Westport Street Privatization is Poor Policy

Disappointingly, the Westport Business League's effort to privatize sidewalks in the historic Westport district is still alive. Below is the letter I sent to the City Plan Commission on behalf of BikeWalkKC in opposition to the proposal.

November 6th, 2017
To: Ashley Winchell, City Planning and Development
Attn: City Plan Commission
CC: Fourth district council members Jolie Justus and Katheryn Shields

Dear Ashley Winchell:

On behalf of BikeWalkKC, a non-profit organization operating in Kansas City, MO, I submit this letter in opposition to the City Plan Commission’s November 7th 2017 docket items 1300C and 1300D. Privatizing any portion of public streets is contrary to our mission to redefine our streets and places for people to build a culture of active living.

Here is why BikeWalkKC finds this street vacation problematic:

Private streets are private forever.

When the City signs over ownership, the streets become the property of the CID, most likely, forever. The City would have to buy back the property in order to return it to the public realm. Public rights-of-way have value and should not simply be given away for the benefit of private interests.

Private streets are not complete streets.

A major component of the mission of BikeWalkKC is to ensure that our public spaces remain open for people to safely move through, gather, and experience. Should the Westport vacation move forward there will be times when Westport Rd. and Pennsylvania Ave. will be closed to thru traffic including bicycles, pedestrians, and transit vehicles. Those simply wishing to walk through may have to pay a surcharge at the gate. At these times people who live in or near Westport will have to pass through a metal detector and have their bags searched just to get home or go to the grocery store.

Private streets contravene the guidance that exists in many adopted City plans and policies to improve multimodal connections and to create walkable neighborhoods, e.g. FOCUS KC, Midtown-Plaza Area Plan, Walkability Plan, and Climate Protection Plan.

Accessible, multi-modal, public street networks are essential to a healthy, thriving community.

Private streets are inequitable.

Our streets are not only critical for mobility but they are places for people to gather and even protest. These civil liberties are not guaranteed on private streets. While we applaud the CID in their efforts to infuse protection of civil liberties into an MOU with the City, the idea that civil liberties are guaranteed is fundamentally incompatible with the concept of private property.

BikeWalkKC envisions a community where public spaces are accessible by all. Privatizing our streets undercuts this vision.

Thank you for your consideration,
— Eric Bunch, Policy Director