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 has received an award from the Transportation Research Board for Slow Your Street: A How-To Guide for Pop-up Traffic Calming. Grace Kyung, Trailnet’s Special Projects Director, developed the guide to make it easier for everyone to create their own pop-up traffic calming demonstrations. Trailnet has installed these temporary demonstrations in several St. Louis neighborhoods to show how streets can be designed for those who walk and bike. Several other cities, including Tulsa and Indianapolis, are currently using the Guide to plan traffic calming demonstrations. View the Guide online. Read more about Trailnet’s pop-up traffic calming projects.
How does St. Louis rank in comparison to other metropolitan areas in terms of pedestrian safety? Where is the most dangerous place for pedestrians in the country? Answers to these questions can be found in the most recent Dangerous by Design report, released in January by Smart Growth America.
The report has been produced for several years and identifies metropolitan areas and states that are most dangerous for people walking. The January report uses pedestrian fatality data from 2005-2014 to rank cities and states by
pedestrian deaths per 100,000 in population
a “pedestrian danger index,” calculated as the share of commuters who walk to work and the most recent data on pedestrian deaths.
Of the 104 metro areas ranked in the report, the two largest cities in Missouri, Kansas City and St. Louis, rank 45th and 52nd respectively. Florida has been the most dangerous state for pedestrians for the past four years, and it now has 8 of the top 10 most dangerous cities for pedestrians. In the past decade, over 46,000 people have been killed by motor vehicles while walking. The poor, the elderly, and people of color – those who are less likely to own cars or drive – make up a disproportionate share of the victims.
The report emphasizes that better street design will play a critical role in improving safety for people walking. Arterial roads, such as Manchester or Kingshighway in St. Louis, are particularly dangerous for pedestrians. These roads were designed for fast moving vehicles, often have sections that lack sidewalks, and have limited safe crossing opportunities for people who are walking. Arterial roads consign people traveling on foot to second-class status.
Trailnet has worked tirelessly for passage and implementation of Complete Streets policies in our region. A Complete Street is one that is designed with all users in mind: motorists, pedestrians, bicyclists, transit users, the elderly, and the disabled. Making streets welcoming and safe for all users promotes active lifestyles, and helps to build communities that are vibrant, economically strong, and appealing to residents and employers.
Thanks to generous funding from the Dana Brown Charitable Trust, there are now Pace Cars cruising the neighborhood around Froebel Literacy Academy in Dutchtown. Pace Cars serve as models of safe driving behavior and increase driver awareness of pedestrians, bicyclists, and other vehicles.
Students in Froebel’s Leadership Development Program composed a Pace Car Pledge that includes items such as:
I pledge to stop for people who are crossing the street.
I pledge to not use my phone to talk or text while driving.
I pledge to wear my seatbelt and to make sure that all of my passengers are buckled before driving.
Students also worked to recruit Froebel staff, family, and community members to sign the pledge. Pace Car volunteers receive a magnetic “Neighborhood Pace Car” logo to display on their car.
The program was officially launched on December 8 with a visit from Officer Patrick Clancy of the Metropolitan St. Louis Police Department. Officer Clancy answered questions posed by Froebel students and staff, and suggested ways in which the Police Dept. can help to reinforce the Pace Car Program.
Over twenty drivers have volunteered to sign the Pace Car Pledge and our goal is to increase that number to forty in the next few weeks. Because many Froebel students walk to and from school everyday, our hope is that Pace Cars will help to improve safety for the children and for the community as a whole. If you are a resident of Dutchtown, or frequently drive in the neighborhood, sign the pledge! Contact Ginny McDonald at firstname.lastname@example.org for information.
Louisiana Avenue is a busy residential street that runs along several south city parks and connects to a variety of local businesses and neighborhood schools. It is also a pilot site for the City of St. Louis’ Calm Streets Concept, an initiative funded by the Environmental Protection Agency to create a network of Calm Streets in the city. Calm Streets are residential streets where the use of 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.
The block of Louisiana between Osage and Gasconade Streets was the site of a Calm Streets pop-up demonstration on Thursday, November 17. Staff members from the St. Louis City Street Department and Trailnet staff and volunteers installed temporary crosswalks, a roundabout, and other items designed to slow traffic speeds. The traffic calming features remained in place throughout the day while driving behaviors were observed and feedback was collected from community members.
