By CAROLYN SZCZEPANSKI
After years of endless meetings and technical negotiations it basically comes down to this: If Kansas City wants a bike path on the new Paseo Bridge it’s going to cost more than 4 million bucks. And the Missouri Department of Transportation isn’t going to pay a dime of it.
This fall, construction started on the $215 million overhaul of the Interstate 29/35 bridge that crosses the Missouri River just northeast of downtown. Everyday, MODOT estimates, more than 100,000 residents cross that bridge by car. That's something only a cyclist with a death wish would attempt.
The prospect of adding a lane for cyclists has been the source of debate for years. MODOT has agreed it's possible. The city councils on both sides of the river have expressed support.
But talk is cheap. Raising $100,000, on the other hand, speaks volumes.
At least, that’s the hope of Let’s Go KC, a local group of transit activists, who want to prove they’ve got too much clout to be treated like second-class commuters.
A bike and pedestrian lane across the Paseo Bridge wasn’t even considered at the start, says Laurie Chipman, a founder of the Let’s Go KC coaltion that advocates for greener transit. But, with no other accessible bridge across the Big Muddy, cyclists starting pushing for bicycle and pedestrian provisions early on. “It’s getting in the public and government officials' consciousness now and that is a big change,” she says.
The problem is, MODOT isn’t willing to pay for it. Jennifer Benefield, a MODOT spokesperson for the bridge project, says the new crossing can accommodate an 11-foot path for pedestrians and cyclists. But right now, that’s not part of the construction plan. First, Kansas City and North Kansas City would have to commit to build — and pay for — a connection to their city streets on either side of the bridge.
That’s where the “Put People on Paseo” campaign comes in. Let’s Go KC is hoping 5,000 people will pitch in $20 to show city leaders they’re serious about safe commutes from one side of the river to the other. “It’s sort of a petition with money backing it, helping the city and hoping that it will encourage them to get the funds and do it,” Chipman says.
Dennis Gagnon, spokeperson for the Kansas City Public Works Department, says local officials are working on it. The city received a $676,000 federal grant, he says, that public works hopes to put toward a bike path on the Paseo Bridge. This month, he explains, the department put in a $4.5 million request to the city’s Capital Improvement Management Office. Right now, that request is working its way through City Hall.
But time is of the essence. Progress is moving fast, Benefield says. “The design is going to be 100 percent complete by the first of December and we still haven’t seen any plans that demonstrate a transportation need,” she says. “We’ve seen some recreational-type trails, but, in order for things to move forward, we’ve got to see that connectivity into the whole transportation system.”
If the city doesn’t come through with solid plans before then, there won’t be any bike path when the bridge opens in 2011. That’s not to say it couldn’t be added later, Benefield says, but it would take some serious work to reconfigure already-finished lanes.
Let’s Go KC hopes to raise significant dollars before December. Their sights are set on $100,000 by November 24. In the first two weeks of the campaign, the group racked up pledges exceeding $11,000.
Of course, don’t expect cyclists to start paying for their own paths all over the city, Chipman says. This is a one-time show-of-force.
“I hope it will make clear how serious we are and we should not be ignored,” she says.