Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Arterial Observation Redux: Metcalf Ave.

So, Fritz posted a link to a story about Metcalf Ave out here in lowly Overland Park, KS. This resulted in me leaving one comment on his post, and a little e-mail volley ensued under the blogosphere's radar. Fritz told me I should consider posting my views on the whole Metcalf ordeal, and I agree.

I think that it would be a waste to attempt to fix Metcalf itself. Remember, the key problem I have with our love affair of arterial roadways is the fact that there's often no easy way to get from one side of a town to the other without riding on a mini-highway.

Initially, I would have suggested investing in bicycle-friendly infrastructure one mile west, along Antioch, which Warren had to interact with daily during MUP construction. That's not going to happen, either, as they just added highway ramps, which did not exist just a year ago. Antioch was one of the few north/south routes to get from one side of Interstate-435 in Overland Park to the other without having to ride though a mess of stoplights and angry/anxious motorists trying to get on or off the highway. As we speak, Metcalf is undergoing construction that's actually blocking part of the MUP that Warren rides on.

They've been widening it again seemingly by narrowing the median this time. More. Bigger. Badder. Faster. Build. Develop. Consume. If you could flag counties like you flag flickr photos, those would be the flags on Johnson County, KS. A mile to the east is Nall, which has a highway junction as well. Pflumm, 4 miles west of Metcalf, is the closest way I know of crossing I-435 without going through a highway junction. Pflumm also has only one lane in each direction, dark tunnels under the highway, and blighted pavement near the gutter. Top that off with being a very hilly road, and it's really not worth the hassle to use it versus taking your chances in the melee that is your average Overland park interstate highway junction.

There are too many intersections for a bicycle lane on Metcalf. I don't see a way to "bolt-on" bike/ped friendly infrastructure to this death-trap. Click here to see a map if you don't know how bad Metcalf is. Warren posted that Metcalf doesn't really need improvements. I agree with that. Our infrastructure as a whole needs improvements. I suggest starting with our Multi-use paths, and later on, focusing on smaller roads that can be used to get across highways without the fuss of exit/entrance ramps: either with an overpass/viaduct or a tunnel.

What's wrong with our multi-use paths? First off, most people call our trails "jogging trails" and that's what you find out there. Joggers or walkers. They were never, ever designed to be used for getting from one place to another. They are recreational amenities designed to provide a shady, scenic place for people to walk. The signs themselves demand that bicycles maintain a speed below 10 miles per hour -- a ridiculous guideline that I only follow when approaching a pedestrian or a blind curve. The narrow trail, blind curves and overall design of our trails seem to be designed to ensure that you don't go fast for very long.

Honestly, a better-defined multi-use path system is what we need for the whole Greater KC area, and unlike Warren's Indian Creek Trail, we need one that's optimized for transportation AND recreation, that's at least twice as wide as anything else we have out here with two dedicated bicycle lanes (one each direction) on which no pedestrian, stroller, or canine can tread. One with long, sweeping curves and straightaways instead of scenic blind switchbacks designed to make higher bicycle speeds impossible or dangerous. Simply widening, extending, and interconnecting Indian Creek Trail, Turkey Creek Trail, and Mill Creek Trail would be a great start. Straightening out the switchbacks would be feasible in many places. Unfortunately, I don't think these things will happen any time soon.

This whole area prides itself on being very affluent and successful. Some call us the silicon valley of the midwest. With places like Sprint and Garmin claiming giant plots of land in Johnson County to build their world headquarters, it's not too far fetched. Success is displayed by square footage of your home and total tonnage of your vehicles combined. Needless to say, someone on a 19-pound bicycle seems to be practically bragging about their insignificance to most people out here.

Metcalf isn't what needs fixing. Our transportation infrastructure needs to be turned inside out and undergo a complete and total paradigm shift.


Unknown said...

Great post!

Randy Rasa said...

Lamar is not a bad way to get across I-435. Of course, it kind of dead-ends at the big honkin' Sprint campus, but it's a better choice than Pflumm, Quivira, Antioch, Metcalf, Nall, or Roe...

Noah said...

That's a good point. Another one that I forgot about was Mission road.

Also, while I bellyache about arterials a lot, I am pleased with the way Olathe/Lenexa tries to keep highway junctions on I-35 down to one every other mile. For the most part, this means there's safe passage east-to-west on I-35 every other mile as well. 159th, 143rd, 127th, College. !03rd is kind of part of the Pflumm mess though, and all bets are off north of 103rd though. I wish they'd build a ramp-free viaduct on 79th.

Anonymous said...

