Kansas City’s bicycling community better hope for a mild winter.
If that happens, the city could more quickly finish its laudable but disappointingly delayed plan to re-stripe Grand Boulevard. That would reduce the number of traffic lanes from four to three, and add dedicated bike lanes on each side of the street.
The so-called road diet is a great way to provide bicyclists a safer place to travel downtown, especially now that the streetcar line mostly along Main Street is getting closer to carrying passengers in early 2016. Streetcar rails and bikes can be a dangerous combination.
Unfortunately, if winter roars in like a lion, the Grand Boulevard project could easily slip more months behind schedule.
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It’s also regrettable that City Hall has not made enough headway in completing the other parts of the BikeKC Downtown Loop and Neighborhood Connector, which will offer about 13 miles of dedicated bike lanes in the heart of the city. Grand Boulevard is the spine and needs to be completed first. It’s clear now that the rest of the loop won’t be put in place until later in 2016.
The typical Kansas City way of doing things — let’s talk, compromise, and then talk some more — is responsible for some of the frustrating delays. Property owners along Grand as well as on 18th Street, Southwest Boulevard and 20th Street questioned how the new bike lanes could affect them, especially when it came to parking. Ultimately, a lot of the on-street parking was kept in place.
“Each of those street segments has very unique issues,” said Deb Ridgway, bicycle pedestrian coordinator in the Public Works Department.
Even with those talks finished, the city now must get a final design report on the Grand Boulevard project, which will require approval from the Missouri Department of Transportation because it controls the requested federal funds.
Then the city will have to get bids on the re-striping program, which will be done with paint, not more permanent thermoplastic striping. Downtown business critics of bike lanes want the city to be able to change back to the status quo if the road diet fails in some ways.
Bicycling enthusiasts such as Eric Rogers, executive director of BikeWalkKC, have mixed feelings on the delays.
“While the Grand project is a great first step, and it’s the direction we need to be going, we’re still not going far enough or fast enough,” he said.
That’s an excellent point, especially because city leaders such as Mayor Sly James have expressed the desire to make this a more bike-friendly community.
Kansas City has plenty of overbuilt, underused streets that could be improved with bike lanes. The city should be looking at the best ways to do that, perhaps experimenting with bike lanes in different places, such as next to the curb, between parked cars and sidewalks. That’s a good way to better protect bicyclists from traffic.
In connected positive news, Kansas City B-cycle this summer announced an expansion of its bike-share system.
The seven new “B-station” locations (out of a total of 27) are in the 18th & Vine Jazz District, at two locations in Union Hill, at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and along the Trolley Track Trail at 62nd Terrace, Gregory Boulevard and 74th Street.
People of all ages use the bikes for errands, to go to lunch or to get to a job. The bikes can be rented at $3 per half hour; promoters point out that other options include membership for 24 hours and for up to a year.
It’s getting easier to bike around Kansas City. It just ought to happen a lot more quickly.