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Saturday, February 24, 2007

"Common courtesy" needed on I-64 project

Motorists and cyclists alike will have to show "common courtesy" to make it through the problems that Interstate 64/U.S. Highway 40 construction will create in St. Louis County.

That's the gist of the message that Garry Earls, the director of the St. Louis County highway department, gave members of the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee of the East-West Gateway Council of Governments on Wednesday.

It was a message that probably wasn't well-received by members of the cycling advocacy community, mainly because they see the comments as that as empty platitudes. But at this stage of the game, it may be the most realistic answer.

The major highway project will force motorists to use alternative routes, including Clayton Road and Ladue Road, two roads that are popular with St. Louis County cyclists. Earls says 120,000 to 140,000 vehicles use I-64/Highway 40 each day. Earls expects 6,000 cars per hour will be shifted off the highway to other roads, and he said 1,000 of them likely will use Clayton Road.

To accommodate that load, the county plans to add a left-turn lane on Clayton Road on two-lane sections of the road. There would be three 10-foot lanes. Earls said much of the two-lane sections are now 34-feet wide.

Many of the intersections of the four-lane section of the road, east of Lindbergh Boulevard, would be changed from stop signs to traffic signals to improve traffic flow on Clayton Road, he said.

Earls said the county plans to post "Share the Road" sign along the road to encourage cyclists and motorists to get along, but some cycling advocates want more. They want signs that say "Cyclists allowed full use of lane."

In my view, the "Cyclists allowed full use of lane" isn't a great idea. While advocates of John Forrester's "Effective Cycling" would argue that's the case, Missouri bicycle law would suggest that isn't exactly true. Here's what the law says:
Every person operating a bicycle or motorized bicycle at less than the posted speed or slower than the flow of traffic upon a street or highway shall ride as near to the right side of the roadway as safe, exercising due care when passing a standing vehicle or one proceeding in the same direction, except when making a left turn, when avoiding hazardous conditions, when the lane is too narrow to share with another vehicle, or when on a one-way street. Bicyclists may ride abreast when not impeding other vehicles.
Without a strong education program or laws that fully support that point of view, I fear "cyclists allowed full use of lane" would send the wrong message to cyclists and motorists.

By the way, Missouri bicycle law also requires "the operator of a motor vehicle overtaking a bicycle proceeding in the same direction on the roadway, as defined in section 300.010, shall leave a safe distance when passing the bicycle, and shall maintain clearance until safely past the overtaken bicycle." Missouri law does not set a precise distance, such as 3 feet, as other states done and that Illinois lawmakers are considering.

Earls said the Clayton Road pavement will not be widened. Communities that now maintain the road and residents who live on them oppose increasing the right-of-way. The communities, which include Ladue and Frontenac, are home to some of the St. Louis region's richest people.

"I've gotten as many e-mails from lawyers who live along the road as I have from cyclists, and they tell me there's no way you're going to take my property," Earls said.

Earls noted there are 92 governments that have jurisdiction in St. Louis County -- 91 municipalities and county government. (Note: That does not include the city of St. Louis, which is not part of St. Louis County.)

I believe that's a big part of the problem. Parochialism is a big obstacle in getting things done in the St. Louis region, both in Missouri and Illinois. Many time, these governments look after their interests instead of looking at the greater good, which leads to impasses on other big issues, such as the construction of a new Mississippi River bridge or providing sufficient money to improve the region's mass transit system, Metro.

Until this region can actually unite to solve problems, I guess we have to settle with "common courtesy" as a way to deal with hardships.

Update: St. Louis Post-Dispatch traffic columnist Elisa Crouch wrote about the Clayton Road issue Monday, Feb. 26, in her "Along for the Ride" column. She includes some comments from Karen Karabell, a member of the St. Louis Regional Bicycle Federation, about sharing the road.

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Roger 1 comments links to this post 12:06 PM

I"m glad we had the chance to meet and bottom line, cyclists were told to find "alternative routes" in order to be "courteous".

Yes that is how our local officials view solutions, to "get out of the way". Courtesy is a good idea but even better for everyone is the role leadership should serve in holding accountable all road users to "exercise due care" and "avoid hazardous conditions". But don't count on it as priority continues to be allocated to those who road-hog, pollute, and continue to lower our quality of life. Amusingly, local leadership continues to wonder why depopulation is so prevalent here.

Yes this state and its leadership is parachoial and highly divided. However that is no excuse for the public not to hold their leadership accountable for MOronic behavior.

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