Former Director of The City of St. Louis Civil Rights Enforcement Agency joins our growing team!
As Policy Catalyst, Charles will lead Trailnet’s strategic policy and advocacy agenda through coalition-building, community outreach and government relations.
Charles began his career in non-profits, working in services for the unhoused in Baltimore, Maryland. After two years with Catholic Charities in Baltimore, he moved to work with the Illinois Department of Public Aid, where he oversaw federal and state grants for services for the unhoused. Eventually, he moved back to his home state of Missouri, where he worked for the Missouri Housing Development Commission as a proponent for low-income housing tax credit development for six years.
When Mayor Francis Slay was elected in 2001, he called on Charles to work as an advisor in his administration, where he was responsible for developing and implementing the overall neighborhood, ethnic and religious outreach plan for the City. During his time in City Hall, Charles worked with three mayors—as special advisor, Director of Public Safety, and for the last eight years, as the Director of the Civil Rights Enforcement Agency (CREA), enforcing federal, state and local fair housing, equal employment opportunity and public accommodation laws, rules and regulations, “a job I truly loved,” said Charles.
Charles will start with Trailnet in late June. As our new Policy Catalyst, he has one overarching goal:
“Listen. Listen to what the community is saying. Look at how our policies, procedures and practices can impact the needs of those various communities. Whether it’s black folks feeling underserved by public transit; Whether it’s the LGBTQIA+ community feeling afraid to walk in certain areas at night; Whether signage in our region adequately serves folks who speak English as a second language. The one thing I want to be able to accomplish is to listen to folks and address their needs.”
Charles currently lives downtown, a short walk from the Trailnet offices.
“I live downtown, in part, because I wanted access to public transit. Public transportation is a big deal for me, so I’m excited to see how my passion for transit can factor into this work.”
He also enjoys hiking, and he says he’s getting into biking.
“I’m in walking shape—I walk about 6.7 miles every couple of days through Forest Park—but that doesn’t mean I’m in biking shape. So I’m working on that,” he said with a smile.
We’re excited to have someone with Charles’s passion and experience join our team. Welcome!
Trailnet staff recently traveled to Vancouver, British Columbia, where they presented at Pro Walk/Pro Bike/Pro Place, an international conference put on by People for Public Spaces. Below is a Q&A about what Bicycle and Pedestrian Planner Grace Kyung, Director of Policy and Strategy Marielle Brown, and with Trailnet Walk Bike Ambassador Deidre Brown experienced abroad.
What was the best idea you saw in Vancouver, B.C.?
Marielle) Grace and I stayed in a neighborhood north of downtown that had installed a lot of street closures in the 1970s to address crime. As crime went down, they had kept the closures for vehicles, but opened the streets for people by creating Calm Streets, where people can walk and bike safely with very low traffic. On some streets, the closures had been turned into small parks with benches and plants where neighbors could gather. This kept the street grid open for people on foot and on bike and encouraged local walking and biking trips. It made me think of how we can turn our street closures into assets for creating more people-friendly neighborhoods.
Grace) During my visit, one of the best ideas that I saw was how well connected the bicycle transportation network was throughout the city. I was impressed that Vancouver, B.C. focused on creating a strong network throughout the whole city to help people reach their destinations by bike. The city took it a step further because they analyze how many of their facilities are designed for people of all ages and abilities. The below image captures how well the city is focused on this initiative.
Photo credit – City of Vancouver in British Columbia, Canada
Further, the city’s approach to build protected bicycle lanes also showed the positive benefits to increase the number of women on bikes. From 2010 to 2015, the number of women biking grew to 40% after a protected bike lane was built.
Deidre) What I like most about Vancouver, is how the city makes cyclists and pedestrians a priority. They performed “road diets” throughout the city in order to slow traffic and allow room for protected bike lanes. I love their use of bike traffic signals, which are like the ones we use for cars. These signals work in conjunction with the regular traffic signals and the pedestrian cross walk signals to protect pedestrians and cyclists. It was such a joy to see so many pedestrians and cyclists take advantage of what the city has provided them. Vancouver is a city that truly puts pedestrians and cyclists first, before cars.
Which community and which projects inspired you most?
M) The energy and ambition of Twin Cities Greenways in Minneapolis is amazing. They are a group of advocates and residents working together to create a car-free corridor for biking and walking in north Minneapolis, where there are no abandoned rails to convert to greenways. The project has been resident-driven from the start and right now they are doing demonstrations to test out different concepts. The greenway will not only improve the quality of life for residents, it will also change what we consider possible for street design in the U.S.
