Bike lanes were a win for KC cyclists. But struggling neighborhoods are still losing out

On Kansas City’s East Side, bike lanes and other safety improvements along Benton Boulevard now stretch from Emanuel Cleaver Boulevard to Truman Road.

The 2018 Benton Bikeway plan was a win for bicycle enthusiasts. Some residents, though, say their neighborhood was the loser in this equation.

In areas that are struggling with blight, crime, illegal dumping and aging infrastructure, some neighborhood leaders are rightly asking: How did bike lanes leapfrog the East Side’s most basic needs on the city’s to-do list?

Last week, city officials took part in a meeting at Brush Creek Community Center to hear from residents about their concerns. Most talked about infrastructure, saying that the priority placed on constructing bike lanes gives short shrift to more urgent issues in underserved communities.

“Are we not concerned about the trash, the drug activity, the bulky items?” asked Marquita Taylor, president of the Santa Fe Area Council near East 27th Street and Benton Boulevard.

Several members of the previous City Council championed the ambitious Bike KC Master Plan to build 658 miles of trails and bike lanes and develop educational cycling programs to the tune of up to $400 million.

But with a new mayor and City Council still getting settled, the next steps are in flux. This transition provides an opportunity to take a step back and consider what individual neighborhoods’ most significant needs are.

“I think we have to dial it back some and make sure we are doing the best things for the residents of our community,” said newly-installed 3rd District City Council member Melissa Robinson.

In 2018, about 1,500 people were surveyed to help officials conceive the bike master plan. Feedback indicated a strong preference for parking-protected bike lanes, infrastructure that separates cyclists from moving traffic.

Last summer, residents paused after the first protected bike lanes were installed in midtown Kansas City. An uproar ensued when Armour Boulevard was reduced from four lanes to two from Broadway Boulevard to The Paseo.

A route along Benton Boulevard that intersects the Santa Fe neighborhood soon followed.

Plans are on tap this year for other projects, including constructing 19 miles of on-street bikeways on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, which would be the longest continuous bikeway in the region.

Federal transportation funds and local capital improvement dollars funded the current projects. About $500,000 in city funds will be allocated in fiscal year 2019-20 for future efforts.

BikeWalkKC Policy Manager Michael Kelley said transportation and mobility are indeed basic services, and the new mayor and council should find a way to support cyclists and other modes of transportation.

Kelley is correct that the city should explore a range of transportation options, and Kansas City’s aim of becoming a more bike-friendly city is an important priority.

But the city also must be responsive to its residents, particularly in long-neglected neighborhoods where the needs are urgent and many. On the city’s East Side, constructing bike lanes that benefit the cyclists who are just passing through shouldn’t trump providing a better quality of life for the people who live there.

“We are trying to create a nice atmosphere for people to ride through,” said Taylor, the president of the Santa Fe Area Council. “But we have to fix the infrastructure and the other things we need to fix.”