Creating Streets that Work for Everyone
Earlier this year, late on a hot summer night, a high school-aged boy was struck and killed by driver in a speeding car. It happened not far from Ted Drewes, where horrified onlookers were simply standing in line for frozen custard.
This tragedy isn’t even the latest tragedy. On Monday, a man died after being hit by a driver in the 6300 block of Hall Street. Earlier this summer, people were struck while crossing on both North and South Grand. They, too, died.
We have to address the dangerous traffic situation.
That requires changes in the enforcement of our traffic laws, changes in our infrastructure, and investment in our public transit system.
First, we need better enforcement of our traffic laws. Rolling through stop signs and blowing through red lights is as common as it is dangerous.
Our police officers prioritize non-traffic related violent crime, and stopping people for traffic violations takes them off their beat. Other cities have explored creating separate traffic enforcement agencies with traffic — and traffic alone — as their mission. Such unarmed traffic enforcement that lives under the Streets department or similar department, which is the model that Berkley, Minneapolis and others are starting to use, could be a good solution for our City, where relationships between the police and the community are already strained.This would allow for real focus to be placed on enforcing our traffic laws and preventing future deaths.
In the meantime, we still need to enforce the laws that we have with the resources we have. Lives are on the line.
But enforcement is only part of the solution to our traffic problems.
Let’s talk about infrastructure change.
Traffic experts say that you can’t enforce your way out of an engineering problem. Streets can be designed to be fast-moving, prioritizing vehicle movement — or they can be designed to prioritize pedestrians and safety for all users.
In St. Louis, it’s clear that the priority in the past has been making streets faster for those in a vehicle. And that has come at the expense of pedestrian safety.
I think the priority going forward should be making our streets safer for all residents, regardless of their mode of transportation.
But here’s something you might not know. In St. Louis, traffic strategies — that are often called “traffic calming” — are done at the Ward level, and with Ward capital dollars. That means traffic strategies and traffic safety change, sometimes abruptly, at Ward boundaries.
Each year, an Alderperson gets a set ward budget of $300,000 for everything that needs to be done in the Ward. That sounds like a lot, but the traffic calming strategies that we used around Tower Grove Park cost upwards of $1 million. We were able to get a grant for that work. But had we relied just on the Ward capital budget, we would have had to wait for 5 years (or more) to save up the resources to get that work done. And no other Ward priorities would have been able to be funded because our dollars would be set aside for this project.
This hodgepodge ward-by-ward traffic system needs to stop. Just as drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists don’t stop at ward lines, neither should our planning strategy. We need a comprehensive, citywide strategy. Traffic is a citywide issue, and it needs a citywide response that’s not dependent upon the needs of and priorities of different Wards.
Mayor Tishaura Jones’s administration has hired a new Streets Director who is pulling together the traffic studies that have been done by different Wards, and that’s the necessary first step. We need to take it the rest of the way by creating a city-wide plan for our streets that takes in account the needs of pedestrians, cyclists, people in wheelchairs, and motorists. We have unprecedented revenue for infrastructure, so let’s use those funds strategically to make safer streets for all of us. By investing in the Vision Zero approach, our City can and should make a public commitment to pedestrian safety and preventing future traffic violence and begin to implement components of an overall strategy.
Investing in Quality Public Transit
Finally, we need to increase our use of public transit. Public transit is ten times safer per mile than traveling by car. All public transit should be free, full stop. This will incentivize residents to reduce our reliance on cars. We also need to pay bus and Metro drivers competitively so that we can recruit, train, and retain the best drivers for our residents.
I also support the north-south Metro link expansion along Jefferson Avenue, and making greater investments in public transit — including our bus system, which needs more routes and more reliability. We can use a Bus Rapid Transit (“BRT”) system along heavily trafficked routes that will decrease travel times and improve efficiency.
These changes will make it easier for people to choose to use public transit and decrease our reliance on cars, which is also part of our Green Green Plan.
Together we can make walking, and driving, in our City safer and build a St Louis that works for everyone. I’m committed to it. I hope you are, too.