Traffic changes aim to make streets safer for exercise
Brightly-colored tires simulating flower beds popped-up along a two-block stretch of Gasconade Street Saturday in the Dutchtown neighborhood of south St. Louis.
Bicycle and pedestrian advocacy group Trailnet set the tires up to block the corners of intersections leading up to Marquette Park, shortening the distance people crossing the road were exposed to traffic. Other tires formed a zig-zag route for drivers to navigate.
“St. Louis is known for having incredibly wide roads, especially in residential areas,” explained Trailnet’s Grace Kyung, “No cars are going to respect the stop signs (if the lanes are wider than a typical highway lane).”
The demonstration on Gasconade was the first of four “traffic calming” events Trailnet plans to set up this fall in St. Louis. The other three will be in the Ville, Carondelet and JeffVanderLou.
Funding for the pop-up demonstrations comes from a $120,000 grant provided by the Missouri chapter of the American Planning Association to the HEAL Partnership, a joint effort to improve the health of St. Louis residents that includes both Trailnet and the city of St. Louis.
Carl Filler participated in the partnership when he worked for the city’s health department. Now he works for the mayor’s office.
According to Filler, the HEAL Partnership “was designed to reduce obesity and chronic disease mortality.” The city has a goal of reducing obesity by 5 percent by 2018.
The four neighborhoods selected for the demonstrations were chosen because they have a high rate of chronic health problems such as diabetes and heart disease. The risk for those diseases increases when someone is obese.
“Obviously physical activity helps you control your weight status. But we did a lot of surveying with residents (in the HEAL partnership) and asked them why don’t you walk? Why don’t you bike? Why don’t you go to the parks to play?” said Filler. “Their big concern was traffic safety. I mean if you live in St. Louis you know a lot of people blow through stop signs.”
Acknowledging that fear of becoming a victim of violent crime could also deter people from walking in these neighborhoods, Filler said the HEAL Partnership encourages communities to form walking groups. He said those groups can also serve as neighborhood watch groups.
“It builds that sense of neighborhood, which is one of the best protective factors against crime and violence,” Filler said. “These types of groups show that people are watching, people care and this community is not going to accept this type of behavior.”
During the four traffic calming demonstrations, Trailnet is measuring the speed of cars with and without the alterations, and surveying neighbors to find out what they think. Those findings will be used as the first step in discussions to create permanent traffic calming structures.
Dutchtown residents Saturday expressed concern that if the symbolic flower beds were made permanent then they would lose on-street parking.
“I see what they’re trying to do, but I don’t think this is going to stop people speeding,” said Damien Johnson, who lives nearby.
“I understand they want to slow people down. They’ve done that. But they took away parking and they made the street into a one-way-one lane,” Johnson added, pointing to the zig-zag section of Gasconade.
According to Trailnet’s Marielle Brown, the zig-zag section was wide enough for cars to pass in alternate directions — as long as they were driving slowly.
Follow Camille Phillips on Twitter: @cmpcamille.