After Scathing Audit, Kansas City Bike Advocates Push For Adoption Of A New Plan

Apr 18, 2017

When Kansas Citian Eric Bunch puts his 5-year-old son on the back of his bike to take him to daycare every morning, he has to cross the fast-moving traffic on 39th Street, where there are no traffic signals.

“I’ve been honked at by bus drivers trying to cross there,” Bunch says. “One who I thought was waving me across but was actually gesturing for me to not go across. I had my son with me, and the bus driver honked and had not-nice words to say.”

“It’s a pretty dangerous crossing … And it’s one that is fixable,” he adds.

Bunch is a representative for advocacy group Bike Walk KC. He says his focus is on making streets safer for pedestrians of all kinds.

“We can find solutions to make that street safer for everyone, not just me trying to bike or walk my kids to school,” Bunch says.

Bunch, as well as other community stakeholders and city staff have come together to form a steering committee to develop a new plan for building safer bike-friendly infrastructure in Kansas City, called the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC). They released details of a new Bike KC plan in late January.

The first public meeting for feedback on the updated Bike KC plan is scheduled for Tuesday at 6 p.m. at Avila University. Additional meetings to solicit public feedback and report on the plan’s progress will be held throughout the spring and summer.

That plan includes several projects, such as development of protected bike lanes on Armour Boulevard in Midtown and a Downtown Loop to that will use Grand Boulevard “as the spine of the project and connecting seven neighborhoods into downtown,” according to the City Planning & Development Department. BPAC and the new Bike KC plan is the city’s response to a harsh audit last year of the previous 14-year-old Bike KC plan.

The Audit

City Auditor Doug Jones says the audit found the Bike KC plan was not enough to get the city to the “platinum-level” status it hopes to achieve, as defined by the League of American Bicyclists. Jones indicated that Kansas City is currently at “bronze-level” status, which is defined by criteria such as an average of 1.2 percent of the city commuting by bicycle, and an average of 370 crashes per 10,000 riders.

“When we looked at the plan it was primarily a map, showing the bicycle routes that were either in effect, or the planned future bicycle routes,” Jones says, adding that a concrete bicycle plan would need to include such elements as “what type of bicycle infrastructure was going to go on those routes,” and “an implementation plan.”

Overall, the audit was a wake-up call for the Public Works Department, tasked with implementing the Bike KC plan.

Mario Vasquez, Project Manager with the Public Works Department, says he’s glad the city is making another attempt at guiding bike-friendly policy.

“The most important finding was the fact that our plan was out-of-date, and as a person that implements projects and plans, I welcome an updated plan,” Vasquez says. “I definitely welcome new guidance to move forward on implementing bike facilities.”

The New Bike KC Plan

In addition to protected bike lanes on Armour Boulevard and development of the Downtown Loop, Vasquez says, some of the projects on the horizon include bike lanes from Broadway to Paseo, along Paseo Boulevard from Independence Avenue to 85th Street, on Charlotte and Holmes, as well as along Lexington and Gladstone Boulevards in the Northeast, and on Benton Boulevard.

“We want to create a city that’s friendly for cyclists, friendly for people who are still going to choose to drive, friendly for people to walk around. And having a comprehensive bike plan can help address all those needs,” adds Joe Blankenship, City Planning Project Manager.  

Blankenship, who is also a cyclist and also serves on BPAC, said he’s really excited that there’s a new plan in the works.

“There’s a lot of people out there that are getting around, like myself, and there’s a lot of people who are interested in cycling more but just need a little bit of encouragement and need some safe bikeways to do so in,” Blankenship says.

Eric Bunch couldn’t agree more, and said improved bicycle infrastructure also contributes to the overall health of the community as well.

“The more protection you can get for the bicyclists and the fewer lanes that people can drive in, the safer the street becomes for everyone,” Bunch says.

“As you get slower traffic moving through neighborhoods, that translates into a neighborhood that people want to live in and explore, and it elevates the quality of life and makes people more likely to get out of their cars and walk and bike and be more active and healthy. So it adds to the health of the community.”

The city’s goal for completion of the updated Bike KC plan is spring 2018.

To implement the Bike KC plan, says Mario Vasquez, they are going to combine bike lane construction with an already-approved federally-funded highway resurfacing program, with construction planned for as early as this spring.

“We are working with the federal highway administration and working with the Missouri Department of Transportation to allow us to combine a lot of these bicycle facility projects into our regular resurfacing program,” says Vasquez.

He added that one of the first two bicycle facility projects will include the Downtown Loop, adding bike lanes with Grand Boulevard as the “spine of the project,” and connecting seven neighborhoods into downtown, according to the Public Works website. The second planned bike facility project is the Armour Boulevard project, which Bike Walk KC’s Eric Bunch describes as a “protected bike lane” that will run along Armour Boulevard from Broadway to The Paseo.  

Regarding the long-term impacts of the new Bike KC plan, Bunch says that having this improved infrastructure will not just be good for cyclists; it will be healthy for the community as a whole.

“The more protection you can get for the bicyclists and the fewer lanes that people can drive in, the safer the street becomes for everyone. And that has a ripple effect outward, it’s not just about safety then, it’s also about the livability of the neighborhood,” Bunch says.

Diane Krauthamer is the digital intern for KCUR 89.3.