By Kevin Collison
Several years after it was proposed, Grand Boulevard is finally going on a “road diet” promised to bicyclists who now hope it’s the beginning of realizing the much more ambitious “Making Grand Grand” plan.
City Public Works crews have been painting new lanes on Grand in recent days that are reducing traffic lanes to two in each direction, creating a middle turn lane and adding “buffered” bike lanes on each side for much of the boulevard’s length.
The work, which stretches from Fifth Street in the River Market to 20th Street in the Crossroads District, is expected to be completed next week, weather permitting.
“The nature of Grand is changing overnight, literally, by incorporating a road diet,” said department spokeswoman Beth Bretenstein. “The point is not only to offer multi-modal options, but to slow traffic down.
“Offering space for bicyclists is new and we’re also calming traffic to make riders more confident.”
The Grand road diet re-striping project originally was scheduled several years ago, but bidders were discouraged by the guidelines for using federal funds. After failing to receive suitable bids, the city finally decided to use $600,000 from its own budget
While bicycle advocates welcomed the long-delayed arrival of the city paint crews, it’ coming grudgingly.
“We’re excited this project has finally moved forward, but disappointed it too four years, and it took an act of the Council, the mayor and the city manager to finally locate funds,” said Eric Bunch, co-founder of BikeWalkKC and a member of the City Council pedestrian-bicycle advisory committee.
Bunch added the long delay also means the city is using an outdated approach to creating the new intermodal layout on Grand.
“The state of the practice has drastically changed,” he observed. “We’re moving forward with a design that was flawed from the beginning. It’s not the best practice, we could have hit the pause button to redesign it.”
What bicyclists prefer is creating the two protected bike lanes called for in the Making Grand Grand plan. A little definition here: a buffered lane is simply one created with paint stripes; a protected lane has some kind of vertical element such as a curb or posts to delineate the lane.
“The silver lining is we move forward with paint, but paint fades after two years,” Bunch said. “It’s good to have the road diet for pedestrians, bicyclists and buses to get used to.
“It give us two years to mobilize for a better plan down the road.”
Bretenstein acknowledged the current set up is only a starting point.
“We have grand plans for Grand,” she said. “Parks and Recreation has plans for down the line with Making Grand Grand.
“We know paint is not the end all, the world won’t end with the Grand road diet.”
She added that next year, public works plans to complete work on 20th Street to make it more bicycle friendly, and to re-strip 18th Street from the Crossroads to the 18th and Vine Jazz District to accomplish the same goals.
As part of the reinvention of Grand as a multi-modal traffic corridor, the MAX rapid transit bus shifted to using it as its primary north-south route last weekend.