By Grace Kyung, Special Projects Director at Trailnet
If we want a thriving, vibrant St. Louis, we must recognize that all our neighborhoods and residents have the right to a livable, healthy community. Healthy food access should not require two bus rides and several dollars each way. Children walking to school in the morning should not have to gamble on whether a driver will stop at an intersection for them. Jobs should be safely reachable for everyone by car, bus, bike, or train so that all people have a chance to be successful. A low-stress biking and walking network helps lay the foundation for livable, healthy communities.
However, in St. Louis, transportation inequities produced by decades of white flight, public and private disinvestment, and a lack of public policy solutions have created neighborhoods that are physically isolated from the thriving parts of the region.
Many of these efforts were intentional. In support of white flight from urban areas to suburban communities, interstates were routed through poor Black neighborhoods to ensure that middle-class whites could continue to access their jobs and visit cultural areas like parks and museums. During this time, discriminatory policies like redlining made it nearly impossible for residents of poor neighborhoods to secure financial assistance, such as home mortgages. These deliberate decisions have an unjust legacy: too many neighborhoods continue to fall behind due to lack of investment and planning.
Data shows that we need to plan for better walking and biking infrastructure going north and south in St. Louis. The 38 census tracts north of Delmar are primarily Black, have the highest number of transit users and households without vehicles, and lower population density coupled with lower life expectancyand higher concentrated poverty rates. Research also shows that predominantly Black communities have less access to safe infrastructure. We see this reflected in the rate of pedestrian deaths in these neighborhoods.
To create a livable, healthy, thriving St. Louis community, we must both address these barriers and harness our assets. From our great parks to our cultural amenities to our unique neighborhoods, we know we have the destinations we need to become a leading city. That is why Trailnet launched a new vision for St. Louis: we are working to connect places that matter with a cohesive network of on-street protected bikeways and sidewalk improvements.
By connecting with over 2,000 people through extensive stakeholder interviews, community and committee meetings, and surveys, we know that opportunities to walk and bike to parks, neighborhoods, and business districts are important to the region. About 85 percent of people who shared their input with Trailnet support a network of on-street protected bikeways and improved sidewalks through their neighborhood. Most individuals shared that this type of connection would help them enjoy walking and biking to local businesses, schools, and parks safely, even if that means slowing down traffic.
Trailnet’s vision is guided by principles that include equity as a value. To make meaningful changes, we must cultivate an understanding of the systemic barriers at work in St. Louis and the role transportation planning has played in community development. We are learning about people’s lived experiences and folding them into Trailnet’s vision so that we can create a plan that addresses these inequities and helps change the narrative for St. Louis.
This November, Trailnet is sharing the proposed destinations that will anchor a network of on-street protected bikeways and sidewalk improvements and connect people to places that matter. Using a racial equity lens, we are prioritizing communities of color and their transportation needs. As the process moves to the next phase of engagement, Trailnet will continue to listen so that we can understand community priorities. We are developing a plan that reflects neighborhood and resident needs and desires for a low-stress biking and walking network.
This vision alone will not solve St. Louis’ systemic issues, but a well-designed network for multi-modal transportation is a key asset that can bring our unique neighborhoods together. To do this in a just way, we must work alongside our community to develop a community-supported plan that has equity at the center.
Grace Kyung is the Special Projects Director at Trailnet and is a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Culture of Health Leader. Grace graduated from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign with a Master of Public Health and Master of Urban Planning. Grace can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Articles in “From the Field” represent the opinions of the author only and do not represent the views of the Community Builders Network of Metro St. Louis or the University of Missouri-St. Louis.