A new bike and pedestrian trail that Overland Park officials consider a critical link to parks and shopping is in the works for 91st Street, but some residents are questioning whether the removal of two sets of traffic signals along the way will keep users safe.
The proposed 1.5-mile trail has been talked about since the 1990s as a key part of a trail system that would make it easier for users to go from Strang Park to Meadowbrook Park in Prairie Village. But with money set aside in the city’s capital improvements budget as well as federal and state funding, the planning stages are now finally underway.
City engineers and trail planners held a virtual meeting Tuesday with neighbors to discuss particulars of how their properties could be affected.
Trail to cost $2.2 million
The planners envision a 10-foot wide concrete trail along the north side of 91st Street from Lowell Avenue to Nall Avenue. The trail would be separated from the street by a grass buffer of variable widths.
Besides the parks, the trail would take users past the Johnson County Arts and Heritage Center, and the Promontory development. It would also point users to shopping centers further west in Overland Park and downtown Prairie Village, to the east.
The trail would cost $2.2 million overall, with $800,000 coming from the Kansas Department of Transportation, plus $475,000 in federal money.
Preliminary work on the trail begins this month with utility relocation and easements. The trail won’t be designed until next spring, and construction is not scheduled for completion until about a year from now.
Residents voice concerns
One aspect that has caused concern among some neighbors is the plan to remove traffic signals at Glenwood Street and Lamar Avenue. A roundabout was once planned there, but budget restrictions due to the coronavirus caused officials to change that to stop signs.
Engineer Eric Keenan said the lights were analyzed as the trail was being planned. Because they are reaching the end of their 40-year life expectancy and because the traffic count no longer warrants signals, the city plans to remove them, Keenan said. He told meeting attendees Tuesday that the cars were counted before the pandemic reduced the amount of traffic.
The idea was to save the city from reinvesting in new lights when there isn’t enough traffic to warrant them, but engineers will test the idea first by switching the lights to flashing mode for about 90 days to see if there are any problems. The flashing signal test will also allow engineers to see whether there are enough gaps in oncoming traffic for pedestrians to safely cross.
Some neighbors have questioned the wisdom of removing the lights. Donna Palatas started a petition against it, saying the street is too busy. At the meeting, she suggested the money might be better spent on upkeep of existing trails.
Resident Ralph Beck said he has concerns about the lights, though he likes the idea of the trail in general, provided there’s money to pay for it. Beck has prompted extensive discussion about the lights on the app Nextdoor. He worried that it may be hard for people with disabilities or with small children to cross the street quickly enough.
Beck said he thinks the city should acquire the land so that it can be maintained properly.
“This is what I envisioned and hoped for, and it makes sense to me that for this trail to be a jewel for the area it needs to be maintained by the city and kept up in the same manner that any city park would be,” he said.
Neighbors on the Zoom meeting also questioned other aspects of the plan. Some, who will have the trail on the border of their backyards, said they may face new liability issues as they try to maintain the trees and landscaping next to the trail and on the buffer between the trail and street.
Andy Mich asked whether there would be a speed limit for bicyclists in the hilly area, but was told the faster riders typically prefer the street, while less experienced riders would use the trail.
John Johnson said the city should take the questions about trailside maintenance by property owners seriously.
“This project has some big holes in it,” he said.
Keenan, the engineer, said city officials will continue to evaluate the trail as it comes into use. “When we complete projects we don’t walk away and never revisit them,” he said.