An extensive bike network has been approved for Overland Park.
The city council kicked off its meeting Monday evening by approving a much-anticipated bike plan, which would likely create 165 miles of bicycle lanes throughout the city. It also calls for buffered bicycle lanes, shared use paths, shared lane markings and signed bike routes.
The $27 million project will be implemented gradually and will take several years to complete, spreading out the cost.
New lanes and signage will be constructed simultaneously with street resurfacing and reconstruction projects already in the works.
“People aren’t dependent on automobiles anymore and they don’t want to own two or three cars,” said Councilman Curt Skoog. “We need to provide proper infrastructure as interest in biking grows. I think it’s an important step for Overland Park.”
His sentiments were echoed by a large majority of bicycling enthusiasts who showed up at the meeting in support of the plan.
Everyone from avid commuters to casual riders offered their two cents during a public hearing before the council voted to approve the plan.
Joe Blankenship, a representative from Bike Walk KC, likes the plan because he feels it will make bicycling a more comfortable experience. He hopes bicycle safety will be emphasized for both riders and drivers once the plan is implemented.
“Many times as a bicyclist in Overland Park, I have felt like a second-class citizen on the road,” he told the council.
Aaron Butler, an 18-year-old from Overland Park, completely agreed.
As a young driver, he faces a couple dilemmas.
He doesn’t feel comfortable driving his car with cyclists on the road right now. He thinks the bike lanes and signage will help put him, and other drivers, at ease.
He also would love to save gas money and bike around town on his own, but he doesn’t feel safe riding on certain streets.
One of the dissenters at the public hearing was Mark Stuecheli, the former senior transportation planner for Overland Park.
While he is supportive of creating a bike network in the city, there were a couple details in the plan that made him uncomfortable, he said.
He told the council he didn’t like that the plan calls for some thoroughfares to be narrowed to include bike lanes.
With cars going at high speeds and drivers distracted with cell phones, he worries the narrowness of lanes could potentially cause serious accidents.
Brian Shields, city traffic engineer, told the council that the city researched the subject thoroughly and it did not see any harm in narrowing streets for bike lanes.
Only one council member, Terry Goodman, voted against the plan.
Goodman emphasized that he wasn’t against cycling, he was just opposed to spending $27 million on a bike plan that would only benefit a small percentage of Overland Park residents.
He’d rather use that money to repair streets or hire more public safety officers.
“When I look at the feel good proposition of adding bike lanes compared to addressing the real needs of our Overland Park citizens, I’m troubled,” he said.
His fellow council members disagreed, however.
“Cost is not an issue to me, since it will be implemented over a long period of time,” said Councilman Paul Lyons. “In the grand scheme of things, it’s minimal. This plan is essentially re-striping roads. I think it will be money well spent and it will improve the image of Overland Park.”
A few council members, and the mayor, pointed out that approving the plan was strictly a policy decision. The council would approve funding as each project came before them.
The mayor also said that even after the plan was passed, the council could still pull the plug at any time if early results proved to be unsuccessful.
“Adopting this plan doesn’t mean we’re writing a $28 million check right now,” said Mayor Carl Gerlach.
Later in the meeting, the council unanimously voted not to approve a site license agreement with Kansas City Power and Light Company for electric vehicle charging stations at various city facilities.
While the installation of the charging stations would have been free, the city would have been financially responsible for electricity usage on the stations for the first two years of operation. The city estimated the cost would have been anywhere from $15,600 to $31,200 per year.
After the initial two year period, KCP&L would have implemented a payment system to charge users via credit card.
The stations were proposed to be located at places such as the convention center and the arboretum.
“I think electric cars are good, but I’m opposed to Overland Park buying electricity and providing it free until KCP&L can charge its users,” Goodman said.
Other council members said they were willing to wait until KCP&L had its sale system put together before installing charge stations at its city facilities.
A representative for KCP&L stated he understood the council’s concerns and he said it was likely the company would return to Overland Park when the payment system was in place to install charge stations at a later time.
He said that there are a growing number of people in the Kansas City metro area who use electric vehicles on the road. With the growing trend, the company anticipates installing a large amount of charging stations in the future.
According to KCP&L’s data, there are 1,200 electric cars on the Kansas side of the metro area, with a significant number in Overland Park, Leawood, Mission Hills and Olathe.
Also at the meeting, the council surprised Gerlach with a standing ovation and kind words to celebrate his 20 years as an elected official in Overland Park.
Councilman John Skubal publicly thanked Gerlach for his years of service and for giving up his free time to help make the city a better place.
Gerlach was a little embarrassed by the unexpected gesture, but touched.
“We don’t do this for the money,” he told the applauding audience. “When you have a city run so professionally by our staff and citizens who are smart and engaged, that makes this job fulfilling. So, thank you.”