Thursday, October 9, 2008

News from the neighborhood(s): A mixed bag for bike-friendliness

Advance warning to non-residents of Wichita: what follow is pretty Inside (Wichita) Baseball, though one could make the case that our particulars may sound familiar to residents of other cities that are less than bike-friendly.

I'll preface all this by saying that it's not entirely proper of me to be critical of what follows. Many of the decisions were made early in my residency here; out of ignorance or sloth, I've not been involved in the decision-making that I could have been involved in; it is possible that infrastructure changes to streets to include bike lanes don't need to be stated in light of other, previously-made decisions (see, as one example, the WAMPO link over in the right gutter); and of course, pending the fate of The Complete Streets Act of 2008 (S. 2686), these plans may yet change in the future to conform to that act's requirements if they do not already. So, then, the more appropriate way to take this is as observation based on what I know and observe.

First of all, some good news for Riverside cyclists: I'd not been by North High School since work on the bridge was completed, so this morning I was pleased to see that the path that runs north along the Little Arkansas from Minisa Park now has a short southern extension that passes underneath the bridge and follows the river to the Bitting Street bridge. This allows cyclists to avoid the intersection at 13th and Bitting, which, especially when school is letting in/out, gets very busy. But for some reason there's no cutaway to allow cyclists to leave the path and get on to Bitting easily.

That last sentence is, in essence, the Wichita bike path system in a nutshell as it stands today. (Some of) the pieces are in place, but the other pieces that would link them up (some little, like the cutaway, or a bike path of a hundred yards or so that links the Arkansas River path to O. J. Watson Park; some much larger and more expensive, like east-west extensions and bike lanes that connect the north-south routes), either aren't there or aren't yet there (more about the latter later). Mind you, I say this as one speaking from the perspective of someone who uses his bike for transportation purposes in a city whose bike system conceives of cycling in primarily recreational terms. The absent cutaway has the effect, intentional or not, of discouraging cyclists from riding on the streets. I wish that that were otherwise.

Anyway, in a moment of serendipity I stopped by Riverside Perk for an iced latte (how elitist of me, I know: a bike-riding college-educated white boy stopping not for coffee but for an iced latte) and found an issue of the Riverside Citizens Association's October newsletter; it so happened that at the September meeting my council representative, Sharon Fearey, addressed the Association about some cycling concerns, as well as neighborhood-related matters that to my mind should be of concern to cyclists. The path that runs along the Little Arkansas doesn't have either an official name or its own map on the bike paths web page; according to the minutes though, "[w]ork has started on continuing the path going north of 13th street at Minisa and Bitting Street allowing access clear from 21st to the entire Riverside Park System." That path presently runs along the west bank of the river and stops just north of 18th in Woodland Park, so I assume that the path will be extended along that side of the river. But when I looked at the bike paths map just now, it shows, as already existing, a route that crosses the river at the 18th Street bridge ad then follows the east side of the river up to 21st. I hadn't realized this before; in the next couple of days I hope to have a chance to investigate it.

The other bike-path news concerns the one that runs right by my apartment complex--it follows the river's east bank from Nims Street to Murdock. It is in very poor condition: in places, it's hard even to walk it, much less ride a hybrid or road bike on it, and when the river rises (more than a few times a year after heavy rains), parts of it are impassable for days. The city's options are to spend the estimated $700,000 to make the needed repairs and modifications or to abandon it to the apartments' owners and let it be their responsibility. It's a real Hobson's choice, especially given that the landlords are not exactly proactive regarding maintenance of their property. So far as I can tell from the minutes, the city hasn't made a decision. Speaking as a cyclist who happens to live next to this path, I would prefer to see it repaired, whether by the city or the landlords; right now it's an eyesore that has more appeal to gang members and vagrants of various sorts than it does to the residents who live next to it. But I'm not blind to the cost involved, either. Moreover, even if the path were repaired and improved, it still wouldn't really "go" anywhere: it basically helps speed up downtown people's access to the Nims and Murdock Street bridges leading into Riverside Park, which is nice, but it's no one's idea of a path that improves the functionality of the city's infrastructure for cycling.

Ms. Fearey also announced that several neighborhood revitalization plans have been adopted by the Metropolitan Area Planning Commission and the city council and are now officially part of the City and County Comprehensive Plan. Here is the list of all the various neighborhood plans; below, I've linked directly to the plans for the neighborhoods I live in or near or pass through on my commute route:

Delano Neighborhood Revitalization Plan

Midtown Neighborhood Plan

South Central

21st Street North Corridor Revitalization Plan

As I hinted at the beginning of this post, there's nothing in these plans that speaks specifically to bike-friendliness as part of their respective sections on improvements in infrastructure. The Delano District's plan does mention converting a railbanked easement into a combination bike/pedestrian path and greenbelt space. But, as I also said at the beginning, it may very well be that bike-friendliness is already included in these plans as part of larger, city-wide objectives and so isn't explicitly mentioned--at least, not in those sections I looked at today. But I don't know for sure. As time permits, I'll be sending out some e-mails to see what I can find out. Also as time permits, I would like to dig into these plans more deeply--especially the Delano plan: it differs from the others I've linked to because it operates from the proposition that it is less a neighborhood than a community, part of but, in its essence, distinct from Wichita. I'm very much in agreement with that sentiment, as I've stated before; what I'll be looking for and posting on will be how the Delano District plan proposes to develop and enhance its sense as a community unto itself.

An addendum now: Back in July, you may remember, I posted a link to a WAMPO survey asking people to rank transportation priorities. If you're curious, here are the survey results.


Cordelia said...

Apropos of nothing, really, but all of this focus on Wichita, I was reminded of the article in the NYTimes yesterday, on Iceland, which is apparently on the brink of bankruptcy. The relevance ? This comparison: "Iceland is uniquely exposed to the global economy. Although it has a population of about 300,000 people ---smaller than that of Wichita, Kan.,..." I understand that biking's no picnic in Iceland, either ! Apropos of the post where I am actually mentioned, I have to see if the frame and brakes on the old Schwinn will be compatible with the ExtraCycle, but I am sorely tempted to get one, one way or the other.

John B. said...

Thanks for dropping by and commenting, Cordelia. Your mentioning Wichita's population allows me yet another chance to mention that the city really should consider bike-friendly changes to its infrastructure now, while the city is still small and compact. But also as I've said in the past, the plans to do these things already exist; what's lacking, at least for now, is the political will and the money to go with it.

Bryan G said...

Hello John, Actually there is a exit from the bike path right into Watson Park. It is on the northwest end of the park. Right there where the parking lot ends and the horse pen is. There is a gate there and it is shut and locked when the park is closed. I live so close to Watson park I often cut through there when on my way to or from home.

John B. said...

Thanks for that; I'll be sure to look for it next time I'm there. Given the size of the park, though, it seems like they could provide another path at the southern end, too--that day I went, I picked my way through a gravel road behind that apartment complex there; that would be easily convertible into a path.

Anonymous said...

You might want to check with the City. I think they are planning bike lanes along Mt. Vernon. It would extend from the Ark River and run east to about I-135 (or some where around there).