Early next month, a city task force will roll out a 10-year plan to benefit biking in Wichita.
On Feb. 5, a steering committee will make recommendations to the Wichita City Council on a 10-year, $12.5 million plan to enhance and connect bike paths around the city.
The recommendation includes key priority projects to be financed by $500,000 in city capital improvements money every two years, or $2.5 million, with federal grant money picking up the rest of the tab.
The projects essentially connect several city biking paths, City Manager Robert Layton said.
“They have a pretty-well-thought-out list of priorities and how we should start building biking segments,” he said.
The group’s priority projects include:
“It’s part of an overall transportation improvement strategy in the city,” Layton said. “We’re looking really hard at what we have to do with our street system, but a segment of the community is talking about the need for a meaningful bike system. With our climate, it’s impractical for part of the year, but it’s also an excellent piece the rest of the time that speaks to the quality of life in Wichita.”
Two veteran bikers who participated in the steering committee and a Wichita bike shop owner said the proposal is a good start.
“One of the things we heard in all of our town hall meetings was there’s not enough bike path connectivity,” said Charlie Claycomb. “Two trails here, four trails here and then you have to ride on the streets with no signage telling you how to get from point A to point B.
“If the city will do all the different trails we’ve come up with, the boulevards, the bike lanes, we’d have a great network.”
Wichitan Barry Carroll, who bikes between 3,000 and 5,000 miles a year, hopes the projects in the plan will encourage more Wichitans to ride.
“What I think this will do is create a safer place for the average bicycle rider to ride,” Carroll said. “With more signage, more bike lanes and infrastructure, we can create a safer place for Wichitans to ride.”
The committee’s work shows that 60 percent of Wichitans would ride more if they felt safer on the streets.
“So by putting the infrastructure in place — lanes, signs, good crosswalks for cyclists and pedestrians both — I am really optimistic that the average person will feel more comfortable about coming out and riding,” Carroll said.
Byron Fick, owner of Heartland Bicycle bike shop downtown, praised the plan.
“It’s not Portland, where they’ve invested $100 million in bike paths, but it’s a great start. I’m glad they’re thinking along these lines,” Fick said.
While living in the Des Moines area, Layton saw his suburb of Urbandale connected to five other cities by bicycle paths.
“It was almost all centered around recreation and quality of life,“ Layton said. “I don’t know that you’d ever see it reducing congestion or demands on traffic infrastructure like it can on the West Coast. You’d be talking about a major culture change for all of that to happen. I’m sure some people would take advantage of this system if we can do it for a work commute, but I don’t see it big enough to reduce traffic congestion.”
The proposed bike system growth is part of a $2.4 billion, 10-year capital improvements program approved last summer by the council. Included are several big-ticket items like the new Mid-Continent Airport terminal, a new downtown library and the East Kellogg extension.
“It does become a matter of balance, and we do have significant CIP needs,” the city manager said. “It’s not realistic here to see $100 million spent on bike paths like in Portland.
“We have to recognize our priorities, but at the same time this cannot take a back seat, either.”