Kansas City peddling to become a more bike-friendly city

By Joe Blankenship, City Planning and Development

For many of us, our first sense of freedom and independence came when we jumped onto our bicycle. This was the driver’s seat where we were in command and could easily rendezvous with friends in the neighborhood, ride to the corner store or even make our own way to school. But the love for bicycling often goes beyond childhood memories.

“We recognize that the more things we can do to facilitate more forms of transportation, other than cars, the better the City will be, the more residents will like it and the healthier we’ll be and also the cleaner environmentally we’ll be,” Mayor Sly James told a group of bike enthusiasts gathered at City Hall last spring.

Participants prepare for the “Bike to Boulevard” Bike to Work week event put on by the City, BikeWalkKC, and Boulevard Beer. Photo Courtesy BikeWalkKC and Chris Campbell Photography.

Across the country, more communities are promoting cycling as a meaningful part of their overall transportation system through the installation of bike lanes, bicycling events, integration of bike-share systems (such as the Kansas City B-Cycle bike rental stations), and the assurance that bikes and vehicles can safely use the same streets.

Our City wants to make it safer and more appealing, which is why the City Planning & Development Department is working with Public Works, Parks & Recreation, Health and other departments to engage the community in what bicycling in Kansas City means now and how it can improve.

To help Kansas City move toward this goal, the City is leading a rewrite of the Bike KC master plan. Milestones such as the installation of over 38 miles of on-street bike lanes, the launch of the Kansas City B-Cycle stations and community bike events have been proudly achieved since its creation in the 2000s. But the new Bike KC plan will ultimately lead to better bicycling in the City.

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Bicycle Friendly Community, the League of American Bicyclists’ program, ranks U.S. cities on how well they welcome and accommodate the bicycle as a means of transportation and recreation. The rankings include bronze, silver, gold, and platinum. The higher the score, the more accommodating a city is to bicyclists. More than 400 communities nationwide are recognized as “Bicycle Friendly Communities” at one of those levels. In 2008, the City Council set the goal of Kansas City achieving platinum status by 2020. The City is currently a bronze level community. (Only five cities across the country are ranked platinum – Boulder, Colo.; Fort Collins, Colo.; Davis, Calif.; Madison, Wis.; and Portland, Ore.)

What have we heard & where is it taking us?

The City began an extensive public outreach process this past spring. Utilizing in-person and virtual platforms at formal and informal events, thousands of people have been engaged and their opinions collected. Some outreach highlights are:
  • Over 1,500 opinion surveys gathered
  • Four Bike KC public meetings held in April & May
  • Student focus groups conducted & East High School’s Bike Club rode to City Hall for a proclamation of May as Bike Month in Kansas City
  • Participation at local events like BikeWalkKC’s Tour de Bier, the Celebration at the Station, and Jazz Fest
  • A Bike Month event called “Bike to Boulevard” led by city leaders
  • An online mapping tool activated for the public to draw bike routes
  • A project website, kcmo.gov/kcbikeplan, launched for review of materials and updates

All this outreach and feedback points to one simple theme – people want to bicycle more in Kansas City as a means of transportation, but the City must install additional infrastructure and create educational programs to make it safer.

How will we get there?

At this point, the City is ensuring the Bike KC network is taking people where they want and need to go. The conversation is starting to focus on how much money a built-out network would cost, how it could be financed, what would be phased when, and what supportive programming would help make bicycling better in Kansas City. Please keep up to date with the rewrite process via www.kcmo.gov/kcbikeplan.

Have thoughts on biking in Kansas City? Reach out to us at kcmo.gov/kcbikeplan or twitter: BikeKC.