Kansas City’s scenic Cliff Drive is closed until springtime to all vehicular traffic while crews repair and rebuild historic stairs and stone overlooks.
But even after the construction is finished, possibly next April, traffic on Cliff Drive is likely to face new restrictions.
It’s all an attempt to deal with a chronic dumping problem that has marred an otherwise beautiful roadway through Kessler Park in the Old Northeast.
“We’ve been talking about Cliff Drive for years, trying to figure out ways to curb illegal dumping,” said Forest Decker, superintendent of parks with the Kansas City Parks & Recreation Department.
After months of meetings, park staff, neighborhood leaders, recreation organizations and members of the Cliff Drive Corridor Management Committee have arrived at a recommendation that is gaining a lot of support.
It would establish a single lane of traffic on Cliff Drive’s eastbound lane, with the westbound lane converted to bicycle-pedestrian use. That is intended to discourage motorists from accessing dumping points over the cliff from the westbound lane.
Decker acknowledged that it doesn’t guarantee that dumpers won’t maneuver into the westbound lane, especially after dark. But the plan also recommends closing Cliff Drive to all motorists in the evenings.
That’s not set in stone, Decker said, but is a possibility that many people endorse.
In addition, city staff is looking into physical barriers and gate closures as ways to make it harder for dumpers to dispose of trash and construction debris. Signs, cameras and increased lighting are other strategies under consideration.
Cliff Drive already has been off-limits to motor vehicles on weekends for several years, and it’s become a popular destination for hikers, walkers, bicyclists, climbers and others wanting to enjoy the park and its trails, cliffs and views. The new plan would just expand on the car-free weekends, Decker said.
Many people signed a petition earlier this year calling for making Cliff Drive completely off-limits to cars. But that would have jeopardized the roadway’s status as a state scenic byway, which in turn would hurt the chance to apply for lucrative federal grants to keep improving the drive, Decker said.
The parks department has checked, and it doesn’t appear that closing one lane of traffic during weekdays would jeopardize the scenic byway status.
The latest plan has been reviewed by all six neighborhoods in the Northeast area and has been enthusiastically received, said Scarritt Renaissance Neighborhood president Leslie Caplan, who attended a number of the meetings.
Area residents enjoy driving on Cliff Drive, and many people aren’t thrilled with further restrictions, she acknowledged.
“But we all see the value of doing this” to address the serious illegal dumping issue, she said.
The park board recently heard a briefing on the ideas and had no objections, said Jean Paul Chaurand, park board president.
“I would say everybody was positive,” Chaurand said. “We were supportive with what the park staff and residents came up with.”
Chaurand said he expected the park board to formally approve the recommendation but didn’t know how quickly that would occur. Decker said some details still need to be clarified.
In the meantime, Cliff Drive will be car-free and under construction for probably the next five months. The city is restoring historic stairways and stone walls with a $642,000 federal scenic byways grant and $220,000 in local matching funds from the city’s capital improvements sales tax.
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