Fighting (Imaginary) Traffic in Downtown Kansas City

Cities that have an unhealthy relationship with asphalt — you know one when you see it.

Marohn snapped this shot of his friend, walking the wide, empty streets of downtown Kansas City. Photo: Strong Towns

Strong Towns’ Charles Marohn recently visited dowtown Kansas City and was amazed by what he found: wide empty lanes, scores of unnecessary traffic lights, and an absence of traffic of any kind. He writes:

While there are many things that really depress me about America’s cities, particularly those in the Midwest, there is one thing that stands out above the rest: our misunderstanding of what a street is. If you were from Kansas City, you would be excused for believing that streets are corridors for moving automobiles quickly from one parking lot to another. You would be excused because that is all you see.

Except for the fact that there are virtually no cars. That is another component of this entire mess: there is really no traffic to speak of. We’re fighting a beast that does not exist. Let me elaborate.

I was out around lunch time and then again during rush hour. In the latter, Joe and I are biking down the street and, in the couple of miles we went, we were passed by no more than three cars. There was just nobody out there. On the way back to the hotel, we were just walking down the middle of the street laughing about how there was literally nobody here in a car.

This is a city of nearly half a million people. The city has spent billions on getting them in their cars. Where are they?

A few quick fixes could turn things around, according to Marohn. Allow streetside parking, convert one-way streets to two-way, narrow car lanes and add bike lanes, he says, and “sit back and watch the downtown prosper.”

Elsewhere on the Network today: Urban Indy discusses an urban landscape feature that cries out for infill development: used car lots. Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space comments on an under-appreciated side-effect of bicycling: traffic calming. And City Block wonders what it would take to build a robust commuter rail system for DC.