With the clear, warm weather of summer, more St. Louisans of all ages are taking to the streets and the sidewalks on foot and by bike. The city has plans in the works to make walking, biking and running easier, from Complete Streets to separated bike lanes.
“I think overall we have great facilities in St. Louis and there has been a lot of improvement in the five years that I’ve lived here,” said Aaron Hipp, assistant professor of social work at Washington University in St. Louis. His research evaluates how built communities affect the activity and health of those who use them.
However, Hipp said, “you can always do better, and where [the facilities] are and where the quality I would say is good, verses where things are not and the quality is not as good, is a big challenge for the community right now.”
Hipp said the city is lacking in consistency and connectivity. While some parts of the city are friendly to walkers and bikers, “there is not infrastructure to run in every park, there is not infrastructure to bike throughout the city. The city is very divided north and south, particularly in bicycling infrastructure,” Hipp said.
“If you look across the country over the last five years, there has actually been a wave of innovation,” said Jennifer Allen, active transportation director for Trailnet. “People want to be in more comfortable, sort of enjoyable bikeways, that include not biking with traffic all of the time. We’re really trying to push for more of these protected bike ways and things like Neighborhood Greenways.”
Trailnet’s Neighborhood Greenways project looks to transform residential streets to better accommodate foot and bike traffic. In addition to making the areas better for transportation, Allen said they are better for the environment than current infrastructure, and help manage storm water.
“Cities around the country are putting them in to attract businesses and people,” said Allen.
Along with the Neighborhood Greenways, St. Louis and St. Louis County have implemented a Complete Streets policy that requires the developer to consider all modes of transportation (automobile, foot and bike) and all ages and abilities when planning street construction.
Great Rivers Greenway complements Trailnet in its endeavors.
“We’re looking at the regional system and how we can make those connections from neighborhoods, from the Metrolink stations, from areas for people to go to school, go to work, go to recreate,” said Todd Antoine, director of planning for Great Rivers Greenway. “We’re all about trying to make those connections, not just within the jurisdiction or the neighborhood, but also regionally and [look at] how we can make it part of the regional transportation system.”
One of the methods that may come to the region soon is a bike share program. Great Rivers Greenway, Trailnet and their partners are in the middle of a feasibility study for a St. Louis program.
Great Rivers Greenway also wants to expand the number of on-road and off-road bike paths.
“You can go farther on biking — biking to work, biking for errands, there’s a wider range of places you can go … so it opens the area up more. But biking infrastructure can be more costly. You obviously have to own a bicycle, there’s helmets, and because you are going greater speeds there is obviously a greater chance of injury — at least collision injuries,” Hipp said.
Dr. Scott Kaar is the head physician for the Saint Louis University Billikens and an orthopedic surgeon specializing in sports medicine with Mercy. He says the most common injuries he sees are from over-use. There are a number of ways to avoid these common injuries.
“Things that would be smart would be to, number one: start slow,” Kaar said. “And then also it would be prudent vary your activities … to put different stresses on muscles to avoid over-working the same muscle.”
Amy Marxkors knows the benefits of cross training. Now a long-distance runner, she began running to help with other sports. Marxkors writes a column about the common experience of runners in the area. She too talked about the importance of starting slow: “It’s all incremental. You just keep building.”
Marxkors says St. Louis is a great city to be a runner.
“It’s an extremely runner-friendly city, it’s safe, it’s picturesque, there is always something to look at, so I’m thrilled and feel extremely fortunate to live in this city.”
While the city may be doing well to accommodate foot and bike traffic, Antoine and Allen see room for improvement.
“You’re going to see more and more facilities and more opportunities for folks to get out for recreation and get out in the community,” Antoine said.
St. Louis on the Air discusses issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer with assistance from Amanda Honigfort and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh. Follow us on Twitter: @STLonAir.