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A Temporary Mobility Lane Helps Jump-Start Permanent Change

The impact of a 2018 AARP Community Challenge project in Kansas City, Missouri

Like many communities, Kansas City, Missouri, faces challenges ensuring that its sidewalks and roadways are safe for pedestrians and cyclists. The arrival in 2018 of e-scooters to the city’s streets brought additional safety and parking questions and concerns.

The need to keep walkers, runners, bicyclists and scooter-users safe was especially pressing along a stretch of Oak Street in the vibrant Crossroads neighborhood.

“Oak Street is a highly trafficked, and dangerous, commuter corridor that had seen recent high speed car crashes, including incidents when a building and a bike share station were badly damaged,” explains DuRon Netsell of Street Smarts Design + Build. “Even though the street was restriped in early 2018, crashes continued.”

Oak Street, Kansas City, Missouri

Photo by Duron Netsell, Street Smarts Design + Build

During the demonstration project, the signage for the Mobility Lane featured illustrations of a scooter, bicycle and skateboard, as well as logos for Better Block KC, AARP and Bird (an e-scooter company.) The other text on the sign reads: "This lane creates a safer street for all by providing a safe place for micro-mobility options, a buffer for pedestrians and calmer automobile traffic."

The Project: A "Pop-Up" Mobility Lane

The placemaking organization BetterBlockKC applied for an AARP Community Challenge grant and in the summer of 2018 received $2,500 to implement a temporary, two-block redesign of Oak Street. “We saw this as the perfect opportunity to show an alternative design that provided a safer experience for all users," Netsell explains.

AARP Community Challenge

AARP Community Challenge

Click on the image to learn about the AARP Community Challenge.

The month-long demonstration project implemented that October involved putting Oak Street on a road diet, which was achieved by replacing one lane of traffic with a “mobility lane” that could be used by bicyclists, scooter users, skateboarders, rollerbladers and joggers.

  • The mobility lane was protected from traffic by parked cars as well as planters filled with fall grasses and flowers.

  • All preexisting on-street parking was maintained. In fact, the project added two parking spots while also adding parking for 12 bicycles, 25 scooters and a few motorcycles.

  • The city’s department of public works temporarily changed the stoplights at two intersections into flashing red-lights in order to provide four-way stops.

Oak Street, Kansas City, Missouri

Photo by DuRon Netsell, Street Smarts Design + Build

Oak Street before and during the Mobility Lane demonstration.

The Results: The Temporary Project Leads to Permanent Changes

Automobile speeds measured at six locations showed that drivers operated at speeds 10 to 15 miles per hour slower during the project than after it was done. Data was also collected through a short survey of the area’s residents. The results showed favorable views to the design, although a handful of commuting motorists were upset with the change.

“We hoped the demonstration would enable the community and decision-makers to experience an innovative design that provided a safer and more equitable experience for all users,” says Netsell, who led the project’s organization and its volunteer-staffed implementation. “What we didn’t anticipate was the reaction to the scooter symbols used in the mobility lane. We didn’t realize until after the installation was in place that we had created the world’s first protected lane designated for e-scooters. We’re not aware of a municipality or design firm that had actually installed scooter symbols in their bike lanes at that time.”

The temporary project helped influence some permanent changes in Kansas City. 

  • The city has funded and implemented three “micro-mobility” parking hubs, including one at the pop-up project’s parking hub original location. 

  • By testing the mobility lane and receiving local and national attention for it, public awareness and acceptance increased, which may have increased support for a permanent cycle-track the city installed elsewhere on Oak Street in 2020. Although the cycle-track was already part of an existing government plan, the temporary demonstration likely influenced public support for it. 

  • During the demonstration, BetterBlockKC used half-barrel planters as barriers and for displaying flowers and grasses. Many of the planters remain and have been adopted by nearby business owners.


Advice for Replicating the Project

BetterBlockKC, along with partners including BikeWalk KC, engaged neighborhood associations and businesses along the corridor before the project started. “Having that heads up gave them an open mind when it came to the project,” Netsell explains.

The length of the demonstration period helped build data for better understanding how the public’s behavior would adapt. To secure a month-long rather than days-long project requires partnerships and engagement with local agencies. “Work with local agencies and neighborhood groups as much as possible,” Netsell advises. “They’ll work with you more and give you more of a chance if you work with them.”

In addition to speed and public sentiment data, having data (even anecdotal) about the area’s noise reduction is extremely helpful. Netsell wishes the project team had recorded the change in noise volume. “The area was so much calmer and safer,” he says. “We got comments from businesses saying so.”

Text by Mike Watson, reporting by Evey Owen
Published in August 2020 based on the project’s after-action reports, media coverage and an interview conducted in July 2020

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