Something to Think About, Inter-City Commuters

A more bike-friendly system is coming in KC. Let’s stop the grousing and focus more on getting everybody a share of what they want.

By Dennis Boone

Even at an advanced age, with the siren of retirement warming up off-stage, it’s possible for anyone with an open mind to learn a few things. With a little self-introspection, one might even come to change one’s own mind about certain subjects.

God, I hate that.

I’m reminded of the need for more mind-openness and more polite civic discourse after picking up the phone a few days ago to reach Eric Rogers, executive director of My original intent was to give him a Boomer commuter’s “get-off-the-grass!” lashing over this past summer’s bike-path improvements to Gilham Road. Diplomat that he is, however, he defused that original sentiment with … rational argument and facts.

Dang: I hate that, too.

Precipitating my call was a weeks-long simmer that started after I stumbled upon a reconfigured Gilham Road this summer. Coming down from the crest of the hill that elevates the Nelson-Atkins museum over South Hyde Park, motorists were greeted with painted lines turning two lanes into a single file. Then came the concrete parking barriers set up to create lanes for two-way bike traffic from the 42nd Street intersection to 39th Street.

My immediate reaction was to fulminate over why A) drivers would have to pay the price of slower, heavier traffic en route to Downtown and B) why bicyclists would have to risk being jammed onto the same pavement with some of the heavier, higher-speed flows of traffic.

Natural reactions from a motorist’s perspective, perhaps. But Rogers had another view. “This has been part of a process that goes back several years,” he said, one involving neighbors, associations and businesses in the Hyde Park. In a year-long study. UMKC, the Nelson, various non-profits and others all had a seat at the table—as did any potentially gruff drivers who actually paid attention to the process.

“The neighbors started with a concern of wanting to prioritize the people living in the neighborhood, and their safety, over the comfort of those of passing through who live somewhere else,” Rogers said. As an advocate for change that comes from the ground up instead of top-down, I couldn’t argue with that. “The priority was to slow down cars and make it safer to cross on foot,” he said.

But if that’s the goal, why not put nearby residential streets on the road diet, take vehicular traffic down to a single lane there and build the two-way bike lanes on the remainder? Wouldn’t that inconvenience far fewer people? Wouldn’t that make for safer biking?

The visionaries who left us a magnificent set of broad roadways never specified that they be dedicated solely to internal-combustion vehicles, did they?

Not necessarily, it turns out. Yes, the visionaries who laid out the city’s boulevard system had indeed bequeathed us a fantastic alternative to highway commuting. But …

“One of the reasons the boulevards are a good fit for this is that the system in many areas follows the natural landscape, often the lowest grade,” Rogers says, wielding another fact like a rapier. “The hills are not as steep as they are on other streets. Kansas City is not really Kansas—if you’ve ridden anywhere, you know there are a lot of hills.” And, he said, the residential streets are laced with on-street parking, which compounds the challenge of bike-lane routing.

In addition to neighborhood security, safety and sustainability, he said, there’s a business case to be made for a more integrated system that incorporates biking and walking into the overall transit plan.

“People who are bike commuters use a lot less health care, they’re less expensive to insure, and we’re competing for businesses with cities like Portland, Chicago and Denver, who have all done way more of this,” Rogers said. “We’ve seen companies increasingly looking at these types of infrastructure amenities, and they are attractive for work-force recruitment and development.”

Case in point: Columbia, where IBM chose to build a facility in part because of an expansive bike-trial system. “The company even paid to do some of the expansion for that site,” Rogers says. “There is a growing economic case for this.”

Then, too, increased public transit options—including the MAX bus service and, at some point, a lengthened streetcar system—will further reduce the traffic volumes in the affected parts of Midtown.

Well, nothing like a solid economic argument to force one to rethink the changing world around him. Once the bars are safe post-pandemic, maybe I’ll give Rogers another call and offer to buy him a beer for broadening my horizons.

But that’d mean getting together closer to my home in Baja Brookside. That way, I wouldn’t have to drive …

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