Driving down Broadway Blvd. in Kansas City, Missouri chances are you’re probably making your way between two of the following places: the River Market, Downtown, the Westside, the Crossroads, Westport or the Plaza. Individually, each neighborhood is a unique, vibrant, walk-able place in its own right. Getting from one to another – without a car – is another issue. The distance between the Plaza and Westport for example is less than a mile but many people would choose to drive this stretch. This, in part, can be attributed to our car-centric culture and engrained habits here in KC. But an underwhelming pedestrian experience also reinforces this mentality. Folks participating in Better Blocks are interested in starting a conversation and getting into the gritty details of what could make our streets more appealing and safer from a pedestrian standpoint.
This year Better Block KC took place in the heart of Westport, just two blocks from the Kansas City studio. Community members gathered at the intersection of 40th Terrace and Broadway Blvd. on a sunny day in mid-October to observe and activate a space that’s usually dominated by parking and unnecessarily wide traffic lanes. Better Blocks is an event that takes places nationwide. It is organized by architects, planners, traffic engineers, students and anyone else interested in taking action to improve their city’s bike and pedestrian network. One city block is chosen and multiple strategies are used to improve this focus area. While the interventions are temporary, the idea is that both the general public and city leaders can get a glimpse of the possibilities that accompany more pedestrian-minded planning.
This year’s efforts were focused on Westport for a variety of reasons. First – Broadway Blvd., for most of the stretch through Midtown, is oversized for the daily traffic flow it supports. The six lane road encourages speeding traffic and offers only minimal, poorly marked crosswalks. It’s not uncommon to see people trying to cross this street and stuck standing in the center turn lane. Our hope was to narrow Broadway Blvd., introduce crosswalks, and transform this road from a traffic gutter to a walkable street. An interesting mix of commercial and dense residential development along Broadway suggests that this area could only be strengthened by increased pedestrian activity. A newly installed Bike/ Walk KC bike share station at this intersection also reinforces the mission of Better Block KC. Bike share stations have popped up downtown and in the Crossroads in the past few years and now, they’ve expanded though Midtown and the Plaza. With such a convenient proximity to the site, many of the planning meetings were hosted here at the Kansas City office.
Whether coming intentionally for the event, or just passing by, it was hard to miss the transformation that occurred on Broadway Blvd. A lane of parking was shifted over to make way for a wider sidewalk. Nearby business including AKKA Karate and Broadway coffee pulled their programming out onto the street for the afternoon. Café seating and plants provided the space with more character and encouraged people to linger. A bike lane was taped out, buffered from the travel lanes by parking showed the latent space available for this type of infrastructure.
Better Blocks challenges the notions of our city’s future and shifts the discussion from strategically laid out parking spaces to multi-modal, complete streets. The goal of this living charrette was to show – at full scale – the possibilities that our streets hold as gathering spaces, catalysts between pedestrians and local business, and safer places to walk and bike. The documentation of this event will strengthen a proposal to the city calling for permanent change.
Two years ago Better Blocks KC focused on reimagining Grand St. See how these ideas helped spark significant & permanent change:
Bike/Walk KC – an organization partnered with Better Blocks is currently proposing a city wide bicycle network. Their campaign is called Complete KC and the bike lanes on Broadway might just be their first step in implementation: