ST. LOUIS • On Nov. 1, Tolighta Morrow, a General Motors worker and former Army reservist, was killed when a speeding stolen car ran a red light and hit her vehicle at Natural Bridge and Fair avenues.
Morrow, 30, of St. Louis, and her boyfriend, Brian Greer, 36, of Alton, who also was killed, were the latest on a long list of crash victims on the section of Natural Bridge inside the city of St. Louis. In all, there have been 25 fatalities in the past six years on the four-mile stretch; 15 victims were pedestrians.
Last Wednesday, Morrow’s mother, Donna Powell, took part in a Missouri Department of Transportation focus group of nearby residents and others to get their thoughts on how to reduce the traffic carnage on the street.
It’s part of a new MoDOT campaign to improve Natural Bridge safety that recently kicked off with five public service announcements to be shown on local TV stations.
“They have to do something,” Powell, 54, said in an interview after the session. “This has to stop. Not only because of my daughter. It could be your child next or your aunt or your uncle.”
Powell suggested adding speed bumps and traffic circles at intersections to try to get drivers to slow down. She said narrowing the street, which has two lanes in each direction and a middle turn lane, could also be considered.
MoDOT says a speed study last June showed a majority of motorists on Natural Bridge in the city, where the speed limit is 35 mph, are driving 45. Between midnight and 6 a.m., drivers often go over 60 mph, MoDOT says.
Powell also suggested that traffic laws be better enforced.
Police already are preoccupied with dealing with violent crime on this very street.
That was underscored in January when the British-based Guardian newspaper reported that Natural Bridge in the city was the worst spot for gun killings in America in 2015. That was based on an analysis by census tract.
Police spokeswoman Schron Jackson said the department stepped up its traffic enforcement efforts along Natural Bridge in March and normally has an officer between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m. running radar or “in stationary mode.”
In addition, City Public Safety Director Jimmie Edwards said he has asked the Missouri Highway Patrol to help out on Natural Bridge.
Others interviewed after the focus group meeting, held at the Julia Davis Branch Library at Natural Bridge and Newstead Avenue, had additional ideas.
James Stringfellow, a retired warehouse worker, suggested educating teen drivers, perhaps with presentations at local churches, on how to drive safely on the street.
Shutting down segments of the street for occasional neighborhood festivals could get drivers used to slowing down, he added.
Michelle Atkins, 47, a motel housekeeper, said she’s had two close calls trying to walk across Natural Bridge, most recently one day last week.
“It was right here at this corner,” she said. “A blue sedan ... just came flying around the corner. No blinkers, no nothing. I had my foot off the curb; I jumped back so I wouldn’t get hit.”
She also liked the speed bump idea and suggested better lighting as well.
Erica McElrath, 47, an Avon representative, said running red lights is another problem.
“I sit in my car at the light and they go around me,” she said. “They’re in trucks and cars. It’s old folks and young folks.”
One of the new MoDOT TV spots shows a driver in an auto racing suit putting on a helmet with the superimposed message, “Natural Bridge Is Not A Race Track.”
A different one targets jaywalking.
Another features a message from state Rep. Joshua Peters, D-St. Louis, whose district includes part of the deadly stretch. He urges people to pay attention, cross the street at stoplights and drive the speed limit.
“Following these basic rules could save your life and other people you share the road with,” Peters says in the spot.
Peters, two city aldermen, first responders, MoDOT workers and relatives of some crash victims are in another spot.
Michelle Forneris, MoDOT’s area engineer for the city, said her agency will work with city officials to decide what physical changes to the street could best address the problem. More focus groups will be part of the process.
“It’ll probably be a few months” for such a plan to take shape, she said.