More bikes rolling up and down Grand Boulevard is a grand idea

Grand Boulevard, which does not hum with car traffic most of the day, offers an excellent place to add dedicated bike lanes.
Grand Boulevard, which does not hum with car traffic most of the day, offers an excellent place to add dedicated bike lanes. The Kansas City Star

Putting Grand Boulevard on a road diet is the best way to fatten up Kansas City’s reputation as a bike-friendly community.

Translated, we support the city’s plan to reduce the number of traffic lanes on the wide-open boulevard from the River Market to 20th Street, and then add dedicated lanes for bicycles going north and south. Computer modeling shows motorists would still have plenty of space to safely navigate the road.

The city proposal would use lots of paint to re-stripe the boulevard without making more costly physical changes. On-street parking would remain next to sidewalks on both sides of the road. Bike lanes about five feet wide would be added next to the parking areas, with a buffer zone of about 2 feet added for the safety of bicyclists.

Finally, three traffic lanes would remain in the center of the road, with the middle one being used for turns.

This is a thoughtful and inexpensive way to continue to provide transportation options for people who live, work or play downtown. City officials realize they are proposing a big change for our car-centric region. But the project, which should be completed by the end of 2015, is one more positive investment in the urban core’s future.

The Grand Boulevard portion of the plan is key to making progress on the BikeKC Downtown Loop and Neighborhood Connector, which hopes to offer 13 miles of dedicated bike lanes in the near future. Bike lane improvements are proposed for 18th Street from Grand east to just past Prospect Avenue, for instance, as well as on Southwest Boulevard and 20th Street.

Grand is the “spine” for the downtown system, says Deb Ridgway, bicycle pedestrian coordinator in the Public Works Department. She adds it will be the “signature and most visible bikeway” in the city, at least for awhile. The upgrades also should attract younger people to help fill new and renovated apartment units being built over the next few years.

Eric Rogers, executive director of BikeWalkKC, says the downtown plan creates a “hub and spoke network” that will help bicyclists move around the area. He also notes that Kansas City B-Cycle, a bike-sharing service, has several stations on or near Grand, which should boost ridership downtown.

Little opposition has emerged in meetings with representatives from the Crossroads Arts District and others along the boulevard, says Wes Minder, another city official spearheading the project.

Still, change can raise concerns for businesses, which explains why the city decided to keep current on-street parking areas. New rules proposed for Grand will lift restrictions on parking in some of these areas during rush hours, offering convenient places to park for longer periods.

Bicycle advocates are scheduled this week to meet with Cordish Co. officials who operate the heavily taxpayer-subsidized Power & Light District. The new plan includes a dedicated loading zone on Grand for vendors, while not affecting motorists’ abilities to get in and out of the district’s garages.

Shop owners see the advantages of slowing down car traffic on Grand, partly because motorists as well as people pedaling along the boulevard will be more likely to see stores they may have rushed by in the past. Some shops and restaurants have seen that “bicycles bring business as well,” Ridgway says.

After the paint has dried on Grand Boulevard, the following months must be used to answer questions about how people are handling the changes. How’s traffic flowing? Are businesses happy? What else is needed to make the project successful?

Ultimately, the Grand Boulevard project could make Kansas Citians hungry for even more bike lanes.