TGA bike lanes – an update

This past May a stretch of Tower Grove Avenue bike lanes approaching a difficult intersection was removed. The result has been confusion and decreased safety for cyclist and drivers alike on one of St. Louis’ busiest bike routes. Why did the City remove well-established and appreciated bike infrastructure with no input from the community?  Here’s what we learned.

Left panel. Bike lanes (technically, “bike slots”) on Tower Grove Avenue at Vandeventer Avenue were installed in Summer 2013. Right panel. They were removed in May 2018.

A Brief History

Tower Grove Avenue has long been an important bicycle corridor between the Central West End and Tower Grove Park neighborhoods. It was recognized as a key route at least as far back as 2002, and in 2013 it was prioritized as part of Bike St. Louis Phase 3, a $1.4M effort to expand and upgrade a total of 135 miles of street routes for bicycles. Significant engineering effort was focused on the critical Tower Grove Avenue and Vandeventer intersection, and in August 2013 St. Louis City installed a “bike slot” on southbound Tower Grove Avenue there. This design was very helpful at guiding cyclists across the complex intersection and was overwhelming appreciated by the people who bike there. Recognizing its importance the City repainted it regularly.

Design drawings for Bike St. Louis Phase 3 lane markings on Tower Grove Avenue at Vandeventer. A lot of engineering went into making this intersection as safe as possible for cyclists.

Today, Tower Grove Avenue continues to be identified as a key connection for biking: it is included in Trailnet’s Connect STL plan and a vision for its future was recently featured in Across STL magazine (see p. 10).

Why were the bike lanes removed?

The removal of the bike lanes on Tower Grove Avenue at Vandeventer happened unexpectedly in May 2018. It quickly raised concern among cyclists who use that route and was featured in a story by local TV station KMOV. We talked to cyclists, advocates, engineers, and the St. Louis Traffic Commissioner about what happened and why.

There has been no left turn from southbound Tower Grove Ave at Vandeventer since at least 2013. We’ve learned that when the Streets department acquired new facilities on Central Industrial Drive, they decided to install a left turn lane to better accommodate truck traffic. The intersection is narrow and complex, and apparently does not have enough room for both car and bike lanes. So the bike lane was removed and the car lanes widened to allow for better flow of truck traffic.

Left panels. Lane configuration before (left) and after removal of the “bike slot” on southbound Tower Grove Avenue at Vandeventer Avenue. The left lane changed from straight-only to left-only, while the right lane changed from right-only to straight and right, with a sharrow added for bicycle guidance.  Right panel. Intersection of Tower Grove Ave and Vandeventer, with Central Industrial Drive going east.  Left turn lane on southbound Tower Grove Ave was added to ease truck traffic into Central Industrial.

We spoke to St. Louis Traffic Commissioner Deanna Venker about this change, and she indicated that this was an internal decision within her office. There was no input from Aldermen or consultation with the community when removing the bike lanes. “Making these changes is part of my job description,” she said.

The intersection is now significantly more dangerous and confusing for drivers and cyclists. Whereas cyclists used to have a clearly marked lane to wait out the light without impeding traffic, now one bicycle will block all straight-thru and right-turning cars. Impatient drivers have been seen to illegally use the left lane to bypass waiting cars and turn right, and once in the intersection cars don’t know whether to pass cyclists on the left or right (both happen). There seems to be general confusion by drivers (even bus drivers!) about which lane to use when going straight, a bad situation for cyclists when riding a complicated five-way intersection.

In a nutshell, given conflicting demands between the safety of cyclists and convenience of truck drivers on a key bicycle route, the St. Louis Streets Department sided with the trucks.

Looking ahead

There are a number of ways this situation could be improved for cyclists. At the engineering level, urban design guides spell out ways to accommodate both cyclists and drivers at complicated intersections. Commissioner Venker indicated that she is open to considering innovative solutions such as bike boxes – we certainly hope she does, while engaging the cycling and pedestrian communities in the process.

The issue of bike-friendly street design is bigger than just one intersection or any particular traffic commissioner, however, and needs systemic solutions. In 2015 St. Louis City hired a Bicycle Pedestrian Coordinator whose aim was help make the City more friendly for pedestrians and cyclists. Unfortunately, this position has been unfilled for over a year; as a result, bicycle and pedestrian concerns don’t have enough say when important decisions are made. Hiring a Bike Ped Coordinator would be an important step forward and hopefully prevent situations like this from arising in the future.

At the end of the day the issue of bike lane removal is a political one. St. Louis has seen seen progress as a bicycle-friendly city, including the recent introduction of a bike share program (which Commissioner Venker was instrumental in securing) and the adoption of a Complete Streets Policy (which Mayor Krewson sponsored as an Alderman). The question is not whether St. Louis City can prioritize safe cycling, but whether it wants to. How it proceeds with the Tower Grove Avenue bike lanes will help clarify where the City leadership’s true priorities are.

Posted in Advocacy and Opinion, Tower Grove Ave

Why were Tower Grove Ave bike lanes removed?

The recent removal of bike lanes from Tower Grove Avenue has caused a lot of concern in the cycling community (see previous story). Why did the City abandon bicycle infrastructure on the City’s busiest cycling route?  Read below for the latest.

