By Kevin Collison
A stretch of Oak Street in the Crossroads will be a lot chiller through Oct. 27 thanks to Better Block KC, a “tactical urbanism” design group.
Last Sunday, about a dozen volunteers with the group transformed a two-block section of Oak between 17th and 19th streets from what sometimes can be a raceway to a street where bicyclists, scooter riders and skateboarders can safely co-exist with cars.
“We’re trying to get the point across to the city that these improvements don’t cost a lot of money and be done relatively quickly,” said DuRon Netsell, the leader of the local Better Block group.
Using about $2,500 worth of supplies and completing the work in six hours, Better Block KC laid down new street markings, installed 35 planters, added six bike racks, and placed brightly painted cinder blocks and traffic cones to transform the street.
What had been a six-lane expanse for cars now has a dedicated two-way “mobility lane” for bikes and scooters on the west side. Next to it are designated parking spaces for cars, bicycles and scooters.
Oak still has one lane for southbound traffic, two lanes for northbound traffic and a parking lane on the east side.
This week, to help calm traffic further, the traffic signals at the intersections of 18th and 19th streets were switched to flashing reds for the duration of the demonstration project.
And when all was said and done, no parking spaces were lost for cars along that stretch of Oak. In fact, there’s one more space than before.
This is the sixth demonstration project for Better Block KC. Earlier projects included 18th Street, Broadway and Main, in both downtown and midtown. Better Block started nationally in 2010, the local chapter was formed in 2013.
Netsell said City Hall has been very cooperative with the organization, although so far, none of the pilot programs have led to any permanent changes in how the city designs its streets.
To implement the Oak Street test, Better Block KC had to obtain a traffic control permit from the City Public Works Department.
“Public works has been very nice to work with,” Netsell said. “They were kind enough to waive our permit fee.
“It’s a great way for them to experiment without investing capital resources. They see us as a partnership.”
Merchants along that section of Oak also have been helpful.
The owners of Brewery Emperial allowed the Better Block to meet at their place and store some of their supplies there. In return, Better Block plans to donate three of the bike racks to the brew pub.
Better Block isn’t a big group, it only counts about five core members, but it would like to expand. It has plans to establish itself formally as a 501 (c) nonprofit so it can pursue grants.
The money for the Oak Street demo was donated by the American Association of Retired People.
Netsell said the Oak Street project has generated additional interest from people wanting to join.
“Our focus is street safety, livability and walkability,” he said.
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