Earlier this year, the KCMO Parks and Recreation Department began a public planning process to update standards for new development along the boulevards and parkways. These updates will lay out requirements for how new buildings look as well as how people access them from the street. The design of buildings has a significant impact on neighborhood walkability. As such, it is very important to ensure that any proposed design standards conform to basic pedestrian oriented design principles. The draft document that the Parks Board is set to vote on Tuesday, June 16th contains a lot of promise and a few concerns.
We will start with the positives just to highlight the fact that, overall, this is a great step toward building a walkable community. Those positive themes are:
- It their current form, the standards will introduce pedestrian oriented design into the city’s development standards. Things like requiring non-residential buildings to be primarily transparent at the ground floor, minimizing parking lots fronting the streets, and requiring pedestrian access from the sidewalk to the fronts of buildings.
- There is a new design standard for two lane parkways. Parkways (primarily in the northland) have been excessively wide, pedestrian-hostile environments. The new standards will introduce an option to build much more pedestrian-scaled two lane streets.
Below are the list of outstanding concerns we still have:
- The customer entrance of any new retail or other commercial development is allowed to be located on the side of the building. This would make arriving at your local grocery store on foot inconvenient or even dangerous. Encouraging walkability requires that people can access their destinations directly from the sidewalk with minimal deviation from their path.
- Parking and vehicular circulation is allowed to front the boulevards or parkways. This means that, even if the primary entrance to your grocery store is facing the sidewalk, you may still have to cross a driveway or parking.
- Gas Stations will be allowed along the boulevards and parkways. That fact alone
isn’t necessarily bad, but coupled with the previous two points, this could further diminish the pedestrian focus this update originally intended. The “convenience” of a convenience store is only realized by drivers when the only customer entrance faces the fuel pumps. A driveway separating the sidewalk from that entrance further erodes safe pedestrian access. Cars zipping in and out of the fuel
pump area will be allowed to cross the sidewalk along the parkway or boulevard, posing considerable danger to pedestrians given the high volume of driveway traffic present at most gas stations.
- Pedestrian oriented design standards will only apply to new construction along boulevards and parkways.
- KCMO will likely continue adding wide, high-speed, four lane streets.
- allowing for two lane parkways but they will not be required. Two lane parkways will likely be the exception rather than the rule.
- Setting aside so much right of way for new parkways significantly increases the maintenance burden. The extra pavement of these four lane streets will add further financial liability when added to the city’s street
maintenance schedule which is already a burden on the budget. And while the extra green space can be beautiful, it too comes at a cost due to the extra maintenance that will be required. This extra cost burden will come at the expense of new trails and sidewalks or maintaining the parks we already have.
And finally, here is how we believe city staff, commissions, and electeds can address these concerns:
- Require customer entrance to front the boulevards or parkways
- Don’t allow parking or driveways between the sidewalk and the front of the building
- Require that fuel pumps be placed behind the main building of a gas station
- Apply these new standards to all new development not just parkways and boulevards
- Require that any new street or completely rebuilt street have three lanes or fewer
- Implement Road Diets on all boulevards and parkways per FHWA guidance
- Adopt an “Every Boulevard a Bikeway” policy and begin adding bike lanes on every boulevard and parkway as part of Road Diets
- Eliminate the requirement for 200 feet of right of way for new parkways
- Adopt protected bike lane to the Major Street Plan for Boulevards and Parkways