More trails and bike lanes offer signs of progress

06/06/2014 11:27 AM

06/06/2014 3:28 PM

Saturday’s dedication of the Line Creek and Missouri Route 152 trails in the Northland is a welcome event for walkers and bicyclists. They will enjoy the 11 miles of connected pathways for many years to come.

The finally completed project is the highlight of Kansas City’s celebration of National Trails Day. It’s also the kind of bike/pedestrian project worth emulating by the city, which needs to provide residents with many more miles of trails and bike lanes in the future.

But the Line Creek/Missouri Route 152 also is a cautionary tale about how difficult and time-consuming these efforts can be.

It took years to cobble together financing from the public and private sectors — plus the cooperation of different agencies, businesses and landowners — to reach the finish line.

Each new lengthy piece of trail adds to the attraction of the area, and the health of its citizens. But the accomplishments are still years behind other more bike-friendly cities.

The go-slow approach to transportation projects that don’t cater to motorists will be on full display next Wednesday when the Kansas City Public Library and the Mid-America Regional Council present an update at the Central Library on the MetroGreen program.

More than 20 years old, MetroGreen sketched out the possibility of creating more than 1,100 miles of area trails. Yet less than a quarter of that number — under 300 miles — has come to fruition.

A decade ago, planners were buzzing about efforts to connect trails within this region. Some paid off, especially in Johnson County, which has a dedicated tax to help build trails. Citizens have reaped the benefits of being able to get more places, more easily. But the recession has delayed many other plans.

Yet, progress continues, especially for bicyclists.

Last month, City Council member Scott Wagner said the city would ramp up its efforts to reach the silver level on a rating chart used by the League of American Bicyclists.

That’s the second highest of four levels, right above the bronze status attained in 2011. The city hopes to get to the top platinum level by 2020.

To reach the second tier goal, Kansas City likely will have to construct 600 miles of an on-street bicycle system. Unfortunately, the city is not quite a third of the way there, while some serious bicyclists in town offer an even lower figure.

Perhaps the most positive part of planning to meet the needs of Kansas City bicyclists is that they aren’t an afterthought now, as they had been for many years. City officials are expected to consider the needs of pedestrians and bike riders when they discuss street repavings, replacements, widenings and new construction.

Progress is evident in discussions on retrofits to existing streets — such as planned bike lanes on Paseo and Grand boulevards. If the city can make it safer for bicyclists to use those north-south roadways, more people will do so, for commuting to work and riding for pleasure.

One other improvement on the horizon is the expansion of Kansas City B-cycle, the local bike-sharing program.

The downtown stations, in place since 2012, allow riders to rent a bike and drop it off within the immediate area. By mid-summer, supporters hope to have installed a total of nine new stations in the Westport and Plaza areas, three in the Brookside/Waldo area and one near 18th and Vine. Future expansions are possible, too.

Bike sharing is an excellent way to allow more people to get exercise and stay out of their cars. It’s another piece of evidence that Kansas City is building some momentum in serving the needs of bicyclists.

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