Local leaders deserve praise for trying to better Wichita as a city that welcomes walking and bicycle riding. Success should be good for Wichitans’ health and the local economy.
The long-running local commitment to becoming more bike-friendly was made official with February’s Wichita City Council approval of a 10-year bicycle master plan. And it’s paying off, especially the efforts toward a comprehensive system of bike paths.
At Tuesday’s meeting, the Wichita City Council will consider a bonding resolution to advance eight more improvement projects, costing about $500,000 and funded with help from the Greater Wichita YMCA and Health and Wellness Coalition of Wichita. Plans include extending the bike lanes on First and Second streets, adding bike lanes on Market and Topeka from 21st Street to Mount Vernon and on Mount Vernon from Broadway to Woodlawn, and designating certain streets as low-speed “bicycle boulevards.”
As they are, Wichita’s bike lanes have an image problem with drivers, who see them as a mostly empty impediment to cars’ rightful ownership of the road.
That dangerous thinking needs to change, especially given research suggesting that 60 percent of Wichitans would ride bikes more frequently if they felt safer on the streets. As more and longer bike lanes draw more users, more Wichitans at the wheel will need to adjust their attitudes and driving accordingly.
Meanwhile, the city has begun gathering input toward a pedestrian master plan, holding a public open house last week in search of ideas to improve Wichita’s embarrassing 223rd-place standing among 267 cities in a national survey on walkability.
A surprising 40 percent of Wichitans don’t drive, according to one of the Seattle-based consultants working on the plan. But in too many Wichita neighborhoods, the sidewalks are spotty, narrow, in disrepair, grown over or nonexistent – the last especially in newer developments. The worthy goals mentioned at the open house included improving walking access from residential areas to parks, schools and workplaces, and providing connections between pedestrian, bicycle and transit facilities. Again, encouraging walking will call for drivers to be more attentive at crosswalks and accepting in general. It’s too early to say how improvements would be funded. To find out more about the plan, go to wichita.gov.
Some like to disparage such recreational investment by local government as frivolous, but it’s serious economic development. Like that of parks and pools, the presence of bike paths, bike lanes and even sidewalks can communicate to businesses and young professionals that Wichita values wellness, promotes recreation and caters to families.
Good for Wichita’s leaders for realizing that especially when those amenities are full of people, they can be a powerful come-on, helping define a community as a place that doesn’t sit still.