“Traffic Violence” Big Bend Group Reacts To St. Louis Region Crash Report

by Don Corrigan

Turtles, Frogs and Armadillos are not the only “roadkill” in the St. Louis region because of a poor traffic safety environment. Humans also have become roadkill, with fatalities increasing at an alarming rate.

Last year, 173 people were killed and 14,930 people injured in traffic crashes in St. Louis City and County.

In St. Louis City, 78 people died from traffic violence – more than double the number of ciy traffic fatalities a decade ago. In the county, the number of pedestrian fatalities over a three-year span from 2020-2022 was up 228% from a decade ago.

These and other key findings are part of St. Louis Trailnet’s “2022 St. Louis City and County Crash Report.” The report is an analysis of traffic violence in the region. It lays out solutions for residents to address these tragedies.

“The data reinforces the already-clear link between poorly-designed roads, high speeds and deadly conditions for people outside of cars,” said Sam McCrory, Trailnet’s Community Planner and primary author of the report.

“Last year, city leaders finally committed to long-term solutions, but we also need immediate responses across the region. We cannot continue waiting around for change while people die on our streets,” he added.

“We’re focused first and foremost on the needs and safety of people walking, biking, and using transit, but these crashes can affect everyone and ripple through our community,” said Cindy Mense, Trailnet’s CEO. “The human toll of these crashes is immeasurable.”

Big Bend Group Organizes

In St. Louis County, residents living in the vicinity of Big Bend Road in Crestwood, Oakland and Kirkwood, are examining some of the solutions proposed by the traffic report to address roadway tragedies.

After presenting the City of Kirkwood with a petition to address road safety issues on Big Bend Road in September, residents decided to further pursue their concerns at neighborhood meetings this March and April.

Neighbors hope to nail down specifics for safety improvements on a busy stretch between I-270 and the city of Crestwood at I-44. They contend safety needs are more pressing as the nearby community college revamps its campus and more residents are added at nearby developments.

“Our purpose for neighborhood town hall meetings is two-fold,” said Bill Ruppert of Kirkwood. “First, we want to consider what can be done to slow  the increasing traffic on Big Bend coming at us fast and furious.

“Second, it is virtually impossible much of the time for pedestrians and bicyclists to find safe ways to cross Big Bend,” said Ruppert. “The intersection at Geyer and Big Bend has been rated as one of the most dangerous in the region. We would like to see a mid-block pedestrian crosswalk near the front of Meramec College.”

Neighbors say this is an opportune time to work on traffic safety issues. Road work is slated for Big Bend. The college is re-doing its master plan with new options for parking and campus access. New residents are looking for the “walkability” that Kirkwood advertises as a community perk.

“Really, all of us who live south of Big Bend just don’t feel included in Kirkwood’s walkability promise,” said Maria Tutskey, who lives on Forest Avenue. “We’re isolated. We’re separated. And Big Bend is more congested than I have ever seen it.

“I have three kids and I just shudder at the idea of young ones trying to find a way to cross that street,” said Tutskey. “I don’t think more red lights will work because people run them. I teach at Robinson School on the other side of Big Bend and was hit by someone who ran a red light.”

Opportunities Missed?

David Eagleton, who resides near Big Bend and I-44, contends the St. Louis area is missing out on federal grant money that could help address Kirkwood’s walkability strategy for the future of the community.

“The Biden infrastructure bill passed in 2021 has more funding and grants for safe streets then we’ve ever seen,” said Eagleton. “Unfortunately, most of our jurisdictions are not eligible because a regional safe streets plan has never been developed. They’ve done nothing. We’re losing out.

“We should have a multi-use pathway trail for connectivity to Meramec from Grant’s Trail and from the I-44 bridge pathway,” he added. “That would help students get to school, would decrease traffic, would be a recreational asset, and would address climate change,” Eagleton said.

Eagleton said a great example of missed opportunity is the new bridge put over I-44 at Big Bend that has no provision for a multi-use trail connection. Another issue is the bridge over the Meramec River with a multi-use trail that does not continue on the Kirkwood side.

“The money is there, but the will is not there,” said Eagleton. “We don’t think and plan as a team and a region with all our little jurisdictions. Everyone does their own thing. Everything is done piecemeal. It’s unconscionable.”

Ryan Pennington of Wilton Lane said there needs to be a walkability plan and a plan for multi-use trails put in place for Kirkwood that’s good for the next 50 years. He said reducing speed limits and installing a few crosswalks will not cut it.

“Lots of traffic trying to get to places quickly is not compatible with safe streets and pedestrian safety,” said Pennington. “I grew up on Bodley and we kids were pretty safe biking to downtown Kirkwood. That can’t be said now, and it’s impossible for kids living south of Big Bend.”

Trailnet Traffic Report

The Trailnet report is based on data from the Missouri Statewide Traffic Accident Records System, which catalogs crash information from law enforcement agencies across the state.

In addition to reporting crash data, this year’s report features a new section for fatal crash reviews. These reviews analyze the context and roadway conditions of specific crash sites from five crashes in 2022.
Each analysis is followed by a series of recommendations to prevent future deaths, including: reducing dangerous driver behavior through street design, improving safety near bus stops and reimagining our most car-centric corridors.

Key report takeaways include:

— In 2022, in the City of St. Louis, seven roads were responsible for 35% of crashes. Of those seven, Grand, Chippewa, Kingshighway, Broadway, and Gravois were responsible for 44% of pedestrian deaths.

— 95% of pedestrian fatalities in St. Louis County occurred on roads marked 35 MPH or higher

— 84% of pedestrian fatalities in St. Louis City and County occurred at mid-block locations

— 32% of fatal car crashes in St. Louis City and County occurred due to speeding-related circumstances

Visit trailnet.org/2022-crash-report to read the full report.

Trailnet is a 501c3 nonprofit based in St. Louis, Missouri, and is the region’s voice for better biking and walking. Trailnet’s work integrates public policy, urban planning, public health, and community organizing into strategic initiatives that enhance the quality of life for all, regardless of their race, zip code, age, or ability.

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