Intersection photos

Lane configuration before (left) and after removal of the “bike slot” on southbound Tower Grove Avenue at Vandeventer. The left lane changed from straight-only to left-only, while the right lane changed from right-only to straight and right.

Intersection of Tower Grove Ave (north/south) and Vandeventer (NE / SW), with Central Industrial Drive going east.  Left turn lane on southbound Tower Grove Ave was apparently added to allow for more truck traffic into Central Industrial.

What we know

The reason for the bike lane removal is unclear. In a recent KMOV News interview, Commissioner of Traffic Deanna Venker says,

“We needed to make it a little easier to help the progression through that intersection for the trucks using that intersection so we added a dedicated left turn single for these truckers,” said Deanna Venker, the Traffic Commissioner for the city.

Venker said the trucks going to Central Industrial couldn’t turn with the current layout so they had to widen the turn lane and that meant getting rid of the designated bike lane.

We reached out to Commissioner Venker with a request for additional details but have not heard back.

We also heard from Alderman Joe Roddy, who first wrote,

I spoke again with the Traffic Commissioner yesterday afternoon. She explained that $12,000 was expended to create the new turn lane and that happened only after they spent an extensive amount of time studying the intersection and concluded that the risks of car accidents were greater.

Asked for additional details, Alderman Roddy backtracked:

To be clear, I was relaying information from my conversation with Deanna. When I wrote “they spent an extensive amount of time studying the intersection” in the original email, it was my impression that a staff person made an on site visit to watch the movement in the intersection and I presumed reviewed traffic counts etc before deciding to reconfigure the interesection. I didn’t have the impression that a formal report was prepared, but I might be wrong.

Sorry if the “phasing” of my response misled you.

Was there a study?

Did the City perform a study before removing the bike lanes?  We don’t know, and so far they’re not saying.

If a study was performed before the intersection was reconfigured, we would like to see it. As a member of a community negatively impacted by this change, having an understanding of how and why bike lanes were removed is important. We are particularly interested in knowing,

  • Was there a formal study of this intersection prior to the reconfiguration?
  • Was the cycling community consulted?
  • What is the basis for the statement that removing bike lanes will make the intersection safer?  Was bicycle safety considered at all?
  • More broadly, how serious is the City about promoting bicycle infrastructure? Is there a real commitment to improving bicycle safety and connectivity, or just words?

What’s next?

From past experience, getting St. Louis City to live up to its stated obligations about bike infrastructure is no easy task, but its not impossible – check out our past work to see what success looks like.

If you want to help, most important is to make your voice heard.  If you’re on Twitter, share your concerns with the STL City Streets Department (@StlStreets) and Mayor Lyda Krewson (@LydaKrewson), and use the hash tag #SafeTGA.  You can also reach out to Mayor Krewson on Facebook, and write to the Streets Department.  If you live in St. Louis City, reach out to Aldermen Annie Rice and Joe Roddy as well as your own Alderman to let them know your thoughts.

Finally, get in touch with us – we’d love to hear your thoughts!

 

Posted in Advocacy and Opinion, Tower Grove Ave

Bike lanes removed on Tower Grove Avenue

The bike lanes on southbound Tower Grove Avenue at Vandeventer have recently been removed.

Bike lanes on Tower Grove Avenue at Vandeventer were installed in Summer 2013. They were removed in May 2018.

This short stretch of bike lanes was installed in August 2013 and was repainted several times since.  It is broadly appreciated by cyclists for helping guide them through this complex intersection, which is on one of the busiest bike routes in St. Louis.

In May 2018 the St. Louis Streets removed these lanes. We protested this change, and KMOV News did a story about the situation.

Alderman Joe Roddy represents the district where the lanes removal occurred.  He writes:

I spoke again with the Traffic Commissioner yesterday afternoon.  She explained that $12,000 was expended to create the new turn lane and that happened only after they spent an extensive amount of time studying the intersection and concluded that the risks of car accidents were greater.

We have reached out to Alderman Roddy and Commissioner of Traffic Deanna Venker to request a copy of this study, and we’ll update this post when we learn more.

Update: See our latest post for an update.

Posted in Advocacy and Opinion, Tower Grove Ave, Uncategorized

I Crashed on Tower Grove Avenue

I crashed my bike Friday evening (4/29/16) on Tower Grove Avenue – a rock and pothole in the bike lane launched me over my handlebars, landed me in the ER, and caused hundreds of dollars in damage to my bike and a parked car. I am OK – bruises and abrasions are the worst of it, and I’ll recover fully – but it could have been much worse.

The road surface on some of the bike lanes on Tower Grove Avenue is badly deteriorated and full of potholes and rocks; Center Cross Drive in Tower Grove Park is a nightmare best avoided. While potholes aren’t unique to bike lanes, they pose a particular hazard to cyclists. The City’s commitment to improved bike infrastructure cannot stop at painting lines – ongoing maintenance is critical to make cycling safe and attractive in St. Louis.

 

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Rocks and potholes in the bike lanes on Tower Grove Avenue.  Debris in the roadway here led to a painful and expensive crash.

