The first entry on this topic summarizes the design components and challenges for the various concepts being explored for Grand Boulevard. The following concept takes two sample blocks of Grand Boulevard to illustrate how thoughtful design can enhance the street in a way that meets the needs of all users, and also provides a clear path to implementation, from initial paint improvements to a completely redesigned streetscape.
The components of this hybrid concept are outlined below:
Three Lane Configuration
Making Grand Grand, the KCATA’s Downtown Transit Improvement Concept, and Public Works’ Bike Loop proposal all recommend three lanes for traffic on Grand, and that seems like the right move. It provides space for more amenities and greater functionality on the street, and it is supported by the City’s new Downtown Traffic Model that demonstrates an adequate level of service can be maintained on Grand, even with the relocation of bus service and traffic that may be diverted from Main Street as a result of the streetcar.
The existing traffic lanes are ten feet wide, and this works even better in a three lane scenario. In the current condition cars and buses have to navigate beside each other in adjacent travel lanes at high speeds in an urban environment. A three lane scenario maintains the lane widths that already exist today, but eases operations by providing a mostly empty turn lane on one side and parked cars on the other.
Buffered Bike Lanes
If the City is serious about bicycle infrastructure, about creating complete streets, and encouraging less reliance on automobiles, then it needs to design and build bicycle facilities that will appeal to the casual biker and create a sense of comfort and safety for users. Research and broad experience from across the country makes it clears that buffered bike lanes are the best way to do that. In the proposed concept, buffered bike lanes place a row of cars and a generous buffer of six to fifteen feet (paint at first, but potentially landscaping later) between the cyclist and automobile traffic. This sense of distance and protection from auto traffic is what is necessary to truly facilitate use of facilities by casual or hesitant bikers. Buffered bicycle lanes are also critical for a Grand Boulevard that is a high frequency transit street because they remove the very serious conflict between bike lanes and buses. Buffered bike lanes require attention at intersections, particularly on intersections where traffic does not currently stop, and the initial application is paint only, but there are a multitude of design solutions to ensure safety and minimize conflicts, from two stage turning, to bike boxes, to longer term signal enhancements.
Expanded Pedestrian Realm
The greatest streets are public spaces first. Because it is a boulevard, because it is one hundred feet wide, and because it bisects the major destinations of our urban core, Grand Boulevard must do more than merely transport people. There is space on Grand, more so than any other downtown street, to create an expanded pedestrian realm and accommodate a wide variety of programming and activities, but only if the pedestrian realm is expanded and consolidated. The proposed concept expands the pedestrian realm from the current fifteen feet sidewalks, and envisions a shared space with bike lanes and additional public spaces. In total, forty five feet of integrated pedestrian pathways, bicycle lanes, and public spaces are possible on both sides of Grand Boulevard, even while maintaining parking and accommodating bus pull outs. Reclaiming this expanded pedestrian realm opens up a whole world of possibilities to activate and beautify the street. Seating areas and gathering places, seasonal programming and installations, art, trees and landscaping, vendors, transit facilities, outdoor dining, and retail storefront opportunities all find a place in the proposed concept. And it is precisely that mix of amenities and active uses that will ultimately transform Grand into a lively destination boulevard. Because there is so much surface parking (development potential) on Grand Boulevard, there is also a great opportunity to integrate the pedestrian environment on the road with adjacent pocket parks or plazas that capitalize on the quality environment to draw visitors and customers from the street into new developments.
KCATA’s vision to make Grand a “transit emphasis corridor” has incredible potential to transform how people use transit Downtown and to transform the corridor itself. Designing the corridor for safe and efficient transit operations, particularly in a three lane configuration, is important to realize the benefits of enhanced transit on Grand. A three lane configuration on Grand Boulevard where lots of buses are stopping frequently could disrupt traffic and transit service without specific accommodations for transit. The proposed concept identifies bus pull-out areas in the on-street parking lane that are coordinated with existing intersections. These pull-outs can be scaled in size to accommodate “super stops” where necessary, and are located to allow for major transit facilities and amenities in the corridor without disrupting pedestrian or bicycle traffic. With the proposed concept, stopped buses do not impede traffic flow, and due to their placement on the far side of intersections, can easily re-enter traffic flow and maintain efficient operations (especially with supportive signal coordination).
The second major design consideration for transit on Grand is the interface between buses and bikes. KCATA anticipates 1-2 buses per stop per minute along Grand Boulevard. The necessity for a high frequency of buses to continually cross bike lanes is an unsafe and unacceptable condition for cyclists and really should be the deal-breaker for the idea of running bike lanes between traffic and on-street parking. In the proposed concept this conflict is averted by buffering bike lanes behind on-street parking.
Green Street and True Boulevard
It is difficult to overstate the benefit of trees in an urban environment. Street trees improve air quality, reduce the urban heat island, slow traffic speeds (really!), provide shade and comfort for pedestrians, increase sales for adjacent retail, and have measurable effects on health, stress, and happiness. Today Grand is a boulevard in name only, and in many places it is quite bleak and desolate. The proposed concept responds to the goals of Making Grand Grand to make the street a green street and true urban boulevard. With a three lane configuration, a consolidated bike and pedestrian zone, and its unmatched width, Grand can remarkably accommodate a double row of trees on both sides of the street. These trees help to create a linear park environment and also function as a buffer and visual cue to separate the buffered bike lane from adjacent pedestrian areas. The Making Grand Grand planning process uncovered the challenges of placing street trees in existing sidewalk zones because of underground vaults.
The proposed concept places the double row of trees outside the portion of right of way with the greatest frequency of underground vaults. In addition to street trees, landscaping and planters can be incorporated into the corridor in bump outs and intersections to beautify the corridor but also protect pedestrians and cyclists. Street trees would not be part of initial paint-only improvements to Grand, but with forethought, early phase improvements can position the corridor for incremental introduction of green features and improvement of the streetscape. In the interim, tactical enhancements can do much to improve the corridor, as the 2012 Better Block on Grand demonstrated.
Designing intersections to accommodate cars, buses, bikes, and pedestrians in manner that is safe and ensures efficient movement is a challenging endeavor. This challenge is heightened when improvements are paint-only and do not initially include supportive signal infrastructure. Thankfully the collective knowledge and best practices of intersection design provide us with a flexible toolkit to respond to all of the intersection challenges Grand Boulevard presents. The most fundamental component of intersection design for the proposed concept is designation of crosswalks. Many intersections on Grand Boulevard have no crosswalk makings at all. A three lane configuration dramatically reduces the distance required for pedestrians to cross Grand, particularly when on-street parking lanes can be buffered by bump-outs. The proposed concept reduces the crossing distance from seventy to thirty feet – a nearly sixty percent reduction.
Buffered bike lanes benefit from the proposed bump-outs as well, because the bump-outs require an automobile to completely turn and face the bike lane head-on before reaching the conflict point. Left turns for bikes from a buffered bike lane are more of challenge, but there are a variety of options. One option for bicycle left turns at signalized intersections is a bike box that allows for cyclists to queue from the bike lanes to the left turn lane when the signal is red. Long term options include signal infrastructure that incorporate phases for cyclists. The sample blocks illustrated in the proposed concept are located between Truman Road and 17th Street, and so do not include a location for a signalized left turn. In these situations, a two stage left turn is possible, where cyclists pull through the intersection and queue in an area protected from traffic until it is safe to cross. In a paint only approach, traffic does not stop in these locations, making cycling movements difficult regardless of facility design.
An additional consideration for buffered bike lanes at intersections is the visibility of the cyclist by motorists approaching the intersection. By providing a clear distance with unimpeded visibility near the intersection (in addition to the constrained turning movement proposed), the proposed concept employs best practices for safety in conflict zones. Throughout the corridor, colored pavement can highlight for all users where potential conflict zones exist.
Perhaps the most important feature of the proposed concept is that it can be implemented in an incremental fashion. Unlike concepts for a two-way cycle track or dedicated bus lanes that would require major infrastructure improvements along the entire corridor up front, the proposed concept can be implemented block by block. It can begin with paint, progress to tactical enhancements, and move on to targeted infrastructure, resulting ultimately in a totally redesigned streetscape. But the benefit of the proposed concept is not only that it can be implemented incrementally, but that the incremental improvements are designed to work toward a better long term vision. The proposed concept captures a long term vision for Grand Boulevard, and provides a path to get there step by step. It begins with nothing but paint, but ends, hopefully, with a Grand Boulevard that ranks where it belongs with the great streets of the world.