Many respondents were enthusiastic about the traffic calming measures and how they would contribute to safety for everyone using the street. One resident acknowledged that we “definitely need something to slow traffic.” Two community members were supportive because “there are lots of kids on this street.” One resident stated that “if you have to put a speed hump every six feet, I’m all for it!”
We look forward to continuing our work with the community, with elected officials and with other project partners to realize the vision of a network of calmer safer residential streets. To read more about Trailnet’s Calm Streets Project, click here.
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 email@example.com
For the last five years, Von Smith has served as Froebel Literacy Academy’s Family and Community Specialist, a role that he views as a “privilege and responsibility.” His position involves encouraging parental involvement, improving student attendance and achievement, and developing relationships with community groups and agencies.
Mr. Smith, crossing guard Wendy Campbell, and Trailnet staff member Ginny McDonald celebrate Froebel Walk to School Day, Halloween 2015
Mr. Smith is energetic and inventive in his efforts to develop partnerships between the school, its families, and its community. The most satisfying part of his job, he says, is “reaching out to parents in an effort to ensure students’ academic success.” His efforts to engage parents and families include “steak and egg breakfasts” for men in the community, using the school as a safe site for Halloween trick or treating, and starting a chess club for Froebel students.
Several years ago, Mr. Smith organized a Leadership Development Program for third through fifth grade students. Participants are selected by their classroom teachers and focus on four goals: improving communication skills, learning to collaborate, becoming better decision-makers, and volunteering in their community. Mr. Smith recruits a variety of community organizations to work with his Leadership students, and cites these efforts to make “lasting partnerships with the community” as another part of his job that he especially enjoys.
As one of the partners involved in the Leadership Program, Trailnet has worked with the students to disseminate information about pedestrian safety and to provide ways that students can act as advocates for their community.
Alderman Spencer speaks to Leadership students and Mr. Smith.
Highlights of last year’s program included enlisting Leadership students as volunteers during a traffic calming demonstration in the neighborhood, and a visit by alderman Cara Spencer. Students had the opportunity to ask questions of Ms. Spencer and to relay their concerns about neighborhood safety. One outcome of this exchange has been a commitment from Alderman Spencer to set aside funds for crosswalk improvements around the school.
For Mr. Smith, the chance to meet with an elected official was an exciting opportunity for his young students. “It was more than we could have hoped for…to give these young leaders a chance to speak directly with their alderman,” he said.
Beginning this week, Trailnet will launch a “Pace Car Program” at the school. Students will collaborate in writing a Pace Car pledge and recruit parents and staff members as Pace Car drivers. The Pace Cars will model safe driving behaviors for other motorists in the area, obeying all traffic signs and regulations. Mr. Smith has approached this new program with his typical enthusiasm. “It will be a great way to get parents involved, and maybe even other schools – this will make the whole community safer for everyone.”
Trailnet will also work with MoDOT and Froebel’s physical education staff to offer the first Bike Week at the school this fall. Students will learn about bike safety and get a chance to try out their bike handling skills.
Many of us at Trailnet have had the pleasure of working with Mr. Smith over the years. His interactions with his students are inspiring; he never misses a chance to take an ordinary exchange and turn it into a teachable moment. He is always receptive to novel ideas, and willing to do whatever it takes to provide new opportunities for the students. He displays a deep and genuine concern for his students and their families. One issue that he particularly worries about is the amount of violence in the neighborhood. Our hope is that programs that put more people out on the streets, walking, biking and looking out for each other will make the neighborhood safer for everyone.
On May 18, a diverse group of bicyclists and pedestrians gathered on the steps of the Missouri History Museum for the Ride and Walk of Silence, a commemoration of individuals who have been killed or injured while walking or bicycling on our public roads.
In 2015, there were 21 pedestrians and one cyclist killed in crashes involving motor vehicles in the City of St. Louis. A reported 198 pedestrians and 85 cyclists were injured. In St. Louis County, 10 pedestrians were killed and 215 injured, while 95 cyclists also filed reports of injury.
“Even one death is too many,” said Trailnet Executive Director Ralph Pfremmer. “The rate of traffic violence in St. Louis is unacceptable.”
