As I posted last week, WAMPO has arrived at a final list of transportation projects eligible for federal funds from 2010-2035. Here is that list (bike/pedestrian projects lead it off); and here is a map showing the locations of the projects.
First, a quick reminder of what WAMPO does, because that will have a bearing on some of the comments that follow. The Wichita Area Metropolitan Planning Organization is comprised of municipality and county officials, as well as other groups of various sorts who are interested in/affected by transportation and its infrastructure. WAMPO looks at proposals for transportation projects from Sedgwick County and the municipalities therein, plus Andover, and through a combination of consultations of federal funding priorities and guidelines, public meetings in the area and surveys of citizens, it determines which of those projects a) are eligible for federal funds and b) have broad-based support for their funding. (If you're truly obsessed about this sort of thing, you won't want to miss these long posts on WAMPO meetings back in January, here and here.)
NB: Just because projects made the final list does not guarantee that they will be built. Municipalities and the county will build these, or not, based on interest the public shows in them. The NW By-pass, for example, has appeared in several of these project lists but has yet to be built. WAMPO's next public meeting will be Monday, June 28 (here is the agenda); the official acceptance of the project list will be in July; what lies ahead now will be WAMPO's functioning in an advisory capacity from here until 2035 and, in a few years, beginning work on the new master plan for the area.
So. What do we have in the MTP 2035? Well: from the standpoint of cycling/walking infrastructure a mixed bag to be sure, but one that is beginning to reflect a positive shift in prioritizing bike/ped facilities. Some of that shift is due to the change of administration in Washington, but some is due to local attitudinal shifts among the public and in several municipalities in the area. Also, as I've noted in a couple of older posts on WAMPO, it officially is a neutral arbitrator regarding a project's eligibility for funds, but because it also compiles the various lists of projects from which the final one is drawn up, it too can determine, in a passive-aggressive way, those projects that would have greater value in reducing traffic (and thus pollution). As just one example, in the middle stage of the selection process for these projects, there were four lists prioritizing a different traffic consideration, such as bridge repair, reducing congestion, etc. Each of those four lists contained all the eligible bike/ped projects and funding to allow Wichita Transit to expand bus service in the area. Also, a little reading between the lines of this overview document--in particular p. 4, which addresses land use and environmental issues--suggests (to me, anyway), that WAMPO would like to see municipalities address the issue of sprawl. Thoughtful land use, such as high-density, mixed-use development, makes for easier decision-making when it comes to transportation infrastructure. In short, in this MTP are some quiet but clear suggestions to the Powers That Be regarding future planning.
All that said, one could still wish that more (and/or other) bike/ped projects had been proposed besides the ones here. The primary objective with the bike/ped projects is to create some connectivity among already-existing paths to make them more useful as genuine travel routes for cyclists. Thus, on the list there's the path that will connect the southern terminus of the Arkansas River path with the Gypsum Creek path's Planeview Park terminus, and the path that will run from McAdams Park (the north end of the Canal path) to Grove Park (the north end of the K-96 path). Both these paths should encourage bike-commuting from outlying areas on the east side of town into the downtown area. There's also the conversion of the abandoned railroad right-of-way from the 8th/9th street and I-135 exit to 17th and Oliver, a much-needed in-town east-west route which should also encourage bike-commuting into the urban core. These are all important projects, and we should be glad that they are there. But, once again, the west side of Wichita (by which I mean everything west of downtown) will see no bike/ped projects; nor is there one east-west route that is anything like the length of the Canal path and the Ark River path. The first omission remains a mystery to me; the second would easily (and cheaply) be remedied by a simple re-striping of a street like Douglas. Re-striping, though, is not yet eligible for federal funding, as I found out at a WAMPO meeting back in January. That sort of thing is for the city to decide--and for us to encourage the city to decide it. Something else to keep an eye on: a total of almost $10.4 million not earmarked for any one project but to be used for bike/ped projects over the course of the 25 years covered by this MTP. That kind of money can build lots of bike paths . . . or, if Complete Streets legislation passes Congress, re-design and/or re-stripe a lot of streets.
I should note that in addition to the stand-alone bike/ped projects, several of the road and bridge projects also incorporate bike/ped-friendly improvements. These will be mostly unsexy things like new sidewalks and pedestrian crossings at intersections. Still, anything that can contribute to lowering our disproportionate share of Kansas' bike/ped fatalities is more than welcome. It's also very gratifying to see funds for expansion of Wichita Transit into a grid-route system with commuter routes to outlying towns.
So, in short, MTP 2035 doesn't do everything we should want to see a diversified transportation plan do; on the other hand, though, if we squint at it in the right way, it serves as a template for where we should want to go. But infrastructure is in its essence reactive rather than proactive: it goes where the people are and reflects their priorities regarding land use and their preferred means of getting around. The government entities WAMPO serves are the ones who can be--who should be--proactive.