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Saturday, October 27, 2007

St. Louis-area bicycle projects

Two St. Louis-area bicycle project made the news this week.

First, the dedication of the rebuilt McKinley Bridge is slated for Nov. 17, the Belleville News-Democrat reported today. The 92-year-old bridge -- which links the city of St. Louis with Venice, Ill. -- was originally built for railroad traffic, and two lanes were automobiles were built on the outside of the original bridge in the 1930s. Railroad traffic stopped on the bridge in the 1980s, and the bridge was closed in 2001 because of unsafe conditions.

When the bridge reopens, the two inner lanes of the bridge will be used for automobile traffic, the 12-foot south outer lane will be used for a bicycle-pedestrian path, and the 12-foot north outer lane will be used for maintenance purposes.

In a related project, the Great Rivers Greenway District wants to turn a mile-long former Illinois Traction System trestle into a bicycle-pedestrian trail that would connect city streets near Cass and North Florissant avenues in St. Louis by an overhead ride to the Riverfront Bike Trail, near the McKinley Bridge. The Greenway District didn't have a price tag for the project but would like to begin construction within five years, the Post-Dispatch reported.

The Illinois Traction System, later known as the Illinois Terminal Railroad, once carried rail passengers from St. Louis into Illinois cites such as Granite City, Edwardsville, Alton, Grafton, Springfield, Peoria, Decatur, Champaign-Urbana and Danville. The McKinley Bridge was part of that system.

Much of the current Madison County Transit trail system is on former ITS rights of way, as is some of the Vadalabene Great River Road Bikeway between Alton and Grafton.

In Macoupin County, Ill., a short trail linking the communities of Benld and Gillespie is on a former ITS right of way, and the ITS Trail Committee is trying to obtain the right of way for a trail to link Staunton and Benld. The seven-mile Interurban Trail between Springfield and Chatham also is on a former ITS right of way.

The long-term goal is to develop a system of trails that will link St. Louis and Springfield.

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Roger 2 comments links to this post 11:29 AM

Roger, I ride these areas frequently. Another path for cyclists may be beneficial but at what costs? In addition, the path leads to Venice Il which is known for weak law enforcement and high crime. Do you ride in this area often and what are your experiences?
Just to the north and south of McKinley, are two other bridges I use to cross the river. All around the St Louis area, the needs of cyclists remain unaddressed and the excuse is often "lack of funds". However, expensive and less important routes are diverting attention and money which are greatly needed for cycling infratructure. Our commuter routes need to be made safer and more user friendly but in the St Louis area, commonly used routes are being made more dangerous.
I look forward to riding my bike to Springfield and I know I already have two bridges (one that does not permit autos) to use to acceess this route.
Why do you think our scarce resources are being spent this way?

In the case of Madison County, Ill., the county has a lot of old railroad rights of way, and the Madison County Transit District has been aggressive in obtaining them for bicycle paths and/or potential rights of way for MetroLink if it's ever extended to that county.

My understanding is that MCT plans to link two trails to the McKinley Bridge: the Confluence Trail, which now ends in Granite City, and the Schoolhouse, which now ends in Madison.

I don't ride in Venice, and my experiences riding in Granite City, Madison and Pontoon Beach are limited to the trails or connecting roads. If the trail extensions go where I think they'll go, they should be fairly far away from the worst parts of Venice.

As for why certain projects get done, while others do not, I think it's a matter of priorities. On the Illinois side of the river, Madison and St. Clair counties each have a transit district. St. Clair County chooses a more conventional route, contracting with Metro for bus and MetroLink service and putting almost no money into bike trails. Madison County went a different direction because it determined Metro was not serving the county effectively because of the considerable distance separating the four largest cities, Edwardsville, Collinsville, Granite City and Alton. That move allowed Madison County to go for routes that use smaller buses within the communities and larger buses for express routes to downtown St. Louis or the Emerson Park MetroLink station. That eventually freed up money to use on the bike trails.

To me, it seems the Missouri side of the river needs to see how Madison County did things, set some priorities and aggressively pursue grants and reallocate existing funding sources to get it done.
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