Do you need an example of the price we pay when we fail to look ahead? Look no further than Kansas City’s new parking protected bike lanes.
The three-mile route opened in August, running along Armour Boulevard in Midtown. Advocated for by groups such as BikeWalkKC, the $700,000 project was highly praised by both city officials and the media. However, the lack of foresight in planning these lanes quickly became evident.
Protected bike lanes, where bikers ride in between the curb and a row of parked cars, have the potential to help keep riders safer than they would be if they were in the main traffic lane, side-by-side with moving cars. According to a story from KSHB news, some residents have complained of extremely limited visibility when turning out of cross streets onto Armour Boulevard. But the same story noted that the Kansas City Police Department had not seen an increase in accidents along the road where the bike lanes were added, so cyclists and drivers seem to have been fortunate so far.
The onset of winter, however, has revealed another problem, as the lanes have been obstructed—first by large piles of leaves, and later by snow and ice, rendering them unsafe and almost unusable. Many bikers are using the popular neighborhood site Nextdoor to vent their frustration:
“I had to be in the middle of the street on Armour on my daily morning bike commute, which completely defeats the purpose of the bike lanes...Everyone seems to have a problem with these new bike lanes, myself included, and I'm a cyclist!”
The need to keep the new bike lanes cleared should hardly be a surprise. People continue to bike, whether to work or for fun, year-round – not just during the warm months. It takes only common sense to recognize that bike lanes, just like streets for motor vehicles, need maintenance and upkeep if they are to remain usable in bad weather. But as the picture above shows, there’s little evidence that bike lane got any attention after the snowfall earlier this month. (And yes, that snow-covered area just to the right of the row of cars really is the bike lane.)
No one wants to see cyclists put at risk, whether by motor-vehicle traffic or by treacherous bike paths. But spending over half a million dollars on a bike path—especially one that is rendered useless by bad weather—is hard to justify. According to a 2016 report from the League of American Bicyclists, only 0.4 percent of Kansas City commuters ride their bikes to work. I don’t know what fraction of those riders take this specific stretch of Armour Boulevard, but we aren’t talking about a large number of riders.
I hope that in the future, city leaders will think carefully about the benefits and costs, and the future obligations, that come with projects like the Armour Boulevard bike lanes.