Last week we wrote about cycling hazards on Tower Grove Avenue when Kingshighway closes for a year and a half. We are pleased to have heard back from Emma Klues, Communications Director for Great Rivers Greenway. Emma wrote the following on behalf of Bike St. Louis partners Great Rivers Greenway and the City of St. Louis:
A road diet and buffered bike lanes on Tower Grove Avenue from Magnolia to Shaw are part of Phase III of Bike St. Louis and all partners are committed to executing that plan, available at http://bit.ly/BikeSTLPhaseIII. When the Kingshighway bridge construction begins in early 2015, a couple things will happen:
1) There will be a temporary bikeable route between Magnolia and Shaw on Tower Grove Ave;
2) Traffic levels will be monitored to see how patterns are emerging to ensure that there are appropriate alternatives for all modes of transportation;
3) Alternate routes for cyclists will include creating a biking and walking-friendly renovation of the Thurman Underpass.
We will install the full Phase III Bike St. Louis improvements along Tower Grove Ave as quickly as possible after monitoring how the closure is affecting all forms of traffic. We look forward to implementing this project and many more to make City of St. Louis streets better for bicycles!
In short, the current plan is that no new bicycle facilities will be placed on Tower Grove Avenue before the start of construction, and after that the City will conduct traffic studies. The Thurman Underpass will create a partial detour for cyclists, allowing them to ride on a residential street 1/3 mile west of Tower Grove Avenue.
The City’s approach seems to be to let cyclists fend for themselves during the Kingshighway construction, and the response leaves many critical details unanswered. In thinking about cyclist safety along that route, a number of concerns come to mind. Specifically, we’d like to know:
- What will be the street configuration on Tower Grove Avenue between Magnolia and Shaw? How many car lanes? Will there be on-street parking? What bike infrastructure will be present? Will there be new lane striping?
- Is the City committed to maintaining the existing dedicated bike lane between Shaw and Vandeventer? (This is important, because in our conversations, Alderman Conway indicated that he expects that bike lane will serve as a de facto driving lane.)
- What are the designated detours around the Kingshighway closure? Are parts of Tower Grove Avenue on that list?
The commitment to open up the Thurman underpass beneath I-44 is a welcome, if expected, step forward. That closure has been a key obstacle to a north/south corridor which has the potential to offer a quiet, low-stress alternative route for a significant stretch of Tower Grove Avenue. The Thurman corridor, if implemented well, will complement the connectivity of Tower Grove Avenue and provide a useful alternative for some riders. It will not replace Tower Grove Avenue as a key bike route, however, because it must re-connect with Tower Grove Avenue at its northern end, and the detour may be too far out of the way for some riders. Other obstacles remain. The cobblestone “rumble strips” at stop signs on Thurman are uncomfortable and potentially dangerous to cyclists. Connectivity to the south through Tower Grove Park is remarkably poor: for instance, riding from Roger to Thurman through the park – a direct north/south connection – requires cyclists to share narrow paths with pedestrians and to dismount to cross curbs several times. Simply opening up the Thurman underpass with no consideration of broader connectivity will do little to make it a viable alternative to Tower Grove Avenue.
Overall, the plans outlined in the City’s reply are consistent with our impression that the primary goal behind the delay of Phase III implementation is to maximize the flow of traffic along Tower Grove Avenue when Kingshighway is closed. No commitments are being made to bicycle infrastructure along Tower Grove Avenue during the closure, and the buffered bike lanes which were to be implemented this fall are on hold.
We appreciate there are no easy solutions here, and that there are conflicting demands for limited road space. But priorities drive decisions which have consequences: more car lanes will attract more cars, and without bike infrastructure more traffic and higher speeds will make cycling more dangerous and less appealing. Adding bike lanes, on the other hand, will make the route more attractive and increase the number of cyclists. Hard choices provide moments of clarity. Installing buffered bike lanes on Tower Grove Avenue before Kingshighway closes will be an excellent opportunity for the City to demonstrate vision, leadership, and commitment to cyclist safety.
Update See here for a response from the City.