The City of Calgary’s year-long demonstration of a network of protected bikeways was very inspiring. The City decided to test out the idea of protected bikeways by creating a basic network of them downtown using paint, bollards, and other temporary changes. The test has been very successful and Calgary will be working on making the protected bikeways permanent. By demonstrating several connected routes at once, Calgary ensured that their protected bikeways would be useful and highly used.
G) The session that inspired me the most during the conference was “Overcoming Barriers to Bicycling in Communities of Color” by Charles Brown and Robert Schneider. One of the most important takeaways for me was that planners and other professions must acknowledge it is okay to not have all the answers, but important to ask the right questions without making assumptions. Also, we should be giving people of color the microphone and paying them for their time to participate rather than asking them to only volunteer.
D) While in Vancouver, I had an opportunity to take a walking tour of Olympic Village, which is where the athletes stayed during the 2010 Winter Olympics. When Olympic Village was designed, it was designed for everyone. There are a mixture of high-end condominiums and affordable housing, which was a requirement when developing the Village.
There were two things that really impressed me with Olympic Village: One was its mixed-use buildings and the other was how accessible it is for people with mobility challenges. A lot of buildings in Olympic Village were designed as mixed-use buildings with stores and other businesses on street level and apartments on higher levels. It is a self-contained community with everything you need within walking distance of where you live, except a school, which they are in the process of planning.
What is your biggest takeaway from the conference?
M) My biggest takeaway was that St. Louis needs robust public engagement in our land use and transportation decisions. When we allow decisions to be made behind closed doors, we can miss out on important considerations and fail to see new, transformative ideas that can improve the places we live and give us more transportation options. When we work together as a community to address problems and test out solutions, it helps build consensus around projects and get people excited for improving their neighborhoods, rather than being leery of any change.
G) The biggest takeaway from the conference for me was that Trailnet is doing great work, but can continue to improve as leaders in our community. In my role at Trailnet, I focus on creating more livable, vibrant, healthy communities. As a planner, and I would like to expand on this perspective by working with city and community stakeholders to build better cross-sector collaborations. In my role, I need to think about ways I can work to continue to build capacity throughout the city, and find better ways for Trailnet to partner with neighborhoods to form a collective vision.
D) My biggest takeaway was that if we are going to make St. Louis a more livable city, we have to have buy-in from everyone; from the elected officials to the residents. We must involve the people who live, work, play, attend schools; the people who make it a community. It has to be a collaboration. When you include the people of the community, it gives them a sense of ownership, a sense of pride in knowing that they are a part of what is going on in their community and in knowing that their voice matters.
Furthermore, we must change our way of thinking when it comes to planning and designing new communities as well as making changes to existing communities. We must make pedestrians and biyclists a priority over cars.
Trailnet welcomes new bicycle and pedestrian planner
The Plan4Health grant has brought excitement and new energy to Trailnet’s planning division by allowing us bring on some new talent. We’re excited to announce Grace Kyung has joined the Trailnet team as our new Bicycle and Pedestrian Planner. She comes to Trailnet from Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, where she earned master’s degrees in public health and urban planning from the University of Illinois.
Grace has a strong passion for active forms of transportation and is an avid bicycle commuter. Aside from being a cost-effective approach to city travel, Grace says she appreciates how riding gives her a lay of the land in St. Louis. She added that riding her bike around the city has given her a helpful lens with which to see various neighborhoods connect with locals. Grace hopes through working on the Plan4Health grant, she can help Trailnet demonstrate effective traffic calming approaches to increase the safety and health of the region’s communities.
For more information about Plan4Health, please contact Grace Kyung at email@example.com or 314-436-1324 x 110.
New Executive Director, Ralph Pfremmer Shares Excitement for 2015
In my first few weeks as executive director at Trailnet, I am becoming even more familiar with the workings of this terrific local advocacy organization. Through a wide range of programs that encourage and support bicycling, walking, and the use of public transit,Trailnet has made an impact on communities throughout the St. Louis region. The spirit and passion I’ve witnessed in the Trailnet staff represents the leadership and expertise needed for comprehensive impact in our region. I am thrilled to be part of such a professional, talented and mission-driven team. With your support, we will expand our healthy, active initiatives and advocacy efforts to create safe streets for everyone and a more livable St. Louis.
