Council passes bill aimed at keeping pedestrians out of roadways

Bill would require pedestrians to use sidewalks and crosswalks if available

The St. Louis County Council passed a contentious bill last week that aims to keep pedestrians off roadways.

The council voted 4-3 May 16 in favor of the legislation, which is sponsored by 6th District Councilman Ernie Trakas, R-Oakville. Trakas, 3rd District Councilman Dennis Hancock, R-Fenton; 4th District Councilwoman Shalonda Webb, D-Black Jack; and 7th District Councilman Mark Harder, R-Ballwin, voted in favor of the legislation, while 1st District Councilwoman Rita Heard Day, D-Bel-Nor; 2nd District Councilwoman Kelli Dunaway, D-Chesterfield; and 5th District Councilwoman Lisa Clancy, D-Maplewood, were opposed.

The bill bans sitting, standing and walking along roadways in St. Louis County if a sidewalk is available. Failure to do so could result in a ticket. It does allow for some exemptions, including for law enforcement and other first responders, people lending aid in an emergency situation, those dealing with a vehicle issue that occurred while driving, and those entering or exiting a bus and other public transit systems.

If there are no sidewalks next to a roadway, pedestrians on the road must, when possible, be on the left side of the roadway or on its shoulder facing opposing traffic.

“This bill seeks to establish a completely neutral — I’m going to say that again, a completely neutral ordinance that will address legitimate, prevalent and ongoing safety concerns facing county residents walking on and/or crossing, and motorists driving on roadways in St. Louis County,” Trakas said. “Too often people on our roads both walking and driving are in harm’s way. … As written, this legislation is extremely neutral and if passed, will apply to all of us equally … It’s past time for this body to act effectively to make our streets and roadways safer for the pedestrian and motor vehicle driver alike. Let’s do our job.”

Clancy said the bill unfairly targets those experiencing homelessness and could create problems for those who use wheelchairs and push strollers. At the May 16 meeting, she argued that pushing the bill through was irresponsible and that despite its claims of neutrality, it’s “really about panhandling.”

“I do feel that it is irresponsible that we’ve gotten this far with this bill … being touted as being neutral … but all of us know, it is really about panhandling,” Clancy said. “Regardless of your position on panhandling, there are consequences to this policy we should all be concerned about. … As it stands, this bill doesn’t do anything to address the very real problem of pedestrian safety. It is heavily favorited toward car drivers at the expense of pedestrian dignity.”

Clancy argued she would like some kind of public hearing held on the bill before putting it up to a vote.

“I urge us to slow this bill down, continue to hear from multiple perspectives at a hearing and work together to come up with a more balanced solution,” she said.

Several public comments at the council’s May 9 meeting centered around the legislation with many in opposition, including TrailNet CEO Cindy Mense.

“Our county sidewalk network is incomplete. Our review of Bill 86 comes from this perspective, for the safety and welfare of St. Louis County residents. … In many south and north St. Louis County areas, people do not have access to adequate or, in fact, any sidewalks. They are forced to walk in the street, including children who are walking to school or people in wheelchairs,” Mense said. “Mandating people to walk on inadequate, non-existent sidewalks is not a good policy.”

Housing advocate Chris Willcox, with the non-profit A Red Circle, claimed the bill targeted panhandlers.

“This suggestion that it applies equally to a visitor from Wall Street to an unhoused person is a statement so absurd it appears to assume ignorance in the audience,” Willcox said. “A visitor from Wall Street would never be walking on a roadway because they would be driving. … Its purpose (Bill 86) is not a mystery because of the longstanding search for reasons to arrest people for panhandling on the highway.”

Council Chairwoman Webb, who was the deciding vote on the bill, said that while the legislation was not perfect it was a step in the right direction.

“This bill isn’t perfect but I see with my own eyes how those have ended up being fatally killed because we don’t have adequate sidewalks, whatever the case may be,” Webb said. “I think we need to do something, we really do. We need to be able to tell people that it’s not okay to be standing in the streets. It’s not okay to have your children in the streets … it is to be preventative, it’s to keep another fatality from happening.”