Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The daily commute: Things observed and thought II

The gateway over the new Midtown Bike Path; click on image to enlarge. Via Coasters Bicycle Club).

Thanks to Copenhagen Cycle Chic's and Streetblogs' and Carbon Trace's linking to the "Front Porch Chic" posts, this humble blog had over 300 unique visitors over the past two days (an average day here is between 20-30). (By the way: you should be visiting those good people on a regular basis, and not just because they linked to my posts.) But with this post, rest assured, I will return this blog's visitor counts back to their accustomed bottom-feeding depths as I talk about stuff that may be of interest only to people in this mid-sized city in Kansas.

As before, what follows is actually a hodge-podge of items in some way associated with getting around town via bicycle, some of which are from before last weekend. Take "The Daily Commute" to indicate more a state of mind than a rigorous recounting of the day's ride.

**Among the items for consideration on today's City Council agenda (WARNING: 429-page .pdf file!!) is a motion to increase funding for design work for the long-discussed bike path linking the north end of the Canal path to the west end of the K-96 path. Apparently, the extra money ($25,000) is needed because the city has asked the designers to make it more shovel-ready so as to qualify it for non-ARRA (you know "ARRA" better as "Stimulus Fund") money (the project wasn't approved for ARRA funds). The recommendation is to approve the funds. It's not clear from the agenda what sorts of schedules this project is on--a fairly tight one, it's safe to assume. I will try to find out more at the WAMPO meetings this Thursday (I think June 11th, by the way, should be dubbed WAMPOpalooza).

I do not have to tell you how much this project would facilitate bike-commuting from the northeast side of town to the urban core. It of course does not reduce the necessity of an east-west route (or two) through the city's middle latitudes, and it obviously does not at all address the complete absence of bike paths of any sort west of Sedgwick County Park. But for those who live near the K-96 path and work in the downtown area or even as south as far as McConnell/Boeing, this linkage suddenly makes both paths much more viable as commuting options than they had been. But here's the deal: though the city's political climate is, I feel, slowly shifting in "our" favor, if the federal money weren't there, it wouldn't get built. According to this story in Sunday's Eagle, the city has a $7 million shortfall in operating funds, a total of $17.5 million in projects on its wishlist for federally-funded environmental and energy-saving projects, but only $3.5 million in federal money. This situation is of course being played out in cities everywhere these days; indeed, we can be thankful that this money, little though it is, is explicitly designated for these kinds of projects.

Still: the fact that this request for more money for design work is on today's agenda suggests that building the path has some priority and that, if the financial stars align properly. work will begin on this project soon.

**Speaking of bike paths long in the works, on Friday I rode down to Garvey Park, which, as you know, is the southern terminus of the Arkansas River path, in part because I had not ridden all the way down there in a while and in part to see if by any chance work had begun on the path to link that path with the south end of the Gypsum Creek Path (short answer: No, at that end, at least). Depending on the weather tomorrow (there's a chance for storms in the afternoon), I may ride out to Plainview Park after my class to see what I can see from there. [UPDATE: Nope--no work there, either.]

Gentle suggestion to the Parks and Recreation Department: The content on the home page for bicycles has not changed in the year that I have been looking at it on a fairly regular basis. I for one would welcome posted announcements of projects, openings of paths, etc., individual maps of the new paths and updates to the old ones showing the new extensions . . . and an updated city map of paths that indicates the newly-completed paths and the new bike lanes on Mt. Vernon: some small gestures to indicate that cycling occupies more than oh-by-the-way status in the city.

