Great things are happening in Kansas City. A streetcar is nearing completion, new high rise buildings are under construction or about to break ground, historic buildings are seeing new life, and new streetscapes are bringing about major bicycle and pedestrian improvements. However, with all of this great development
comes a glut of sidewalk closures.
The city broke ground on a new Cleaver II Streetscape in March of 2013 that promised to improve walking and biking conditions along the corridor between Rock Hill Road and The Paseo. This would be worth enduring the year-long construction, right?
About midway through the project the sidewalks on all four corners of the intersection of Cleaver and Troost were removed to prep for reconstruction. The excavated trenches and piles of rubble left in the wake of this sidewalk removal remained until the project was nearing its completion in early 2014. For five months accessing the Troost Max involved walking into a construction zone or in a lane of traffic. Walking along Cleaver generally required wading through deep mud. For the duration of most of the project construction there was zero sidewalk access at that intersection. At worst, pedestrians are to be provided an alternative route but in this case circumnavigating the globe would not have offered a way to cross the street without first walking into traffic – for five months.
Over the last two years my family has been personally affected by this challenge thanks to an ongoing sidewalk closure near our daycare. We walk our two-year-old son to school every day but have to decide whether we want to go out of our way or walk in the street. The construction company can’t figure out a way arrange their security gate in a way that it doesn’t open onto the sidewalk. An open gate locked with a padlock across the sidewalk the is the only object blocking the sidewalk.
Why not just cross to the other side of the street? That sidewalk is missing curb ramps and typically blocked by parked cars.
The construction boom in the urban core is a fantastic part of the city’s evolution toward a more walkable place. However, the numerous sidewalk closures, albeit temporary, are an unnecessary blight on that very walkability. As more and more people move to downtown apartments to take advantage of higher Walk Scores, will they be greeted with “Sidewalk Closed Signs”? What is the value of redensifying our downtown if we routinely close down sections our pedestrian arteries for extensive periods of time?
These problems could be avoided with a tiny bit of ingenuity, but without a formal policy requiring pedestrian access during construction developers, contractors, and the city itself will continue to put pedestrians in harm’s way.
Will this type of policy scare away developers? Go to Denver, Seattle, or Austin and count the tower cranes on the skyline. All require walkway accommodations during construction yet are in the midst of construction booms that dwarf our local revitalization. So, make sure the city is a place where people want to live, work, and play and developers will work this out. Keeping the sidewalks open is a necessary condition of a walkable environment. For a vibrant place where people care to live, walkability is necessary AND sufficient.