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St. Louis County sees highest number of people killed in traffic, pedestrian crashes in 20 years

Published: May. 20, 2022 at 10:21 PM CDT
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ST. LOUIS COUNTY (KMOV) - For the first time since 2002, more than 100 people in St. Louis County were killed in car, bicycle or pedestrian crashes.

The grim milestone was released in an annual crash report from Trailnet, a local nonprofit aimed at making streets and neighborhoods safe and accessible for pedestrians and bicyclists.

“Missouri has some of the highest pedestrian fatality rates, so we do get a failing grade,” said Cindy Mense, CEO of Trailnet. “That includes the city and the county.”

According to its 2021 crash report, a disproportionate number of crashes occurred in predominantly Black and minority areas in St. Louis City and County.

In St. Louis City, 80 percent of pedestrian fatalities occur in those outlined areas, along with 55 percent of fatal car crashes.

“The biggest deterrent for people wanting to walk is fast-moving traffic and few places to safely cross mid-block,” said Mense. “If there’s no buffer next to the sidewalk, that makes people nervous. We don’t have enough mid-block crossings, so people often cut across roadways and without a pedestrian island, that can be dangerous.”

In 2021, 22 pedestrians were killed as a result of traffic violence, along with 84 people killed in car crashes. For the first time since 2019, a person was killed riding a bicycle.

Missouri is currently one of two states without a distracted driving law, something Mense said contributes to its high number of traffic crashes.

“There’s no expectation,” she said. “After you’re age 21, you can magically interact with your phone while you’re driving.”

Bi-partisan legislation addressing the issue failed in the latest legislative session, but Mense said she will continue to push for a ban on distracted driving.

St. Louis County currently operates 50 intersection cameras, designed to offer a live feed of highly congested areas and traffic backups. In doing so, county officials can alter the timing of the traffic signals from a central dispatch center. None of the cameras record or store video, unlike St. Louis City and its Real Time Crime camera system.

“Cameras really are more after the fact,” she said. “To change driving behavior we have to set an expectation and think about the way we design our streets.”

Mense said when streets are wide and straight, they lend themselves to high speeds. Further, the vast majority of traffic fatalities occur in areas where the speed limit is above 35 miles per hour.

Aside from fatal crashes, thousands of people in St. Louis County reported being injured following a crash. More than 8,000 people suffered injuries in car crashes, while 52 people reported injuries following a bicycle crash. More than 200 pedestrians were injured in traffic crashes, too.

In late April, Haley Rhodes was walking along South Brentwood Boulevard near the I-64 on-ramp. Headed to the nearby Target, Rhodes said she stopped at a crosswalk at the bottom of the I-64 WB off-ramp, waiting for the walk signal.

“I saw out of the corner of my eye this car come barreling down the hill that’s right there and I saw I still had 17 seconds to cross so at first I was kind of confused,” Rhodes said.

As she continued walking, she said the car continued moving at a high rate of speed.

“When I realized she wasn’t going to slow down I thought, oh my god I’m going to die, I need to protect my head,” she said. “So I sort of lunged forward and she hit me on her front driver’s side.”

Rhodes said she fell, bloodied, and was able to get up and continue across the roadway. She said the driver, a blonde woman in her 30s driving a white sedan, drove away. She called 911 and was taken to the hospital for several cuts on her face and legs.

Richmond Heights Police said the case is open, but there are no leads. There is no camera at the intersection that could have captured the crash.

A nearby MoDOT camera only serves as a live feed and cannot record or store video.

“I’d like an apology,” Rhodes said. “She got to drive away and I haven’t gotten to drive away from any of these impacts, it’s been emotionally and physically exhausting.”

If you know anything about this incident, please contact the Richmond Heights Police Department.