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Wichita builds on bike-friendly status

Once or twice a week, Kim Neufeld commutes to work by bicycle, riding 11 miles from southeast Wichita to the northwest part of the city. It’s a way to fit in an hour of exercise on a route that is fairly painless, thanks to the naturally flat landscape and improvements by the city of Wichita.

“It’s completely changed within the last year,” she said. “My route used to be all on streets and now it is 90 percent on some type of protected infrastructure, either a designated bike lane, through a park or on a side path. Motorists are friendlier and getting used to seeing us. It is amazing, I can just roll right on into work.”

More miles, more connectivity

In the past year, the city installed approximately six miles of new bikeways bringing the total within the city to 115 miles of bikeways, according to Scott Wadle, a senior planner who oversees bicycle and pedestrian trails and currently serves as Wichita’s interim transit director. He said more than one-third of those miles have been added since 2012, when an effort began to formalize a Wichita Bicycle Master Plan.

In 2013, the Wichita City Council endorsed the plan, which incorporated input from more than 4,000 people and set priorities for bicycle programs and projects for the ensuing decade.

“The city is actually ahead of schedule. We are ecstatic at the progress they are making,” said Neufeld, who serves as the executive director of Bike Walk Wichita, a nonprofit organization that consolidates advocacy and education efforts for biking, running and walking.

Increased connectivity of the existing paths and routes is as important as additional miles, Neufeld said. Wichita’s increasingly interconnected network of bikeways makes her commute safer. A bikeway is a route, way or path that is specifically designed or designated for bicycle travel. The Wichita area has a mix of bicycling options ranging from on-street bike lanes and bicycle boulevards (low-speed and low-volume on-street designated routes) to paths that offer paved, gravel and off-road riding.

A bike-friendly community

One of the goals established in the master plan was to achieve Bicycle Friendly Community status from the League of American Bicyclists. In 2017, the city joined four other Kansas cities and 427 communities nationwide by earning a bronze level designation. That label indicates the community’s efforts to make bicycling easier, safer and more convenient.

Private donations and volunteers drive some of the efforts to create a bicycle-friendly culture. For instance, there are now three free bicycle repair stations in Wichita funded by organizations or businesses and a new bike share program launched in 2017 with support from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas, the Wichita Community Foundation and other partners.

BikeShareICT started in May and early success has organizers planning an expansion this year, said Becky Tuttle, director of Community Development at the Greater Wichita YMCA. The initiative currently has 105 bikes in 21 locations – mostly in the city’s core – that can be rented for $3 an hour or through an annual membership that costs $30, $20 for college students. Through early February, riders had borrowed the cruiser bikes for 8,282 trips. Demographics show that 85 percent of the bike sharers reside in Sedgwick County and the most popular stations are the Pop Up Park, Downtown YMCA, Keeper of the Plains Plaza and Sedgwick County Park.

Neufeld said it’s been surprising that so many locals are using the bikes but that supports what she’s also noticed: more Wichitans are interested in bicycling for recreation and for transportation. BikeShareICT is convenient for those who don’t own bicycles or those who simply don’t want to load up their bicycles yet want to explore a new area of town.

“This program started about four years earlier than we thought it would, so it’s great to see that our community is so excited about it,” Neufeld said. “I think a lot of that success is because the infrastructure the city is putting in makes biking in Wichita so easy. The next phase should really expand it out to make it even easier for students and more residents to use the bikes.”

Coming in 2018

Wadle said this year the city will continue to work on priorities established by residents who weighed in during the creation of the master plan. Expect the addition of as many as eight miles of bikeways in 2018. The projects touch every part of the city, including the completion of a paved, 10-foot wide multi-use path on the east bank of the Arkansas River from Kellogg to the Lincoln Street Bridge. That half-mile section is currently a dirt path and is part of the popular Arkansas River Path.

Volunteers will continue their work on the two rail-trails that touch Wichita: the Prairie Sunset Trail out west and the Redbud Trail in the east. In May, volunteers will hold a ribbon-cutting event to celebrate the completion of a section of the Andover-Augusta RailTrail Initiative, which ties into the Redbud Trail. Also in May, National Bike Month, Bike Walk Wichita will hold its first Women’s Bike Summit at Wichita State University.

Special events are one way the bicycling community will continue to educate bicyclists and motorists. Another is a street safety campaign that Wadle said the city will introduce this year through multiple media channels.

“Everything we’re doing is in response to citizens telling us they want bicycling in Wichita to be easier, safer and more convenient,” Wadle said, “and that creates more opportunity for people to be healthier, to save money and to have a higher quality of life almost right outside their doorstep.”

Interested in riding?

· Start your research with bikewalkwichita.org, which has maps and information about popular routes you can do on your own as well as links to organized rides. They also list upcoming classes to get you comfortable with riding in Wichita.

· Check the website of your favorite bike shop. Bicyclepedaler.com, for example, has links to fundraiser rides and other community resources.

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