Bicycles, rollerblades, scooters and skateboards have been declared a “public nuisance” within a portion of Lenexa’s showpiece of walkability and new urbanism, the City Center development.
After a lengthy discussion and much angst on Aug. 15, the eight-member council approved an ordinance that banned the use of such wheels within the sidewalk perimeter of the civic campus because of concerns about youths riding bikes down parking garage ramps and damaging the outdoor plaza with their skateboards.
Council members Amy Slater and Lou Serrone voted against the ordinance.
The civic campus is an area that includes the recently opened recreation center, city hall offices and a public market which will have vendors. Those buildings surround an open plaza and fountain. Under the new rule, bikes can be ridden on sidewalks on the outside edge of the area, but must be walked once inside.
The vote got the council off to an awkward start with iBike Lenexa, a newly formed group of bicycle advocates who have been pushing for more bike infrastructure and have become active in the city election this year.
Some council members strongly objected to the wording and stressed that cyclists are welcome at the center, but still voted for the ordinance, citing concerns about safety.
The vote disappointed members of the group. They had hoped for a delay so they could have input. They succeeded in getting it removed from the consent agenda of non-controversial items, but the vote went ahead as planned, with no public comments until afterward.
“The council’s actions speak louder than their words,” said Jeff Carroll, who started the group. “Lenexa already has a reputation across the city as being unfriendly to cyclists. I think this was a missed opportunity to start to change that perception. I also think it’s a missed opportunity to establish City Center as a destination for cyclists. Cyclists will continue to look to other areas of the city that are actively supporting bicycle infrastructure.”
Those in favor of the ordinance insisted the city wants to welcome and encourage bicycling. But city staffers said they’d seen youths riding skateboards and bikes in the garage and damaging some of the plaza fixtures.
City Administrator Eric Wade said bike riding in the plaza is a safety hazard.
“If people walk in with food and someone goes zipping by and distracts them and they spill food out on the concourse, that’s not the experience we’re trying to give them,” he told the council.
Council member Joe Karlin said people discussing the proposal on social media misunderstood the ordinance.
“We want to make Lenexa as bike friendly as we possibly can,” he said. “In no way do we want to limit it. We just want it done in a safe manner.”
Karlin and Councilman Steve Lemons worried about collisions between riders and people on the plaza.
“I’m envisioning my mom or in-laws, all in their 80s, stepping out of the parking garage as somebody is whizzing by. They have no time to react,” Lemons said. “To me it is a nuisance.”
The City Center was designed for a mixture of uses, with offices, entertainment and restaurants within close proximity — an urban planning style that de-emphasizes the dominance of the automobile.
The irony was not lost on Serrone.
“We want to make this pedestrian friendly and yet now we’re going to exclude everybody in this red outline of the civic campus from riding a bike in here,” he said. “The way this is written, it’s saying, ‘Don’t come here,’ and I don’t think that’s what we want.”
Council members Andy Huckaba and Mandy Stuke both had objections to the “nuisance” wording.
Huckaba asked whether the ordinance couldn’t address the irresponsible behavior rather than banning the devices. But staffers said that would make it too difficult for police to enforce.
Serrone pointed out that other public spaces like Kansas City’s River Market allow things like rollerblading. “You see people doing it without any problems at all,” he said.
Slater said bicycling is a part of the culture at Garmin, where she works. Bike groups are considered normal there and bikes are allowed in the parking garage.
Safety is a valid concern, she said.
“To me, it could have been worded a lot differently. For me this does come off a little bit harsh.” She added that the stiff cycling shoes with clips are impractical for walking long distances within the plaza.
The discussion comes just a few weeks after iBike Lenexa formed and announced it would become active in city elections. Carroll said Lenexa lacks bike lanes, share-the-road arrows and other signage. Data from Mid-America Regional Council shows bike infrastructure in all surrounding cities, and Carroll said he wants to catch the city up.
Several cyclists who rode to the council meeting were not happy by the vote. The city center is accessible by busy roads with a large intersection near Interstate 435. But getting there by bicycle is difficult because of the lack of lanes on 87th Street Parkway and that the number of bike racks at the civic campus is inadequate, they said.
Carroll said the vote would not deter the group from pursuing better bike infrastructure.
“This experience has made our group more determined than ever to push for change in Lenexa, and we will continue to work with the city, local businesses, and other bicycle advocacy groups to gain support for our cause,” he said. “We will also be holding a few events around the election to help support bicycle-friendly candidates.”
Roxie Hammill: firstname.lastname@example.org.