Below is testimony we presented to the St. Louis County Council in support of the Complete Streets legislation. You can read more about Complete Streets in our previous post, a comprehensive MoBikeFed story, and the bill itself.
Testimony presented to St. Louis County Council 1/14/14
My name is Matthew Wyczalkowski and I would like to thank you for the opportunity to speak in support of the Complete Streets legislation. I am a resident of St. Louis City, and have been for over a decade. After finishing my PhD in Biomedical Engineering at Washington University, I had the opportunity to move to a variety of cities, and an important consideration was the quality of life. I am an experienced cyclist – I rode as a kid, raced in college, and commute by bike every day – and having the option to ride to work was a definite consideration when I chose to remain in St. Louis. (I now work as a scientist at the Washington University School of Medicine.) Cycling gives me exercise, clears my mind, saves money, and connects me with the community. I have many friends and co-workers who feel this way too.
About a year ago, poorly planned construction along my daily route created serious hazards for cyclists. That road – Tower Grove Avenue – is the busiest bicycle corridor in St. Louis. Sparked by frustration and a fear for my personal safety, I started the SafeTGA blog (which stands for Safe Tower Grove Avenue) to advocate for safer bicycle infrastructure and to encourage a dialog with other cyclists. I have learned a lot about the state of cycling in St. Louis since, and I welcome you to visit the blog for more details.
One thing I learned is that the overwhelming majority of cyclists I spoke to — and I’ve talked to many of them — believe just like me that bike lanes and other infrastructure make cycling safer and encourage more people to ride. My next door neighbor, for instance, started riding his bike to work only when bike lanes were installed on a stretch of Tower Grove Ave — he told me he he had never considered riding to work before those lanes gave him a place on the road.
I also learned that there is a small but loud community of cyclists who oppose most if not all bike infrastructure. I am a fair minded person, and to learn more about their perspective I attended the Cycling Savvy course taught by Karen Karabell, who I understand has testified here in the past. I found that the course is useful for novice riders and teaches basic urban cycling tactics. The course does not, however, provide any sort of guidance or vision for how to build roads which are safe for cyclists, any more than knowing how to drive makes you a civil engineer.
I do have degrees in engineering, and have tried to put them to use by riding on, photographing, and writing about new bicycle infrastructure being installed in St. Louis. Designing good infrastructure is hard, and my aim is to provide feedback to help make it better. I recognize some mistakes will be made now and again, but that is no reason to stop trying to make our roads safer for cyclists. The return on investment is simply too great.
People have a real desire for alternatives to the car – to walk, ride their bike, to take public transit. I feel that way, and I know I’m not alone. All too often, though, we live in a built environment which makes anything but driving inconvenient, uncomfortable, or unsafe. Complete Streets recognizes that roads are not just for cars, and driving is not the only way to get around. It offers the prospect of real choices in how we travel and live. Complete Streets may not be perfect, but it is a step in the right direction. I urge you to support it.