Great Rivers Greenway Staff Uproot Commutes
In March, I (Emma) invited my fellow staff members at Great Rivers Greenway to participate in a challenge for the month of May, National Bike to Work Month. Inspired by Evie Hemphill’s challenge of local leaders to go one day without a car, I developed a broader opportunity for our whole team – see what you can do to get to work not in a single-passenger car during the month of May – anything from walking, running or biking to other wheels like skateboard or scooter, to MetroLink or MetroBus, to carpooling or ride sharing.
Our team is constantly thinking about these topics for the community in our greenway projects, as they address and promote conservation, health and wellness and active transportation choices, among other things. While I knew personal commutes could be tricky, as most of us regularly traverse the 3-county region we serve on any given workday, often bringing event supplies or specific field gear along, this experience, even as a thought experiment, would benefit our team. So, I hosted a lunch and learn with tips and ideas, and we workshopped commute routes together.
Here was the optional challenge and how it went:
Try getting to work without just driving yourself alone, whatever that means to you, during May 2023. If people did it at least once, I bought them a popsicle from our neighbors at Poptimism in City Foundry’s Food Hall.
Susan Trautman, CEO
“The biggest challenge was planning the right day. Because our region is so large and partnership is so central to what we do, we collaborate constantly across 1,200 square miles (120 different towns). A day where I work in the office all day is not common. I could perhaps make a nearby meeting without a car, but many of the places our work takes us do not have viable non-car options for the middle of the day. While I’ve done a car-free commute before and I was committed to completing the challenge, it was something that needed advance planning with my role.
I used to ride on the streets all the time but at my age, I don’t care to as much anymore, so I chose a bike + train combination, mostly on greenways, that took just over 2 hours from my home in Sunset Hills. I took my first meeting from home via Zoom so I could avoid major morning traffic, then rode 15 miles, about 4 on streets and the rest on Gravois, River des Peres and Brickline Greenways. I may have ridden more miles than a direct route, but I liked being on greenways for both the safety and one more opportunity to check on our work. I enjoyed seeing both some of my usual riding routes and some new spots, getting a good workout in and meeting a nice couple from Little Rock, Arkansas on the MetroLink train. My train ride was smooth and felt secure and was super easy.
While I had a little bit of trepidation at first, once I got moving, I felt great. I was glad I did it and I would do it again.”
Jovany Otero, Volunteer Coordinator
“I was working the commuter comfort station on Bike to Work Day, so I had to drive a car full of stuff to set up. But I did complete a car-free commute to and from my post at the Shrewsbury MetroLink Station. Overall, my commute, which included rail and bike, was a great learning experience. I was happy to have folks that I could ask questions about biking in the city and that definitely helped me feel more comfortable. I look forward to seeing how far I can go out just using public transportation and bike!”
Tiffany Clinton, Administrative Assistant
“I biked to work one day and walked to work one day this month. I even did a bonus bike ride to accompany Jovany on part of his commute on Bike to Work Day!”
Todd Antoine, Chief of Planning and Projects
“I carpool every morning to work. Carpooling is nice cause you have someone to talk to about what’s on the radio, that random strange car on the road you see, or super energetic folks in the park!”
Elizabeth Simons, Community Program Manager
“Walking to and from work was a really good opportunity to slow down my commute, take some deep breaths, and notice my surroundings – including the 30+ different species of weeds growing in the cracks in the sidewalk on Vandeventer Ave! I felt more relaxed when I got to the office in the morning. I enjoyed the time I spent moving my body and not sitting in traffic.”
Michael Steinlage, Project Manager
“I rode the Metrolink from Sunnen Station at the end of my street to Cortex and walked. I should have brought my bike, but I am still learning the ins and outs of the transfer commuter etiquette. The commute was easy breezy and I totally recommend (to myself) more Metrolink rides!”
Angelica Gutierrez, Senior Project Manager
“While at the NACTO Conference in Denver, I did not get a rental car and used other forms of transportation (walking, biking and using a scooter) all week. Every day I was there, I saw a lot of people using transit, bus, bikes and scooters and it was easy because there were not that many cars on the roads.
