Complete Streets

Much has been written in the last few months about the Complete Streets legislation being considered by the St. Louis County Council, whose aim is to encourage the County’s Transportation Department to include more pedestrian and bicycle-friendly elements in road construction. See the bill and read stories by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, St. Louis Beacon, Trailnet, and the Missouri Bicycle Federation. Read also a Post-Dispatch editorial opposing Complete Streets as well as a rebuttal by Alderman Scott Ogilvie.

A recent Post-Dispatch story features Karen Karabell, a St. Louis bicycle activist who argues against Complete Streets. (We’ve written about discussions with Ms. Karabell here and here.) The enthusiasm of Karen Karabell’s opposition to Complete Streets today makes her full-throated support of past Complete Streets legislation quite surprising.

In 2009, Karen Karabell worked hard to promote the federal Complete Streets bill and flew to Washington DC to lobby for it in person. She encouraged readers of a local cycling mailing list to write their elected officials with the following talking points (see complete email):

  • Complete streets policies ensure that the needs of all users of the transportation system–motorists, transit vehicles and riders, bicyclists, and pedestrians of all ages and abilities– are taken into account when streets are built or re-built. Over 90 states and communities already have complete streets policies, which are flexible and cost-effective.
  • Complete streets improve safety, especially for children and older Americans. And if we are serious about ending our dependence on foreign oil, combating climate change, stemming obesity, and revitalizing communities, we need to build roads designed for all users, not just cars.
  • Complete Streets don’t cost more to build; in fact, they generate revenue by increasing property values and promoting economic development. They save money by reducing transportation and healthcare costs.

Why has Karen Karabell changed her position on Complete Streets so radically? We don’t know. Everyone is entitled to their opinions, of course, as well as a right to change them. Still, those who assert for themselves public leadership acquire also a responsibility – at a minimum – for the appearance of thoughtfulness and consistency. Advocating opposite solutions to the same issue with equal zeal and enthusiasm, without acknowledgement or explanation of the contradictions, is a troublesome trait for an activist.

Posted in Advocacy and Opinion
2 comments on “Complete Streets
  1. Martin Pion says:

    You refer to Karen Karabell and “her full-throated support” of Complete Streets back in 2009 and ask “Why has Karen Karabell changed her position on Complete Streets so radically?”

    Well, in the interim Karen’s had an epiphany, just as I did many years before. And mine was further confirmed after I became a certified League of American Bicyclists Cycling Instructor, or LCI.

    Karen told me she started to reevaluate her views of safe bicycling practices when I led her home some years ago, demonstrating the safety and convenience of lane control. She subsequently also became an LCI but then learned of CyclingSavvy (at, based in Orlando, FL, founded by two other LCI’s dissatisfied with LAB’s program.

    Karen went on to become a certified CyclingSavvy Instructor, founding CyclingSavvy St. Louis to promote it. (On-line at

    The CyclingSavvy program is rapidly replacing LAB’s bike safety course as the foremost adult on-road bike safety program in the U.S.

    To understand better the problems bike lanes cause I’ve posted extensively on the blog I maintain at Here are some useful links:

    Anatomy of cyclist Susan Herzberg’s car-bike crash & other problems with MoDOT’s Route 100-Manchester Ave. restriping at

    Do bike lanes improve safety? at


  2. Karen Karabell says:

    Hi Matt,
    I thought you knew me well enough to know that there is nothing I want more than safe and joyous passage for all who use our public roadways. Looking back on my Bike Summit days, I now feel like I was a shill for infrastructure “improvements” that I never would have supported, all in the name of “Complete Streets.” I would never endorse on-road infrastructure that actually makes on-road riding conditions worse for cyclists. I’m frankly surprised that you continue to do so.

    Thank you for the publicity, though. The remaking of our public roadways is a very serious matter, and deserves wide discussion.

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