Around 2 p.m. Saturday, 10-year-old Jett Graham cruised down the middle of Ward Parkway on in-line skates.
“He’s excited,” said his mom, Beckett Graham, as Jett sped along the loop of smooth pavement surrounding Meyer Circle fountain. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Ward Parkway was closed to cars between Meyer Circle and Gregory Boulevard on Saturday for Cycle in the City, an open street festival organized by the Public Works Department. The first-time event is part of the city’s Bike KC plan, which aims to make the car-centric community more walkable and bikeable.
“We tend to let cars take over,” said Deb Ridgway, Kansas City’s bicycle pedestrian coordinator. The idea behind Cycle in the City “is to get people out and active and to really see their neighborhood in a new way.”
The event attracted hundreds of walkers, cyclists, skaters and skateboarders to casually cruise the two-mile loop. Terry Blair strolled behind her grandson Chevilar Ware, 3, as he chased his sister Jyaira Ware, 9, down the parkway on his Razor scooter. Nearby, avid cyclist Matt Lee rode his bike in circles around the stone edge of the Meyer Circle fountain.
“How often do you get to do that?” Lee asked before riding south on Ward Parkway to catch a BMX demo. Cycle in the City also offered a DJ, a climbing wall, yoga and dance classes, a bike safety course, food stands and lawn games.
The event was inspired by Ciclovia events that originated in Bogota, Colombia, in 1974. Ciclovia, which translates to “cycleway” in Spanish, has caught on in Australia, Europe and several U.S. cities, including Atlanta, Los Angeles and Portland, Ore. The Kansas City event was paid for with a $85,590 federal transportation grant and local sponsorships.
When Cycle in the City was announced in March, some representatives of neighborhoods bordering Ward Parkway were upset, saying they already have to host too many festivals and races. Those events, they said, disrupt their weekend plans with road closures, blocked driveways, noisy crowds, trash and damaged landscaping.
They were especially worried about closing a busy stretch of Ward Parkway for five hours on a Saturday afternoon and how that might affect traffic on residential streets. They also were concerned about disrupting graduation party and wedding plans.
But city officials said they had worked hard to alleviate the concerns. They posted signs allowing only neighborhood traffic on many nearby streets and positioned police and event staff at key intersections.
A few days before the event, some residents remained skeptical and frustrated that it wasn’t being held somewhere else in the city. But Tiffany Moore, president of the Armour Hills Homes Association, and Bruce Gelb, president of the Romanelli West Homes Association, said they thought the city had been proactive in addressing their issues.
Phil Glynn, who lives two blocks from Ward Parkway, brought 1-year-old daughter Blythe and 4-year-old son Zeke to Cycle in the City. The three roamed across the lush lawn carpeting Ward Parkway’s median.
“We go on this street all the time,” Glynn said, “but we always run across because we’re terrified. It’s fun to be able to linger.”
Beckett Graham, who also lives in the neighborhood, said she does get tired of the races that shut down Ward Parkway but doesn’t take issue with Cycle in the City “because it’s for the neighborhood — not just for the marathon runners.”
Ridgway said her goal is to make Cycle in the City an annual event.
“We’re starting with Ward Parkway because it’s our most iconic,” Ridgway said, adding that the event will likely move. “We want to take this to a different neighborhood every year.”