Revisiting the Jefferson Avenue bike lanes: Model for Grand Boulevard?
In light of next week’s Grand Boulevard bridge closing and reconstruction, it seemed appropriate to visit, with camera in hand, its neighbor to the east: The Jefferson Avenue bridge, rebuilt and reopened two years ago to accommodate all users. Does it?
is part of a preferred route from my Central West End home to a yoga class in Lafayette Square. This may be my favorite weekly ride: I ride through St. Louis University’s main campus, slowing if there is time to pat the belly of the Billiken. After cruising through Harris-Stowe State University’s campus, it’s an easy and quick trek down Market to Jefferson to Chouteau. From Chouteau I turn one block east of Jefferson onto Missouri Avenue, and am instantly ensconced in a magical neighborhood, making my way past lovingly tended Victorian homes up the hill to Park Avenue and my yoga class. I’ve done this for years now, before there were bike lanes on Jefferson.
Now that Jefferson Avenue has bike lanes,
I use them when I can. The bike lanes between Market and Clark streets are well done. The lanes are six feet wide. Parking is not allowed, which eliminates the risk of dooring. On this section a cyclist has to deal with only the most common bike lane dilemmas: How do I make a left turn? How do I deal with motorists who turn right in front of me?
It gets tricky for southbound cyclists
when approaching the Interstate 64 overpass:
Riding southbound on the bridge from Scott Avenue to Chouteau, the Jefferson Avenue bike lane develops two serious problems.
First, it is a gutter bike lane (one that is on the edge of a very busy road and against a curb). Because of this it will almost always be filled with rocks and debris (what city can afford daily sweeping of high-speed arterial bike lanes?). The second problem is that this *is* a high-speed arterial bike lane. The speed limit is posted at 35 mph, and most motorists seem to be driving faster than this. This bike lane puts cyclists right alongside of, and breathtakingly close to, fast-moving multi-tonnage vehicles.
Heading north on Jefferson,
I appreciate having the bike lane to drop into once I cross Chouteau. It’s about a 30 degree uphill grade. All vehicles are going slower, so it feels safer to be in the bike lane here. The northbound bike lane also is cleaner, surely because of the naturally slower speeds of motorized traffic.
What conclusions can be drawn
as St. Louis moves forward with the Grand bridge demolition and reconstruction? There is no question that the city wants to do it right:
March 14th is the day that we should be celebrating and not dreading,” Mayor Francis Slay said regarding the Grand Boulevard bridge closing. “This new bridge will help to exemplify where we are heading as a city. We want to make our roads as accessible as possible. Not just for private vehicles, but also for walkers, cyclists and transit users as well.”
Should there be a bike lane on the new Grand bridge? Jefferson Avenue provides plenty of evidence that a segregated facility on a high-speed arterial road is not only an unequal facility, but a dangerous one. No wonder very few cyclists use it.
On busy roads with high speeds a cyclist needs space, too.
Many cyclists are intimidated by multi-lane arterial roads. Actually, these are some of the easiest roads on which to ride–if they don’t have a bike lane. It is a relief when the southbound Jefferson Avenue bike lane ends at Chouteau. When continuing southbound on Jefferson, I simply take my place in the rightmost traffic lane. Motorists simply change lanes to pass.
Whatever your number of wheels, it is by far safest to be part of the flow of traffic, rather than segregated from it, especially on multi-lane arterial roads. Even on a road where the speed limit is 35 or 40 mph–and many people are driving faster than this–motorists will see you and slow down if you are right in front of them. The vast majority of motorists do not get aggravated, because they have another lane in which to pass.
And even though you’re on a bicycle, you need room. Especially where speed differentials can be high, three feet is not enough for safe passing.