Lamar is what i use. i'll go a mile out of my way to use that instead of Roe.

i solve the whole Metcalf / arterial problem by never going west of Metcalf or south of College. works pretty well. :P

Bill said...

I've been involved in the Vision Metcalf study since the beginning of this year and I believe it is a ray of hope for OP to learn to think like a city instead of out-of-control sprawl.

The vision that is developing for Metcalf is one that integrates transit, bikes, pedestrians and cars in a higher density, walkable and heavily landscaped boulevard.

I have been really disappointed that almost everyone attending the citizen input meetings has been middle-age or older. (By the way, my wife says the same thing about the Sierra Club meetings)

It is time for the 20- and 30-somethings to start getting personally involved. OP is listening. Please don't take this the wrong way - I think your blog is becoming a needed voice for bikers - but all I hear is a bunch of laptop belly-aching.

Let's see some young folks at the council meetings!

Noah said...

Bill, pardon me for "taking it the wrong way" but if you wade through my posts here (I know there are several hundred) you will find that in my short time as an adult cyclist (11 months), I've been anything but lethargic when it comes to getting out there to show my support and voice my opinion in person.

I'm sure there are plenty of bellyaching bloggers who are content to sit in their cozy chairs and whine about stuff, but I'm definitely not one of them.

I'm a busy guy, so I can't keep up with all the goings-on in the Greater KC area, much less actually show up to every city hall meeting where transportation is discussed. I've definitely showed up to as many as I'm able to, though.

Unfortunately, Fritz' post is the first I'd heard of the Metcalf study. It's pretty sad when I live in a town that shares a border with Overland Park and I have to read about it from a blogger in Silicon Valley.

I digress, though. Post another comment or e-mail me through the form on the right side of my blog. Let me know the schedule for Overland Park's meetings. If transportation is on the docket, I'd like to show up to them. I just don't have the time to aggregate and prioritize all of the JoCo suburban cities' meetings.

I agree, more people my age really need to make an appearance.

Yokota Fritz said...

Nice of Bill to exhort you to attend then failing to let you know the where and when of it.

I found the info here:


Bill said...

OK, I have embarrassed myself. I just re-read my post and need to clarify that (contrary to my poor wording) my issue is not with you guys. Noah, you are a pioneer and you are doing a remarkable service for our community. Seriously, I do admire what you are doing.

As you say, our thoroughfares do need a huge makeover. Metcalf is the central commercial corridor for not only OP, but Johnson County. And because of Vision Metcalf, this is where we can change the way we build streets. The implications are huge for non-auto transportation because the city is (hopefully) starting to get a clue.

It won't be easy to convince the council that widening streets only enables more sprawl, which creates more traffic, which begs for still wider streets.

The new vision that is evolving is to add a dedicated transit lane, bike lanes and walkable sidewalks within the existing right-of-way. Future buildings would be pulled up to the sidewalks and parking would be more hidden in smaller lots and decks. Buildings would typically have storefronts downstairs and offices or condos upstairs.

I'm really encouraged by the new momentum, but we need people to stay involved so the city doesn't fall back into a sprawl mentality as soon as the consultant leaves town.

FYI, the OP Planning Commission and City Council (www.opkansas.org) have email sign ups so you can receive agendas before their regular meetings.

Anonymous said...

Overland Park is the poster child for suburban sprawl. As northern and even southern shopping centers (including 119th St.) empty out, they are still hell-bent on annexing another 15 square MILES to the south. How much f-ing shopping do we need?

I live at 159th and Metcalf and have had motorists yell at me to get off the road because I was only doing 14 MPH. None of them are paying attention, talking on the cell, screaming at the kids. Much worse than when I was a bike commuter in Columbia in the 80's and 90's.

Re: Metcalf. I have been watching this "redevelopment" closely since it is just the development du jour that they are interested in. They don't care and are totally in the pockets of the developers. They plunked a Wal Mart on our corner despite adamant protest.

One good thing they could do is put a light rail line the entire length of Metcalf. Doesn't do much for biking, but could tie into KC line, if they ever get around to building one, and ease congestion for bikes.

They should also definitely put wide bike lanes on Metcalf. I don't mind crossing the interstates if I have my own lane.

Anonymous said...

I filled out the Metcalf survey awhile back. I took every opportunity to lean towards hidden parking, more greenery, and larger bike/ped routes.

After reading this post and the comments, I'm agreeing with the general feeling that we have too little to be truly useful for bikes. I've been thinking about biking to work, but I'm at a loss as to how to do so without being in danger for quite a bit of the ride.

-TG from DDRKC

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