Parkville Mayoral Candidates on Sidewalks, Buses, and More

April 5th Parkville voters will decide whether to re-elect Nan Johnston for 3 more years or to change leadership with Nick Casale. Speaking strictly for the sake of democracy, I’m encouraged to see challengers in elections, even if I believe the incumbent has done well (I do), and in the four years I’ve lived in Parkville, I’ve seen several unopposed elections on my ballot. There are a few alderman elections occurring as well (several unopposed), and the Platte County Citizen has mentioned a few of them in a recent article, as well as a brief summary of the mayoral race. I’m not looking to repeat any previously stated information.

My goal with this blog is to provide information about issues that are rarely discussed in media coverage of local, small town elections: views on pedestrian, biking, and transit infrastructure. Initially, I simply wanted to hear their views to inform my opinion as I head to Parkville Presbyterian on the 5th. But the answers I received were quite informative from both candidates, so with their permission I’ve decided to share a few quotes. Hopefully this information may be useful for other voters, but mostly it’s of particular interest to me in deciding who I think should lead public policy for the next 3 years.

Full disclosure: I received answers to my questions in different formats and at different times: Nan Johnston’s responses were written up in a rather prompt response to my Facebook message. Nick Casale’s answers are quoted from a phone conversation a couple of weeks later, so you’ll notice the change in formality between the two answers, and while I tried to ask the same questions in the same way each time, there was some slight variation. On a couple of questions to Nick Casale (speaking to my amateur journalistic skills) I included the Parkville Connections project (public information that I wasn’t aware of before receiving her response) and Nan’s view on ridership numbers (a stance I’ve heard from other Parkville officials previously but only learned of Nan’s stance after receiving her Facebook message). As another piece of disclosure, I live along Bell Road, so its issues got some special treatment in my questions. You understand how that goes.

At the time of writing, I have not completely made my decision, but this has been helpful. There’s a decent amount of shared value by both candidates toward walkability, which is quite encouraging. Both candidates have also encouraged me to continue my engagement with them over this issue.

On connecting downtown to Parkville Commons, sidewalks, and road widening:

Nan Johnston:

Thank you for contacting me. I too believe in walkability and although some of our neighborhoods have a good sidewalk system, the interconnectivity is non-existent. We are doing a number of things to address some of the issues you mention.

There is a mixed-use development planned for between downtown and The Commons, appropriately named “Connections”. Due in large part to the economic downturn, it was put on hold for a number of years, but we have a renewed interest in the project again by some serious developers and it’s very possible this will be picked up soon. It will greatly improve connectivity with trails connecting the 2 areas of town.

You may have heard about the 45 highway widening, final phase that will connect K to I-435. This was identified as a priority several years ago, and is necessary for safety, as visibility is bad in areas, and there is no shoulder to speak of. Hundreds of new homes are planned on the western edge of town and the current capacity will not be able to handle the volume coming in and out of the neighborhoods. The speed limits will not increase after the lanes are added.

We have also recently completed a study of the entire 9 Hwy corridor from Hwy 45 to Riverside. You may have heard it referred to it as a widening, but we will be merely adding turn lanes to alleviate congestion. When cars get stacked up, it’s not only aggravating, but adds to poor air quality as cars idle. There is also no shoulder, or sidewalks on most of 9 Hwy, meaning that students from the University as well as other walkers, runners and cyclists are so close to the roadway, it’s frightening. This project includes a 10 foot shared use path on one side and a 5 foot pedestrian path on the other. Both paths will be separated from the roadway by curbs and a foot-wide section. Again, there are no plans to increase the speed limit. More details on this plan can be found on our website: wwwParkvilleMO.gov. Click on the “Community” tab, then on “2015 Route 9 Corridor Study”.

There is nothing in current zoning that prohibits a more pedestrian like downtown to be developed. With the assistance of public input, that is precisely what I and other City leaders feel is appropriate in the southern part of Rte 9 area of town. Part of our Downtown Vision Plan is to extent the look and feel of Main Street into the Southern section of Hwy 9 (from the University soccer fields to the Post Office). The sole intent is to actually get drivers to SLOW down by intentional re-development to create more of a downtown appearance rather than a state highway appearance. The speed limit is 25 MPH there, and there is no intention to increase the speed.

We are careful regarding master planning the future of Parkville. Because there is a huge difference between the newest northwestern areas, and the downtown area, we must carefully evaluate new commercial and residential development for the proper fit. What is appropriate in one area of town, will not be in another.

