 did not require sidewalks, which resulted in those system gaps. 

“We’re currently looking at how we can close those gaps, how we can improve older sidewalks … for the citizens in the county,” Hicks said. “From a regional perspective, that network will really connect and extend into adjoining counties that are [implementing] similar plans or similar bicycle and pedestrian improvements.”

The project’s inventory includes many high-traffic roadways in the arterial road network. Examples include Big Bend Road and Hanley Road. The plan also will examine potential connections for collector streets.

“[Those] would be your important, residential streets where subdivisions may come together to get to the arterial system,” Larry Welty, DOT improvement programs manager, said. “St. Louis County maintains a lot of residential streets in its  unincorporated portion, and we don’t have a great inventory of those.”

The plan will work to identify strategies for improving sidewalk and trail connections to Missouri Department of Transportation roads, municipal streets and Great Rivers Greenway facilities.

“The ultimate hope is to have a network for bicyclists and pedestrians throughout the county that they can use and feel safe on,” Welty said. “Safety is really the biggest driving aspects.”

In 2013, county traffic engineers revised the Bicycle Facilities Plan and have since added over 50 miles of on-street dedicated bicycle lanes. In 2014, the county passed a Complete Streets Ordinance, which included the development of a network connectivity plan for bicyclists and pedestrians.

Due to the scope of the project and the ongoing solicitation of community feedback, the cost of any projects spearheaded by the plan have yet to be determined. However, the project has been granted Transportation Alternatives Program funding from East-West Gateway, the St. Louis region’s metropolitan planning organization.

“It’s going to be way beyond what the county can afford in any reasonable amount of time, so that’s where the prioritization will come in,” Welty said. “Sidewalks, by themselves, can cost $1 million a mile. Sometimes it’s cheaper than that, but they’re not a cheap thing to do. Then, bike facilities … a lot of those we’re hoping we can kind of fit into existing roadways, but a lot of our roadways are not compatible with the high-level bicycle facilities that many bicyclists would want.

“Either changing lane configurations to find that space or ordering property rights to obtain that space would be very cost prohibitive. That’s why we’re trying to come up with a plan that’s reasonable, so we can move forward and make improvements.”

Kirkwood-based Alta Planning + Design was brought on as lead consultant in the plan’s development phase. Alta began work in March 2019 and is currently working to compile existing condition data and preparing materials for the community engagement process and municipal meetings.

Each area of the county will have municipal meetings during which residents can provide area-specific feedback.

“There are different needs in each of the regions,” Hicks said, noting that the meetings were set up to track that data and better identify system gaps.

“Everyone is a pedestrian of some sort,” Welty said. “We want to engage bicyclists, we want to engage motorists, because we want them to understand the need for the plan and give their input on it, but we also want to reach people of all economic levels and all social and racial demographics. We want this to be a plan for all of St. Louis County that serves all of St. Louis County.”

Residents unable to attend the meetings can provide feedback directly to the county via a survey and an interactive map at stlcountywalkbike.com.

The West County meeting is scheduled to take place from 5-7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 23 at the Greensfelder Community Center in Queeny Park, 550 Weidman Road in Town & Country.
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