The League of American Bicyclists has just released the 2014 edition of their Bicycle Friendly State rankings, and Kansas has dropped from #40 to #46, a complete freefall from just four years ago, when Kansas was ranked #13 in the nation.
Here’s how the League graded the state:
- Legislation and Enforcement: 2
- Policies and Programs: 2
- Infrastructure and Funding: 1
- Education & Encouragement: 2
- Evaluation & Planning: 1
All grades are on a 5-point scale (1=low, 5=high).
An Embarrasing Trend
In 2008, Kansas was ranked #25. In 2009, we dropped to #33. In 2010, we jumped way up to #13. In 2011, we slipped to #23. 2012 saw a big drop to #34. In 2013 well fell again, to #40. Now we’re down to #46.
Here is the trend, visually:
There’s no way to sugarcoat it: That’s about as horrible as it gets.
Why Has Our Bicycle Friendly Ranking Dropped?
This is what I wrote in last year’s analysis, and effectively nothing has changed, so I’m just going to repeat it, verbatim:
The biggest part of the explanation is that other states are continuing to improve, but progress has stalled in Kansas.
After the excitement and momentum gained by passage of the 2011 safe-passing law, and the opening of some excellent bicycling facilities in a few places in the state, nothing much happened in 2012, in terms of policy or projects.
But 2013 hasn’t been much better, on the state level. We have a new state bike/ped plan in progress, but otherwise, no legislation in this session. And no big bike projects in progress.
We’ve seen some encouraging progress in the cities, with new bike plans in Wichita, Hays, and (soon) Valley Center, and positive developments in Iola, Pittsburg, and Kansas City. And the trails network is ever-expanding.
So there is some progress, but we still have a state Department of Transportation (KDOT) that too often talks a better game than it plays. We hear the right things about improving bike/ped transportation, but there is not a lot of concrete progress to show for it yet. Streets, roads, and highways are still routinely built with little consideration given to non-motorized transportation.
Of course, improving the bicycle friendliness of the state hasn’t been a priority for the Kansas legislative or executive branches, either. (And you’d hope that it would, given the extremely low costs and high return-on-investment for bike/ped projects, compared to most other transportation infrastructure.)
The State Legislature and Governor’s Office adopted the current transportation plan, T-LINK, and construction program, T-WORKS, which was developed by KDOT. The plan places no priority on bicycle and pedestrian transportation, and consequently, T-WORKS does not include any state funding for bicycle and pedestrian transportation projects.
Any money spent on bicycling and pedestrian transportation projects in Kansas is either pass-through dollars from the federal government, or local funds — Kansas has never invested any state transportation funds to build any of the few critical safety facilities we currently have.
There were perhaps two positive blips of news during 2013. One was Gov. Brownback’s continued championing of the Flint Hills Nature Trail. The other was the publication of the Kansas Rail-to-Trails Plan. An update to the Kansas Bike/Ped Plan, and a Kansas Byways Bike/Ped Plan, are both apparently in the works.
Good things, all, but so far there’s not much concrete to show for it. Plans are wonderful things, and definitely necessary, but policy change, and actual funding of infrastructure improvements, are far more important. And we’ve seen little-to-no progress on that front.
How Can Kansas Improve?
The LAB’s Kansas BFS Report Card offers these suggestions for improvement:
- Adopt a vulnerable road user law that increases penalties for a motorist that injures or kills a bicyclist or pedestrian.
- Adopt performance measures, such as mode shift or a low percentage of exempted projects, to better track and support Complete Streets/Bike Accommodation Policy compliance.
- Adopt a statewide policy that requires bicycle accommodations on all bridge and tunnel projects.
- Ensure that no funds from the Transportation Alternatives program are transferred for purposes other than bicycling and walking projects.
- The state could spend more federal funding on bicyclists and pedestrians. Adopt project prioritization criteria for federal funds that incentivize bicycle projects and accommodations.
- Dedicate state funding for bicycle projects and programs, especially those focused on safety and eliminating gaps and increasing access for bicycle networks.
- Add language to the driver’s license test that addresses the interaction between motor vehicles and bicycles.
- Add bicycle safety as an emphasis area in the state Strategic Highway Safety Plan and aggressively fund bike safety projects.
- Adopt performance measures to decrease bicycle fatalities.
- Adopt a mode share goal for biking to encourage the integration of bicycle transportation needs into all transportation and land use policy and project decisions.
Here is what the LAB considers Attributes of a Bicycle Friendly State
How Are Our Neighbors Doing?
Here’s what happened with the Bike Friendly States rankings in nearby states:
- Arkansas: #38 (#37 in 2013)
- Colorado: #6 (#2 in 2013)
- Iowa: #25 (#21 in 2013)
- Missouri: #34 (#30 in 2013)
- Nebraska: #45 (#41 in 2013)
- Oklahoma: #42 (#38 in 2013)
That’s right, Kansas is now the least-friendly state in the region, and every state in the region is getting worse.
Why Should Kansas Become Bicycle-Friendly?
This blurb from the Bicycle Friendly America brochure sums it up pretty well:
New businesses and potential residents aren’t just looking at tax rates and school districts anymore; they want to settle in a state with rich outdoor opportunities and safe transportation options for their entire family or workforce. The Bicycle Friendly States program helps government officials and advocates improve bicycling conditions and enhance quality of life.
Bicycling means business: Bicycle tourism can be a major driver of economic development, and corporations can capitalize on reduced healthcare costs. By making streets comfortable and accessible for cyclists, bicycle friendly states increase the afety of all road users and give residents transportation choices that save money and improve health.
Any thoughts on how Kansas can move forward, rather than falling further and further behind?
Post tags: Bicycle Friendly