The Wichita City Council’s approval of a 10-year bicycle master plan last week was a “watershed” moment for the community, as Vice Mayor Janet Miller later put it. The projects it inspires will signal employers and young professionals that Wichita accommodates families, facilitates recreation and promotes wellness.
And because a person on a bike is one less person behind the wheel of a car, the plan should serve Wichita’s challenge to keep its air pollution in check and avoid costly regulatory measures.
The plan, more than two years and 50 meetings in the making, anticipates $2.5 million in city capital improvements money over the next 10 years. It also aims for $15.6 million in federal grant funding – no sure thing as Congress targets budget deficits.
Overseen by a new 11-member advisory task force, also approved last week, the plan envisions many more bike lanes on city streets, “bicycle boulevards” (low-speed streets meant to invite biking), a new path on a former railroad right of way between Oliver and Woodlawn, and more. Another idea for the future Crystal Prairie Lake Park northeast of K-96 and Hoover Road simultaneously would serve stormwater runoff, a wetland ecosystem and bicyclists.
As improved signage helps bicyclists find their way, it will demonstrate to visitors and residents alike that Wichita wants to encourage cycling. The visibility also should help make the streets safer for bikes – a key need, what with research indicating that 60 percent of Wichitans would ride bikes more often if they felt safer on the streets.
The plan also pursues education and awareness efforts aimed at making Wichita as safe as possible for biking, driving and walking. Those are sorely needed, given the uneasy-to-hostile relationship especially between cyclists and drivers in Wichita. It will take some doing to bring drivers – and, in some cases, property owners – along on the quest to make not only Wichita but the surrounding communities bike-friendly.
Those who served on the 19-member steering committee should feel good about the finished plan.
It doesn’t mistake Wichita for some cycling nirvana like Portland, Ore., or Boulder, Colo., but instead should function as a realistic blueprint with long-term benefits for Wichita’s economy, health, air and quality of life. Nice work.
Now let’s get to work turning it into reality on and along Wichita’s streets.