Westport Ordinance Passed – What Now?

by Michael Kelley, Policy Coordinator

After much heated debate, the KCMO City Council passed Ordinance No. 170893, which allows the City to privatize the sidewalks of Westport, specifically in the area of Westport Road and Pennsylvania Avenue. There’s a great deal of information to unpack here, but for now, we’ll stick with what’s in the legislation and what will be the next steps for BikeWalkKC.

First, the legislation. The ordinance gives control of the sidewalks to the Westport CID, a group of businesses that operate at the central intersection in the heart of Westport. It is specifically bounded by W. 40th Street to the north, Archibald Street to the south, Broadway Boulevard to the east and Mill Street/Southwest Trafficway to the west. Under the newly-enacted measure, the Westport CID will be able to install higher security measures on the sidewalks of these streets leading into Westport from 11:00 p.m. to 4:00 a.m. on Friday and Saturday night. Anyone who wants to enter the area after the barriers go up must pass through metal detection checkpoints and will be turned away if they have a weapon on their person.

The City will provide $10,000 for educating the public about the ordinance. The City will also have civil rights observers on hand to monitor the implementation of the plan and ensure that no violations take place. The City will also retain the right to take back control of the sidewalks. There’s a catch here: if the City chooses to take back the sidewalks without a reason within the first three years of the agreement, it will have to pay around $132,000 for the CID’s expenses.

Where does all of this leave BikeWalkKC? As we said in an earlier post and a subsequent op-ed in the Star, BikeWalkKC is firmly opposed to this measure for a number of reasons. We don’t believe that it is right to give away public space to private interests. We don’t believe that there is enough in the measure to fully prevent discrimination of people of color in Westport. But most importantly, we don’t believe that this will actually make Westport safer. The two biggest reasons for the this are 1) there is no evidence that this has been implemented successfully anywhere else in the country or that it has prevented further violence, and 2) people with guns can still walk freely in and out of the area in question right up to 10:59 p.m.

It should be noted that BikeWalkKC was offered a representative spot on the Event Management Committee that would be created by this legislation. We ultimately declined because we were concerned that our participation on that committee, or any other committee created by the ordinance, would be seen as an endorsement of the ordinance.

For the time being, we will continue to monitor the implementation of the measure. There will be opportunities for review of the legislation, and we intend to voice our concerns whenever possible. Additionally, we are studying another ordinance (No. 170911) that may raise the threshold that an individual or group must meet to privatize a public street. We will write a blog to follow-up on that in the new year.

We would like to thank the numerous people and organizations who stood with us in opposition to the measure. In particular, we’d like to thank Tricia Bushnell and Phyllis Williams, who not only acted as vocal opponents, but contributed a great deal to changes that emerged from the working group. We’d also like to thank the numerous individuals who wrote letters and contacted their Council members to oppose this measure. What initially started as an under-the-radar effort to privatize all of the major streets in Westport with unanimous support grew into a public discussion that narrowed the scope of the ordinance to just the sidewalks of a key intersection and drew five vocal opponents on the City Council. We may have come up short, but we did make significant changes to the legislation.

BikeWalkKC will continue to oppose any measure to hastily privatize our streets or sidewalks because doing so creates barriers to the physical connectivity of our community and thus inhibits creating a culture of active living.

Help us keep fighting for accessible streets and sidewalks – make a donation to support BikeWalkKC!

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