The Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) is collaborating with local officials and law enforcement to ensure Natural Bridge Avenue is a safe roadway for pedestrians and drivers.
MoDOT Area Engineer Michelle Forneris said the department became engaged in 2017 when they had a series of complaints after several fatal crashes on Natural Bridge Avenue. MoDOT reviewed the four-mile corridor where the speed limit is 35 mph. Data showed drivers clocked at speeds of 60, 70 and even over 100 mph on the busy street. Residents have complained about cars driving on the wrong side of the road and in bike and parking lanes. People have also complained about traffic signals not being obeyed and pedestrians not utilizing the crosswalk.
“When we talk about roadway safety,” said Forneris, “it boils down to partnering together as a region to help change the narrative of this corridor.” She adds, “working as a team we can help answer the critical question: Why are there so many crashes and fatal accidents on Natural Bridge?”
According to Forneris, the number of car wrecks and fatalities on Natural Bridge is three times the state average.
After several public meetings and data collected, MoDOT declared Natural Bridge Avenue a Travel Safety Zone (TSZ) between Parnell Street and Goodfellow Avenue in September.
According to state law, a Travel Safe Zone is any area upon or around any highway where a highway safety analysis shows the number of fatal or disabling injury crashes exceeds a predicted safety performance level for comparable roadways. MoDOT uses TSZs to improve safety of a clearly defined roadway segment. This law also allows for doubling the fines for moving violations in these zones.
“When we talk about roadway safety, it boils down to education, hearing from community members, police and engineering, and how those pieces come together to make a safer roadway for everyone,” said Forneris. “We’ve had 18 fatal crashes since 2012, 13 of them were pedestrian related and primarily in designated crosswalks. We had to start diving into the data and dissecting it to see what’s going on.”
Valerie Votwell, who lives at the intersection of Natural Bridge Avenue and Goodfellow Avenue, said she has witnessed motorcyclers speeding and doing unsafe stunts like popping wheelies. She believes police refuse to do anything about the dangers she has seen in her neighborhood.
“These jerks treat those of us who live along Natural Bridge like we’re expendable litter on an abandoned backcountry road,” said Votwell. During the summer months, she says she dreads nice weather because she knows they will be riding along that strip.
But Forneris said there are limits to what MoDOT can do.
“Engineering can only do so much. We can put out signs, but without the enforcement piece, people still make choices to speed, drive in the bike lane or run a traffic light. It really has to be a collaborative effort. Talking with community members and prompting them to be an advocate for change are all a part of this puzzle in creating a safer Natural Bridge street,” said Forneris.
Many residents who live along that area find the speeding and reckless driving extremely alarming considering Beaumont High School is located along that stretch in the TSZ.
According to Forneris there are bright yellow signs posted in both directions notifying drivers and pedestrians of the TSZ and the double fines.
In the months since the changes were implemented, there does appear to be a reduction in fatalities.
According to Forneris, there were 14 fatal crashes on this street between 2012 and 2016. In 2017, there were four. Since the announcement of the TSZ in September, there have not been any fatal crashes.
Forneris said MoDOT plans to annually evaluate the four-mile corridor with law enforcement and public safety officials to review best practices and areas that may need improvement. In the summer of 2019, she says MoDOT plans to add new traffic signals on the corridor between Euclid Ave. and Parnell St.
In 2020, MoDOT plans to put in a new driving surface by doing a “road diet”, which is cutting down the lanes on the road, making them narrower. They also plan to add additional parking.
Forneris urges the community to stay involved during the process of making the Natural Bridge corridor a safer roadway. Officials and engineers value community input, she says.
“Together we will make a safer roadway,” said Forneris.