Posted in Advocacy and Opinion, Infrastructure Review, Tower Grove Ave

SafeTGA Ride: Music Concert in North St. Louis

For the second year we’re hosting a ride to a free concert in North St. Louis – come join us!

Thursday July 16 we’ll be riding from South City to North St. Louis for the Whitaker Urban Evening Series — a free summer concert series in St. Louis Place Park.  The aim is to check out bike routes throughout St. Louis as well as to enjoy a free concert in a less visited part of town.

The Whitaker Urban Evening Series are free concerts in St. Louis Place Park in North St. Louis.

The Whitaker Urban Evening Series hosts free concerts in St. Louis Place Park in North St. Louis.

Read more ›

Posted in Advocacy and Opinion, Infrastructure Review

Traffic problems at Tower Grove Avenue and Magnolia

Update 7/1/15: Shortly after we posted this the City installed bollards on Tower Grove Ave at Magnolia.

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Plastic bollards have been installed on Tower Grove Ave at Magnolia to discourage cars from driving on the bike lanes.

Read more ›

Posted in Infrastructure Review, Tower Grove Ave

Save Tower Grove Avenue: We did it!

We did it!  Buffered bike lanes were painted on Tower Grove Avenue last week!  Cyclists on St. Louis’ busiest bike route will now have dedicated lanes when Kingshighway closes in a few weeks.

Update: The new Tower Grove Ave bike lanes are prominently mentioned in this St. Louis Post Dispatch article about the Kingshighway closure, which is now scheduled to begin July 6.

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Buffered bike lanes have been painted on Tower Grove Avenue between Vandeventer and Magnolia.  A view of the Shaw intersection looking south along Tower Grove Ave.

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The striping is not complete.  We will pay close attention to the progress and write more about the details soon.

We’ll detail the lanes in a later post, but for now we’ll savor the moment, thank our friends, recall how we got here, and share thoughts about what’s next.

We’d like to sincerely acknowledge, first, the role played by Mayor Slay’s office, Alderman Conway, and the Streets Department in making this happen.  Bringing them on board did not always feel easy, but once committed they moved quickly and expertly to install the lanes.  They did so because hundreds of you signed our petition and told them, in various ways, why making Tower Grove Avenue safe for cyclists is so important.  Thank you all.  We are also grateful to Great Rivers Greenway and Trailnet for their advocacy and support, and to the passionate and talented people who work there.  Special thanks to Rhonda Smythe for her wisdom and vision, and most of all to Dana Gray, without whose inspiration, aid, and guidance this would not have happened.

We started SafeTGA two years ago to advocate for cyclist safety on Tower Grove Avenue because we rely on it ourselves, and we know many others do too.  We wrote about the threats posed by the upcoming Kingshighway project early on, and raised the alarm when the City postponed Phase III bike lanes to accommodate more traffic during the closure.  We organized a meeting for local cyclists to find a consensus on what we want Tower Grove Ave to look like, and presented the Mayor a petition asking that buffered bike lanes be installed before Kingshighway closes.  The result was astounding – over 650 people signed the petition, hundreds wrote about why this was important, and a local TV station did a news story about this issue.  Yet the future of Tower Grove Ave involves the neighborhood as a whole, and we presented at both the Southwest Garden as well as the Shaw neighborhood meetings to share our concerns and gather feedback from the broader community.  Once the neighborhood organizations were on board things moved quickly, and within a week crews were painting lines on Tower Grove Avenue.

Going forward, SafeTGA will continue to advocate for cyclists and pedestrians along the Tower Grove Avenue corridor, from the Tower Grove neighborhoods to the Cortex District.  We’ll also organize group rides around St. Louis to check out bike infrastructure and offer feedback.  If this sounds like something you’d like to hear more about, stay in touch: write us at info@safetga.org, like our SafeTGA page on Facebook, and search for our #SafeTGA tag on Twitter.

Posted in Advocacy and Opinion, Tower Grove Ave

SafeTGA: A Big Win

A big win for bike lanes on Tower Grove Avenue!

Earlier this week residents of the Shaw neighborhood voted overwhelmingly to support buffered bike lanes on Tower Grove Avenue before Kingshighway closes. Alderman Conway then pledged to support the neighborhood’s position – his statement is below.

Weather permitting, buffered bike lanes will be installed on Tower Grove Avenue within two weeks. We’ll keep you updated as that happens. Read more ›

Posted in Advocacy and Opinion, Tower Grove Ave

Statement from Alderman Conway: Bike Lanes on Tower Grove Ave

Below is a letter posted 2/28/16 on Nextdoor by Alderman Conway. Read more ›

Posted in Advocacy and Opinion, Tower Grove Ave

Bike Lanes on Tower Grove Avenue: The Home Stretch

Update 2/28/15: Read Alderman Conway’s statement about bike lanes on Tower Grove Ave.

The last month has seen significant progress regarding bike lanes on Tower Grove Avenue: a key Alderman has shifted his position on the issue, and an upcoming neighborhood meeting will be decisive. Yet time is running short, and we need your support to win. Read more ›

Posted in Advocacy and Opinion, Tower Grove Ave