OK, it’s not Seattle. But it’s near my hometown, so I feel compelled to get a few words in.
St. Charles, Missouri is a 30-minute drive from the house where I grew up outside of St. Louis. I say “drive” because riding a bike in St. Louis County was never encouraged, and cars would be less than welcoming to a biker on most any street.
Also, if I were going to go on a giant bike ride, St. Charles is one of the last places I would have chosen (though now I may do it on principle next time I am in town). To give some context, St. Charles is a historic town (third-oldest city west of the Mississippi) northwest of St. Louis. As the Greater St. Louis Metro area built more and more interstates, sprawl stretched out and now basically includes St. Charles. The City of St. Charles does have a neat historic area, but St. Charles County is also an important dense Republican voting county in this swing state. In 2008, McCain beat Obama by 10 points in St. Charles Co. while just a few miles away in St. Louis City, Obama beat McCain by 68 points. McCain ended up winning the state by 5,859 votes.
So when I heard that St. Charles County is proposing a ban on cyclists on certain highways, it really wasn’t all that much of a surprise. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of great people in St. Charles, including some of my family. But the ruling mentality in that place is definitely of the “pry my gun/steering wheel from my cold dead hands” sort. I hope the compassionate citizens of St. Charles speak up to counter this ignorance.
Talking to the St. Louis Post Dispatch, Councilmember Joe Brazil explained why he thinks the law is necessary:
“You’re going 55 (mph) and there’s absolute limited sight distance,” he said. “You come around a corner and come upon a bike in seconds and you have to react.”
It’s interesting that Brazil isn’t suggesting lowering the speed limit below 55 mph on these dangerous, shoulderless roads. That would make them safer too. But politicians don’t win votes by lowering speed limits or suggesting his constituent motorists just slow down and wait to safely pass when they come upon bicyclists.
In an area like St. Louis where so many people are desperately poor, the bicycle should be a giant hand up. But unless the Greater St. Louis area puts its full support behind making streets safe for bicyclists (not banning them!), people will stay tied to the cars that bleed them dry of the little money they can get.