Ron Effland has worked for the Missouri Department of Transportation for over 25 years. In that time, his job roles have evolved and he has helped to spur an important evolution in the way the department thinks about transportation.
Trained as a civil engineer, Ron initially ran a district engineering department. After passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, his focus shifted to designing intersections that would allow for safe crossing by individuals with disabilities. For the last five years, Ron has served as the state’s “Non-Motorized Transportation Engineer,” or as Ron refers to himself, the “state bike-ped coordinator.” These state positions, created by the Federal Department of Transportation, are intended to serve as internal advocates for the needs of pedestrians and bicyclists.
Ron’s job involves writing statewide policies and procedures related to bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, but more importantly, efforts to change the culture of transportation from one that has traditionally been exclusively about cars. Ron acknowledges that state transportation departments are not always enthusiastic about including bicyclists and pedestrians as a part of their responsibility.
“Somewhere along the way, transportation departments forgot to include people,” Ron said. “Our job is to give people options for how to get from place to place. If we are working on improvements to a downtown intersection, we have to realize that people might be in a car, but they could also be on foot, on a bike, in a wheelchair, or using public transit. We have to think about how the bus stop interacts with the crosswalk that interacts with the traffic signals. The challenge is to keep our eye on the big picture.”
One of the challenges Ron has faced is that transportation engineers often have a difficult time seeing important clues in that big picture.
“If you have a lot of traffic backups and delays and crashes, engineers understand that,” Ron said. “If you have a road with no sidewalk and there is a worn path in the grass next to the road, that means that there are pedestrians who have no safe place to walk and we should put a sidewalk there.”
Although Ron spends much of his time in offices in Springfield and Jefferson City, he also does a lot of outreach, some of his most creative and enjoyable work. To help his engineers understand the challenges of navigating with a disability, Ron procured a collection of wheelchairs and white canes.
“I take engineers out in the field and have them cross streets in a wheelchair or use a cane to feel their way along,” Ron said. “It really changes their perspective on what it is like to try and get around while dealing with a disability.”
To further his efforts on behalf of bicyclists, Ron applied for a grant several years ago to create his “Walk ‘n Roll” trailer. The twenty-four-foot trailer is filled with bikes of various sizes, parts, tools, helmets, cones and yield and stop signs. He uses the trailer in much the same way that he uses the wheelchairs.
“I put traffic engineers on bikes and show them what it’s like to negotiate roads and intersections on a bicycle,” Ron Said.
Ron recalls his personal experiences with bicycles while growing up: “I’ve been riding a bike forever. In the small town where I grew up that is how kids got around.” To share that experience with other children, Ron frequently takes his trailer on the road to provide biking opportunities and bike education for kids around the state.
For the last few years, Trailnet has worked with a number of St. Louis County elementary schools to put on Bike Weeks. These events provide opportunities for children to learn about bike handling skills, rules of the road, and proper fitting of bike helmets. Ron has been a valuable partner, contributing helmets, loaner bikes, and his skills as an educator.
“There is just nothing like seeing a kid’s face light up when you put them on a bicycle…and the great pride that they feel if they can get rid of their training wheels,” Ron said.
In October, Trailnet sponsored the first ever Bike Week at Froebel Literacy Academy in Dutchtown. With Ron’s help and his fleet of bicycles, over two hundred students received bike helmets and got a chance to practice biking through an obstacle course or to do some free riding around the playground.
Froebel’s Family and Community Specialist Von Smith said, “It was a great experience for our students to be able to ride ‘with the wind’ and receive a cool helmet for participating!” Many of the students asked if Trailnet would be coming back again the following week.
“At each turn there are three signs – a warning sign, a sign at the turn, and a confirmation after the turn,” Ron explained. “Every 10 miles you’ll also see a sign along the route. So as you go across the state, you don’t even need a map, although Bike Route 76 is printed on the back of our MoDOT maps now.”
We at Trailnet are grateful to have a strong voice at the state level looking out for the needs of pedestrians and bicyclists. For his part, Ron realizes the important role that groups like Trailnet play: “I’ve developed partnerships with all of the local advocacy organizations. My hope is that we can all work together to decide on what goals are most important and join forces to accomplish those goals.” Ron welcomes your input. If you have ideas, questions, suggestions or concerns that you would like to share, e-mail Ron at firstname.lastname@example.org
Traffic calming: a lighter, quicker, cheaper way to policy change
St. Louis’ most recent effort toward creating safer streets consisted of brightly painted tires, colorful cones, plants, and signs. The Healthy Eating Active Living (HEAL) Partnership in the City of St. Louis is using pop-up traffic-calming demonstrations to raise awareness on how to create safer streets. The materials from the demonstrations will be used to develop a traffic-calming lending library.
