Eleven years after the city adopted a plan to promote bicycling on city streets, bikes lanes are finally coming to Kansas City.
On Thursday, the City Council approved plans for striping nearly 12 miles of bike lanes through the heart of downtown next year, with links to the city’s east side and the Kansas suburbs.
It’s the second significant milestone reached recently as the city works to implement the Bike KC plan adopted in 2002. Only this spring did bike route signs begin to appear along the first 175 miles of the 600-mile system envisioned in Bike KC.
Although frustrated with the city’s slow pace — Chicago, Washington, D.C. and even Columbia have been striping bike lanes for many years — local cycling advocates say they welcome the latest developments.
“It’s been the most amazing kind of struggle to get this implemented,” said Brent Hugh, head of the Missouri Bicycle and Pedestrian Federation. “You hate to be critical now that, after all of these years of trouble and travail, we’re finally doing it.”
The city is getting it done thanks to federal aid and through the efforts of bicycle/pedestrian coordinator Deb Ridgway, who was hired five years ago to push forward the Bike KC plan.
Until recently, there have been few, if any, accommodations for cyclists on downtown streets. But when the $905,000 project (80 percent of it federal money) is completed next year, there will be striped bike lanes, or a combination of bike lanes and “sharrows” along Grand Boulevard, 18th Street, 20th Street, West Pennway and Beardsley Road.
Sharrows are regular traffic lanes on which stick-figure outlines of bicycles are painted on the pavement to signal that motorists and cyclists have equal rights to those lanes. They’re used when there isn’t enough room for a separate bike lane.
The aim of the downtown plan is to provide safer biking conditions through the central city and make connections to the Jazz District, West Side and West Bottoms.
While there’s some disagreement in the cycling community on how much bike lanes improve safety, novice and even many experienced cyclists say they feel safer and are more likely to ride bikes on city streets when they have a designated lane.
“I’m of the opinion that more people will ride if they see visible lanes and sharrows,” said Elizabeth Bejan, who runs RevolveKC, a nonprofit that refurbishes old bikes and teaches bike safety.
The project also will complete some unfinished links to downtown Kansas City, Kan., and a popular bike commuting route to Johnson County along Southwest Boulevard.
In addition, it will be a boon to the Kansas City’s year-old bike share program, B-cycle, which is underwritten by Blue Cross Blue Shield and other corporate donors.
“We brought the private money to the table (for bike sharing),” said Eric Rogers, executive director of Bike Walk KC, the nonprofit that runs B-cycle. “The city committed to building the bike lanes to connect the bike share stations.”
Although more than a decade has passed since Bike KC was adopted, it’s not as if the city has done nothing, Ridgway said. Some important, though less visible progress was made along the 175 miles of streets where the bike route signs are going up this year.
With federal money, the city replaced sewer grates with a style less likely to swallow bicycle tires. Manhole and water main covers are now more likely to be flush with the pavement, rather than elevated and a hazard to cyclists, on those routes, as well.
In 2011, 40 bicycle racks were installed in city parks and parking garages at the municipal building, and this year the city is in the midst of installing 1,050 signs marking bike routes.
The downtown project builds on all that, Rogers said.
“It’s really going to go a long way,” he said, “to addressing the need for more bike facilities in the urban core.”
Ridgway said there will likely be bike lanes along much of Grand between Third and 20th streets.
The 18th Street route will connect with a separate bike lane project already underway on Benton Boulevard, from St. John Avenue to Brush Creek. But 18th is also a potential streetcar route, so it might be necessary to shift bike lanes to 19th Street between Grand and Vine Street.
During a street repaving project last fall, the city set the stage for the downtown routes by marking several blocks of bike lanes and sharrows on Southwest Boulevard.
Plans call for extending that to the state line, connecting with lanes the Unified Goverment is striping all the way to the Johnson County border this year and next.
The downtown plan also includes a connection from downtown to the West Bottoms, where a link will connect to an existing trail that crosses the Kaw River under I-70.