Hazelwood resident Connor Sites-Bowen feels trapped. There are too few options, he says, for Hazelwood residents to access the neighborhood on foot or by bike, and the few options that do exist aren’t safe.
That’s why Sites-Bowen is asking people to join him on a Monday Morning Commute March, where concerned residents will walk and ride together to make a safe path out of Hazelwood. The march will take place August 27 at 8am, and recur each week until an acceptable solution for Pedestrian Access to Hazelwood (PATH) is reached.
Sites-Bowen says he and other residents had been riding through the Hazelwood Green (formerly Almono) site for most of the summer, until the gate was locked and workers on the site became more strict about trespassing. Once the home of a prosperous J & L Company steel mill, the land has been on the cusp of redevelopment since 1999. A few temporary projects like Thrival Festival and Uber test tracks have resided there, but now a more permanent plan is finally in the works. The plans, which remain somewhat mysterious, include a public space called The Plaza, a bike trail, and a main street.
“The status quo since the site changed hands and they shut down the bike path back in 2013 has been that the pedestrian traffic and bike traffic needs to go on Irvine Street,” Sites-Bowen says.
But according to Sites-Bowen, Irvine Street isn’t suitable for cyclists or pedestrians. The speed limit on Irvine is set at 25 mph, but Sites-Bowen says it’s usually moving upwards of 40 mph. Pedestrians find that the sidewalk along Irvine is poorly maintained. Sites-Bowen is sure that it doesn’t meet ADA standards. But, sidewalks are the responsibility of property owners.
“I’ve been speaking with my councilman, Councilman [Corey] O’Connor and his office, and they’ve been really friendly, but they just don’t seem to have the power to do much more than fine the land owners that aren’t maintaining those properties,” says Sites-Bowen.
That’s why Sites-Bowen decided to hold the Monday Morning Commute March–to bring the transportation problem in Hazelwood to the attention of the people that have the power to fix it. He says he’s not interested in playing the blame game, he just wants a quick solution that allows him to feel safe when he’s navigating in and out of his neighborhood.
To reflect Sites-Bowen’s experience with his real commute, the marchers will ask for access to the Hazelwood Green site, and if not allowed, they will march on Irvine Street.
“We’re going to try to walk in any other path but Irvine Street, and if they’re all closed to us because private property developers won’t let us into this thing they’re calling a neighborhood, then we’re going to walk on Irvine Street.“
A possible safe passageway for pedestrians is the former Second Ave in the Hazelwood Green site, says Sites-Bowen. Second Ave is currently being used as a construction access road. Another option he sees is the opening of the new bike trail through Hazelwood Green along Blair Street, which Sites-Bowen says has been finished for about 10 months–except for one 150 ft section that passes under the railroad bridge. This stretch has remained unfinished because until recently Almono LLC, the company behind the development project at Hazelwood Green, has been negotiating a contract with the rail company CSX. On August 21, it was announced on the Hazelwood Green website that an agreement had been reached between Almono LLC and CSX on pedestrian and cyclist access under the bridge. While construction on the trail itself is “imminent” and will be “relatively quick,” a finish line for the project is still at least three months out, as a canopy designed to protect people on the trail from the railroad above them will require more time to construct.
Sites-Bowen wonders if some temporary set-up could suffice to allow Hazelwood residents passage on the trail until the canopy is ready. The Current has reached out to the people behind Hazelwood Green for comment, and have not yet received a response at this time.
If a solution within Hazelwood Green isn’t possible, another path Sites-Bowen has proposed is an accomodation on Irvine Street. He believes that the easternmost lane could be made into a two-way bike lane, that way cyclists and automobiles don’t have to share the street. He imagines that the city could bring in jersey barriers and create a lane similar to the one that was made a few weeks ago after the train derailment at Station Square.
“They did it for the railroad in 24 hours because it’s next to downtown–because people who come here to check it out because it’s “The Most Livable City” are right across the river from that part of the trail,” he says. “But this part of the trail? No, we’re too far away. We don’t matter. And that’s not right. If we’re supposed to be the number two most liveable city, there’s 4,000 of us who don’t feel like we’re living here.”
Sites-Bowen feels that the transportation problems have cut Hazelwood residents off from the rest of the city, and the rest of the city off from Hazelwood. He’s excited for the new things coming to the area, and proud of what Hazelwood already has to offer. He knows that he isn’t the only one whose life is affected by the traffic problems in the neighborhood. He also isn’t the only one who is tired of feeling like he is risking his life while biking on Irvine Street.
“It’s not germane to me which path all of our civic leaders and private business leaders want to pick, what’s important is that they pick one and implement it,” Sites-Bowen says, “And if they pick one that’s longer term then they need to put a short term one in immediately, because this isn’t a problem for down the road.”