Grand Boulevard is, or should be one of the premier streets of downtown Kansas City. It runs from our historic City Market at one end to Crown Center at the other. On the way it passes numerous historic buildings including the Federal Reserve and the Professional Building. The front door of the Sprint Center opens onto it and it is the eastern border of the Power & Light District. Unfortunately, it is also overly wide and frequently full of speeding traffic – two things that make it less than welcoming to pedestrians and bicyclists.
Over the past couple months, DNA representatives have seen a presentation from KCMO Public Works engineer Wes Minder (special thanks to Wes for providing these pictures!) and Deb Ridgeway, the city’s bike coordinator on a proposed road diet of Grand Boulevard through downtown KC. First was to the Parking & Transportation Commission (where DNA is represented by Matt Staub) and the second was to the Downtown Council’s Infrastructure Committee (where DNA is represented by various members of the Development Committee.) Both a 3-lane and 4-lane configurations were presented (a dowloadable pdf of the presentation slides is below).
The Road Diet
You’ve probably heard of a road diet – it’s the concept of taking a street that is too wide for the traffic it carries and reducing the space allotted for cars by either restriping the pavement or modifying the curb lines. The idea is that everyone wins; cars still have enough space to get where they need to go, but now there is more room for wider sidewalks, exclusive transit lanes, bike lanes or even new green space.
The picture above is taken from the presentation, showing one possible future configuration. Currently, Grand is a mishmash of traffic lanes, bus lanes, the occasional turn lane and parking lanes. In the Crossroads, Grand is seven (7!!) lanes wide. At the Sprint Center, it narrows down a bit to five lanes and six lanes through most of the loop. Despite all of this pavement, traffic doesn’t always flow smoothly. Lanes jog back and forth (think of Grand at Truman Road.) Sometimes there’s not a turn lane where there should be one (think southbound Grand at 12th Street or northbound at 11th Street), so cars have to wait to turn in the travel lane. Sometimes trucks park in a travel lane to unload. All of this confuses motorists or forces them to swerve back and forth – dangerous things for anyone not in a car!
Option A: Four Lanes
Now, the four-lane option doesn’t really help many of these things. In the picture below, you can see that we still don’t get all the dedicated turning lanes. To fit the bike lanes, some of the on-street parking is lost. And, you still have to drop down to three lanes in some places to fit in all of the bus stops.
Option B: Three Lanes
Now, contrast that with the three-lane option below. A big perk of three lanes is that you now have a turning lane at all these spots, plus anywhere else you may want to turn – a parking garage or an alley. It also gives trucks an easy spot to park for unloading without blocking traffic. Three lanes free up even more space for wider bike lanes compared to four lanes, and this option preserves all of the on-street parking.
How is Grand affected?
Where will all the traffic go? A while back, the city commissioned a consultant to prepare a detailed traffic model of downtown – all of the intersections, traffic signals, parking garages and everything. Using this model, the city determined that three lanes can maintain an adequate Level of Service (LOS) with an added right-turn lane here and there. This means that the proposed LOS of the three-lane option would match or exceed that of Grand currently. Of course, DNA knows there’s more to downtown than moving cars, but we were pleased to hear that there was one less obstacle to implementing this plan.
People who have been following happenings downtown for a while may also recall the “Making Grand Grand” plan. This was an ambitious study put forward by the Parks Department to envision a beautified Grand Boulevard with green space, cycle tracks and more. This plan proposed today isn’t to that level, but nothing in it precludes anything in the future plan. Some of it, such as the road diet to three lanes and the buffered bike lanes could act as a proof-of-concept simulation for the larger plan.
Kansas City Area Transportation Authority (KCATA) is also a big player on Grand. Many of its routes traverse Grand today. With the coming of the streetcar and studying the best way to serve downtown, KCATA has plans in the future to nearly consolidate all of its north-south routes through downtown onto Grand. Fortunately, the traffic model has shown that even with all of these extra buses the three-lane configuration with bike lanes still works splendidly. KCATA has also put forward its own concepts for Grand that feature bike lanes and improved pedestrian spaces.
So where do we stand?
After getting buy in from the Parking & Transportation Commission and the Downtown Council, the Public Works is proceeding with more detailed design and evaluation of the three-lane configuration. At this point, the plan is to limit changes to paint on the pavement – less ambitious than “Making Grand Grand,” but hopefully a positive step in the right direction. With some more prodding, they may also explore something bolder for the bike facilities, such as a cycle track. DNA encourages you to reach out to the Public Works, the Parks Department, KCATA and to our councilpersons. We must voice our support for a slimmed-down Grand and for improved bicycle facilities with an eye towards other dramatic improvements in the future, and we must encourage cooperation between all stakeholders. It is critical that we push to make the most of the opportunity in front of us and lay the groundwork for future steps.