Overland Park is proud of its recognitions.
From “Best Cities to Rent” (WalletHub) to “Best Cities to be a Millennial” (Zippia), hardly a month goes by without an announcement that the city has placed near the top on some quality-of-life measurement. In fact, there’s a whole page on the city’s website devoted to this, and the list is long.
But one ranking did not make the page. Earlier this year, Overland Park came in among the worst ten cities in which to live without a car – 144th out of 150.
The ranking appears on LawnStarter, a web site about lawn care advice and services that also does rankings on a variety of subjects. (To be fair, Overland Park has been rated highly by LawnStarter in a number of other categories.)
But this latest ranking compared the 150 most populous cities in the U.S. to assess how well equipped they were to meet the needs of people who don’t have access to cars.
The website says it took into account 20 different metrics, including average commute time, pedestrian safety and the number of people who use public transit, walk or bike. The study even took into account local weather conditions.
Overland Park came in just below Chattanooga, Tenn., Augusta Ga., Memphis, Tenn. and Birmingham, Ala.
Other cities in the Midwest that did better than Overland Park were St. Louis, at 99th, Des Moines at 121st Wichita at 124th and the Kansas City metro at 135th.
Topping the list? Maybe no surprise: big cities with extensive public transit networks, including San Francisco, Portland, Ore. and Washington, D.C.
‘What we have is totally insufficient’
Overland Park’s relatively low ranking in this category doesn’t shock city councilcmember Logan Heley, who has made green initiatives one of his top priorities in office.
“I don’t think it would be surprising to anybody who lives in the Kansas City metro area that our entire region is not very accommodating to people who do not have cars. As a region, we are very car dependent,” he said.
In the mid-20th Century, the region had a vibrant public transportation system, Heley said, including Johnson County. But once streetcar infrastructure was abandoned, the land-use patterns changed to favor car ownership.
“We haven’t really given people in our entire region much of an option as to whether to own a car or not,” he said.
LawnStarter describes itself as a site that connects lawn services with people who need them, but it also does a lot of rankings. Overland Park notes on its recognitions page LawnStarter’s high rankings for such things as “Best Cities to Own an Electric Car, “Best Cities for Single Dads and “Best Water Quality” to name a few.
But car ownership – or lack thereof – has lately gotten more attention with some car dealerships reporting shortages.
According to U.S. Census figures, car ownership has been on a downward trend for the past decade. About 8.7% of Americans did not have access to a vehicle in 2019, according to the data.
Heley noted that for those who do own cars, the cost is high. AAA figures the cost of owning a new car to be $9,500 per year in 2020.
“Just imagine if people in our region didn’t feel the need to own a car, what they would then invest that money in,” Heley said.
He added that officials working on the city’s comprehensive plan are beginning to study how the city may address some of the issues, and that local leaders need to make a “realistic investment” in public transit.
“What we have currently is totally insufficient to what our community really needs,” he said.
The LawnStarter survey ranked Overland Park low on a subcategory related to public transit. The city came in a five-way tie for 143rd place in share of residents who use public transit to get to work.
Pedestrian fatalities low
There was one bright spot to the LawnStarter survey, however.
Despite its comparative low rankings in other areas, Overland Park finished in a four-way tie for fewest pedestrian fatalities per capita.
City spokesperson Meg Ralph pointed out the city’s high safety ranking in her response to the LawnStarter article and noted that Overland Park is working to improve its accessibility for non-drivers on several fronts.
Under consideration are options for making the College Boulevard corridor more pedestrian friendly, trail construction on 91st Street linking to Meadowbrook Park, bike lanes and multi-use paths from 159th Street southward, and an e-bike pilot program on city trails.
City councilmembers also are considering a pilot program for motorized scooters, she said.
The city also continues work on its bicycle master plan of bike lanes and share-the-road markings, she said.