Government & Politics

Scathing audit faults Kansas City bike plan as ‘only lines on a map’

Kansas City installed its first bicycle traffic signal at a downtown intersection in September. Bike signals are common in some other major cities. An audit released this week faults the city’s bike master plan for slow progress in making Kansas City more bicycle friendly.
Kansas City installed its first bicycle traffic signal at a downtown intersection in September. Bike signals are common in some other major cities. An audit released this week faults the city’s bike master plan for slow progress in making Kansas City more bicycle friendly. deulitt@kcstar.com

A new city audit calls Kansas City’s master bicycle transportation plan little more than “lines on a map to delineate bike routes” that don’t connect with popular destinations and have largely gone unbuilt because of the plan’s many flaws.

City government, therefore, has little to no chance of reaching the City Council’s goal of achieving national recognition as a platinum-level bike friendly community by 2020, the city auditors said in the report that will be discussed Thursday at a City Council committee meeting.

The 22-page report was scathing in its criticism of the city government’s 14-year-old Bike KC plan and its implementation, saying it “lacks most of the recommended elements of a bicycle master plan.”

In his introduction, city auditor Douglas Jones said Portland, Ore., Denver and Overland Park have plans with those core elements. Each has constructed or planned networks of on-street bike lanes and off-street paths that provide direct and safe routes that average bicyclists can use to get to where they want to go. And they have protocols to get those plans implemented.

“The purpose of a stand-alone bicycle plan,” Jones said, “is to identify the projects, policies and programs needed to fully integrate bicycling as a viable mode of transportation with a community.”

But Bike KC doesn’t do any of that, Jones said. The bike routes don’t take into account difficulty or safety issues, meaning many of them are or will be ridden by experienced recreational cyclists rather than commuters.

A new bicycle-only traffic signal was unveiled Friday morning at the intersection of Petticoat Lane and Main Street, timed to allow cyclists a head start in moving through the intersection.

And the plan lacks design guidelines, goals and deadlines, meaning city planners cannot rely on Bike KC to incorporate bike lanes and other infrastructure into road projects.

That leads to inaction and delays that put the city at risk of forfeiting federal dollars awarded to promote bicycling.

“Since 2012, $1.6 million in federal grants have been obligated towards four on-street bike projects in the city’s core,” the report said. “None of the projects have been completed and some have faced additional costs. Federal funding obligated towards a project that has not made reasonable progress in the fiscal year it is programmed is at risk of being reallocated or forfeited.”

As an example, the report cited a plan to install dedicated bikes lanes on Armour Boulevard, from Broadway to the Paseo. After four years of planning and neighborhood involvement, Armour still has no bike lanes.

City Manager Troy Schulte agreed with the report’s conclusions and called for a complete rewrite of the city’s 2002 bicycle transportation plan, which Schulte called an anachronism.

“Since the initial drafting of the Bike KC plan,” Schulte said in his written response, “the primary goal of bicycling in the community has shifted from a purely recreational goal to a broader goal of cycling as a critical component of a multimodal transportation system. The plan must be rewritten to achieve the modern goals of the community.”

The report comes a little more than a week after Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon announced the completion of the 47.5-mile Katy Trail connection to the metro area via the former Rock Island Railroad right of way from Pleasant Hill to Windsor.

On Wednesday, Nixon announced that further trail development along 144 miles of Rock Island right of way east of Windsor could begin in 2017.

The St. Louis utility that owns it, Ameren Missouri, will cede control to the state as its contractors finish removing the tracks, which haven’t been used for decades.

Eric Rogers, head of the advocacy group BikeWalkKC said he was not surprised by the Kansas City audit’s finding.

“Those are all challenges with the plan that we’ve known about for a long time,” Rogers said in a phone interview. “We appreciate the auditor looking at all this and putting to light a lot of the concerns that people have had.”

The Star’s Lynn Horsley contributed to this report.

Mike Hendricks: 816-234-4738, @kcmikehendricks

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