When the Better Block was formed, it was all open-sourced. The idea for this was simple: the founders wanted people everywhere to be able to affect change immediately. Because of this, Better Blocks have popped up all over the world. We got a call the other day from a group out of Kansas City. They were working on putting together a one-month installation and had a quesiton about the process. We talked through some of it, and then they were off and running. We didn’t realize the event was happening until our Twitter started blowing up with pictures of scooter sharrows. For any of you in cities with scooter share, you know how popular these little motorized modes of transport are. While the country’s very first scooter sharrows* caught our eye, the rest of the project was pretty intriguing as well. So we asked DuRon Netsell, who’s led BetterBlockKC for the last four years, to tell us a little more about it. Have you done a Better Block? Want to tell us about it? Send us a note!
*We haven’t been able to prove otherwise, so we’re going with it!
Our volunteer based, tactical urban design group BetterBlockKC (inspired by the Better Block Foundation) were proud recipients of the 2018 AARP livable communities challenge. We put our grant funds toward showing Kansas City how easily, quickly, and cheaply our roads could be better designed to serve all users by slowing automobile speeds and creating a ‘mobility lane’ to give bicyclists, scooters, rollerblades, and skateboards a a safe place to ride.
Oak and 18th is a notoriously dangerous intersection in the popular Crossroads neighborhood. Dozens of automobile crashes have occured over the last few years in this location, and we’ve even had a building and bike share station taken out in separate incidents. After watching Oak Street get restriped earlier this year, only to see the automobile wrecks continuing to happen, we decided to show our city another alternative.
We removed a lane of traffic in order to establish a protected mobility lane. This 10-foot multi-directional lane is built specifically for bicyclists, scooters, skateboards, and other forms of micro-mobility transportation. We maintained all on-street automobile parking (even adding two additional spots) while also adding 12 on-street bike parking spaces, a few dozen on-street scooter parking spaces, and a handful of motorcycle parking spaces. We used this additional parking to not only calm traffic speeds by creating “friction along the edge,” but also used this parking to help form a barrier to keep bicycles, scooters, and skateboards safe from automobile traffic and separate from pedestrians.
Collaborating with KCMO Department of Public Works allowed us to turn both of the stop lights within the design to flashing reds in order to function as four-way stops. This drastically reduced automobile speeds while still allowing the traffic to flow through at an appropriate pace. This was the single most impactful thing we did to improve the overall safety and comfort level of the street and did so with the flip of a single switch!
Our design demonstration, which lasted for the entire month of October, was implemented with a $2,500 grant from the AARP Livable Communities Challenge and completed by a few less than a dozen volunteers in six hours. All planters have been donated to neighborhood to stay along the sidewalks and all bike racks will be permanently installed along the sidewalk in front of several different Oak street businesses.
Kansas City is not known for its walkability or bicycle transportation network, but with our soon-to-be unveiled master bike plan, a newly passed complete streets ordinance, and a mass revival within the city that is helping people understand we must build a city for more than just cars, we are helping take our city to the next level. We hoped our design demonstration would inspire city leaders and the residents of KCMO to push for a more progressive design that improves the safety and experience of our urban streets for all users. This mobility lane demonstration has done just that. At the request of a few city council members and several local businesses, we are currently putting together a proposal and budget for the City of KCMO with the hopes of implementing this design along the corridor permanently! We’ll be sure to keep you updated as we progress through this process and as always we want to thank the Better Block Foundation for paving the trail and providing the inspiration necessary to provide the citizens of Kansas City, Missouri with temporary design demonstrations. —DuRon Netsell