Double Crossed

It ain't easy being a pedestrian in U. City

Crosswalks in University City

To long-time Delmar Loop merchant David Salvato, the crosswalk that links the Tivoli Theatre to the municipal parking garage across Delmar Boulevard has always represented a simple battle of good (pedestrians) versus evil (cars).

"It's a shame that St. Louis motorists don't have any respect for pedestrians," says Salvato, who operates a confectionary on the boulevard a few doors west of the Tivoli box office. "It's easier to cross the street in New York than in St. Louis."

On September 9, it seemed as though University City police were intent on changing Salvato's opinion. For hours that day, two plainclothes cops traversed the crosswalk again and again with walkie-talkies at the ready, instructing patrol cars a block up the road to nail motorists who had failed to stop for them. The sting, which helped launch a regionwide pedestrian safety campaign, resulted in 25 warnings to motorists who declined to yield to pedestrians. (No citations were issued.)

But on September 28, evil staged a fiendish comeback. On that day the Tivoli crosswalk and a similar mid-block crosswalk near Melville Avenue a few blocks west were obliterated, the result of an ongoing dispute between University City and St. Louis County (which has jurisdiction over Delmar) that came to a head when acting county traffic director Garry Earls caught wind of the September 9 sting.

"They were stopping people for running the crosswalk, when the crosswalk wasn't sufficient," explains Earls, who considers the campaign kickoff to be the straw that broke the camel's back.

On April 4 the county had informed U. City that motorists could not adequately identify pedestrians entering the crosswalks in question owing to insufficient sightlines caused by cars parked on the street. The county gave the city a choice: Either remove a total of seven metered parking spaces in the vicinity of the crosswalks so as to allow 150 feet of clearance and visibility to oncoming cars, or lose the crosswalks. When the county nixed U. City officials' suggested alternative -- blinking signals to make the crosswalks more conspicuous -- U. City grudgingly gave in and the crosswalks were removed. As a result, there are no crosswalks on Delmar between Westgate Avenue and Skinker Boulevard, a distance of about a quarter-mile.

"I would have preferred to restrict the parking," says Earls.

Not an option, counters University City public relations director Monica McFee, who says the busy boho district hasn't got any spaces to spare.

David Salvato sees a bright side of sorts to the crosswalks' demise: de facto license to jaywalk at will -- and not just where the crosswalks used to be.

"The fight's over and somebody had to win," laments the shoe-leather maverick. "But now I can cross the street anywhere I want. I can walk right outside my door and cross."

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