Please watch this exciting recap that highlights the positive effect the Plan4Health grant has brought to the community.
This new opportunity for the City comes from a Plan4Health grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in partnership with the American Planning Association (APA) and American Public Health Association (APHA). The objective of the grant is to bring together those who work within planning and public health to improve their communities and make them become more loveable.
The City of St. Louis is like many other cities—built for cars to have the largest advantage in transportation. In the U.S., 12 percent of fatal traffic crashes involve people walking, In St. Louis, however, that figure is 36 percent. In the first six months of 2015, 15 pedestrians were killed in the City of St. Louis, many in hit-and-run incidents. These sobering statistics earned St. Louis a designation as a Focus City by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, joining 21 other U.S. cities in which pedestrian deaths are higher than the national average.
Data has shown that wider roads lead to a faster rate of travel for people driving. The graphic below illustrates how higher rates of speed lead to higher rates of traffic fatalities.
Many streets in the City of St. Louis were built to accommodate streetcars and high levels of traffic, so some residential streets are as wide as 65 feet. The traffic calming pop-ups have been a great way for the City and residents to start exploring what to do with the extra space.
Trailnet, a local bicycle and pedestrian advocacy organization and partner within the HEAL Partnership, has been working to address this problem by implementing several pop-up traffic-calming demonstrations throughout the City of St. Louis. The purpose of the events has been to educate community members, elected officials, and city staff on how we can work together to create safer streets. The pop-up traffic-calming demonstrations are less-than-ten-hour events meant to measure the impact street designs have on people driving as well as listen to the community’s suggestions for safer streets.
The Plan4Health grant also offers a unique opportunity for the HEAL Partnership to develop a traffic-calming lending library so community members who are interested in demonstrating their own pop-up traffic-calming events have the resources and tools to use for free. The lending library will come with a toolkit that will list all available materials with instructions anyone can use on how to create their own pop-up traffic-calming demonstrations.
These lighter, quicker, cheaper tactics have already shown to be a catalyst for change within the City of St. Louis. The demonstrations have aided in creating new traffic-calming policies and the City of St. Louis has begun to use the traffic-calming lending library for community outreach.
These demonstrations are helping the City of St. Louis to create equitable places people love by bringing together planning and public health.
To learn more about the St. Louis Plan4Health project, click here.
Trailnet moves Calm Streets project forward with study tour
One of the best ways to advocate for better infrastructure is to allow decision-makers to experience best-practice designs first hand. We do live in the Show-Me state after all. Knowing this to be the case, Trailnet took City of St. Louis staff, elected officials, and partners to Portland, Oregon August 17 to 20. The study tour was part of Trailnet’s Calm Streets project—a project with the purpose of promoting the creation of a Calm Street network in the City of St. Louis. Calm streets are residential streetstransformed to reduce speeding and provide safety for everyone traveling there. On calm streets, traffic calming measures are used to reduce the volume and speed of motorized vehicles; increase space for landscaping and managing stormwater; and increase comfort for those walking and biking.
From left to right: Alderman Shane Cohn, Community Liaison Wendy Campbell, City of St. Louis Traffic Commissioner Deanna Venker, community partner Matthew Green of Park Central Development, and Alderman Scott Ogilvie get ready for the trip’s first bike tour of Calm Streets.
For two days, Trailnet’s Director of Strategic Initiatives, Jennifer Allen, led tour participants to meet with City of Portland staff and local organizations to learn about how Portland created successful Calm Streets and other low-stress infrastructure. They biked Calm Streets and protected bike lanes. They learned about the profound impacts rain gardens can have in managing stormwater as part of Calm Street design. They learned new best-practices and discovered new strategies for making a Calm Street network a reality in the City of St. Louis.
From left to right: Community Liaison Ramona Scott, Community Liaison Wendy Campbell, City of Portland Capital Program Manager Dan Layden, community partner Matthew Green of Park Central Development, and community partner Josh Goldman of Urban Strategies.
The tour was profoundly successful. It significantly strengthened the partnerships of those involved and everyone walked away with important realizations and strategies critical to the project’s success. Perhaps most importantly, the group came to understand that creating Calm Streets is really a low-hanging- fruit project that will meet many of the City’s goals, such as building more complete streets and reducing pedestrian injuries and fatalities.
Project partners do a mini-charette with City of Portland staff and the Bicycle Transportation Alliance. City of St. Louis Director of Operations Todd Waelterman, Alderman Shane Cohn, and Board of Public Service Planning and Program Manger John Kohler pictured left to right in back.
