Kansas City, Missouri – In some cities, drivers refer to them as "bicycle terrorists" for interrupting the busiest drive time of the week. But in Kansas City, participants of the local bicycle ride known as "Critical Mass" are focused on promoting a positive message: they want Kansas City to be more bike-friendly. KCUR's Bill Gallo reports...
It is 6 o'clock on the last Friday of the month in Kansas City. That means an eclectic group of bikers begin to gather on the west end of the parking lot of Sun Fresh Supermarket in Westport.
They're here for the Kansas City version of the global Critical Mass bike ride. It attracts about 200 bikers in the summer months, some of whom are pretty upset.
"This is the least bike friendly place I've ever been to or even seen. I'm flabbergasted about how behind the times Kansas City is with being non-automobile transportation friendly," says Ben Clayman, who bikes about five miles to work nearly every day.
Clayman says he hasn't found a good way to get from his home in the West Plaza to his workplace in Waldo.
"I've probably gone four or five different routes and I haven't found a safe one yet, or one with a bike lane. I'm not even sure if I've seen a bike lane in Kansas City."
Kansas City Mayor Mark Funkhouser agrees with Clayman's analysis.
"We haven't made an effort to be bike friendly, and we're not," says Funkhouser, who calls Kansas City one of the least bike-friendly cities in the country.
And the stats agree with him. In 2007, the U.S. Census Bureau counted just fifty people who commuted to work every day on a bicycle in Kansas City. But Mayor Funkhouser says that no one has ever even really tried to come up with a plan to fix that problem.
"What there have been grand plans for is the Power and Light District. And there's the Power and Light District. There have been grand plans for the Sprint Center. And there's the Sprint Center. There have been grand plans for stuff like that, but I don't think that bicycling has ever been on the radar screen," says Funkhouser.
But Mayor Funkhouser is confident that he can change that. He wants Kansas City to become a platinum-rated bicycle city by 2020. That's the highest rating given by the League of American Bicyclists. That means, for starters, Kansas City would have to install more bike lanes, more off-street bike trails, and a whole lot more bicycle racks.
"If we're going to make this a green city, we're going to have to be more bicycle-friendly. I've seen cities in Europe where at the train station there are thousands of bicycles on racks. That's where we're going someday," says Funkhouser.
The person in charge of moving Kansas City from worst to first is Deb Ridgway. She's the city's Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator.
"We just have never installed things like bike lanes and bike route signs and all the things that help to encourage people to show that this is a good place to bike and walk," says Ridgway.
She recently submitted a fairly ambitious new bike plan to City Council. It calls for 200 miles of bike lanes and 50 miles of bike trails to be installed by February of 2012.
"If this were to go through, we'd be able to go from the Plaza all the way to Olathe by connecting the Trolley Track Trail to Indian Creek. It would transform Kansas City," Ridgway says.
But the bike plan is competing with five other local transportation projects for a limited amount of federal stimulus dollars.
And that is the issue that has always prevented Kansas City from becoming more bike friendly. In a town that loves big SUV's, bikes have always been considered something of an afterthought.
But Mayor Funkhouser insists that bikes are one of his top priorities,"For short trips of two or three miles to the grocery store, we ought not be firing up the SUV."
And until Kansas City takes more steps to become bike friendly, those at Critical Mass will continue to gather together once a month and tell the world that they are in control of the road, at least for the evening.