When I first moved to Manhattan I didn’t ride my bike. Shoot, I hardly walked anywhere except campus. Looking back, I can see why I felt like it was unsafe. One of the reasons was infrastructure – What I needed was there. There was only one bike lane that I knew about on Manhattan Avenue but it wasn’t on my way to class in the morning. With no bike lanes, trails or wide-enough sidewalks, where was I to ride? It wasn’t like other people were doing it. I didn’t feel like walkers or drivers wanted me to ride to class, let alone anywhere else in town. There was a whole bunch of reasons why I shouldn’t bike.
In the last few year things have slowly changed. Manhattan has supported the idea of a complete, multimodal transportation system. If we fast forward to today, we now have a city transit system that works pretty darn well, we’re starting to put stuff on the road that supports biking and walking. When something new is constructed, it almost always has amenities for biking and walking. Just take a look at the south end redevelopment (the area by the Discovery Center, for us not in the planning community). It has excellent infrastructure for walking that includes brick sidewalks, raised intersections, traffic calming features, a great park and water feature to stop at and relax. Soon, the mixed use building will be finished that will offer housing and retail in the same area.
So what changed? Why are we going through this paradigm shift? Well, I think it’s due to the leadership at City Hall. Specifically, a certain gung-ho City Engineer named Rob Ott has taken on the challenge. While not a biker himself, Rob can see the need to support biking, as well as walking and transit. He hires excellent staff like Peter Clark and myself (what can I say, I have high self-esteem) who have the expertise and drive to push for change, even if it means going too far at times. What happened to the community? They jumped right on board! Dave Colburn, Brian Hardeman, Mike Wesch and others all used their political muscle and quick wit to advocate for change. As bikers and long standing community members, they have the grassroots knowledge necessary to give input on plans and activities. They’re even the ones who helped with the first Bike Week more than 4 years ago.
We’ve made a decent community for biking. We’ve even received an award for our efforts from the League of American Bicyclists BUT let’s all be honest, we aren’t all that bike friendly. There’s still a long way to go. The question is: How do we get to where we have a community that supports biking for everyone, everywhere?
The answer to that question is relatively simple. It’s all of us. Resident of MHK are the only ones that can transition us from “sorta bike-friendly” to “truly bike-friendly.” City staff has done an excellent job of getting biking off the ground but the rest is up to all of us. I think there are two things we can all do to help out.
First, talk to people. Talk your friends about why biking is good. Even if you don’t bike, the benefits to the community are HUGE! If you feel like it, email city staff to let them know what we’re doing well or what could be done better. What are the obstacles when you bike. Staff wants to know so that we can help! City commissioners also want to know what you’re thinking. After all, you’ve elected them. Why not let them work for you and create a community that you want to live in. Need me to make it easier? Here’s a list of commissioners and staff to talk to:
Mayor John Matta – firstname.lastname@example.org
Mayor Pro Tem Wynn Butler – email@example.com
Commissioner Karen McCulloh – firstname.lastname@example.org
Commissioner Usha Reddi – email@example.com
Commissioner Rich Jankovich – firstname.lastname@example.org
All Commissioners – email@example.com
City Manager Ron Fehr – firstname.lastname@example.org
Deputy City Manager Jason Hilgers – email@example.com
Lastly, get out and ride. There’s nothing better than more bikes on the road. Even if that means you’re biking to get coffee or a beer. What could be better on a fall day than to get out in the cool air and relax for a bit? By biking you’re inspiring people who are stuck in their cars to get out and bike. If one of said motorists gets angry with you because you’re on your bike just think, “That’s so sad; they have to be angry because I’m on a bike.” Then, take your hand off your handle bars and yell, “I’m the king of the world!” I promise, once you make a Titanic reference they will only judge you thinking you’re as cool as Leo.
To finally get to the point of this post, as a person who has worked on biking-related stuff the last few years, if I had to create a wish list for MHK it would include:
• a complete network of bike boulevards (this is cheap, easy and COMPLETELY doable)
• figure out some way to get across Tuttle Creek Blvd, Fort Riley Blvd and Seth Childs that was somewhat comfortable and relatively inexpensive
• create separated bike roads adjacent to Anderson and Claflin west of campus
• work on Linear Trail (a big money investment)
• write policy that states all places must have bike parking
• some BIG bike events (e.g. a professional tour)
This is definitely not an extensive list but instead a start. These are the major obstacles in the next few years that we need to overcome as a city. While City staff and the Bike Advisory Committee work away to provide basic bicycling needs, you as citizens can advocate for change and do what we really love, bike. So get on your tandem, fixie, mountain or cruiser and enjoy life.