The Harbinger Online

Plaza Pedaling

Among luxury shops, towering law office buildings and world-renowned restaurants, the Country Club Plaza shopping district recently installed a new feature on its sidewalks. Bicycle racks lined with identical grey bikes are now set up at various street corners. Individual bikes offer electronic payment methods so riders can cycle across town and return them to a number of other stations when they’re finished.

These new bike stations are part of a continuous effort to incorporate more active transportation like cycling and foot traffic within the KC metro area.

The initiative to convert KC into an active transportation city began almost three years ago with 12 original bike stations in the heart of downtown. Both the Plaza and Westport’s new bike racks are Phase II of the initiative.

The non-profit organization Kansas City B-Cycle, responsible for the bike sharing program, is owned by parent company BikeWalk KC and sponsored by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City. According to Eric Vaughan, Operations Manager at B-Cycle, the goal was not only to offer easier access to bikes, but also improve the city’s air quality, boost local businesses and raise health standards within the city.

“The overall theme here is we have a lot of big, big problems that we’re trying to deal with as a whole country, health issues; obesity, diabetes, air pollution,” Vaughan said. “And we believe there are some really simple solutions that go a really long way to answering those really complex questions.”

According to Vaughan, since the bikes have been placed around the city, riders have saved KC a total of 50,000 pounds of net carbon that would have otherwise been emitted into the atmosphere from cars. In addition, the bikes have helped riders burn over 2 million calories and travel over 50,000 miles.

Blue Cross Blue Shield invested in the program because they believed that improvements in health for the entire city would mean a lowering of insurance costs around the metro. As citizens engage in more active practices they are less likely to seek medical help for heart diseases, thus keeping costs down for everyone in the city.

In addition to the environmental and health improvements, the bikes give tourists a different view of the city. Bikers statistically spend more money locally than any segment of the population. According to Vaughan, the bikes encourage tourists, who stay at hotels and visit convention centers in KC, to stop and shop around.

“You jump in a taxi and you’re just whisked off to your hotel,” Vaughan said. “When you’re whisked off to your restaurant you don’t get to experience those local businesses. Your view is much more narrow of your surroundings.”

The downtown stations mainly serve tourists, who account for 60 percent of total ridership.

“Anytime there’s an event our stations just blow up with riders,” Vaughan said. “We can’t keep bikes in stock.”

However, one of the other reasons they began Phase II was to engage more residential riders. The Plaza and Westport characteristically serve a denser population with more residents relying on short-distance transportation. And according to Vaughan, this population is at the heart of B-Cycle’s mission.

“We want to get people out of cars,” Vaughan said. “Not necessarily eliminate cars altogether, but just to create a culture where the car is not your first reaction every trip, every time.”

This idea seems to be working, with bikes that have only been on the Plaza for a matter of weeks already outperforming some of their older stations Downtown. B-Cycle even made the decision to keep all stations open during winter in order to serve parts of the population that paid for year-long memberships and rely on the bikes as daily transportation.

For Plaza resident and East parent Scott Martin, the bikes offer enjoyable transportation and better additions to KC’s public transit system.

“It’d be kind of nice if people recognized that the buses do a pretty good job with bikes.” Martin said. “So if you just want to go one way, on the city bus, it’s pretty easy to put a bike on the bus.”

He and his freshman son Zane often take the public bus from his Plaza home to a downtown bike rack. Once there, they ride the bikes around places like the River Market and return the bikes to an open station when finished.

The successful older bike-share stations, according to Vaughan, are encouraging future phases which include expanding to the Brookside and Waldo neighborhoods, eventually even placing stations further into Johnson and Jackson county.

“We’re hoping that in the next five or six years after several more phases,” Vaughan said. “That we’ll be at that same point where you’ll be seeing bike share stations way out in Shawnee, in Overland Park and Lees Summit.”

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Morgan Krakow

Morgan Krakow is Co-Editor-In-Chief of the Harbinger Print Edition. She is also involved in Coalition Club and S.H.A.R.E. Krakow enjoys hiking, bagels and Middle Eastern politics. Read Full »

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