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Innovative Bike Lane Design Under Attack in Ottawa

In October, City Commissioners in Ottawa, Kansas approved development of an innovative bike lane design on Walnut Street, but now the plans are being reconsidered after complaints from nearby property owners.

The new bike lanes would address a long-standing sore spot for riders on the Prairie Spirit Trail in Ottawa. Up to now, riders heading south from the Old Depot Museum trailhead (the northern terminus of the trail) would cross the Marais des Cygnes River on the pedestrian bridge, then be unceremoniously dumped onto Walnut Street, with little or no indication that the trail actually followed the street for a few blocks before becoming a typical asphalt multi-use pathway through the remainder of town:

Ottawa Prairie Spirit Trail - Walnut Street

This summer, the city organized a planning committee to investigate the problem:

Over the years when we have surveyed residents and visitors about bike/pedestrian needs,
one of the regular comments is asking for better delineation of the bike trail on Walnut. Staff
had been discussing solutions over the last year as well. Some people feel like the trail just
disappears, and visitors often aren’t sure where to be riding. Neighbors have shared they see
bicyclists are on both sides and also in the middle, where the former railroad line actually was
installed.

Earlier this summer, at the request of the City of Ottawa’s planning commission; a
development group was formed of local residents to generate ideas and solutions for
downtown, particularly as they relate to adding interest in developing areas other than Main
Street. This group walked the area, discussed ways to enhance it and was willing to review
possible solutions. They ultimately recommended the solution that is proposed now, the bike
lanes in the center of the road.

A meeting was held and neighbors invited to see the proposed new lines and delineators, as
shown on the attached page. In addition, some neighbors visited with staff. This plan does
result in parking on the 100 and 200 blocks parallel to the curb being removed, to make room
for the bicycle lanes. The staff and citizen advisory group agreed that in those two blocks with
three public parking lots, this was not a significant impact. However, given the width of the
street in the 300 and 400 block, the parking on the west side can remain, which is also where
there are more residential structures and fewer public parking areas. Safety was the primary
consideration of the discussions. The city engineer has drafted the solution as shown
attached. Public Works crews can do the installations/painting later this fall, if the commission
is supportive of this solution.

We are pleased with the breadth of discussion and all of these efforts to improve cyclist’s
experience, improve safety, and still allow for good traffic flow.

Here’s the solution they came up with:

OttawaPST-WalnutBikeLanes-1-2

OttawaPST-WalnutBikeLanes-2-3

OttawaPST-WalnutBikeLanes-3-4

OttawaPST-WalnutBikeLanes-4-5

The bike lanes would be located in the center of the street, with a shared traffic lane on either side, which would mimic the placement of the former railroad line, which the city paved over when the tracks were removed long ago.

The center bike lanes would also solve the problem of visibility, both for the trail itself, and for riders using the trail. Also, by locating the lanes in the center, people riding bikes wouldn’t be at risk of opening car doors, a common hazard with typical bike lanes adjacent to parallel parking. Some would perhaps prefer a more protected bike lane (a cycletrack) rather than just relying on paint to delineate the lanes, but this design would be a solid step in the right direction, particularly given the low traffic volumes on this side street.

This sort of design has been used in many places around the nation (most famously on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington DC):

dc-penn-bike-lanes

However, these bike lanes would be the first of this type in Kansas.

However, after the City Commission unanimously approved the proposal on October 21st, a group of adjoining property owners came before the commission to object: Property owners: Bike paths shouldn’t trump parking spots:

Peeved building owners persuaded city commissioners Monday to rethink street plans for a recently approved bike path spanning the first five blocks of Walnut Street.

The plans call for the removal of street parking spaces in order to extend the Prairie Spirit Rail Trail as two-way lanes in the middle of the street. During the public comment period of Monday’s study session, five residents expressed why they thought the plan was inconsiderate.

Charlie Adamson, owner of Adamson Bros Heating and Cooling, 102 S. Walnut St was most vehement in his opposition: “If somebody riding a bicycle is more important than a single parking space on Walnut Street, I will not go along with it.”

A parking space is worth more than a person? Hmmm…

Wynndee Lee, Ottawa community development director, noted that there are several hundred parking places in public lots immediately adjacent to Walnut. “There is abundant parking, more than any other two-block section in the entire downtown.”

Shawn Dickinson, city commissioner, said although public input should be heard, it should be considered carefully. He said the commission is treating the plan like nothing was decided when it was approved in a September regular meeting. “Are we going to stop every project down the line that somebody will disagree with?” he said. [link]

City commissioners have scheduled a special meeting for 6:30 p.m. Nov. 16 at the Commission Chambers at City Hall; 101 South Hickory Street; Ottawa, Kansas.

The public is invited to attend and voice their opinions.

If you’re unable to attend, you can submit your comments to City Manager Richard Nienstedt at 785-229-3637 or rnienstedt@ottawaks.gov.

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About The Author

By Randy Rasa, editor/webmaster at Kansas Cyclist, the web’s premier Kansas cycling information site, featuring authoritative guides to Kansas cycling clubs, bike shops, organized bike rides, touring, trails, and much more. [learn more]

2 responses to “Innovative Bike Lane Design Under Attack in Ottawa”

  1. AMH says:

    “If somebody riding a bicycle is more important than a single parking space on Walnut Street, I will not go along with it.”

    Now I’ve heard it all. That really takes the cake for “parking above human life” quotes.