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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Better Block

BikeWalkKC put on this event, the 'better block' on Broadway. They put down temporary stripes for a proposed bike lane on Broadway in Westport. My hat's off to the folks at that fine organization, though they have their work cut out for them.

I talked to a Mission merchant the other day, they've been redoing Johnson Drive this year, and he was puzzled that they said they were making it more pedestrian friendly but there were all these obstacles that had been added, to his eye, that made it harder to get out of your car and walk into a store than it was before. When I told him that pedestrian friendly meant creating an environment where people would opt to leave their cars at home in the first place, he didn't believe me. And I got the sense that he was a mover and shaker, someone who had attended the various city meetings and hearings and all that went into planning this renovation.

I couldn't tell that the obstacles he was perceiving really made it any harder than it's always been to access those businesses by automobile, but the fact that he completely misunderstood the concept is a symptom, I think, of how car-centric Kansas City is.

The Better Block concepts they were showing off last weekend are good ideas, ones long past time if the city is serious about becoming even vaguely bike-friendly (various city leaders have asserted that this is a goal, but I've seen very little evidence of action). Broadway is one I'm intimately familiar with because I use it regularly on my commute, mostly going home in the evening.

I favor it in part because it's ridiculously wide. Down near the Plaza end of things you are better off taking the lane, it's narrower there and the parked cars that are generally along Nichols Park barely fit, such that a lot of car traffic sticks to the left lane by default. If you take the lane, they all take the left lane (and you're in less danger of getting doored—though going uphill, that's not as big of an issue, you'd have time to stop unless someone opened the door into you as you passed). But north of 43rd, the lanes get really wide and it's a sharable lane for the most part. What would improve it immensely of course is to stripe that out so everyone knows where they're kind of expected to be.

And actually, to really go the distance, it would be a good road to put on a lane diet. You could eliminate the on-street parking, of course, but what might make even more sense is to eliminate a car lane entirely, put the on street parking there and have the bike lane go between the parked cars and the curb. It's a model other cities (NYC, for instance) have used with great success. It segregates the bikes from the cars, makes getting doored less of a risk (sure, passengers get out on the bike lane side, but given how many people drive places alone, the incidence is bound to be lower), and it would tend to calm traffic a bit. Nothing like wide-open spaces or the perception of them to give people a lead foot.

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