Better bike trails mean development, better quality of life

The Examiner

It’s good to see the city of Independence taking another step toward better bike connections in the city.

This is an area in which many other metro suburbs have a significant quality-of-life advantage.

The idea is to connect the Truman Library – one of the Kansas City area’s crown jewels and a major draw for visitors – with the Square, and then to connect westward to the Englewood area.

Those connections can go on and on:  The idea, someday, is to connect this Truman Library/Square/Englewood trail to the stadiums. That means a connection to a wider network. Jackson County continues to work on a trail, partially open already, from the stadiums to south Lee’s Summit. Once that’s done, a short added piece of trail puts a bicyclist on the Katy Trail network. The Katy runs east to west across most of the state, from Clinton to north of St. Charles.

All those bike riders spend money. It’s not always flashy, but economic development follows travel corridors, whether it’s an interstate, a streetcar or even a bike trail. The Missouri Bicycle Federation says half a million people a year ride the Katy Trail and spend an average of $260 per trip. It also says the Katy cost $6 million to build and now generates that much in economic activity each year.

The Independence City Council has ordered up plans for what’s called Truman Connected. If it decides to go ahead, city officials say, federal grants are expected to cover the $4.7 million for the part from the museum to Englewood. That decision is, forgive the pun, down the road.

All of which is to say none of this is a fast process. The city has looked at this idea for years, just as it’s taken Jackson County years to buy the old Rock Island line, get regulatory approval, survive legal challenges and push ahead with the stadiums-to-Lee’s Summit trail. In eastern Independence and Kansas City, extensions of the Little Blue Trace Trail also have been at a halting pace, but the county has little choice but to push ahead as best it can.

City leaders deserve credit for thinking a decade or two into the future. That’s not always easy as Independence, like so many cities, relies on a tax base not well suited to changing times and it faces immediate demands as well. Think of it as today’s potholes vs. tomorrow’s progress. These are rarely easy choices, but that’s the task of elected officials.