Cities across America, from Boston to Seattle and Miami to Minneapolis-St. Paul and Philadelphia have developed or are developing creative ways of reducing their dependence on the automobile, a major cause of both air pollution and global warming, while making their communities healthier and more livable. It is past time that St. Louis join them. It is the goal of a Green administration to see that this happens.
The Green Party envisions a new St. Louis where citizens can easily make the vast majority of trips by bus, train, trolley, bicycle and walking. Expanding healthy and more efficient forms of transportation would enormously improve the City’s air quality, reduce traffic injuries and deaths, and lower the incidence of heart disease and diabetes. Reduced automobile dependency will mean less traffic congestion, shorter commute times, and fewer stress-related illnesses. It also offers the prospect of real savings on transportation costs. Research has shown that in communities that are more automobile dependent households spend $4000 more per year on surface transportation than in communities with more diverse modes of transportation. .
Unfortunately, mayor Francis Slay’s policy of continuing to focus on the automobile for transportation has produced an ecological and urban planning nightmare for St. Louis. A Green administration would overcome automobile addiction by implementing a comprehensive plan with five key components:
- Improving and expanding mass transit, including a North-South Metro line and practical trolleys;
- Increasing the number of riders per car;
- Increasing bicycle usage and walking;
- Decreasing excessive parking spaces; and,
- Creating car-free zones.
A Green administration would purchase only energy efficient vehicles for use by the City. By itself, this would be woefully inadequate to slow the hurricanes and other weather disasters which accompany global warming. The only way to seriously reduce automobile emissions is to reduce automobile dependency.
Though Francis Slay advocated using public money to pay for a private stadium and for tax give-aways he could not find money to increase train and bus routes. Better financial prioritization would allow a Green administration to take steps necessary to provide adequate mass transit in St. Louis, including calling a Conference of US City Mayors to demand Congressional funding throughout the US. A Green administration would:
- Double the number of buses in operation in order to increase frequency and weekend routes.
- Introduce double-sized buses on heavily used lines.
- Create a North/South Metro (train) line.
- Provide free mass transit for the elderly, disabled and students.
- Limit mass transit fares to no more than 10% of the minimum hourly wage.
- Ensure that there is a shelter at every bus stop with a heat lamp.
- Require every business which sells lottery tickets to sell bus passes.
- Make the Bi-state management board more democratic by ensuring that at least 20% of its members are elected by users and at least 20% are elected by employees.
- Create a “traffic light preemption” system (which turns a light green as a bus approaches), such as already exists for some emergency vehicle locations.
- Install talking crossing signals for the visually diabled.
Create bus and HOV lanes
The Slay administration has stood by while St. Louis’ transportation system has become embarrassingly outdated. Highway 64/40 is being rebuilt with no plans for bus lanes or “high occupancy vehicle” (HOV) lanes reserved for cars with three or more occupants. A Green administration would actively work to ensure that every highway and thoroughfare in the St. Louis area has bus and HOV lanes.
Bicycling and walking
St. Louis needs a comprehensive urban plan that will allow every resident to bicycle or walk to a grocery store and community school. Under Francis Slay’s leadership, the City has wasted tax dollars on “share the road” signs and seemingly random bike lane designations where there is frequently inadequate road space for bicycles. Such a reckless public relations gimmick risks injury or death of cyclists lured into thinking the signs make roads safe.
At a minimum, a Green administration would:
- Create continuous lanes for bikes, free from vehicle traffic and use for car parking. Build bicycle paths to separate cycling from congested thoroughfares.
- Build bicycle lanes connected to streets with metro stops.
- Post better signs to notify car drivers of bicycle lanes.
- Implement the Bicycle/Pedestrian Plan developed by East-West Gateway (which defines minimum standards for cycling and walking in St. Louis).
Excessive parking spaces
The Slay administration has done nothing to reduce the vast areas dedicated to parking spaces and parking lots. Excessive parking spaces are dangerous for bicycles, interfere with commerce by increasing the walking distance between shops, and degrade the attractiveness of neighborhoods. Current rules require businesses to have 1 parking space for every 3 people in the occupancy permit. The Green Party would change this to 1 parking space for every 5 people immediately and 1 parking space for every 9 people in two years.
Improved mass transit and traffic light preemption will let St. Louisans get to work faster by public transportation than by driving cars. This will lead to more people using buses and trains. If St. Louisans could also get to neighborhood schools, shopping and recreation areas by foot and bicycle, the City could design car-free zones with no parking spaces for privately owned cars [but with parking for emergency, disabled, construction, delivery and shared vehicles].
The Green Party advocates the development of car-free, high-density, mixed residential/commercial areas. In these areas, citizens could do most of their shopping in their community and use mass transit for most of their remaining trips. This should be promoted by developing neighborhoods which are (1) adjacent to mass transit routes, and (2) require commercial space to be set aside for neighborhood shops such as grocery stores, clothing stores, hardware stores, laundromats and barber shops. An essential part of such communities is that they have a vehicle sharing or renting program for the few trips when a car, truck or mini-van is truly needed. All such developments should dedicate at least 30% of homes for low income families.
A Green administration would work with each St. Louis neighborhood to explore its interest in developing a car-free community shopping district and attempt to create at least one such district in each ward by 2018. The mayor should immediately create a task force to examine car-free business and residential zones that already exist in cities throughout the world and determine how they can be adapted for St. Louis.
- B. McCann, Driven to Spend: The Impact of Sprawl on Household Transportation Expenses, 2000.