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Paseo Bikeway Would Improve Safety, But City Doesn't Have Funding To Finish Project

Aviva Okeson-Haberman
KCUR 89.3
Sam Green was one of a handful of cyclists who attended a community forum to discuss the Paseo Boulevard bikeway project.

A bikeway along Paseo Boulevard would improve safety for pedestrians and cyclists, but even with a federal grant, Kansas City is short on funds.

The Public Works Department is considering two different designs for the bikeway, said spokeswoman Beth Breitenstein. Bike infrastructure experts agree either option would make the road safer, but even with $650,000 from a federal grant and $160,000 in local funds, there isn't enough money to pay for the bikeway. Project Manager Mario Vasquez says based on previous projects, the Paseo Boulevard bikeway could cost more than $1.1 million.

“I don't think I can do it all with the budget that we have because frankly, it's a very long corridor,” Vasquez said at a sparsely attended meeting Tuesday night.

Vasquez said a more detailed cost estimate will come after the Public Works Department receives community feedback on the two designs for the bikeway.

“If someone were to give me $900,000 this year, I would say we're going to get it done next year. So it really [is] just depending on whether the funding is available or not to complete all of it,” Vasquez said.

The bikeway would run 9.5 miles in both directions, from Independence Avenue to 85th Street.

Improving safety

The city analyzed five years of crash data along the Paseo Boulevard and found four bicycle-involved crashes and six pedestrian-involved crashes, including a fatal one last year near 41st Street and Paseo Boulevard

Bike Walk KC is a nonprofit group advocating for a more accessible place for people to walk and bike in Kansas City.  Policy Director Eric Bunch says this death could have been prevented with the designs the city is considering. This is because the city would be converting one of the traffic lanes to a bike lane.

The bikeway would be built along a stretch of the road that is primarily four lanes. Peter Furth, a civil and environmental engineering professor at Northeastern University, says converting four lane roads to two lane roads results in a “quantum jump in safety.” He agrees with Bunch’s assessment that deaths would be less likely if there is just one lane for each direction.

“Crossing multiple lanes is inherently more dangerous. So when you reduce the road to one lane per direction, you make it inherently safer,” Furth said.

Reducing the number of traffic lanes also typically reduces the speed of drivers, according to Christopher Monsere, an associate professor and chair of civil and environmental engineering at Portland State University.

Two design options

While both designs would reduce the number of traffic lanes, the designs differ in where bicyclists would ride.

Credit Illustration by Aviva Okeson-Haberman
There are two possible options for the Paseo Boulevard bikeway, but the city doesn't have enough funding to pay for either.

The “parking protected bike lane” option would put space for parked cars between the bike lane and the traffic lane. The “buffered bike lane” concept puts space for parked cars on the right-hand side of the road. The bike lane would be next to the traffic lane with a 3-foot buffer area between the two lanes.

Sam Green bikes on Paseo Boulevard on the weekends. He said he’ll “take anything that's a bike lane” but prefers the parking protected bike lane. Green said he liked the parking protected bike lane that’s being created on Armour Boulevard and said a similar one on Paseo Boulevard would make him feel safer.

Furth said the parking protected bike lane concept is dependent on having cars parked to create this physical barrier between the traffic and bike lane.

The parking protected bike lane would also reduce the number of parking spots. The buffered bike lane wouldn’t change existing parking, but it also wouldn’t provide physical protection between the traffic lane and bike lane.

“The more physical protection you have between the moving traffic lanes and the bike lane, the more likely you're going to get people to get on a bike and ride,” Bunch said.

Network of bike routes

The Paseo Boulevard is one of five bikeway projects the city is working on, according to the Public Works Department website.

Monsere said if the city wants to encourage more people to bike, the Paseo Boulevard will need to be part of a larger network of bike routes.

“I think infrastructure takes time to change people's behavior,” Monsere said. “You can't just have one link, you kinda need a connected network before people can really sort of make shifts in using a bicycle for transportation.”

The Public Works Department has one more public meeting scheduled to gather community input. The current goal is to have a final report done by the summer and begin construction in this fall. Vasquez said the project likely won’t be finished until 2019.

The next community meeting is 4:30-7 p.m. Thursday, June 21 at the Center High School’s gymnasium, 8715 Holmes Road, Kansas City, Missouri 64131.

Aviva Okeson-Haberman is a KCUR news intern. Follow her on Twitter @avivaokeson.

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