St. Louis County Council Approves Bike Reforms
St. Louis County unanimously approved a new package of bike-friendly traffic rules that prioritize the safety of people on bikes, and other vulnerable road users.
The ordinance prioritizes people’s safety and judgement when using lanes, creates a 3-foot passing rule, spells out when people are allowed to ride side by side, creates protections for vulnerable road users, and updates rules for e-bikes.
Monday night, the St. Louis County Council approved County Bill 385, introduced by Councilwoman Kelli Dunaway, which updates the county’s rules on how people on bikes can use roads in unincorporated St. Louis County.
Our streets belong to everyone and everyone should be free to safely use them. We are confident that these policies are an important step towards safer streets.
Trailnet and other advocates worked with Dunaway and the county council to include the needs and concerns of the community. These reforms are an important step to improving safety. Future work will need to ensure similar reforms are adopted by municipalities in the county, as well as St. Louis City and the surrounding region.
These changes highlight Trailnet’s stance that a road-design changes and infrastructure improvements are still necessary to improve safety throughout the region.
The new ordinance updates the county traffic code by:
Prioritizing people’s safety and judgement
Previously, the county has a one-size-fits-none approach, requiring bike traffic to stay as far to the right as “practicable” with no exemptions. If taken by the letter of the law, this means, riding in the gutter, in the door zone or on the shoulder. People riding bikes any other way could be cited for violating traffic law.
The new rules give people on bikes more flexibility under the law to use their judgment. It lays out different exceptions that more closely matches how people actually interact safely on the road.
The reforms create a default for people on bikes to ride in the same direction as traffic and to stay to the right side of the right-most lane. However, it prioritizes people’s safety and judgement when laying out conditions where people can use the full lane, shoulder, or change lanes to:
- Avoid debris or other hazards
- Avoid vehicles turning in right-turn only lanes
- If the road is too narrow for bikes and cars to share the same lane
- Preparing to make left turns
- Avoid other unsafe conditions
- If people follow these rules and obey other traffic laws, they would not violate rules against impeding traffic.
It also adds a 3-foot passing law for people in cars when overtaking people on bikes. It requires people driving to:
- Change lanes to pass, if there is a passing lane.
- If there is no passing lane, people driving must still give the person on the bike 3 feet of space while passing.
- It allows people driving to safely cross over the middle lane, even in no-passing zones, in order to give 3 feet to the person in the bike.
The legislation would also update the law to allow people on bikes to ride side by side on the street, which was prohibited under the old ordinance.
People may ride abreast if:
- They don’t significantly impede other traffic
- They are riding on the shoulder, bike lane, or bike path
People riding side by side must switch to riding singe file when they encounter other vehicles.
Vulnerable Road Users
The new rules also define Vulnerable Road Users including:
- People walking
- People using wheelchairs
- People riding bikes and using scooters, skateboards, roller skates, etc.
- People working on the roadway: construction workers, first responders
- People walking pets
- People in animal-drawn vehicles
- People on mopeds or motorcycles
- People driving farm equipment
The ordinance prohibits people driving in a “careless or distracted manner” if it causes injury to a vulnerable road user. This creates a penalty for distracted driving if it causes a crash, hurting a vulnerable road user.
This falls short of an overall distracted driving ban, since Missouri state law currently prevents local governments from passing their own distracted driving traffic rules. This reality prevents counties and cities from exercising local control, blocking them from addressing this dangerous behavior.
This bill also extends rules governing bikes to include e-bikes and motorized bikes. The ordinance adopts the three class E-Bike system being used in 22 other states.
These reforms to traffic laws show an important level of political will in the County to support safety for vulnerable road usurers and people on bikes. The soon to be completed St. Louis County Action Plan for Walking and Biking is another important step to prioritize infrastructure to prioritize safety as well.
This success is important and Trailnet is committed to pursue bike-friendly policy and infrastructure in individual municipalities across the region.