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Central Standard

The Joys And Ongoing Challenges Of Walking In Kansas City

Matteo Merzi

Kansas City isn't exactly known for being a pedestrian friendly city. Downtown is overcrowded by parking lots, there have been books written about the city'sautomobile obsession, and it still only has a "bronze" rating from the League of American Bicyclists for its cycling friendliness.

But there are still Kansas Citians who go against the grain and make it a point to walk. In a conversation with Central Standard's Gina Kaufmann Wednesday, Pedestrian Path blogger Rhianna Weilert said her breaking point came after her car was totaled in a hit-and-run accident.

"[My husband and I] had become so stressed with driving that we just opted to walk more and more," Weilert said. "I chose not to [get another car] because I knew it would make my life less stressful, and I don't think people understand that until they make that decision for themselves."

A caller named John from Shawnee, Kansas echoed Weilert's sentiment that walking cuts down stress.

"I've become more kind of like a hippy on the inside: you gain more of an appreciation for what's around you," John said. "Scenic views, houses, trees that you've lived by all your life, you start to notice them."

But walking in the metro area isn't all sunshine and daisies. Daniel Serda with urban planning firm inSITE says that Kansas City has a deep rooted culture of driving. 

"A lot of our traffic engineering for an awful long time has been oriented around convenience, mobility, speed and even safety of drivers to the detriment of pedestrians," Serda said. "Drivers are going to be less attentive to the presence of pedestrians and more aggressive than they would be otherwise.

Gerald "Bo" Williams with the city's planning and development department says that shifting the paradigm from cars to walkers is more than just an issue of shifting attitudes. 

"The first challenge for the city is just funding," Williams said. "We have an enormous need for infrastructure improvements and not enough resources to meet that need."

But Williams said there are steps being taken to make walkability a bigger priority for the city. Back in 2003, the city made a Walkability Plan that seeks to put pedestrian needs forward during development discussions.

"We now have a development code requirement within our city development process to include pedestrian movements," Williams said. "We're working now on the Independence Avenue corridor in the Marlboro area to implement new development requirements to ensure a pedestrian oriented environment."

Daniel Serda says that improving pedestrian mobility may take funding, but it pays back in economic activity.

"Generally speaking, places that are the most walkable tend to have an economic vitality," Serda said. "And their economic vitality, in turn, is shaped by the fact that they're so approachable and easily accessible by pedestrians."

Central Standard walkingpedestrians
Cody Newill is part of KCUR's audience development team. Follow him on Twitter @CodyNewill or email him at cody@kcur.org.