Student's death in Fulton highlights need for safe bike/ped bridges

Saturday Westminster College student Ruslans Petrovskis died when he fell from the 7th Street bridge over Stinson's Creek in Fulton, on the Westminster College campus.

Petrovskis' death has hit the small, tight-knit Westminster College faculty and student body hard, according to an article in the Fulton Sun.

The Columbia Tribune has some details about the incident.  Petrovskis was bicycling across the bridge when he fell about 20 feet to the trail below. Police do not know why he fell, but believe that he was not hit by an automobile.

Why did Petrovski fall?
So how and why did Petrovski fall?

We can't say for certain--probably no one can at this point. But bicyclists who have ridden across bridges like this, and pedestrians who have walked across them, can immediately see some huge danger signs.

The guard rail on the south side of the bridge is dangerously low.  It is designed to keep automobiles from driving off the bridge, but like thousands of bridges across Missouri, it was not designed to protect bicyclists, who also (by Missouri law) use the travel lanes.

Bicyclists, with a much higher center of gravity, can easily go over such a low barrier if they run into it for any reason.  Modern design standards require a much higher barrier.

Many campus cyclists ride on the sidewalk, and the pedestrian barrier on this bridge's sidewalk is also too low for bicyclist safety.  Modern standards would require a higher barrier that would protect bicyclists who may lose their balance or swerve into the fence, from going over the fence.

The situation in Missouri
This bridge, like many thousands in Missouri, needs to be brought up to modern standards of safety and design that take into consideration bicycle and pedestrian safety.

With many thousands of bridges across the state in this same condition or worse, fixing them is going to be a long term project. (In fact the Fulton bridge with its separated sidewalk is ahead of most in Missouri--which do not include bicycle or pedestrian accommodations of any sort.)

You address problems like this by identifying the problem, finding resources to address it, prioritizing the  problem spots, and addressing the most serious problems first.  And a bridge like this one in Fulton--in the middle of a college campus, in the center of a hive of bicycle and pedestrian activity--should come very near the top of the priority list.

What cities can do
We encourage the City of Fulton and other cities across Missouri to adopt Complete Streets policies--policies that put the city on track for designing roads and streets for every user, from pedestrians to transit users to motorists, from the young to the old, from the able to the disabled--and then start to identify and address the most serious problems and safety concerns for these users.

That includes everything from creating bicycle route networks, filling in sidewalk gaps, making intersections safer for bicyclists and pedestrians, giving bicyclists and pedestrians safe access across major barriers like interstate freeways, rivers, and rail lines, and improving bridges like this one, with dangerously low barriers.

Image courtesy Google Streetview; click for Streetview images of the location.