Cliff Drive Connector trail scrapped for potentially dangerous alternative

The KCMO Parks Department's  highly anticipated project to build a trail under I-35 connecting Columbus Park and Downtown with Cliff Drive and the Old Northeast has been scrapped for an alternative that poses serious challenges for the safety and comfort of people on bikes.

The Original Plan
The Parks Department's  original plan was for a trail that traversed through the woods and down the bluff to 2nd Street, went under I-35, and came back up in the residential area of Columbus Park. The City received an $800,000 federal grant and committed $200,000 in local funding for the $1 million project. However, when the engineers started to do detailed work, the cost estimate doubled to $2 million. Rather than seek additional funding, the Parks Department opted to change the project drastically.



The New Plan
The Parks Department is now proposing to cross I-35 on Independence Avenue, a four-lane thoroughfare, by using an unusual design that puts sharrows in the inside lane (red on map above). The eastbound outside lane is also a parking lane outside of rush hour. As a result, for much of the day bicyclists will be directed to ride in the left lane of a major street.

Putting the sharrows in the inside lane is an attempt to address this constraint, but actually makes the street more dangerous by encouraging cars to pass cyclists on their right side. This is use of sharrows is highly unusual and contrary to virtually all national engineering standards. We can find no other examples where sharrows have been used like this. Additionally, this design actually contradicts Missouri state law that requires bicyclists to ride in the right lane of a multi-lane, 2-way street. The Parks Department's plan actually makes things worse for cyclists and encourages them to break the law!

Other options
Fortunately there are other options available if the City moves forward with an on-street route instead of the original trail plan. Independence Avenue has a relatively low traffic volume west of The Paseo (3,600 cars/day eastbound and 5,600 westbound), which makes it possible to reconfigure the lanes and/or implement a road diet. In order of preference here are our suggestions:

  1. Use a road to diet to create a two or three lane road with bike lanes or cycletrack
  2. Remove the eastbound off peak parking to create four full time lanes with sharrows in the outside
  3. Make the eastbound parking lane 24/7 and put the sharrows in the remaining inside travel lane

The key issue is whether or not the city is willing to change the parking or travel lane configuration on a street that has more capacity than it needs.

Streetcar to the rescue?
If voters approve the second phase of streetcar this fall, Independence Avenue will be one of the future rail lines. The original trail plan could be incorporated into the streetcar project for very little extra cost while providing a high quality protected bikeway that would provide a level of separation from cars almost equal to the original trail plan. 

Not dead yet?
According to the Northeast News, there is still an effort to develop the trail in the future. Once an ADA-compliant route is finished on Independence Avenue, the trail can be built less expensively with fewer switchbacks. However, at this time we have no official confirmation that the Parks Department is committed to pursuing this option, and there is no funding identified to make it happen.

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