I have already had the pleasure of meeting with a few of our partner organizations – Great Rivers Greenway, East-West Gateway, Missouri Bicycle and Pedestrian Federation, MoDOT, St. Louis City, St. Louis County . . . We are fortunate to have these regional partnerships that are so critical in leveraging for a more livable St. Louis. Each organization plays a unique and innovative role in this important work. With focused collaboration, we will develop and advance shared goals that will help the region grow. I look forward to fostering current relationships and building new ones that will effectively bring about positive change within our region.
As we plan for 2015, we will maintain our role as an advocate for you – the pedestrian crossing the street doing daily errands, the bicyclist commuting to work, and the transit user boarding MetroLink for a festival in Forest Park. Trailnet will continue to be your voice for vibrant communities where walking, bicycling, and the use of public transit are a way of life.
Ralph Pfremmer, Executive Director
Ralph Pfremmer is Trailnet’s new Executive Director. After a nation-wide search, Trailnet’s Board of Directors selected Ralph and announced that he would begin his duties in October 2014. Ralph is eager to promote Trailnet’s programs, planning, and advocacy efforts with his skills as an innovator and entrepreneur. As a personal advocate for health and wellness, Ralph considers Trailnet’s mission to be one that is not only compelling, but also life-changing for communities and individuals alike. He believes his gifts of motivation and promotion that he has honed in the business world will advance Trailnet’s mission and visibility in the region.
Ralph embraces the benefits of an active lifestyle. He joined the cycling community after a health scare in 1998 that motivated him to incorporate exercise into his daily routine and begin a healthier way of life. For several years Ralph competed in amateur road, mountain, and cyclocross races across the nation, however now his cycling is mainly for recreation and commuting.
Prior to his position at Trailnet, Ralph was the CEO and founder of Pfoodman Holdings, a multi-unit food service management company serving education, business/retail, and senior living sectors. He used active living and sustainability as a platform for business development, promoting his company’s culture by establishing a unique presence in communities. The company promoted and managed active living events throughout the year, partnering with many causes as part of their unique marketing process.
Ralph begins his position at Trailnet with enthusiasm. He is excited to collaborate and build relationships as a new leader in the non-profit sector. Driven by a personal connection to the mission, he recognizes the possibilities to further the organization’s efforts and to inspire walking, biking, and the use of public transit throughout the St. Louis region.
Trailnet Announces New Executive Director, Ralph Pfremmer
Trailnet is happy to announce that its Board of Directors named Ralph Pfremmer as the organization’s new Executive Director. Pfremmer joins Trailnet with an expertise in business development and a passion for health and wellness.
After considering applicants from across the nation, the Board unanimously selected Ralph Pfremmer. Ralph is inspired by Trailnet’s work over the past 25 years and looks forward to furthering the organization’s mission. A personal advocate for health and wellness, Ralph is an avid cyclist and has experienced the life-changing benefits of an active lifestyle firsthand. His proven skills as an innovator and entrepreneur will help expand our reach and impact within our communities.
Prior to Trailnet, Ralph was CEO and founder of Pfoodman Holdings in St. Louis, Missouri. Using active living and sustainability as a platform to build his company, Ralph supported pertinent events throughout the region. He also collaborated with communities and worked towards maintaining healthy, active values.
Ralph succeeds outgoing CEO Ann Rivers Mack, who joined Trailnet in 2000. Ann guided Trailnetʼs strategic shift from trail building to its current focus on healthy, active, and vibrant communities. She had a vision that Trailnet could play a role in creating bikeable and walkable communities. This vision became the building blocks for many successful Trailnet programs. We will honor Ann at Trailnet’s 2nd Annual Fundraising event, Ped-A-Palooza: The Art of Living on Friday, October 17.
We welcome Ralph Pfremmer as a new leader in the non-profit sector and look forward to working with him to enhance existing programs to increase walking, biking, and the use of public transit in the St. Louis region.
The Alliance for Biking & Walking holds annual Advocacy Awards to recognize excellence in the bicycle and pedestrian movement. 10 leaders in bicycling and walking organization across the country are recognized for their commitment to promoting alternative transportation on the local and state level. Trailnet's Rhonda Smythe is one of these 10 leaders.
Rhonda Smythe, MPH, MS, RD joined Trailnet in May 2011. Her professional background includes experience in policy and programming, with special emphasis on active transportation and Farm to School issues. She serves on the following committees: Missouri Livable Streets Advisory Board, Missouri Council for Activity and Nutrition, Missouri Bike Federation Legislative Committee, Gateway Greening Advisory Board, St. Louis Open Streets Steering Committee, and Mayor Slay’s Vanguard Cabinet. Rhonda manages the Social Innovation for Missouri grant, and bicycle and pedestrian policy and advocacy at the federal, state, and local level.