Walking and Biking with the Streetcar

streetcar

When Kansas City’s Downtown streetcar starter line debuts in 2015, it will connect to the least developed bicycle network of any US streetcar city. Streetcars in cities like Seattle, Tucson, Washington, DC, Atlanta, and Portland connect with robust networks of bike lanes, trails, and bike share stations.

A comprehensive bike and pedestrian network is critical for ensuring that streetcars are as successful as possible, that all modes are integrated into a well-planned transportation system, and that the benefits of streetcars reach the widest possible geographic area of the city.

Integrating the streetcar with a robust bicycle network has many benefits

  • Provides the “last mile” solution for getting to/from the streetcar (More info, PDF)
  • Extends streetcar access to residents and businesses that aren’t within walking distance of streetcar stop
  • Reduces the need for parking and mitigates any loss of on-street parking for local businesses
  • Supports the mixed-use and transit-oriented developments that are critical to expanding the tax base in the streetcar TDDs
  • Bikes mean business – customers that arrive at local businesses on bikes visit more often and spend more money (more info)

Streetcar is an opportunity to accelerate Kansas City’s bike network

Development of bike lanes and trails in Kansas City has been a long and complicated process of disconnected fragments and patchwork of inadequate funding. Bike lanes to nowhere and trails that don’t serve transportation trips have been the norm for too long. Including bikes in the streetcar’s federal funding application and local funding district is a generational opportunity to transform the city with a very small investment.

Bike infrastructure will add value by bringing more riders to the streetcar, increasing the impact of the streetcar on nearby businesses, and making the streetcar more accessible to more neighborhoods. The return on investment of bike infrastructure will be far above the nominal cost.

Bikes first – Once funding is in place, it will take several years to build out the streetcar network, but that is no reason to wait for bike infrastructure. We can begin building the connecting lanes and installing bike share stations immediately.


Center-running streetcar with barrier-separated cycletracks

Experience in other cities shows that the best and safest way to integrate bikes and streetcars is to put the streetcar in the center of the street and provide a separate bike facility like a cycletrack at the curb. Adding bike lanes along the actual streetcar route can add little to no cost to the overall project while significantly enhancing the value of the street.

Seattle’s First Hill streetcar line is a great example of this concept (PDF).


Pedestrian-specific improvements

The City is already planning important pedestrian upgrades in conjunction with the streetcar, and the entire system will be ADA compliant for access ability to people with mobility or visual limitations. Several improvements to infrastructure, planning, and and policy can significantly improve safety, connectivity, and access ability for pedestrians near the streetcar lines.

  • Planning and zoning: Implement the City’s new Pedestrian Overlay to ensure pedestrian-friendly development along the streetcar lines
  • Ban the push buttons: Set all traffic signals to include an automatic pedestrian signal, so that people on foot do no have to request a walk signal
  • Limit driveways, curb cuts, and drive-through businesses along streetcar routes
  • Use enhanced crosswalks to connect to streetcar stations
  • Improve the streetscape with pedestrian-level lighting, street trees and other landscaping, benches, and public art

Parallel bike routes when bike lanes in the corridor are not impossible

In some cases, adding bike facilities in the streetcar corridor may be impossible. When this is the case, it is important to identify a parallel corridor to add bicycle facilities, preferably an arterial where there is generally capacity and connectivity to provide a high quality bike facility. Specific recommendations are:

  • Bike lanes intersecting streetcar routes and connecting to nearby destinations

Bikes can solve the “first mile” and “last mile” challenge for transit if streetcar stops are connected to nearby neighborhoods, business districts, and destinations with infrastructure like bike lanes and cycletracks. Unfortunately the city’s existing bike plan, BikeKC, identifies very few east-west corridors and the plan has no recommendations for facility types. By providing bicycle connectivity to the streetcar, the city can begin building out its long-overdue bicycle network in a truly multi-modal pattern.

Bike share stations at streetcar stops and nearby destinations to extend streetcar access to a wider corridor

  • 20% of Kansas City B-cycle users are already using bike share to get to or from the Metro bus network.
  • The average Kansas City B-Cycle trip is 1.8 miles.
  • The average distance streetcar riders are willing to walk to get to a station is under .5 miles. Adding bike share can significantly increase the streetcar’s reach bridging the the first and last mile of the trip.
  • In most of the proposed streetcar corridors, strategically placing bike share stations can more than double the streetcar’s access to jobs and residences.

Trolley Track Trail Upgrades

Not only will streetcar project preserve the popular Henry Wiggins Trolley Track Trail, it will also be an opportunity to improve the trail and sustain it for future generations. “Rail with Trail” is a concept that has been successfully implemented around the world. Streetcars and trails can easily coexist and complement each other.

Read more about how the streetcar can improve the Trolley Track Trail.