Nick Casale:

I live in downtown Parkville so these are things that are near and dear to me. Connectivity is vital to all of our citizens. And where these things need maintenance, I’d like to see it happen. Unfortunately, Nate, everything we’re talking about costs money, and when they cost money they have to be prioritized. I don’t think anyone, in the current government, or in the future if I’m elected, doesn’t think these things are important. But unfortunately, finances the way they are, it has to be prioritized. I think you will find these things coming along quicker in the future, Nate, I really do. They’re very important to a lot of people, and they’re very important to me. I mean, I, frankly, would rather ride a bicycle through town on occasion. I go to the YMCA every day, and I would love to be safe, or safer than I think I’d be given the current situation.

(when specifically asked about Parkville Connections development)

One thing that you have to consider when you get into residential areas and wooded areas behind the commons that leads up to Bell Road, now you’re dealing with residences and homes… It’s a little tricky. I applaud any of that. Any vision (for redeveloping that land) is positive and good. I think it’s a great step forward. There may be some things in the plan that you don’t see that you would rather see, but I think that any step forward right now is a positive.

(when asked about traffic studies that call for wider roads, higher speed limits and more vehicle lanes)

I’ve seen those studies, and I think the first thing that you have to deal with is that highway 9 is a state highway. It just happens to go through our town, and so trying to make hwy 9 into a local street is tough. There’s always going to be a need for a “wider”, “faster”, and “more”. Unfortunately for that mile or so from Park University up to highway 45 it’s still a state highway. I don’t know, frankly. I think that engineering being what it is, it’s always going to be to expand and increase and hold more, rather than eliminate and decrease. I can say it’s certainly something that everyone’s interested in. I think what we find for ourselves in any town… And by the way, Parkville is the largest population for any city in Platte County outside of Kansas City, Missouri… so, Parkville is growing by leaps and bounds, and it’s only going to get more. As it gets more it’s going to mean more automobiles. I wish that we were a self-sustaining community that could eliminate a lot of these cars from traveling through our town and just scurt around it and give our residents all the space they wanted to walk and bike, but that’s not going to happen. I’ve spent a lot of time downtown so I’ve seen all of the traffic that comes through — there’s a lot of traffic Nate, and I know I don’t have to tell you that. I’m just afraid that it’s going to get more — you see that project just east of Riss Lake where there’s going to be more apartments. It’s just going to get more and more, and in order to accommodate that you have to increase.

On Bell Road/Hamilton St sidewalks and safety:

Nan Johnston:

Bell road presents a challenge. If we were to install sidewalks, they would eventually be torn up, as the road is in serious need of reconfiguration. It is much too hilly, with blind spots and is dangerous. I do agree with the need for sidewalks there, however it’s probably not a wise use of taxpayers dollars to install, only to tear up a few years down the road. Future development along Bell Road could speed up the road reconfiguration and right now I couldn’t tell you exactly when improvements might take place, just that I believe it is inevitable.

Nick Casale:

As far as Bell Road is concerned, I don’t need to tell you this, but with the geography and the topography of the road, I mean, it’s never going to get any better, it’s always going to be a hilly, blind spot (filled) way for people to travel way too fast in their cars. It’s a dangerous place, and I understand that. I know there are a lot of people who live in the apartments throughout Bell Road who probably don’t feel very safe, and if they don’t have an automobile to have to walk to Price Chopper or any other place… it’s tough. Nan will have lots of answers for you based upon her knowledge of the last six years of projects going on. Aside from what I just told you I’m not sure I can offer anymore expertise, but I can tell you you have a sympathetic ear here. I am someone who would push for and prioritize any kind of sidewalk widening on the Bell & Highway 9 corridors. I think that’s part of the city growing. Bell Road has been like that since I went to Park College in the 60’s. It was a sleepy town back then, there were only a couple thousand people in Parkville and it didn’t have near the population and traffic that it does now. That wooded area that comes out of Hamilton in that culdesac before Bell… I think there are opportunities there Nate, I really do.

On RideKC bus service (specifically asking about Rt 243):

Nan Johnston:

Yes — bus service has been explored and considered and I’ve also discussed with Mayor Rose of Riverside. Since Parkville is not a “job center” like Riverside’s industrial park, there are not enough riders and we are unable to cost justify City subsidized bus service. That could change in the future however, with the addition of new jobs and it is something we will keep an eye on moving forward.

Nick Casale:

I think I echo Nan Johnston that ridership is vital to getting any kind of bus service here. The city of Riverside may be subsidizing that bus line to come through there, but remember too that the casino in Riverside pays for a whole lot of things. I don’t think it’s a dead issue, Nate. I think that you’re on track when you say that there could be some shared money here whether it be from the state or the county or maybe some federal grant of some kind that can help. I think that’s part of the conversation and I think that’s a good conversation. Because I’m with you, I’d rather sell my car and take public transportation and use a bike, so you’re speaking to a sympathetic ear here. I can only tell you that it’s something that I would pay a great deal of attention to when it comes up again.