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KC’s ‘complete streets’ plan for bond projects would benefit drivers, walkers, cyclists

The Kansas City Council advanced a resolution ahead of Tuesday’s bonds election that calls on the city to emphasize “complete streets” for drivers, walkers and cyclists as it completes road and sidewalk projects.
The Kansas City Council advanced a resolution ahead of Tuesday’s bonds election that calls on the city to emphasize “complete streets” for drivers, walkers and cyclists as it completes road and sidewalk projects. File photo by The Star

Ahead of Tuesday’s bonds election, Kansas City Council members set a clarifying policy — that roads and sidewalks would be repaired with walkers and bicyclists in mind, envisioning liveable, green neighborhoods.

“We want the focus on complete streets,” Councilman Quinton Lucas said in committee Thursday. “We don’t want to just craft a standalone sidewalk.”

A resolution, passed by the full council Thursday, directs the city to set a broad-thinking policy to guide the work it hopes will come after voters decide on $800 million in general obligation bonds in three separate questions on Tuesday’s ballot.

The resolution also established the council’s intent that the city will prioritize areas of highest need in its work on sidewalks.

The criteria would weigh proximity to schools, public transportation, parks, employment opportunities, grocery stores and medical centers. It would also consider needs of access for people with disabilities and give priority to economically distressed areas and low-income neighborhoods.

A sidewalks planning team led by City Councilman Scott Wagner has said all along that the City Council would be establishing a priority system, but Councilwoman Jolie Justus wanted to codify something for voters before Tuesday.

Among the biggest concerns she and other council members have heard in recent weeks, she said, was how the city would decide whose sidewalks get repaired first, and if the city would follow the nation’s trend toward biker- and pedestrian-friendly communities.

The first issue on the ballot, and the largest, asks for approval for $600 million in general obligation bonds, saying $450 million would go to repairing roads and bridges, and $150 million would go to sidewalks.

In the sidewalk plan, the city would take over the financial responsibility for sidewalks, taking the cost away from property owners.

Thursday’s resolution means to make it clear that the roads and sidewalks operations would be in tandem under a “complete streets” vision.

“This is setting the right course,” said Eric Bunch with BikeWalkKC, which aims to redefine streets as places to build “a culture of active living.”

It is good for bicyclists, he said. It’s good for “walking kids to school, or walking to the grocery store or catching the bus.”

The city would also look for opportunities to coordinate sidewalk work with the city’s ongoing project of replacing water mains, Wagner said.

Water mains rebuilt under sidewalks, rather than streets, reduces costs and avoids more street damage and closures, he said.

The resolution directs the city manager’s office to return with a priority plan within 45 days.

If voters reject the bond issues Tuesday, the sidewalk priorities would revert to the current city practice, Wagner said, which solely responds to complaints and is done usually at the cost of property owners.

But the resolution’s mandate to integrate projects with attention to a “complete street” design would carry on within the city’s current funding resources.

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