Grand Boulevard is undergoing a “road diet.” That means fewer motor vehicle lanes so that room can be made for bicyclists.
The overnight work is changing a main north-south corridor through downtown Kansas City, taking it from as many as six car lanes to just three — one in each direction, along with a shared center turn lane. The bike lanes are being added from 20th Street (just north of Crown Center) to Fifth Street in the River Market area.
“What we are doing is reducing a lane of traffic, creating a center left-turn bay in this area through the downtown loop,” said Sherri McIntyre, Kansas City’s director of public works and assistant city manager. “For the most part it’s one lane in each direction.”
In the place of the through lanes, the city is putting in 5-foot-wide bicycle lanes while maintaining parking along the curb in most of the locations.
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“We’ve worked with the downtown business owners, property owners and tenants to come up with a plan,” McIntyre said. “They were willing to let us try out this road diet and change the configuration so we have a better use of the corridor for all users, between cars, buses, bicyclists and pedestrians.”
Eric Bunch, policy director with BikeWalkKC, is happy and excited to see the project moving forward. However, the group is disappointed with how long it has taken.
“For such a simple project like painted bike lanes, it shouldn’t have taken the four years that it did,” Bunch said. “We’re happy there’s finally a resolution.”
The design is a few years old and a bit out-of-date because of the delay, Bunch said.
But it’s a good start, and safer for everyone, he said.
“This gives us a couple years with a good bike lane in place to come up with a plan to redesign a higher quality, separated bike lane that provides more protection for people who may feel uncomfortable being still kind of out in traffic,” Bunch said.
Workers are removing existing lane markings and repainting new lines — yellow for the center turn lane and white for the bike lanes next to the parking. Bicycle symbols are also being painted on the pavement.
At key intersections, workers are also spraying green paint so bicyclists and cars will know where they are interacting. Crews are also painting green bike boxes across the lane of traffic.
The basic rule when it comes to bike boxes: When the light turns red, motor vehicles are to stop before the green boxes, staying behind the thick white line. The green area is for bikes only.
“The bike boxes allow the bicyclists at the intersection to get in front of the cars so they can take off and maneuver safely and get out of the way,” McIntyre said.
There are also green lines near bus stops indicating where buses will cross over the bike lanes.
The project was allowed to move forward after of years of delays when the Kansas City council approved $600,000 in funding last month for the Downtown Bike Loop. The work on Grand is expected to be completed in about two weeks.
The work is part of the city’s Downtown Bike Loop. Construction on the remainder of the work on the loop will continue in spring 2018. Once done, there will be bike lanes on Grand, Third, Fourth, Ninth, 20th, and West Pennway streets as well as Beardsley Road, Forrester Viaduct Mulberry Avenue and Southwest Boulevard.
The decision to move forward with the project is a sign that city leaders are realizing that bicycling plays a part in the city’s transportation network, Bunch said.
There have been efforts underway for some time to increase the residential, office, retail, convention and entertainment offerings in downtown Kansas City.
“What you’re seeing is really a change in the dynamic in downtown,” said Sean O’Byrne, vice president of the Downtown Council of Kansas City. “What used to be kind of a sleepy little office park is now becoming a vibrant 24-hour city that is filled with residents, visitors and office tenants.”
While some drivers might have concerns about losing through lanes, that was not as big of a concern among the businesses and residents in the area.
“The thought of losing parking to a bike lane was a concern,” O’Byrne said. “The lanes that they (the city) put together minimized any kind of parking loss and still accomplished what we wanted to accomplish with the green alternative of bike usage.”
The idea of a road diet is actually appealing to retailers, office users and residents because it slows traffic down.
“We’re really creating a neighborhood as opposed to a thoroughfare,” O’Byrne said. “Slow traffic is a good thing. It makes people realize where parking is. They can stop in and make a purchase.”
The addition of the bike lanes comes at the time that the Kansas City Area Transportation is re-routed its Main MAX rapid transit route. On Sunday, the Main Max started running on Grand between Crown Center and the River Market rather than Main Street before winding through downtown.
“We are very confident that this can be a safe operation for both the bicyclists and our bus operators — and our bus passengers, many of whom are bicycle riders,” Dick Jarrold, the KCATA’s vice president for regional planning and development, said last month.
“I think it’s a nice mix — the buses, the bikes and the boulevard. It can really be a showcase location.”
For those concerned about parking, the city is not changing the parking requirements or restrictions along the corridor.
“Some parking may be eliminated in some spots and in a few other spots I think parking has been created along the corridor,” she said.
Drivers, however, will need to be careful to make sure they don’t open their doors as bicyclist approach.
“You’re used to watching for cars going by when you open your door,” McIntyre said. “You need to be careful and watch for bicyclists.”
Safety advocates urge drivers to use the “Dutch Reach” — a practice where drivers use their right hand to open their car door. By doing that, drivers’ bodies swivel positioning them to better see if there are any oncoming bicycles or cars.
“This is a big change to a downtown street,” McIntyre said.