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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Missouri gets a D in cycling

On Monday, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote about the Missouri Bicycle Federation's recent report, "Bicycling and Walking in Missouri -- A Report Card" (PDF file).

"The overall grade for Missouri's walking and bicycling environment for 2007 was a D," Missouri Bicycle Federation Executive Director Brent Hugh said in a recent post on MoBikeFed's Web site. "We are quite frankly behind most other states in accommodating for safe walking and bicycling. With gas prices near $3.50 a gallon and rising, it's hitting us right in the pocketbook."

The Post-Dispatch quoted a St. Louis-area cyclist who thought the area deserved a grade of C+. I would have to agree that the St. Louis area has a better cycling environment than the rest of the state, but that's not saying much.

Here's a couple of areas of concern MoBikeFed cited:
  • MoDOT stops meetings of Bicycle/Pedestrian Advisory Committee for over 18 months; essentially shuts down bicycle/pedestrian program for most of the year; fires bicycle/pedestrian coordinator; halts Missouri Complete Streets bill; over 95% of MoBikeFed supporters disapprove of MoDOT's handling of bicycling and walking.
  • Numerous important transportation projects statewide continue to move forward without needed bicycle and/or pedestrian accommodations or with facilities that do not meet ADA requirements--including Hanley Rd in St. Louis County, Hwy 45 in Parkville, and Hwy 150 in the Kansas City area, and many others.
Having done the former Cycle Across Missouri Parks ride twice in the 1990s and having been a volunteer/rider on last year's Cycle Across Missouri, I can say that part of the problem is the quality of the roads themselves. Once you get out of the state's metropolitan areas, the roads often are barely safe for motor vehicles, let alone for cyclists.

The roads often are in poor shape with potholes, cracks and crumbling pavement. In rural areas, there often are no shoulders whatsoever, not even an extra foot or two that would make a big difference for cyclists.

Last year, I rode on Highway 116 in northwest Missouri. The road had no shoulder and plenty of fast traffic. On top of that, motorists were not particularly accommodating of me or other cyclists, and I was forced to bail onto the grass once because of that. I was happy to get off that road, except that turning onto U.S. 63 toward Lawson was even less fun. Not only was it narrower than Highway 116, the edge of the road was in extremely poor shape. I didn't have to bail off that road, but I sure was saying plenty of prayers!

Early on CAM last year, cyclists were forced to ride on U.S. 136 toward Bethany. I was glad I was supporting the ride instead of riding that day. Again, there was no shoulder on much of U.S. 136, and cyclists weren't happy about that or the refusal of some motorists to give sufficient space to pass them.

Part of the problem in rural Missouri that there are few options besides the busy roads. Many of the country roads are dirt and gravel roads totally unsuitable for cycling (unless you own a mountain bike). Illinois has its share of country roads, but at least a great number of roads have oil-and-chip surfaces, making them viable alternatives to the busier highways.

While I would agree that the Missouri Department of Transportation is behind the times when it comes to maintaining road, I also would add that they are hindered by a lack of revenue. Missourians enjoy some of the lowest gasoline taxes in the country, but I would argue that the quality of Missouri roads is a case of you get what you pay for.

I can only base this on anecdotal evidence, but many motorists in Missouri have the attitude that bicycles only belong on the Katy Trail, not on the state's highways.

Clearly, Missouri has a long ways to go to become a truly bike-friendly state, but at least MoBikeFed saw signs of hope: the successful 2007 Tour of Missouri bicycle race, the addition of more miles to the Bike St. Louis system and new connections to the Katy Trail.

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Roger 1 comments links to this post 8:49 AM

You failed to list the New 64 on the list of concerns as did MoBikeFed. This is the largest transportation infrastructure project in the state and it fails to have the needed upgrades to facilitate walking/cycling. One pedestrian bridge over a highway is permanently removed and not one mile of bike path is part of the plan. MOdot fails to properly maintain their roads but as ribbon cutting is more fun. In MO, cycling is only for pros and recreational riders...didn't you know?
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