I Bike Lenexa members have been closely following the new Ridgeview Road project as Lenexa city planners are actively considering bicycle infrastructure for the new road. Cyclists in Lenexa have been frustrated by the lack of on-street bicycle infrastructure and have been working to convince the city to catch up to other communities in the area that are making steady progress. At the current time, Lenexa has virtually no on-street bicycle infrastructure and no dedicated bike lanes. The Ridgeview Road project looked like a great opportunity to get our first bike lanes, but in the end, the City Council decided on a different approach. While this isn’t the result we hoped for, there are a few positive signs that came out of the process.
Bike-lane options considered:
On April, 3 city planners presented several options for consideration by the City Council. Two options included 5-foot bike lanes in both directions (Options 2 and 3). Option 2 featured 5-foot bike lanes, a 10-foot multi-use side path on the west side, and a 6-foot sidewalk on the east side of Ridgeview road. This option was rejected because it required additional girder supports for the bridge and relocation of a sanitary sewer system both of which added significant costs to the project.
Option 3 included 5-foot bike lanes but reduced the side path from 10-feet to 6-feet. So, the only real difference vs. option 2 was the reduction of the multi-use path by 4-feet making it a traditional sidewalk. While option 3 represented an additional cost of $490k, the width reduction solved the bridge and sewer problem and made the project possible. See Figure 1 for an overview of Option 3.
Figure 1: Ridgeview Road option 3.
The Lenexa city staff presented option 3 as a viable compromise because it combines on-street bike lanes along with traditional sidewalks on both sides. The loss of the multi-use trail was seen as less of an issue because nearby Mill Creek Trail provides an option for people who enjoy using multi-use paths.
City Council’s Response:
After reviewing all of the options the City Council decided to pursue a fourth option. Option 3 was not pursued because Council members were very concerned about losing the 10-foot multi-use path. Apparently, the loss of 4-feet on the path was a big enough concern for council members to scrap an opportunity for Lenexa to get it’s first bike lanes.
Some council members were also concerned that bike lanes on Ridgeview didn’t make sense because they wouldn’t connect to any other bike lanes. Ward 3 councilmen Cory Hunt said in an email to one of our members:
“I personally could not see putting a bike lane on a road that does not connect to other roads with bike lanes. It would be a bike lane to nowhere”.
The “bike lane to nowhere” argument is a chicken and egg problem. There are NO bike-lanes in Lenexa, so the first bike lanes will not connect to any existing lanes; unless of course, they connect to bike lanes in surrounding cities.
The city council requested another option (option 4) which maintained the multi-use trail while still improving the roadway for cyclists. The new option included the 10-foot trail on the west side of the road, a 5-foot sidewalk on the east. But, instead of five-foot bike lanes, they suggested widening the road by 2-3 feet in either direction to make more room for cyclists. Along with the wider roads, they would include “Share the Road” signage to make motorists aware of cyclists. In the council’s view, the additional road width means more room for cyclists to ride on the road.
Problems with this approach:
While I believe the city council has good intentions, I think their decision to widen the road will actually make it more dangerous for cyclists and pedestrians. Recent research has shown that widening roads causes motorists to naturally increase their speed which presents more hazards for pedestrians especially when drivers are distracted. Bike lanes, on the other hand, have the opposite effect of making the roads narrower and causing drivers to naturally reduce or regulate their speed. This has been proven time and again and is a generally accepted tenet of complete street programs.
According to recent studies, lane widths of between 9.2-10.6 feet (2.80-3.25 meters) are optimal to keep motorists speeds in check. It has also been shown that narrower lanes result in dramatically lower fatality rates. Figure 2 shows comparative lane width data from cities around the world. Here’s a link to a report by the World Resource Institute that describes this in detail. Many other studies around the world back up these conclusions.
Figure 2: WRI’s research shows lane widths between 2.8 to 3.25 meters (9.2 to 10.6 feet), such as Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Tokyo, have the lowest crash fatality rates per 100,000 residents.
The lanes proposed for Ridgeview Road in option 3 are 11-feet wide for the inside lanes and 13-feet for the outside lanes. Adding 2-3 feet to the outside lane will make them 15-16 feet wide! This will create a wide highway feel where motorists will naturally increase their speeds.
Why is the increased speed a concern? Research shows that even a moderate increase in speed can dramatically reduce pedestrian and cyclists odds of surviving a crash. An interactive chart made by ProPublica shows the fatality rates for crashes at different speeds based on actual historic crash data. As you can see in figure 3, at 45 mph pedestrians and cyclists have a 60% chance of being killed in a crash. But, lowering the speed by just 10 mph to 35 mph reduces the fatality rate to 31%; almost half (figure 4).
Figure 3: In a 45 mph crash the fatality rate for pedestrians or cyclists 60%.
Figure 4: At 35 mph the fatality rate is reduced by half to almost 31%.
While I appreciate the City Council’s good intention behind the decision to add width to make room for cyclists, I think they are misguided if they think that it will result in safer roads. In fact, I think that this plan will make the road much less safe for cyclists, pedestrians, and motorists.
The Good News:
It’s easy to be discouraged when much of the input from the cycling community was not acted on in the way we hoped. However, as we all know making Lenexa bicycle friendly will be a long process consisting of many small steps. So, I prefer to focus on the small victories that came out of the Ridgeview Road project.
- City planners did a great job of including cyclists in the planning process and they listened to our feedback.
- City planners presented several options that directly addressed our feedback and developed a very viable option that included bike lanes!
- If they proceed with the plan Lenexa will have it’s first “share the road” signs!
We should also remember that the city is currently bidding out a complete streets study which will provide a comprehensive plan for making the city safer for pedestrians. I believe that had this plan been in place before this project we would have seen a different result.
It’s my hope is that the city will continue to consider our input and will continue to include bicycle infrastructure in future road projects. I think it’s our responsibility to not get discouraged and to continue to educate the city council, and ourselves, about these issues. I am confident that soon we will be able to celebrate the day when Lenexa finally has its first bike lane.
Please join the discussion and provide your comments and feedback on the I Bike Lenexa Facebook page.