The Strip, too, lives in constant fear of becoming roadkill.
Riders must dodge giant potholes, raised steel plates, gaping drain grates and, in the case of 43-year-old Robert Osborn, who got shot riding home from work last November, bullets from sidewalk snipers.
But don't take the Strip's word for it. Back in April, the Mid-America Regional Council reported that from 2000 to 2004, bike crashes accounted for 4.74 percent of traffic fatalities in Greater Kansas City. That's about three times as high as the national average. From 2000 to 2004, MARC reported, 897 cyclists were injured and 11 were killed on our ever-lovin' city streets.
And that counts only bike crashes directly involving cars not ones in which, say, a beefy rider was run off the road by a four-wheeler or swallowed up by those open-mouthed storm drains.
On a state level, bike accidents account for 12 percent of all Missouri roadway injuries, says Brent Hugh, president of the Missouri Bike Federation, who got his numbers from the state Department of Health and Human Services. "We don't have that many people out riding, so motorists aren't expecting to see a bicyclist. It's like a big surprise," Hugh gripes.
But this sleuthing sirloin has found that Kansas City, Missouri, city planners had a plan that could have stopped the carnage years ago.
In 2002, the City Council created Bike KC, an initiative backed by $1.7 million in federal grant money handed out by MARC that would have added "Share the Road" signs and bike racks and eventually widened or restriped roads to create more bike lanes on more than 600 miles of metro roads. Councilwoman Becky Nace reportedly wore a shirt that read "Kansas City Rolls Forward" when the council signed off on the plan.
And at first, the city did roll forward. Bike carriers popped up on buses, and shiny bike racks appeared in Ilus Davis Park, across from City Hall. But since then, officials have been spinning their wheels. The Strip couldn't recall seeing a new "Share the Road" sign in, like, forever, so it called the Public Works Department's development manager, Patty Hilderbrand, to figure out what the hell was going on.
Hilderbrand told this pissed-off pedaler that the plans for hazard mitigation, street racks and signs were put on hold months ago.
"The delay was completely based on a shortage of staff, and this now is a prioritized project," Hilderbrand promised. She added that just this month, her department finally sent the Missouri Department of Transportation its proposal for how to spend the federal money MARC planned for back in 2002. Their motivation: a possible use-it-or-lose-it situation.
However, Hilderbrand says, the city abandoned the idea of restriping or widening existing roads because of the construction costs involved. "There is not a program right now that is going to start proactively installing bike lanes on pavement where we don't have a [street-building] project," Hilderbrand confessed. "If we don't have a major project funded there ... you are not going to see new lanes."
But the Strip has found that even when the city does put in new roads, it still acts clueless, lining new developments with hundreds of yards of bike lanes that connect to absolutely nothing. So what if there's a brand-new lane surrounding Zona Rosa? It disappears at the Interstate 29 overpass, leaving no safe way to continue riding east along Barry Road, where the speed limit is 45 mph.
These days, this rollin' riblet actually has to drive to find a safe place to ride. On a recent Friday afternoon, the Strip heard plenty of grumbling from a dozen fellow travelers at the Charles B. Wheeler Downtown Airport, where a 3.5-mile service road is a well-known training spot for cyclists.
"I think the [drivers'] mindset is that those are car lanes and they should be the only ones in them," said Todd Schoenenmann, a teacher from Raytown.
"I find it fairly intimidating," added Brad Kenyon, a management consultant from New York who was in town on business. "I don't think people are accustomed to having cyclists in some areas, so when they encounter them ... they get spooked."
Kenyon's comments just reminded the Strip of how woefully slow this city has been when it comes to making room for bikes.
Just .04 percent of Kansas Citians use bikes as their primary form of transportation, according to MARC. That ranks us well behind progressive cities such as Portland and Seattle, where more than 6 percent of the population rides to work not to mention other hard-winter places like St. Louis (1.2 percent), Chicago (1.8 percent) and Kenyon's hometown of New York City (1.7 percent), according to a Chicagoland Bicycle Federation report from 2000.
"In my opinion, Kansas City is way far behind other cities of comparable size in terms of road facilities like bike lanes and bike routes," says Deb Ridgeway, a program coordinator at Bridging the Gap, the local environmental organization.
This summer, Ridgeway has started holding bike-safety meetings for cyclists and drivers to learn about one another's street rights. Sadly, the Strip can't force every driver to take her class. It can, however, remind its smart, environmentally conscious readers that the next City Council election is in the spring just in time for cycling season.