KC’s bike plan fiasco: Created at City Hall, tolerated by biking community

bikeThe new, withering audit of Kansas City’s shoddy bike plan clearly shows City Hall has ill-served all bicyclists who deserve safe and well-connected routes around the city.

The people and agencies who let it all happen for far too long are:

— The Public Works Department

— Mayor Sly James and the City Council

— City Manager Troy Schulte

— The Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee

— Pro-bicycling organizations in Kansas City

City Hall employees were the main impediment to getting a good bike plan in place and then improving it. Feuding among agencies took place. Employees couldn’t ever figure out what should be in a responsible bike plan and develop one that could change with the times.

That’s embarrassing. Other cities have sensible plans — including nearby Overland Park, which approved its own biking proposal the last few years.

In addition, the politicians never cared enough to make sure adequate progress was being made toward making Kansas City reach its bike-friendly goals. Neither did Schulte.

Years passed, recommendations were made (and ignored or put off) and the result in 2016 is a city that’s close to starting over on a key transit priority.

Along the way the citizens advisory group didn’t have success in getting its recommendations for a better plan put in place, and couldn’t raise enough of a stink with the City Council or others at City Hall to make the improvements.

Meanwhile, pro-biking groups such as BikeWalkKC also complained but didn’t have the political muscle to get major changes made. These supporters essentially tolerated the incompetence at City Hall while being grateful when upgrades were finished. They included new bike lanes on Gregory Boulevard and on the new Grand Boulevard bridge.

In his response to the audit, Schulte said his office would take over from Public Works the job of providing assistance to the citizens advisory committee. The city’s Planning and Development Department will rewrite the bike plan. Those are steps in the right direction.

However, a one-year timeline for creating the new proposal sounds absurdly long given all the audit’s solid recommendations and the fact that Kansas City isn’t inventing the wheel here.

City Auditor Douglas Jones and his office provided a needed push toward positive change for bicyclists in the city.

But don’t let others in City Hall fail the citizens again.

3 Thoughts.

  1. “All bicyclists … deserve safe and well-connected routes.” What exactly makes a bicycle route “safe”? Does a painted line on the pavement really keep cars away from bicycles? Have any charges ever been filed for violating Kansas City’s ordinance banning harassment of bicyclists? Will traffic laws be enforced for both drivers and bicyclists? If a 20-pound bike is going to get out on the streets with 2-ton vehicles, assuring safety is always going to be a challenge.

  2. Kansas City, just one of 2-dozen established municipalities within the larger MSA, cannot have any form of stand-alone bike or pedestrian plan. The Mid-America Regional Council is the only entity that has the requisite membership within the larger Metro KC area to adequately conduct and implement such a plan. Kansas City was built during this nation’s City Beautiful movement, which coincided with the advent of the automobile. Land was cheap. It still is cheap. Development in the hinterlands is cheap. Wide, beautiful boulevards are a defining characteristic of old Kansas City’s character. KC was not made with the bicycle in mind. Retrofits are extremely cumbersome, very expensive, and must overcome the dam of established public conveniences. Bikes in a metro area such as KC will always be present, but establishing a plan to retrofit the City’s (all 2-dozen of them) rights-of-way to accommodate bicycles as a viable and equally important means of transportation will take at least a generation to accomplish. In the meantime, an entity such as MARC can establish the broader vision and long-range plan for linking each municipality’s bike lanes together into a whole, unified network. Each municipality within the MSA will be responsible for adopting and implementing their own piece of the puzzle. Some will get it, and will be successful. Others won’t even try. A complete network will therefore be impossible to realize. KC, MO should lead by example, but first they need a reason to try. They currently have no pressing reason to accommodate bikes within their rights-of-way, so they capitulate to their voters who do ride bikes, and give them window dressing. BAU continues as normal. Mission accomplished.

  3. I was not involved at this time but when the plan was passed, there were so many developer objections that it had no enforcement and no funding. The cycling community naively thought the job was done and things would happen. The cycling community was not politically savvy and has learned a lot since then. When nothing happened several of us through Missouri bicycle Federation went to Wayne Cauthen and told him that the city would lose 1.4 million in federal funds if they didn’t start improvements by a specific date. This got things started but at the time there was a prevailing attitude that cycling was only for recreation, not that there’s anything wrong with that. There are lots of city structures and programs for recreation but we were the ones that wanted part of the precious car-only streets and I think, to accomplish what we wanted, a big change of attitude about city and road design was needed. That means slowing traffic, more urban density, rethinking how streets work. The public officials and public were not seeing how cycling could benefit the city financially or any other way even though this has all been proven in other cities with studies, population growth and economic development.
    There was a lot of infighting among advocates and many people within bike groups, politicians and the city trying to control us. There wasn’t a lot of public support or political support. I did a lot of work for free towards a bicycle friendly community goal until I got so frustrated that I quit. Since I’m self-employed it didn’t help my business either to spend my time like that. What it would take to do the influence that you talk about is a local, organized focused, full time group, with money and lobbyists/lawyers going to gov’t. Also I think kids need to walk and bike like we did when we were young. It’s a cultural change and we have let cars and bad development be our guide for a few decades.
    KC has always been resistant to change and has driven change agents away to the coast and other more active cities. Only recently have we decided to embrace some new ideas and that is only among a few that have the foresight to see benefits.

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