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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Bike Advocacy

I rode over to Overland Park City Hall for a council meeting on Monday. I don't live in Overland Park though I grew up there and pass through it plenty.

They were voting on a comprehensive bike plan for the city, mostly striping bike lanes and such in places where it is long overdue.

Local politics being what it is, the city council in this case is made up almost entirely of cagers. To my surprise one of the council members brought up riding in Fort Collins, Colorado, and how nice that was, and another talked about trying to commute one day a week and not doing it sometimes because a short section at the beginning and end of the route freaks him out.

Tell me about it. I rode a couple miles out of my way on the way to Overland Park City Hall just to avoid a half mile section of 87th Street that I know from past experience is daunting during rush hour. It's a stretch of road that has plenty of room for a dedicated bike lane and two relatively wide car lanes in each direction, along with a sensible 35 or 30 mph speed limit. Instead it's all striped for cars piloted by absentee smartphone addicts going 54 in a 45.

Councilmember Terry Goodman was the sole nay vote when it finally came down. He kept hammering on what an excessive cost this bicycle plan imposed, between $3 million and $28 million over 10 to 15 years. Uh, yeah. He also said he got a smart phone to try and take pictures of people waiting for the Jo along Metcalf but hadn't been able to find any.

Dude, if your busses ran more than a couple times a day, maybe people would use them. When I've visited New York and Chicago, I don't have to rent a car, I take mass transit. And I spend every penny I would have pissed away at Avis in New York and Chicago restaurants and shops. Go to a place with good transit and it's like you have a buddy to take you wherever you want to go. You don't have to spend the money on a car and deal with the stress of driving in a place you don't know. And even when you do know a place, being able to sit back and use your smartphone without worrying you might run over a mother walking her toddler across the street, that's golden.

So I guess I'm a born again transit fan, I used to think busses were dumb but I was wrong. It would be much smarter to spend the resources it takes to build an ever increasing number of lanes for cars and funnel it into promoting and providing legit transit. Car salesmen and contractors who build streets will think this is a mistake, but your other businesses will be shitting in high cotton.

For that matter, as Goodman's objections to the cost of this plan (pretty modest really) spun out, I thought, how much money does Overland Park spend on sewers, sidewalks, curb and gutter streets wide enough to support on street parking plus traffic both ways even on tiny cul de sacs in their continuing drive for ultra-low-density residential development? If you want the cheapest way to get the job done, loopty-loop dead end streets with single family houses three to an acre is not the way.

And so far, Overland Park's model is a success: people are willing to pay dramatically more to live in little boxes made of ticky tacky in Overland Park than almost anywhere else. And the taxes those real estate prices support seem adequate to cover the cost of this highly inefficient storage of people. We'll see how that goes after a couple of fracking groundwater disasters make Chernobyl look like a ride on the bike trail and gas costs $18 a gallon, but for now they've got a good thing going.

A good thing that will be better with bike infrastructure. It's the cheapest infrastructure a city can buy, really, and it pays big dividends. What Goodman was really saying isn't that he can't figure out where a few dollars is going to come from, they have the money for all kinds of city services and amenities. What he was saying is he thinks bike lanes are silly.

There was lots of hedging going on too, where everyone from the mayor on down the row was making sure they were on record saying if these bike lanes turned out to be stupid they just wouldn't fund them. Which means in terms of bike advocacy, this (the end of a three year process) is just step one. It's going to take continued badgering to get this stuff implemented.

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