An open letter to members of the Kansas City Council considering the Bike KC proposal, July 2002.
This document was created with the OpenOffice.org Writer. Automatic conversion to HTML format does not always create beautiful formatting--sorry!
I am very pleased that the Bike KC proposal has come before the full city council. I hope you will support Bike KC.
I live in the in Kansas City area, am a Kansas City taxpayer, and have bicycled thousands of miles on area roads (probably over 50% of them on KCMO roads) over the past few years. Over the same period of time, I have also driven many (more!) thousands of miles on Kansas City streets in my several motor vehicles, and so I believe I can see the issues of Bike KC from the perspective of both a bicyclist and a motor vehicle operator.
Here are some benefits of the Bike KC proposal as I see them:
Bike KC's wider lanes will benefit motorists as well as bicyclists (KC's narrow lanes really scared me when I first drove my auto in the area--a lane just a few feet wider, possibly combined with some shoulder, increases motorist comfort and safety greatly).
Bike KC encourages more bicycle traffic, and more bike traffic means less motor traffic, less congestion, less pollution.
Bike KC's wider lanes/bike lanes will make motorists happy by getting bicyclists out of motorist's path on major streets (right now, the bicyclist's only alternative on MANY Kansas City streets is to "take the lane", as bicyclists are allowed and required to do under Missouri state law when the lane is too narrow to share with motor vehicles; this is safe for the bicyclist and motor vehicle, but mildly annoying to some drivers).
Bicycling the streets is already safe (about as safe, per mile, as pedestrians, far safer than motorcyclists; see http://www.pacts.org.uk/statistics.htm). With Bike KC, we will create wider lanes, bicycle lanes, and other improvements that will make bicycling even safer. Mighk Wilson, Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator of Orlando, Florida, reports that, over a 3-year period in three Florida counties, there were 644 bicycle-motorist collisions. Of the 644 accidents, 24 involved an overtaking motorist. None of these 24 overtaking accidents involved a fatality. None of the 24 overtaking motorist accidents took place on a road with wide curb lanes, bike lanes or paved shoulders. All 24 happened on streets with narrow lanes--the most common type of street in Kansas City today. These statistics (and many from other sources) show that the bike lanes and wide outside lanes prescribed by Bike KC really are indeed safe, and definitely safer for bicyclists than our present roads. (See http://www.floridabicycle.org/freedomfromfear.html.)
Making bicycling safer will encourage bicycle use. Greater bicycle use makes bicycling yet safer. Drivers who frequently see cyclists or are cyclists themselves are more aware of bicyclists and drive more safely around them (see http://www.bicyclinglife.com/Library/SteppingStones.htm).
Supporting Bike KC means supporting a more healthy KC, because health advantages of cycling outweigh risks by 20 to 1 (British Medical Association, Cycling towards Health and Safety, 1992, Oxford U. Press). Bicycling to work decreased overall risk of mortality approximately 40% ("All-Cause Mortality Associated With Physical Activity During Leisure Time, Work, Sports, and Cycling to Work," Archives of Internal Medicine, 160:1621-1628).
Bike KC will create a wonderful recreation opportunity for Kansas City-area adults and children. With our increasingly sedentary lifestyle, we need easily available, safe, healthful recreation activities. Riding a bicycle doorstep-to-doorstep fits the bill here, and riders who can run errands or commute on their bicycles can "kill two birds with one stone".
Bicycling as an alternate transportation/recreation opportunity makes the KC area much more attractive to businesses considering relocation here.
Bike KC creates an inexpensive transportation alternative for all Kansas Citians. This helps the local economy, particularly for those at lower income levels, because it creates an inexpensive way to get to work, school, and shopping. People without motor vehicles are forced to look for work close to home (or close to bus transportation). With a bicycle and good bicycle-friendly streets, such workers can find jobs 6, 8, or 15 miles from home, commuting by bicycle or bicycle combined with public transportation.
Bike KC has relatively low costs with high benefits per unit of cost. Many bicycle-friendly changes are simply a matter of signs and re-striping (it doesn't get any cheaper than that!). Major changes in street configuration will be phased in as streets are rebuilt for other reasons. The bicycle-specific components will add a relatively small percentage to the expense of these major projects. The bicycle-specific components benefit motorists as well as pedestrians and bicyclists.
Bike KC represents good planning for the future. It is a transportation blueprint that creates standards and an overall, coherent master plan. It means money spent in the future will be better managed and better spent, because it is part of a master plan, rather than a hodge-podge of quick band-aid type fixes. Kansas City sorely needs such planning (if only politicians 20 or 40 years ago had been foresighted enough to create such a plan, we would all be reaping the benefits now . . . ).
Bike KC or a similar plan is required for Kansas City to receive millions of dollars of federal transportation funding. This money requires bicycling and other alternatives to be supported as TRANSPORTATION alternatives. Please note that multi-use bicycle paths (off-street) are very fine RECREATION alternatives, but very rarely are they realistic TRANSPORTATION alternatives. There is no way we could possibly build a network of dedicated bicycle paths that would transport us anywhere and everywhere in the metro area, the way our present street network does. Bike KC is a coherent and well-thought-out bicycle TRANSPORTATION plan.
Because Bike KC will bring in millions in federal funding, will create inexpensive transportation alternatives for area residents, and creates coherent standards and a master plan for future transportation projects, Bike KC is, in the short and the long term, a net financial positive for Kansas City government and the local economy.
Bike KC leverages our many, many thousands of miles of pre-existing bicycle-friendly streets to create a coherent bicycle transportation system. Bike KC adds the final 5% that makes the pre-existing 95% of good bicycling roads work as a bicycle transportation system.
Let me expand a little on the last point:
I have been riding my bike for many local errands over the past years and have found that the KC area is actually surprisingly friendly for transportational and utility bicycling. Perhaps 90-95% of our roads are ALREADY bicycle-friendly. Quiet neighborhood streets are very conducive to bicycling, and when I am out riding in Spring-Summer-Fall I see dozens of riders out using them.
(Drivers often remark, "Where are the bicyclists? I never see any! Why should we waste money on bicycle facilities when there aren't any bicyclists?" The simple reason drivers don't see bicyclists is that most bicyclists drive where most automobiles don't.)
With many local bicycle-friendly streets, bicyclists have little trouble getting around their own neighborhoods, but have a good deal of trouble getting from, say, Waldo to Downtown (about 6 or 8 miles; a nice 30- or 40-minute ride) or from Bannister Mall to Indian Village (3 miles; 15 minutes) simply because the roads linking one neighborhood to another are often unfriendly to bicycles.
The Bike KC proposal will help "bridge the gap" for bicyclists, creating viable bicycle routes through between areas where the only through route currently has heavy, fast-moving traffic and narrow lanes. This is the point behind Bike KC's several east-west and north-south bicycle corridors.
In summary: Bicycling is a safe and viable transportation alternative in the Kansas City area. I urge you to help plan well for Kansas City's future by supporting the Bike KC proposal.
Dr. Brent Hugh
Assistant Professor, Missouri Western State College
KC area driver, bicyclist, taxpayer, and voter