If Wichita wants to get somewhere, its residents need to embrace walking

When city leaders and architects revealed plans for a new ballpark in downtown Wichita, it’s no surprise that some of the first and loudest complaints had to do with parking.

“It’s an urban stadium,” project architect Shannon Boehm said during an informational meeting at the Advanced Learning Library. “There’s going to be walking.”

Gasps. Grumbles. Audible sighs.

You mean we can’t drive right up to the entrance? We might have to park across the river and — hold on just a minute here — walk?

Yes. If we want Wichita to be a vibrant, modern city, we’ll have to get comfortable hoofing it and using public transportation.

Where Lawrence-Dumont Stadium hugged the northwest corner of Maple and McLean, the new ballpark will be built farther to the west, closer to Sycamore, where the Lawrence-Dumont parking lot used to be. Plans call for a main entry plaza to face out onto a narrowed McLean Boulevard and the Arkansas River.

Early concept drawings of the new ballpark show people walking toward the Delano entrance, some hand-in-hand, or gathered around food trucks outside. The park will feature drop-off lanes for trolleys and ride shares — and handicapped-accessible parking, of course — but it won’t have a huge parking lot or garage.

That’s OK. And here’s why:

There’s plenty of parking in downtown Wichita, an estimated 5,000 to 6,000 spaces within a five- to 10-minute walk of the new ballpark. There are lots around Century II, parking garages at WaterWalk and at Market and William, spaces near the Hyatt and Broadview hotels.

The walk from those spaces to the new ballpark’s entrance — across a new $6 million pedestrian bridge — will be shorter than most walks into Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium.

Beyond that, there are parking spaces in Old Town, near Intrust Bank Arena, beside Exploration Place, in the Douglas Design District and elsewhere along the city’s free Q-Line trolley route. There are bike shares and bike lanes and plans for Wichita to join the electric scooter craze.

Jonathan Wood, a 37-year-old graphic designer who lives in Delano, sparked a conversation on social media recently when he posted “#KillAllParkingLots” and proposed that more Wichitans embrace walking and cycling.

“People around here think of walking like it’s a punishment,” he said, “instead of something they might actually enjoy.”

Travel just about anywhere in the world, and you’ll see cities starting to limit or even ban cars in core areas. Urban planners are brainstorming ways to create more space for pedestrians and reduce congestion and car emissions.

Wichita isn’t going to that extreme, but the city has worked for nearly a decade to make downtown more attractive and walkable. New planters along Douglas teem with flowers in the spring and summer. Crews transformed a hole in the ground into the ICT Pop-Up Park, which features food trucks and live music. We have more downtown restaurants, coffee shops, bars and breweries than ever before.

It will take time and hard work to woo Wichitans away from their cars. Rather than shrugging and saying, “Tough luck, no parking,” leaders should offer specific directions and better signage about where to park and where to catch Q-Line shuttles. They must continue to boost public transit, like the new deal that lets Wichita State students ride for free.

And perhaps by Opening Day 2020, we’ll be ready for a walk to the park.