Kansas City Joins 'Bike Box' Trend to Improve Road Safety
By Lynn Horsley
There's a mysterious new lime green rectangle of color in the black pavement at 11th and Main streets in downtown Kansas City.
It's intended just for cyclists -- a painted "bike box" to give them a head start in front of the cars at that tricky intersection.
But Deb Ridgway, bicycle pedestrian coordinator for Kansas City, wasn't surprised Friday to see cars just rolling right into the green space without stopping at the white border that should now be their stopping point when the light is red.
"They don't see this stop border," she said. "It's a little confusing." It should soon become less confusing and even more noticeable.
The location will soon have white bicycle decals in the green box, making it clearer that it's designated for cyclists.
Signs will go up telling motorists where to stop. And at some point, there could be a separate green light phase for bikes as well as pedestrians, allowing them to proceed before the car traffic.
The city will provide information on its website, kcmo.gov, about this new traffic safety feature, Ridgway said, and will ask police officers to issue warnings before they start ticketing motorists for encroaching on the bike box.
The education hasn't yet started, but the questions already have, Ridgway acknowledged, after someone tweeted a picture of the unfinished bike box and people started asking about it.
The green coating was applied Nov. 24, when the weather was favorable. It's not just your average paint but is slip and fade resistant and has a reflective coating to make it brighter.
The cost of the striping materials and labor was about $8,500.
Kansas Citians may not know about the bike box traffic treatment yet, or how to comply, but it started in the Netherlands and has been common in Europe for more than 20 years, Ridgway said.
Over the past five years, it's grown in popularity throughout the U.S., including in Portland; Seattle; Washington, D.C.; Minneapolis, Minn.; Austin, Texas; Chicago; Columbus, Ohio; and Madison, Wis.
While there's just one box now, Kansas City plans to expand its use along Grand and Benton boulevards.
The theory goes like this, Ridgway explains: Motorists frequently get irritated as they watch bicyclists edge in front of them while the light is red at an intersection to get a head start once the light turns green. The bike box provides an official separation of bikes from cars turning at the intersection and "makes it safer for everybody," she said. But will it just infuriate motorists further?
"We'll find out," Ridgway said.
For sure, this will be something else for downtown drivers to watch out for, along with new bike lanes, parked cars, pedestrian crosswalks, bus stops and the streetcar tracks.
Whether motorists resent this accommodation for bikes, it's increasingly the trend for urban centers to be more bicycle and pedestrian friendly. And while Ridgway doesn't have statistics on how many people bike downtown, it's clearly becoming more common. A bike share program saw 1,000 users since May at 12th and Wyandotte streets and 747 users at a Crown Center location.
Planning for the bike box began about two years ago, when public works director Sherri McIntyre approached Ridgway, noting that the 11th and Main intersection was already challenging.
Eleventh Street is a designated westbound bike route, but it dead ends and jogs at Main Street, with cars turning both north and south. It has a busy bus stop and lots of pedestrians. Plus, the new streetcar tracks run right by there on Main Street.
Ridgway identified the bike box as one way to manage all those competing roadway users.
Other bike boxes are planned along Grand Boulevard, which will get bike lanes in 2016 from River Market to Crown Center. The bike boxes should be at Grand and 11th, 12th, 18th and 20th streets. Additional bike boxes are planned for various intersections on Benton Boulevard.
Bicycle advocates applaud Kansas City's new bike box as a safety feature, but think it will have other benefits.
"Some of these things like boxes and green lanes are showing empirical evidence that they lead more people to biking," said Eric Rogers, executive director of BikeWalkKC.
"It encourages people to actually get out on a bike and try it," he said. Rogers said the bike box is part of Kansas City joining "emerging best practices" and proven safety strategies from other cities. And it doesn't just benefit bicyclists, he said.
"Other cities are starting to see these things also have benefits for motorists," he said. "It improves the traffic flow by providing some separation between bikes and cars. It calms everything down."
(c)2015 The Kansas City Star