By Marveena Miller and Mike Palmer, special to the Observer
Editor’s note: Mayor Jones has responded to this story, here.
In 2013, Ferguson commissioned a study to convert the section of S. Florissant Road from Paul Ave. to Church St. from 4 lanes to 3 lanes. Although the idea gained momentum, some business owners and residents were opposed, and the idea languished. The concept was revisited again in 2018, with most business owners and residents on board, and backed by the Ferguson Special Business District. Unfortunately, the 4 to 3 lane conversion was discussed at length but once again the idea faded away.
Increase in Traffic Collisions, Reckless Driving
In 2020 there were 37 vehicle crashes on S. Florissant from Paul Ave. to Church Street, a stretch of less than one mile with a posted 25 MPH speed limit. Between 2015-2020 the small stretch of S. Florissant from Paul Ave. to Airport Rd saw two deaths and 92 injuries from traffic collisions. The speeding, wrecks, and a ridiculous number of streetlamps and utility poles knocked down by cars have fired up residents and now we must do something before someone else gets killed. People on Facebook routinely ask what can be done, with the most recent traffic-related post having almost 300 comments. It is once again time to do something and act on the 4 to 3 lane conversions. Rumor has it there is paving and striping already in the budget this year for South Florissant Rd. That makes this the ideal time to implement this conversion.
Responses in Other Communities
Both Kirkwood and Maplewood have limited traffic through their downtown business district by using a “road diet.” We spoke with both cities’ mayors/managers, emergency services and residents. Not everyone loves the changes, but everyone seems to understand something had to be done. From meetings with both cities concerning their experiences, they have no regrets in finishing this. The fire chief said the middle turn lane is imperative for emergencies. The residents we spoke with felt safer walking the streets. The businesses we spoke with reported more people walking the sidewalks and an increase in their walk-in traffic. Kirkwood’s website and Facebook page, “Safer Streets for Kirkwood and St. Louis County” is a great example of how Ferguson could benefit from a road diet. I encourage you to look through their information.
The Road Diet Concept
Road diets increase and enhance business activity when traffic speeds are reduced. Safer streets accommodate more pedestrians and bicyclists, who in turn tend to spend more money at local businesses. The additional parking allows for more visitors, and the center turn lane provides easy access for emergency vehicles and safer right and left turns for motorists.
Ferguson’s Current Needs
We, as residents, are constantly asked to do more with less. The 4 to 3 lane conversion is one way we can reduce speeding, reduce traffic accidents, increase walkability, and increase business activity while not spending any additional money (as striping is routinely already in the budget), without raising taxes or needing to hire any additional officers. Every council meeting, we all hear the same thing: we are shorthanded with officers, everyone is hiring officers, there is nothing we can do. It is time to think creatively with traffic control. If traffic enforcement is not an option, as it currently does not seem to be, this is a start.
This April and May we met with the new Ferguson Public Works Director, Donald Boyce who was as concerned as the residents. He was in full support of a road diet; his main concern being cost. I explained there were several grants that help and since the only cost of this project is striping, earlier predictions held it should be is under $30,000. With a city budget of $20,000,000+, that is a mere 00.15% to save lives, yet we still have not moved to do something yet. Next, we met with Acting City Manager/Fire Chief John Hampton, who was willing to lend his support in a trial of the conversion. We have heard that the Planning and Development Director has also shown support for the conversion and explained the benefits to the local businesses when traffic slows down but he did not return our emails.
Our final meeting before moving forward with town hall meetings and petitions was to meet with Mayor Jones. After lunch she asked for time to research it and on May 11, she called to tell us she would not be supporting the conversion. When asked why, she said she felt blindsided by the report and would not support any road diet on South Florissant Rd. We are shocked and disappointed, why would the mayor not support something that protects lives, enhances business, shows financial responsibility and that residents are practically begging for? We are asking the residents if this is something you want to see message us on Facebook or email us if you want us to continue this fight. We are asking you to call/email/write letters to your council to act and we will keep fighting for this. We need to hear from people and the mayor needs to hear from residents that, yes, we all want safer streets and this issue matters.