On many mornings, 21st Ward Alderman Antonio French runs the jogging trails across O'Fallon Park. The trails were installed last summer under his watch, and he's proud of them. But it took him only a couple of morning jogs to recognize a problem: Two sections of the trail cross the wide road through the park -- and cars don't always yield to the crosswalk. The park's roads, he realized, needed speed bumps to alert drivers about the crosswalks.
He first went to the Department of Streets, but they rejected his request. French says the department has been rejecting all requests for speed bumps in recent memory as a sort of de facto policy. But this was absurd, he thought, because speed bumps have existed in other parks, like Tower Grove Park and Forest Park.
"I was never really given a satisfactory reason why it is that O'Fallon Park shouldn't benefit from the same safe connection," says French. (Steve Runde, traffic commissioner at the Department of Streets, has not returned a call from Daily RFT as of press time.)
Last month, French introduced an ordinance that would allow speed bumps in O'Fallon Park. And it stirred up a surprising amount of controversy at today's Aldermanic General Meeting. What, on the outside, seemed like an innocent attempt to protect the runners with iPods and mothers with strollers and frolicking children of north city, opened a mild debate over whether speed bumps are legally allowed on public roads in St. Louis.
Because of the Department of Streets' de facto policy against speed bumps, many lawmakers simply assumed that speed bumps are illegal on St. Louis public roads. At the meeting, one alderman even asked French, "Are you sure they're legal?" To which he responded, "Yes, I am sure."
In another instance, 17th Ward Alderman Joe Roddy expressed frustration at the fact that he was forced to install cobblestone roads (which are much more expensive than speed bumps) to slow traffic in his ward because the street department rejected his request for speed bumps. A few other aldermen probed to see whether speed bumps would be practical at O'Fallon Park: Is the road wide enough? (Yes). Do cars park along the curb of the potential location? (No). Will there be signs posted? (If necessary). What will be the width and the slope of the speed bumps? (Really?)
The bill was perfected by a vote of seventeen to ten; it will be up for passage next Friday.
French was diplomatic when asked about the resistance to his bill.
"I think maybe some of my colleagues looked at it as more of a philosophical thing against the concept of speed bumps and not specifically these speed bumps in these locations in this specific park," he says.
French has locked horns with the Department of Streets before. Last summer he requested that crosswalks be installed across West Florissant Avenue to better connect O'Fallon Park to the rest of the neighborhood. The request was initially rejected because the department felt that the crosswalks "would give people a false sense of security," says French. But he persisted, they eventually relented, and now there are crosswalks connecting O'Fallon Park to the neighborhood.
The crosswalks and the speed bumps and the jogging trail are all a part of French's efforts to revitalize his ward's biggest park. A few weeks ago, he also introduced a bill to make it illegal for people to hold attack training classes for dogs in public parks without a permit. And for the past year he's overseen the construction of a new rec center at the park. When it opens in December, French hopes, it'll be joined by a brand new set of speed bumps.
"We're just trying to make O'Fallon Park a better place, a more family-friendly place," says French. "We want to have in north St. Louis, in O'Fallon Park, a park that's just as valued and just as used as Tower Grove is in south St. Louis and Forest Park is in central."