Published November 10th, 2023 at 12:30 PM2 minute read
By Kevin Collison
Rue Cler is one of the many bustling market streets in Paris.
Flower stalls spill out onto the sidewalk, cafés offer front row seats for people watching and merchants busy themselves arranging their shop window displays to catch the eyes of passersby.
And the busy cobblestone street is shared by pedestrians and the occasional vehicle driving through.
It’s a great example of how Kansas City’s premier pedestrian district, the Country Club Plaza, can find a way back to being a place where people want to go and enjoy a more friendly and relaxed environment.
Last summer, Urban Lab KC, a self-appointed advocacy group of mostly younger adults with a passion for better city design, came out with recommendations for “pedestrianizing” the Plaza.
Much of the attention was on their most radical proposal, eliminating cars entirely from large parts of the district.
That idea of replacing streets with pedestrian malls was tried around the country in the 1970s and 1980s and proved disastrous for many urban shopping districts. Most ended up being torn out and the streets reopened to traffic.
But in the Urban Lab study there was a middle way, the idea of a shared street like Rue Cler, common in Paris and other cities throughout Europe and the rest of the world.
With the exception of Broadway and 47th Streets, which are important cross-town arteries through the Plaza, all of the district’s streets could be redesigned to be two-lane roads that people could feel comfortable sharing with slow-moving cars.
There also would be no street parking allowed because plenty already is available in the Plaza garages.
The resulting additional space available on widened sidewalks would engender not only the creation of more outdoor dining and drinking experiences, but allow retailers to bring their wares outside and onto the sidewalk.
As a result, the Plaza could truly capitalize on its pedestrian ambience, encouraging people to interact with its stores and one another. One side note to potential new owner, HP Village Partners, please, no more banks and other dull tenants.
As for Broadway and 47th Street, speed bumps, a 25 mph speed limit and better marked pedestrian crossings would help slow traffic and make people feel more comfortable.
The city already is introducing the shared-street concept to the 18th and Vine District. It’s planning to redesign 18th Street between The Paseo and Woodland Avenue, and create a single surface with 25-foot sidewalks flanking two lanes of traffic.
This is an ideal time, with the prospect of HP Village Partners assuming ownership, to start planning for a more people-friendly Plaza.
Mayor Quinton Lucas told the audience at the Urban Lab meeting he supported exploring ideas to make the Plaza more pedestrian-friendly. He cautioned however, that while the city controls the streets, it wouldn’t proceed without support from its ownership.
“Our only goal in testing this is attracting more people, thus more customers, more people looking for that (walkable) experience,” he said at the meeting.
With the streetcar expected to begin serving the Plaza in 2025, many more people will be arriving on foot. Nobody is asking for cars to go away, simply steered into garages or slowed to a more relaxed pace on shared streets.
Releasing the area’s full potential to be a place where people, not cars, are a priority can help ensure it will remain a prosperous commercial and cultural gem for the next 100 years.