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October 4, 2015

Rising number of pedestrian deaths has St. Louis officials concerned

St. Louis Post Dispatch – October 04, 2015 9:00 am • By Leah Thorsen

 

This year, 18 pedestrians have been fatally struck in St. Louis — more than those killed in the previous two years combined.

“It’s really not something that our city, or anybody living in it, should find acceptable. And we can change it,” said Ralph Pfremmer, executive director of Trailnet.

Pedestrian safety was a topic that he and others spoke about last week at the Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals conference held on the campus of Barnes-Jewish Hospital.

“We have too many unsafe intersections,” Mayor Francis Slay said as part of a conference panel discussion.

Slay reinforced his support for red-light cameras, saying that although opponents call them a money grab, they free up police officers and make intersections safer.

He said city officials are rewriting an ordinance to get them operating again after the Missouri Supreme Court in August ruled the city’s law was unconstitutional.

And he said they’re looking into how to expand camera use to catch speeders as well, although he didn’t elaborate.

None of the drivers involved in the 18 pedestrian deaths this year has been charged with a crime, although charges are being considered in two of the deaths, St. Louis police said.

Some of those who died were struck by drivers who fled and haven’t been found, including the hit-and-run driver who hit Nathaniel Thomas, the most recent pedestrian to die in the city as of Friday.

Thomas, 29, was killed as he walked on Vandeventer Avenue inside Fairground Park on Sept. 27. Police said a white Pontiac G6 that was speeding south in the northbound lanes hit Thomas as he crossed the street.

Five pedestrians died last year, and four bicyclists have been fatally struck in St. Louis since 2009, according to the Missouri Department of Transportation.

In 2011, the Federal Highway Administration named St. Louis as a “focus city,” which means it had 20 or more pedestrian fatalities per year, or had a pedestrian fatality rate over a three-year period above 2.33 fatalities per 100,000 residents.

Although St. Louis averaged 12 pedestrian fatalities per year between 2011 and 2013 — 12 in 2011, 13 in 2012 and 11 in 2013, according to MoDOT — the designation has remained because the city’s fatality rate was 3.76 per 100,000 people during that period.

In St. Louis County, 10 pedestrians have died this year.

And Trailnet, which advocates for better walking and biking in the St. Louis region, is pushing for another designation — that of a Vision Zero city.

There are 10 such cities in the program, which connects officials in each city to share what’s working and to establish benchmarks to determine whether cities are backing up rhetoric with real action, Trailnet said.

One such city is Portland, Ore., where a task force was created to develop a “community action plan” to reduce serious and fatal crashes.

Such a designation would mean giving notice that the city is evolving and thinking about approaches to healthy living and saving lives. That helps people, especially millennials, think positively about St. Louis, Trailnet said.

And Pfremmer hailed the hiring of Jamie Wilson as the city’s bike/pedestrian coordinator as a move in the right direction.

Wilson said one of his top priorities is looking at how to make intersections safer. Wilson, who was president of the local transportation engineering firm CBB, worked on the changes being finalized at the intersection of Skinker Boulevard and Clayton Avenue that include signalized pedestrian crossings and additional crosswalks.

And he’s a bike-lane supporter. “Any time we can separate bodies from steel and fiberglass, and we have the room to do so, we should give it some thought,” he said of buffered and parking-protected bike lanes.

Wilson, 42, said he lives about a mile from his new job.

And yes, he’s looking forward to biking to work.

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