**And speaking of newly-completed bike paths, on Friday I had a closer look at the just-opened Midtown path (a map of which I would link to if one were online--see above), and on Monday after class I rode that part of the just-completed extension of the Canal path that runs from the west side of I-135 at Wassal up to Pawnee. The Midtown path, in case you don't know, is a converted railroad right-of-way: it runs from Central right next to the county jail on its west side (perhaps there should be signage along the path warning against picking up hitchhikers?) due north to 9th, where it hitches to the north-northwest up to Prospect Park and Otis Park, continuing on to 15th. I don't know if there are plans to extend the path still further along the right-of-way, but that land appears to available for at least a couple more blocks to the north--ideally, all the way up to 21st Street via the right-of-way or, alternately, from 15th up Market to the future NOMAR International Market (and even if that didn't come to pass, it would appear to be a simple matter to designate a bike lane for a half-mile along 15th over to McAdams Park. Knowing a little about the aspirations the people of the Delano District have to convert their own stretch of abandoned railroad right-of-way, I was interested in looking at the immediate environs around the Midtown path to see if, here and there, there might be occurring a reorientation of the neighborhood in the direction of the path. Well, silly me: the path only opened in April. So, you know the answer to that. That said, though, the potential for that sort of thing happening seems large to me, especially in the area immediately around Otis Park and just to the north. Just a little vision, some money and, of course, clear claim on the property rights up to the actual path . . . but what I saw up there made me feel frustrated that the Delano District's path isn't yet built--around that route, there's even more space for a combination of established businesses and new, mixed-use development to appear and, potentially, become the District's true focal point as a community.

Now to the new southern extension of the Canal path. As I've said before, once I cross Pawnee at the pedestrian-controlled crosswalk, I head straight into the neighborhood: down Minneapolis to Glen Oaks, then left to Minnesota and then south on Minnesota to where it T-intersects Wassal. The official path, though, runs on the south side of Pawnee to the intersection with Southeast Drive, then follows that street south to Wassal. On my return trip Monday, I decided to check out the that path. I must be frank in my assessment: though there are probably legal reasons why it takes the route it does (since the city already owns the land it's on, there were no purchases to have to deal with?), it still makes no real sense. Two examples: on the stretch along Southeast, there's both a bike-lane and a bike path on the same side:an amazing redundancy in a city that is just now adding on-street bike lanes. Meanwhile, that part that runs along Pawnee from Southeast to the ped crossing crosses a couple of very tricky entrances to the large strip mall on that corner. This is a very clear instance when it's obviously safer for a cyclist to be in the street rather than on the sidewalk. As for the route I take, Minneapolis is a wide street with some on-street parking but little traffic, and Glen Oaks and Minnesota are a little narrower but otherwise the same. I much prefer it to the official path.

**As I mentioned last week, I stopped by Tom Sawyer Bicycle Shop, at the corner of Broadway and Mt. Vernon, and I spoke with one of the staff (whose name I didn't get) about the new bike lanes and about the state of cycling in the city. He said he hadn't seen any increase in people riding, or in the store either for that matter. He also seemed fairly pessimistic about the likelihood of more Wichitans' becoming serious riders any time soon. I suggested that perhaps things are changing, but he said that it would take $4/gallon gas to see real change. Granted, Tom Sawyer isn't exactly located in Wichita's cycling epicenter (such as that is); the chief reason I feel as I do about the ground shifting in cycling's favor is that I see so many more people bike-commuting here in the Riverside and Delano neighborhoods than I had seen last year--something that south Wichitans would not necessarily have witnessed. Also, I sense the conviction among the (admittedly few) people I've met in city government that cycling and alternate transportation need to matter more here than they have historically.

But finally, there's a bit of (positive) fatalism at work in me as well: our economy is changing, in some ways gradually and in some not so, as we speak and whether we like it or not, away from its dependence on oil. The Obama Administration has clearly prioritized projects for mass transit, rail, and alternate transportation such as bicycling in its funding. The twin pressures of more people choosing to bike (a bottom-up pressure) and meeting federal requirements in order to obtain funding for infrastructure (top-down) will lead Wichita to add that infrastructure. There are signs that the city is becoming more forward-leaning on these issues. We just need some people to encourage them to keep leaning forward.


Anonymous said...

Daily reports about BAK at www.goplaykansas.com

Anonymous said...

I would like to recommend Tom Sawyer. Helpful, friendly and non intimidating.
I'm sure all that construction didn't help business. Glad to see that done.

John B. said...

Thanks for commenting, Anon.s 1 & 2.

Thanks for the link, #1. In addition, as I posted back on Friday, the ride's website also has daily updates.

#2, you're right on all counts about Tom Sawyer. The prices seemed right to me as well.