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Posted by on Jul 15, 2013 in General | 7 comments

A “Platinum-Friendly” Bicycle Community

BFC signToday the City of St. Louis is submitting to the League of American Bicyclists its renewal application for “Bicycle-Friendly Community” status. The City currently carries a “Bronze Level” bicycle-friendly designation from the League. Mayor Francis Slay has often stated that he wants nothing less than a “Platinum Level” designation. Yet this is the truth: Our community already is among the finest places to ride in the nation, regardless of any outsider’s “seal” of approval.

One hundred percent of our roads are ‘bicycle friendly.’

I sit on the Bicycle-Pedestrian Advisory Committee for the East-West Gateway Council of Governments. At last week’s meeting, John Kohler, the City’s planning & programming manager, highlighted some of the aspects of the application. Part of what the League wants to know, he said, is how many miles of our roads are “bicycle friendly.”

“John,” I said, “you should put in the application that 100 percent of our roads are ‘bicycle friendly.’ ” I wasn’t kidding. I could not think of a single road in the City of St. Louis on which I did not feel comfortable riding.

He explained that this was not what the League meant. The idea was to describe how many roads are marked with special paint for bicyclists. Ironically, when this “special paint” is bike lane striping on the right edge of a roadway, this is where I’m most likely to experience conflict with or harassment from motorists.

If this isn’t the essence of a ‘bicycle friendly’ community, then what is?

The City of St. Louis is by design a fabulous place to ride. Why? Because the City was built before the advent of the automobile. St. Louis is laid out in a grid system. Many of our city’s 150-year-old streets are wide and boulevard-like, with plenty of room for all. The inner-ring suburbs follow this model, as my husband and I rediscovered yesterday on a glorious ride that took us through north St. Louis, Wellston, University City, Ladue, Clayton & Richmond Heights. We covered a lot of ground and hardly touched an arterial road along the way. If this isn’t the essence of a “bicycle-friendly” community, then what is?

Yesterday’s goal was to ride on the new St. Vincent Greenway Porter Park Trail, visit a friend living in a retirement community and then do a little shopping. However, any ride into uncharted territory with my husband — a passionate urbanist who leads bicycle tours of historic neighborhoods and cemeteries¬† — will always be rich with unintended encounters:

On our way to the Porter Trail, Harold wanted to show me a new garden that he discovered near Fountain Place & Euclid Avenue. We had quite a conversation with the gardener, Peter Groce, who is working hard to revitalize his corner of St. Louis

On our way to the trail, Harold wanted to show me a new garden that he discovered near Fountain Place & Euclid Avenue. We got to meet the gardener, Peter Groce, who is working hard to revitalize the Fountain Park neighborhood

After leaving Peter, I tell Harold that we can take our choice of quiet streets north of Delmar to the trail. We choose Maple Avenue, and our eyes start popping at all the magnificent historic homes. This one is on Bartmer Avenue

After leaving Peter and his garden, we had our choice of quiet streets north of Delmar to get to the trail. We chose Maple Avenue, and our eyes started popping at all the magnificent historic homes. This one is on Bartmer Avenue

The trail ends--for now--at Skinker and Etzel. We continue on Etzel Avenue into Wellston, where we come upon this gem

The trail ends — for now — at Skinker and Etzel. We continued on Etzel Avenue into Wellston, where we came upon this gem

Bernie

Bernie, circa 1945

The best thing about riding yesterday was being side-by-side, wherever we were. Without any special paint markings and not even designated as such, University City already is “Platinum Level,” as far as bicycle-friendly communities are concerned. Tree-shaded neighborhood streets took us through the length of University City to Ladue and our friend Bernie, who is living at the swanky Gatesworth.

St. Louis and its inner-ring suburbs deserve “Platinum” status for another crucial reason: On roads without bike lanes, a cyclist is highly unlikely to encounter incivility from motorists. After riding most of the afternoon, we finally had to use a major arterial road to cross an interstate. This particular crossing provided special amusement. To get to the Gatesworth, one must use part of the entrance ramp from Delmar Boulevard for Interstate 170. Motorists behind us who were headed onto the interstate may have indeed thought that we were crazy. Yet we neither felt nor heard a hint of criticism for using the lane that best served our destination.

Google Maps view of Delmar at Interstate 170. To get to Gatesworth, we used the left-turn pocket that also goes onto the interstate

Google Maps view of Delmar at Interstate 170. To get to Gatesworth, we used the left-turn pocket that also goes onto the interstate

After we said good-bye to Bernie, we wanted to go to one of our region’s shopping meccas. From where we were, we thought the best way to get there was to use another major arterial, Brentwood Boulevard. Then we stumbled upon a serendipity: The new Metro Corridor trail, which saved us a lot of time and gave us great views of the Clayton skyline.

Metro Corridor Trail

Metro Corridor Trail

This trail currently ends at Clayton’s Shaw Park. From there we happily used Brentwood Boulevard past Clayton Road and under Interstate 64 to get to our destination (Whole Foods and REI). Because of skills that we learned through the nation’s only course devoted to teaching safe traffic cycling, we know how to use “scary” roads like Brentwood Boulevard and truly have access to the city’s entire transportation grid. Again, we experienced only courtesy and respect from motorists on Brentwood.

Whether we have the label or not, this in the end is what makes a community “Platinum Friendly.” This is a place where cyclists are expected and respected as a normal part of traffic. This is our place. This is St. Louis.

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7 Comments

  1. Nice – thank you for your work and your revelations!

    But inquiring minds want to know: did you try the tripe?

    • Thank you, Cathy! No tripe here ~ we’re vegetarians :)

  2. Fabulous article and description of your day, Karen. You did the city proud. I thought one line in particular was poetry in so many ways: “The best thing about riding yesterday was being side-by-side, wherever we were.”

    • Thanks so much, Liz! Please give my regards to the fellow by your side :)

  3. If only the city could get rid of 90% of the stop signs! Then the non-arterial streets would really be bicycle friendly.

    • Agreed, Dave (though I don’t expect to see any changes on that front in my lifetime).

      I used to loathe St. Louis stop signs until I learned how to stop legally at them with a technique called the “Balance Stop.” Roll into a balance stop with your feet horizontal on the pedals (in the “9″ and “3″ positions on a clock). It takes practice, but it quickly becomes easy to hold this position while you look both ways and then pedal out of it.

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