Women’s Bike Summit Panelists Talk Safety, Policy
Trailnet and some dedicated advocates participated in The St. Louis Women’s Bike Summit on Saturday, April 6. The event united a diverse crew of women with a shared interest in bicycling. Trailnet’s Deputy Executive Director, Cindy Mense hosted a panel discussion with Cara Spencer, 20th Ward Alderwoman in St. Louis, and Bridget McAndrew, Third Ward Alderwoman in Clayton.
Panelists spoke about the various ways recreational bicyclists can really benefit from having streets and sidewalks that are designed to support daily walking and biking in their community. Participants learned about the successes and struggles when advocating for safer streets and meaningful ways that women can take part and make difference!
Why build for better biking and walking
Each panelist shed light on what improved bicycling and walking can do to advance the region as a whole. Making it easier for people to travel on foot and bicycle can have a positive impact on safety, economic development, social equity, and the environment, panelists said.
“I’ll bring it to social justice,” Cara said. “There’s a lot of people who don’t have a way to get around. Cindy mentioned our pedestrian fatality rate – three times the national average. There’s a real sense of urgency just to provide some safer alternatives for getting around. It’s important to change the culture and the mindset that we all have a right to access and use our roadways.”
Bridget spoke about how changing roads to accommodate bicyclists can boost a region’s economy and expand its population.
“One of the things that people look at when they’re moving to a community or city is its infrastructure,” Bridget said. “Millennials want to see alternative ways to get around and not be in their car. We need to think about how we can be more sustainable as a region and make sure there are reasons that we can get people to move here. That’s a big way to attract companies, to say, ‘hey look at this infrastructure we’re building, look at what’s in place,’ so that they can attract educated young people here to keep our city growing.”
With fossil fuel use being the absolute biggest contributor to global warming, panelists also discussed how building a community that supports active transportation can help protect the environment for future generations.
“I’ve got kids and they’re very concerned about the environment and how much time we’ve got left to really make a difference,” Cindy said. “Transportation is a key driver of pollution and if we can carve out some space for protected bike lanes and pedestrian safety features, people are more likely to leave their cars behind. Streets are public space and it’s right in front of us, there’s some urgency to do that.”
Those attending the panel expressed concerns over general safety when bicycling in St. Louis. People said they were not only worried about motor vehicle traffic, but about bicycling or walking in areas with high crime rates. Panelists said addressing safety at different levels is a long-term process, but solutions are underway. Cara noted her district is about to have the first Calm Street in the region.
“We’re doing the region’s first calm street in my district, which is the Louisiana project,” Cara said. ”It was born out of a Trailnet project where Trailnet paid for several elected officials and the board of public service to travel to Portland, Oregon to take a look at some of their infrastructure over there and explore making a safe roadway that is inclusive within a neighborhood.”
Calm Streets are residential streets where traffic calming features, such as curb extensions and speed humps, are used to reduce vehicle speeds and make the street safer for people walking, biking and driving. In December 2016, Trailnet and staff members from the St. Louis City Street Department installed temporary crosswalks, a roundabout, and other items designed to slow traffic speeds on a stretch of Louisiana Avenue. Now those features will become permanent in 2020.
Cindy spoke about how Trailnet is working to bring safer transportation options and community events to St. Louis’ more challenged neighborhoods.
“We are addressing safety in different areas,” Cindy said. “Last year we did a Juneteenth Celebration Ride highlighting the end of slavery and we got our community partners involved. We had 4theVille, Girl Trek, and National Coalition for 100 Black Women and really got the community engaged in planning the route and the destinations. We’re doing it again this year. Last year when we road through the Ville, people were clapping and happy to see us. So, maybe there’s a little bit of change. Maybe getting the community to select ride destinations and historic things they want to highlight helps bring us closer together.”
Policy and advocacy
Panelists also spoke to the varying degrees to which they must engage the community and local leaders to acquire support for streets that feature safe bicycle and walking infrastructure. Cindy noted that complete streets policies or ordinances in St. Louis and Clayton dictate that every time a city designs, builds, or maintains a new or old street, they must think about all users—not just motor vehicles. Still, when it comes to carrying out these policies, there can be some resistance.
“Clayton has a complete streets policy that we adopted,” Bridget said. “Every 20 years or so, we kind of look at streets – Maryland Avenue between Hanley and basically where Clayton ends in Ladue – needs to be repaved. Part of our initiative is to look and see how we can make the street better for biking and walking. In looking at that we decided to institute protected bike lanes on either side going east and west. It was a big undertaking because there was a lot of resistance within the community. People were very much for it or very much against it.”
Bridget said she had many public meetings about the protected bike lanes and educated residents about how accommodating bicyclists can have a positive impact on safety. “We’ll see how it goes,” she said. “The street will get repaved in the fall and finished in the spring.”
Panelists said one of the most effective ways for the community to lend a hand in optimizing St. Louis’ streets for those who walk or bicycle is by not only by voting but by staying in contact with local officials.
“Supporting policies means communicating with elected officials on a regular basis,” Cara said. “Even just once in a while. It’s really important to connect directly with those who are representing you on issues. It’s incredible what five emails to an elected official can do.”