Kansas City Councilwoman Teresa Loar has come under fire for comments she made about a bike infrastructure plan in the wake of a well-known bicyclist’s death.
Pablo Sanders died last month after being struck by a car while crossing Southwest Trafficway on his bike on Christmas Eve.
Advocates want the city to adopt a long-term strategy to better and more safely make room for bikes on Kansas City streets. That Bike KC Master Plan plan has laid dormant since it was first introduced in April.
Loar told the Kansas City Star in an interview that passing the bike plan was not a priority.
“We’ve got huge issues in front of us, and I’m very, very sorry and very troubled by the death of the gentleman on the bicycle and certainly don’t want to see that repeated, but unfortunately people die in this city every day and we just have to make sure that we’re keeping everything in perspective,” she told the newspaper.
The remarks, published Saturday, generated backlash from advocates on social media. Some called for her removal as chair of the Transportation, Infrastructure and Operations Committee.
Shawn Tolivar, with KC 4 Safe Streets, said the comments were disheartening.
“We should not be writing off anybody’s life in this city,” Tolivar said.
He said bike advocates applaud Mayor Quinton Lucas’ efforts to reduce violent crime and encourage continued efforts to reduce homicides in Kansas City. But Tolivar said while changing gun laws requires changes in the Statehouse and beyond, changing traffic laws and updating streetlights and signage fall within the city’s control.
“Those are things we can do now,” Tolivar said.
Cyclist Steven Garcia said while Loar’s remarks were hurtful, he’s more concerned about her assertion that Kansas City roads have never been safe for cyclists, motorists or pedestrians.
“To me, that says that they know that there is a problem and yet at the same time, want to do nothing to fix how dangerous the streets are,” he said.
Loar said she is willing to consider a plan to improve safety on city streets, but that the plan presented in April came at a cost of over $400 million, which she called “prohibitively expensive.”
“Every issue that affects the people in Kansas City … whether it’s a minority or not, deserves attention and usually we can work out some aspects to make things work,” Loar told KCUR. “However, to present us with a plan for $450 million dollars — and we haven’t heard from them since — that’s all we have to go on.”
Councilman Eric Bunch, who cofounded BikeWalkKC, said the plan didn’t call for a funding request, and that the estimated $400 million-plus figure doesn’t tell the complete story. He said the recommendations in the Master Bike Plan would be implemented over many years.
“It doesn’t have to be expensive to make our streets safer,” Bunch said.
He said that the city could be adding bike lanes while it goes about resurfacing streets.
“We resurface streets all the time and we resurface streets that are on the draft bike plan,” Bunch said. “We’re missing opportunities to implement the bike plan at zero cost, or minor addition costs, through routine maintenance.”
Bunch said he plans to introduce a resolution this week to significantly reduce traffic deaths by 2030. The measure would create a task force to come up with a plan that would identify dangerous corridors and come up with a list of projects that can be implemented quickly, among other things.
He also said he’ll bring the bike plan back up for consideration in the coming weeks.
Lucas would not say whether he’d remove Loar as head of the transportation committee. Instead, a spokesperson released a statement saying the mayor is “committed to working with each of his City Council colleagues to prioritize pedestrian and cyclist safety.”
Lisa Rodriguez is a reporter and newscaster for KCUR 89.3. Follow her on Twitter @larodrig.