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In Car-Loving St. Louis, Pedestrians, Cyclists and Transit Riders Have Many Miles to Go

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Bike racks around St. Louis are meant to encourage cycling. - PAUL SABLEMAN/FLICKR
  • Paul Sableman/Flickr
  • Bike racks around St. Louis are meant to encourage cycling.

At Chouteau Avenue and Tucker Boulevard — just south of a web of Amtrak, freight train and Metro tracks outlining the edge of downtown — flocks of automobiles blast by. All of the cars along this thoroughfare seem to be heading somewhere important. Their errands are urgent, time-sensitive, serious. Inside the sealed interiors all may be calm, but for those outside the steel bubbles their presence is far from peaceful.

A woman named Hawa sits at the No. 73 stop, waiting. She just missed the bus, and now she is waiting for a friend who has agreed to give her a ride. She is weary of waiting, and when I ask about her chosen mode of transportation, her eyes suggest that the topic makes her sad. She used to have a car, she explains, but when she lost her job, she could no longer afford one.

Along with saving money on gas and shrinking our carbon footprints and waistlines, can the more uncomfortable realities also be part of the appeal, part of what makes going car-free worthwhile for those of us in less dire straits? Perhaps it's a kind of "causal enjoyment of the world," as Clark puts it.

Several years ago, Fehler decided he would bike down every street in the city of St. Louis, partly in an effort to gain a deeper understanding of others.

"It proved logistically much harder than I thought, but little by little I covered every stretch," he says. "The things I saw and the people I met made me feel like I understood things better, and by that I don't mean just 'the city' and 'its people,' but more fundamentally 'cities' and 'people.' That feels good, and I'm very thankful for it."

At the Civic Center MetroLink station in downtown St. Louis, the sun is high in the sky. Around 11 a.m., a westbound and eastbound train arrive at once. The doors snap open and a crowd of roughly 40 people spill onto the platform, all but one of them African American. Everyone seems to be in a hurry, or at least distracted by the idea of getting where they need to go.

Charles Parker, a surprisingly youthful 73-year-old, is an exception. He flashes his senior Metro pass proudly and says it's the most economical transportation he can get, at $20 a month.

"And it's good for my health," he adds, puffing out a small cloud of smoke. "The cigarettes are not."

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