One of the tour’s greatest impacts was strengthening relationships with City of Portland staff and providing tools to the City of St. Louis. After the tour, City of St. Louis Traffic Commissioner Deanna Venker, requested Portland’s design specs for traffic-calming design elements used on Portland’s Calm Streets. She, other Streets Department staff, and Aldermen are now working to create a traffic-calming policy for the City of St. Louis to describe permissible traffic-calming designs in the city. This policy is an important step along the way to seeing Calm Streets built with high-quality design.
Aldermen Cara Spencer and Scott Ogilvie check out a world-class protected bike lane
The current phase of The Calm Streets Project includes selecting pilot Calm Streets routes and devising strategies for creating a full network in the future. The Calm Streets Project is funded, in part, by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Safety is the priority for alternative transit in St. Louis
Trailnet, Missouri Department of Transportation, and Bi-State Development Agency advocate “Safe Roads for All” during National Bike to Work Day
Trailnet celebrated the St. Louis region’s 10th annual Bike to Work Day Friday, May 15. Sponsored by Great Rivers Greenway, Missouri American Water, and Saint Louis Bread Co., the event drew more than 560 cyclists dedicated to making biking a way of life in St. Louis. Sponsors, volunteers, and Trailnet staff hosted refueling stations throughout the area, offering coffee and bagels to all bike commuters. Bike to Work Day helps to build a sense of community, promotes environmentally-friendly modes of travel, and inspires people to maintain healthy, active lifestyles.
Ralph Pfremmer, Trailnet’s executive director, stressed the importance of installing bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure to improve the health of local communities as well as the environment. “For the future, it’s critical that the expansion of well-designed bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure continue,” Pfremmer said. “By increasing safe and pleasant opportunities for walking and biking, we will build the confidence of our users and improve public health and the environment. These assets of our community will most certainly attract and retain talented young people and entrepreneurs, adding to the vitality and economic prosperity of our region.
Would you like to feel more comfortable riding your bicycle on city streets? Do you want to reduce your carbon footprint by commuting by bike? Trailnet can help build your confidence by teaching you practical skills that make biking easier.
We will offer monthly Bike Smart classes the 4th Tuesday of each month from April through September. The classes will take place in Ritz Park on South Grand from 6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
The cost for each class is $10 and scholarships are available. For information, contact Cassie at email@example.com or call at 314.436.1324 ext. 117
The sun was shining and spirits were high as parents got to see their kids ride their bikes safely and confidently. The Bike Walk Kirkwood Neighborhood Tour, made possible by Great Rivers Greenway, was an opportunity for the students of Keysor Elementary to show off their new skills, having just finished their annual Bike Week festivities.
Trailnet has participated in Bike Week for three years, helping to teach bike safety to students from kindergarten through fifth grade. Our own Ginny McDonald and Rachel Sleeman spent the week with the kids, covering everything from helmet fit, to measuring tire pressure, to rules of the road. Ron Effland, from Missouri’s Dept. of Transportation, brought his “Walk and Roll” trailer filled with extra bikes, helmets, tools, and traffic signs. Kirkwood Police Bicycle Officers Ann, T.J., and Joe also worked with the kids, helping them to master bike handling skills. The entire week’s events were coordinated by Robin Ehrlich, Keysor’s Physical Education teacher, assisted by fellow teacher Drew Widamen.
The kids’ enthusiasm about Bike Week was shown by their smiles, laughter, and comments overheard during the week. One second grader declared one day midweek “the BEST day of my life!” Another student, hearing the whistle that ended his bike riding, wished that he “could do this all day.” Kids were obviously proud of their accomplishments, one overheard saying that she had “just passed an adult” on her bike. They were also encouraging to those who, for the first time that week, rode without training wheels. Thanks to the efforts of Ron and the bike officers, over a dozen kids shed their training wheels during Bike Week. This milestone was greeted with high fives and cheers from their classmates.
It was apparent during the Bike Walk Kirkwood Neighborhood Tour that the kids took away a lot from the Bike Week curriculum; they handled the ride like pros, and made their parents proud. Many thanks to Keysor Elementary for inviting Trailnet to participate in Bike Week and for helping to make bicycling such a visible part of the Kirkwood community.
We also discussed Trailnet’s Bike Walk Master Plan for Kirkwood, currently in the works. The plan was available for parents to peruse, as well as a sign-up sheet to join the mailing list for updates. If you are a Kirkwood resident and are interested in learning more about the Plan, contact Marielle Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org