That is my dream…have a life without a car. I realized how behind St. Louis is compared to other cities a bit more progressive as Denver, Portland, Bogota. I would love to be able to live closer to work and be able to bike or scoot and not depend on cars.
I came back to St. Louis after the conference with the purpose to rethink my home location and possibly move closer to work and my daughter’s school, now that I don’t need to live in a specific school district. I tried making the commute from my house but decided not to do it because it would take 3 hours of my day, more than I can afford with all the things I have to do.”
Emma Klues, VP of Communications & Outreach
“I have the privilege and luck of living closest to the office, so walking or biking is more possible for me than most. I did at least one non-car commute per week during May, ranging from walking to biking to the 70 Grand MetroBus. Besides the environmental benefits, I LOVE this for several reasons – I get to know my community in a totally different way, seeing interesting things and getting fresh air, and I am forced to exercise even if I feel lazy. While I haven’t experienced direct harassment in many years (yelling, throwing things), I think that’s partially because I am fortunate to be on routes, from Tower Grove Park to City Foundry, where most people driving are used to seeing people walking and biking.
My favorite adventure was with my colleague Kuleya, joining her commute along the Mississippi Greenway and on MetroLink. It was an invigorating ride and a great chance to see wildlife, have lovely interactions with both strangers and familiar faces, and marvel at the mighty Mississippi River. It set a great tone for my whole day.”
Vanessa Wear, Development Assistant and Valerie Rudy-Valli, VP of Major Gifts
“The planning was super easy for our 2-person carpool, we just picked a day that worked for both of us. I picked up Valerie and got to spend a few minutes playing with her dog, my favorite, Betsy Ross, before heading to work 🙂 It was a nice, relaxing morning ride! When we arrived at work, it felt like we did a very small part to help the environment.”
Kuleya Bruce, Project Manager
“At first, I was nervous about being able to complete the task. Once we set out, my nervousness turned to excitement. After reaching the office, it all culminated into joy and accomplishment.”
Equally important and possibly even more illuminating, here are comments from people about why they did not participate:
“I lack the confidence and nerves to bike on St. Louis streets. Driver speeds, inattention and recklessness make even vehicular commutes unnerving.”
“I did not participate in active commuting last month due to poor planning. Next year, I hope to be more prepared!”
“For me it was just bad timing. Was on the tail end of my training program the first week of May, out of town the second week, then recuperating with a broken shoulder. Fully intend to participate in the future, as I have in the past!”
“I have taken my bike to work a few times – the direct route is not an enjoyable one, it involves Kingshighway Avenue. I also get in early, so that means leaving my house by 5:15 at the latest. This specific month, I was out of town for 1 week and had multiple days that I was out with my kids’ schedules but in general, I am in such a rush to pick the kiddos up after work that I would have to leave work early OR pay for after care. I love riding to work when I can – it’s fantastic!”
“I know St. Louis public transportation is not great, but it was not an issue, I just didn’t make it happen with my travel mid-month. I will have to make up the ride and run to work sometime this summer.”
“I don’t have a bike, but also because my team works so early, I wouldn’t feel safe riding on the streets I’d need to take while it’s still dark out.”
“It’s a nearly two hour commute that includes two buses and about a 2 mile walk, hard to clear schedules for. One of those walking routes is not safe for pedestrians or cyclists (no sidewalks or bike lanes, poor driver behavior, using a major MoDOT road and a highway…and there is significant construction in the area). I may have been able to drive to the transit center, but parking is extremely limited there. I’ll try to rethink this and see how to make this commute work across the North County divide.”
“The main reason is that it was too much of a hassle and would take too long. I didn’t want to make a separate trip to the office to drop off my laptop (which I take home every night since I work part-time) or any clothes, etc. I am so busy right now, it just felt overwhelming to me. And a small part of me is a little more scared of sharing the road with cars than I used to be.”
“I evaluated my options because the commute distance is 22 miles each way. I don’t have a bike rack to haul my bike around for a partial commute and quite honestly, it has been a minute since I rode it. I could have taken Metro from the Lansdowne station but even my commute to there is 17 miles. I am uncertain if I could have physically done either with my ankle issue.”