County Council votes 6-0 to OK revised Complete Streets bill; chairwoman abstains

Safety concerns of speakers lead Erby to abstain on vote

By Gloria Lloyd

The County Council approved a revised version of Complete Streets legislation last week that could add more bike lanes and pedestrian-friendly features to county roads.

The council voted 6-0 to approve the bill. Chairwoman Hazel Erby, D-University City, pulled her co-sponsorship of the bill earlier this month and abstained from the final vote.

The bill’s sponsor, 5th District Councilman Pat Dolan, D-Richmond Heights, submitted a revised bill that won the support of the county Department of Highways and Traffic by including provisions that the department would have the final say over the scope and cost of road improvements. The department had come out in force against the first version of the bill, estimating that applying it to all county roads could cost more than $1 billion.

The wording in the first version of the Complete Streets bill repeatedly stated the county “shall” make improvements including bike lanes, pedestrian-friendly crosswalks, handicapped-accessible curb cuts and other features, with narrowly worded exceptions.

It also mandated multiple committees that would vet the highway department’s decision that a proposed road improvement cost too much, and said that county officials must attend national conferences on issues of sustainable infrastructure related to Complete Streets construction.

The language in the new bill clarifies that many factors can go into the decision of what Complete Streets improvements to add to a road, including cost, budget, space limitations, federal and state regulations, property rights, future land use and ongoing maintenance costs.

Rhonda Smythe, policy and advocacy manager at nonprofit organization Trailnet, said the previous version of the Complete Streets bill would have been one of the strongest such policies in the nation.

However, the group still supports the revised bill and sees it as an improvement over existing policy. Even as the bill was being debated, the highway department began to add more bike lanes to its road projects, she added.

Since the new version of the bill gained support for the tenets of Complete Streets from a wide array of county departments, it could have more of an impact on county roads than if the version of Complete Streets that those departments objected to had passed, she said.

“One of the reasons that the policy was so strong was that the county did have a prohibition on putting bike lanes into any county roads,” Smythe said. “So I would stay the strongness of the original policy came as a reaction to the current policies in the county.”

Before their votes, all the members of the Council except for 6th District Councilman Steve Stenger, D-Affton, gave an explanation for their vote.

Most agreed that the cost had initially concerned them, but that cost controls included in the revised version of the bill eventually won them over.

“The highway department has always made the decisions on what is safe and what is not, and they will continue to do so under this bill. The bill doesn’t compel any money to be spent on existing roads or on future road projects,” said 7th District Councilman Greg Quinn, R-Ballwin. “I don’t foresee runaway expenditures with this bill, so I vote ‘aye.'”

Although Erby agreed the new version of the bill addressed her major cost objections, she still abstained after hearing some of the safety concerns brought up by speakers.

“I believe in a walkable, bikeable community — however, when I hear some of the safety concerns, it bothers me,” Erby said.

Addressing bicyclists who said they believe bike lanes are dangerous, Erby said that the bill does not mandate that bicyclists ride in bike lanes.