This year marks the thirteenth anniversary of the first Ride of Silence, which took place in Dallas, Texas. This initial event was organized by Chris Phelan, friend of endurance cyclist Larry Schwartz, who was killed after being struck by the mirror of a passing school bus. The Ride of Silence now takes place on the third Wednesday in May across the U.S. and internationally.
Four years ago, 23-year-old Amber Wood was killed while crossing the street in front of Broadway Oyster Bar near downtown St. Louis. The car that killed her was speeding so fast that she was thrown 80 feet and killed instantly. Wood’s mother, Georgie Busch, was on hand to talk about her personal loss and the importance of safe roads for everyone.
“My daughter Amber was enjoying an evening in downtown St. Louis,” Busch said. “She crossed a street thinking she was safe, but a reckless driver going over 70 mph took her life in an instant, and kept right on going.”
Pfremmer highlighted the work Trailnet does to prevent more crashes like this from happening.
“This is one of the reasons reducing traffic injuries and deaths remains one of Trailnet’s highest priorities,” said Pfremmer. “Crashes are preventable, not inevitable. Trailnet is advocating for traffic safety to be addressed as the public health problem that it is.”
Following the gathering at the History Museum, over 20 cyclists and 19 pedestrians bicycled or walked through city neighborhoods in silence in remembrance of those who have been lost.
St. Louis now has more than 200 miles of bike lanes and trails, and the goal of the Gateway Bike Plan is to nearly double that number in the next two years. The number of bicyclists taking advantage of these facilities has also increased. Between 1990 and 2013, the number of people commuting by bicycle in St. Louis nearly tripled, and the number of people taking to the roads and trails for fun and recreation has increased dramatically.
Although these improvements are a great start, bike lanes can only increase the safety of bicyclists if both motorists and cyclists understand how to negotiate these facilities safely and responsibly. When statistics on pedestrian deaths are considered, this makes the need for responsible driving habits even more urgent. Twenty-one pedestrians were killed in St. Louis City last year, the highest number in thirty years.
Trailnet has collaborated with Froebel Literacy Academy in Dutchtown for several years, delivering programs focused on encouraging active lifestyles, improving safety for students walking to and from school, and presenting opportunities for community advocacy.
Selected by their classroom teachers, Froebel’s Leadership Development students are third through fifth graders that meet once a week to concentrate on communication, collaboration and decision-making abilities. Trailnet’s Walk Ambassadors Program provides these students with an ideal platform to hone these skills in fun and creative ways, while teaching the kids about pedestrian safety.
In this year’s program, students learned about the structure of government, from the U.S. president to city alderman. After discussing some of the improvements that they would like to see in their neighborhood, the leadership students met with their 20th Ward alderman, Cara Spencer. The group had a lively discussion with Ms. Spencer about their concerns and their hopes for ways in which citizens and government officials can work together to make change happen.
Students also practiced map-reading skills by plotting the safest walking route to a friend’s birthday party on a map peppered with hazards ranging from closed sidewalks to distracted drivers. In keeping with Froebel’s emphasis on literacy, the students wrote out directions to their party, including risks that a pedestrian should watch for en route, and safety features such as crosswalks that would make the trip safer and more pleasant.
Having written careful instructions for the safest way to get to their destination, the students embellished their writing by adding other elements that a traveler could encounter along the way. Their walking chronicles expanded to include aliens, UFOs, circus animals, and even surprises found on the sidewalk like discarded dollar bills, brightly wrapped mystery gifts, or bakeries filled with goodies. The students did a masterful job of weaving these new elements into their stories, which they read aloud to their classmates. The listening skills of the audience were tested, as students were asked to list the new features that had been added to the narratives. One of the stories brought the program to a tidy close by including Cara Spencer’s donation of a birthday gift to the party.
Trailnet is grateful to the Saigh and Trio Foundations for funding Walk Ambassadors in Dutchtown and to Alderman Spencer for her generous and genuine interest in her young constituents. Special thanks to Mr. Von Smith, Froebel’s Family and Community Specialist, for his tireless dedication, and to the inspiring students at Froebel, who are mapping out a bright future for themselves through their hard work and enthusiasm.