As Kansas City rolls out miles of new bike lanes, neighborhoods east of Troost want veto power
Kansas City Council member Melissa Robinson proposed an ordinance that would allow the 3rd District to opt out of new bike lanes under the Complete Streets program — and possibly remove existing lanes.
Four years after Kansas City began adding more bike lanes under the Complete Streets infrastructure program, some residents in the 3rd District want more control over where they go — or stop them altogether.
Karen Boyd, executive director of the Ivanhoe Neighborhood Council, claims the new bike lanes have caused confusion and even safety concerns for drivers and pedestrians.
“The bike lanes, philosophically, are a good idea when you talk about reducing the amount of emissions from cars and getting people more healthy,” Boyd says.
However, Boyd takes issue with parking-protected bike lanes, where cars park in the street and leave room before the curb for cyclists, which protects them from moving traffic. She specifically cites the striping and barriers on Gillham Road and Armour Boulevard.
“I think there has to be more thought given into how you actually coordinate the bike lanes with street traffic, car traffic, and also pedestrian crosswalks,” Boyd says.
Jordan Schiele at Jerusalem Farm says these protected lanes are an important part of his lifestyle in the 3rd District, where he and his family use bikes as their primary mode of transportation.
“We definitely choose roads to travel around the city that have bike lanes or have less cars,” Schiele says. “It’s a process for drivers to learn, but other cities around the country are doing this.”
Kansas City Council approved the Complete Streets ordinance in December 2017, creating guidelines for safe use of city streets and sidewalks. The program also called for the installation of bike paths, access for people of limited mobility and reducing environmental impact of the existing transportation system.
According to the city’s Public Works department, the Complete Streets program has so far resulted in the installation of 5.6 miles worth of bike lanes, including on Grand Boulevard, Armour and Benton Boulevard, and 18th Street.
Approximately 10 more miles of bike lanes are planned for next spring, including including on 27th Street between The Paseo and Charlotte Street. But some of those projects are contingent on street conditions, budgets, and community input.
City Council member Melissa Robinson, who represents the 3rd District, says her constituents are demanding other infrastructure priorities take priority over bike lanes — such as illegal dumping and sidewalk repair.
Robinson is introducing an ordinance to City Council that calls for any bike lanes in the 3rd District to get approval first by neighborhoods before they’re installed.
“I personally walk in a lot of the bike lanes,” Robinson says. “I think they are good in terms of road diets, but I think the way that we’re going about it without even talking to the neighborhoods is not good. In the 3rd District. I’m getting more and more complaints about them.”
Her proposed exemption to the Complete Streets program would also be retroactive for any bike lanes built in the past 12 months — which means existing bike lanes in the 3rd District could face removal.
“The Complete Streets exemption is designed to ensure staff cannot override neighborhood association consent by implementing the Complete Streets ordinance,” Robinson said in a written statement to KCUR. “I am currently working on changes to the ordinance language which will more narrowly address bike lanes with exemption.”
Robinson claims it’s not expensive to remove an existing bike lane, and says the Public Works department told her it would simply require painting over any street lines and removing the divider posts.
Public Works spokesperson Maggie Green says that it's difficult to calculate the cost of a bike lane removal because all roads have unique markings, and the estimate would depend not only on distance but also on the equipment, personnel and mobilization costs for the crews.
Robinson says she will hold an in-person public meeting on Nov. 1 and virtual meetings on Nov. 3 and Nov. 18 to collect community input about her proposal and the city’s bike lanes.
Michael Kelly, a policy director at BikeWalkKC, says exempting the 3rd District from new bike lanes is a bad plan.
“This won’t apply to other forms of infrastructure in the 3rd District,” Kelly says. “It feels like an unnecessary burden is being placed on a form of transportation that is cleaner, that is healthier and that is better for the economy.”
Kelly argues that Robinson’s proposal would give power over bike lanes to the 3rd District’s neighborhood associations, rather than the everyday residents who might rely on them most. And he argues that many important voices could be left out of the feedback process — such as non-English speakers or lower-income residents without internet access.
Cycling enthusiasts who live in the 3rd District also expressed concerns about Robinson’s proposed exemption.
Gregg Nurrenbern says he’s ridden his bike in the area for the past 10 years.
“This ordinance is just a step backwards,” he says. “I understand that these people have a lot to consider with vehicle flow and trash and whatnot. But I’m going to keep riding my bike. It puts you at a higher risk when you remove bike lanes.”
Robinson’s proposed ordinance was originally scheduled to go before a City Council committee on Wednesday, but will now be held until Dec. 1 to collect community feedback.