On the last Friday of July, a car killed a high school student walking across Chippewa Street to Ted Drewes. This led many across St. Louis to share concerns about pedestrian safety on the street. However, pedestrian deaths are not a new issue.
In St. Louis County alone, traffic violence took away over 100 lives this year. With the increase in pedestrian deaths in St. Louis County and City, it’s very clear that we need to reform the current “car-centric” model. After all, pedestrian deaths should not be normalized.
As a car-free commuter, I often notice that many parts of the St. Louis community— North County included— are not pedestrian-friendly. As a matter fact, many areas are unsafe as they lack even the basics. For instance, this may mean sidewalks lack space to protect pedestrians from speeding cars, if they even exist at all. This is worrisome because everyone is a pedestrian at some point in their commute, so areas that are hostile or inaccessible to pedestrians are hostile and inaccessible to everyone.
Cars cause these dangers. Therefore, initiatives that reduce the number of cars on the road at any given time should be supported.
Addressing Basic Needs
All communities deserve access to basic needs such as healthy food, clean water, well-paid jobs, basic medical care, recreation, and entertainment. However, many communities do not have easy access to these resources hence why many rely on cars to get to major shopping centers or their jobs. These needs ideally would be accessible by walking. However, the lack of easy access can be traced either to the suburban sprawl or to racial and socioeconomic inequities.
This means changing zoning practices such that “mixed-use” development is the standard and not the exception. After all, mixed-use developments ensure that residential communities, businesses, and entertainment exist in harmony.
Mix-used developments do not have to look the same. For some communities, this may mean having an occasional bakery, coffee shop, or grocery store on the corners of each block co-existing with houses and low-rise apartments. For others, it may mean mid- to high-rise apartments on top of businesses.
Different communities may have different approaches to mixed-use developments, but ultimately these ensure that basic needs can be met without relying heavily on cars.
Prioritizing Public Transit
While most resources would ideally be accessible by walking, there may still be some resources or services that may not be available within walking distance of a community. This is why improving the Metro system should also be a priority.
Currently, the St. Louis Metro has an unreliable bus schedule and only two train lines. Due to the flooding during the last weeks of June, many of the train stations were closed, and replaced with shuttle buses. By design, the St. Louis Metro is less efficient than driving.
However, there is proof that when public transit is made more convenient than driving cars, more people are likely to use it. During Cardinals or Blues games, many who typically commute by car fill the metro train because they seek to avoid traffic and high parking costs in the city of St. Louis.
This strengthens the argument for adding train lines that connect communities across North, West and South County. After all, various roads and highways become congested with traffic especially during rush hour. Investing in the metro could ensure that a more efficient and safer alternative exists.
Implementing separate bus lanes in busier regions could allow buses to maintain more consistent schedules with minimal impact from car traffic. This also helps those who still require cars for their commute as it allows drivers to continue driving uninterrupted by buses.
Reducing Parking Lots and Parking Garages
The demand for public transit cannot be increased solely by increasing metro infrastructure. Infrastructure should simultaneously dissuade excessive use of cars. One way this can be done is by reducing large parking lots and parking garages.
Huge parking lots can be found in the fronts of plazas, or shopping centers. Not only do these huge seas of asphalt look ugly, but they increase the likelihood for pedestrians to get hit by cars.
Smaller parking lots in the backs of businesses should be prioritized to lower the chances of pedestrians getting hit. This would also allow pedestrians to walk straight into a business without traversing through a maze of cars in a parking lot. It also encourages anyone capable of using public transit to use public transit.
Differentiating Streets from Roads
Besides reducing the size of parking lots, the design of streets and roads can be manipulated to favor differing commuting.
For instance, roads should prioritize through-traffic which means allowing vehicles to have uninterrupted travel between two distant communities. Streets should prioritize destinations (e.g., businesses, restaurants, or homes) which means creating an environment where pedestrians can safely interact with businesses, entertainment, or other pedestrians.
However, there also exists a crossbreed between streets and roads: “stroads.” Stroads manage to be both unsafe for pedestrians and inefficient for cars. They are often two wide for pedestrians to cross, but contain too many traffic stops which makes car travel inefficient. Despite being terrible in every way, they plague the St. Louis region.
While many advocate for changing speed limits and adding crosswalks to make roads more pedestrian friendly, these initiatives do not do enough to protect pedestrians.
Roads with businesses or homes on their sides should be converted to low speed two-lane streets with a spacious sidewalk, protected bike lanes, and speed bumps before crosswalks. It may also be appropriate to replace the asphalt on some streets with brick to encourage drivers to slow down. When departing from regions most likely to have pedestrians, these streets may transform back into roads to ensure speedy travel for vehicles.
Another solution may include adding narrow side streets beside major roads for safe access to homes or businesses. This would prevent interruptions to the flow of traffic on the main road.
Creating More Walking and Bike Paths
Besides differentiating clearly between roads and streets, the most obvious solution for protecting pedestrians would be implementing more walking or bike paths to major destinations.
While separate infrastructure may not always be necessary for less busy streets, busier streets ought to include infrastructure for those commuting without a car. This may include wide sidewalks, protected bike lanes, and crosswalks.
These paths would not need to be inherently associated with adjacent streets, but they should seek to reclaim public space for pedestrians over cars. These paths can include natural scenery or they may be streets reserved for pedestrian or bike traffic.
This would also be beneficial to small businesses which fare better as a result of foot traffic. After all, pedestrians are more likely than car commuters to visit a business in passing.
Many of these solutions also have other unintended but positive outcomes such as reducing carbon emissions and increasing business performance. However, it also addresses the more immediate concern of pedestrian safety. This means our youth can be protected from dangerous car traffic and focus on enjoying their childhoods.
If you share similar concerns that pertain to community health and safety, A Red Circle hosts Community Speak Outs for community members across North County to do just that. Learn more about Community Speak Outs by emailing Daria at email@example.com.