The Kansas City region took a big step forward last Monday night by approving the Overland Park Comprehensive Bicycle Master Plan. In February the Planning Commission unanimously recommended the plan and after much discussion, the Governing Body of Overland Park adopted the plan by a vote of 10-1.
While this is a huge win for the City of Overland Park, its residents and visitors and the greater Kansas City area, much work is needed in the years ahead to ensure that this plan is built and moves forward and doesn’t fall to the wayside as a “dream never realized.” And while Monday night’s vote ultimately had strong support, the discussion over the plan during the public hearing process was divided. Who would use these bicycle facilities? Only a few people commute to work via bike; should so much money be allocated on infrastructure for just a few people? How would bicycle infrastructure improve safety? Wouldn’t bike lanes negatively impact the flow of “traffic”? [I use quotes because in many communities when people say traffic what they really mean is vehicular traffic — not all traffic which includes bicycles and pedestrians too]. And many more questions were raised.
Let’s be clear here – I have a biased opinion. With that said, I believe it is an informed one. I lived in Overland Park for two years as a full time bicycle commuter; I hold a Master’s degree in city planning and have studied demographic, housing and commuting trends; I have hope for the future. I’m in no way implying that people who do not support bicycle infrastructure or comprehensive bike plans don’t have hope for the future or don’t have informed opinions, but the realities of today’s world are evolving — and the public discourse on bicycle infrastructure is changing.
No longer should bicycling be thought of only as a leisure activity. Bicycling is a viable means of transportation much more accessible to members of society. Not every person or household can afford a vehicle (the average cost of owning an automobile is about $9,000 per year including payments, insurance, gas, and maintenance) nor does everyone want to be limited to a single mode of transportation. Bicycle infrastructure isn’t about catering to bicyclists who ride in groups on the weekends. Bicycle infrastructure and master plans are about inclusivity and equity. People of all ages, races, economic backgrounds and beliefs use bicycles.
By providing supportive plans and infrastructure for this mode of transportation local governments are finally acknowledging a wider segment of road users are out there. Let’s not forget, streets (public Right of Ways) are public space with much potential. Who would use these bicycle facilities? Any person able or willing to ride a bicycle — school children, retired persons, commuters, leisure riders. Only a few people commute to work via bike, so should so much money be allocated on infrastructure for just a few people? The figure referenced at the Overland Park City Council meeting on Monday night represents a small sample of commuters. Not every bike commuter is surveyed, not every person works. But yes, funds should be dedicated for this type of infrastructure. How would bicycle infrastructure improve safety? Bike infrastructure provides dedicated space and predictability, naturally improving safety, as do more specific components of bicycle infrastructure. Wouldn’t bike lanes negatively impact the flow of “traffic”? Negative is a relative term here. If high speeds and potentially dangerous traffic is good flow, then yes, it may be harmed. However, traffic calming doesn’t mean negative flow. It means reasonable flow, which is what bicycle lanes help produce.
Overland Park made great strides on Monday. Now it’s up to the City to begin implementing the infrastructure and riders to use it.