By Molly Higgins and Liz Schroeder
That’s the target date for having no traffic fatalities inside KCMO. In May 2020, the city council signed onto the Vision Zero movement and committed to adopting traffic calming programs like adding speed humps and curb extensions, upgrading traffic signals and expanding thirty more miles of protected bike lanes. Vision Zero is a decades-old international movement that started in Sweden—it’s basically the Kyoto Protocol of traffic safety. “They’re currently working on an action plan that’s basically the road map, no pun intended, to how we get to eliminating traffic injuries and fatalities,” says active transportation advocate Michael Kelley of BikeWalkKC.
Pedestrian deaths in Kansas City so far in 2022, outpacing a total of thirty-three deaths at the same time last year. “There are bad sidewalks in all areas of the city,” KCMO councilman Kevin O’Neill says. “In many lower-income areas of our cities, where citizens use alternative modes of transportation, we need to make sure that they have access to bus stops and connectivity to jobs, medical and retail areas.”
The amount that the GO KC Sidewalk program will receive each year until 2037 to evaluate, inspect, repair and replace sidewalks around Kansas City. This includes initiatives to make sidewalks more accessible with corners and ramps.
Of the 1,485 crash fatalities in the Kansas City metro since 2017, pedestrians made up thirteen percent—more than a hundred and ninety deaths—although they make up only six percent of travelers. “Deaths are increasing, and they’re happening on roads that communities know are unsafe,” Kelley says. “The inequities in walkability and who’s impacted by those inequities are disproportionately Black Americans, Native Americans, older Americans and Americans walking in lower-income communities.”
In pedestrian deaths per 100,000 people nationwide, Black people are three times more likely to die from walking. The only other group more likely to have pedestrian fatalities were American Indians or Alaska Natives, who were nearly five times as likely. In KC, although Black residents make up twenty-eight percent of the population, they make up thirty-five percent of traffic fatalities.
Kansas City reported one hundred and fifty-seven pedestrian deaths between 2016 and 2020, according to the Dangerous By Design 2022 Report. Councilwoman Ryana Parks-Shaw’s fifth district holds three of the intersections for the highest pedestrian fatalities in KC. She is a supporter of Vision Zero and has advocated for traffic calming, protected bike lanes and upgraded traffic signals. “Those are some things that we actually pledged to do in year one, and I think they are still working on that,” she says.
Kansas City is currently ranked forty-third for pedestrian safety and thirty-fourth for bike safety out of the fifty-one most populous cities in America, according to data from the Alliance for Biking and Walking. The big issue, Parks-Shaw says, is that there’s a big backlog of infrastructure improvements that are planned but not funded. “Unfortunately, in years past, this had not been a priority,” Parks-Shaw says. “But I’m excited that this council has made this a priority, and so we are starting to see more of the budget being allocated.”
Reconfiguring roads into so-called “road diets” have been shown to decrease crashes by almost half, according to the Federal Highway Administration, which found that the threat of fatal crashes “increases exponentially” over twenty miles per hour.
The city’s backlog of sidewalk repairs isn’t just time-consuming—it’s costly. There’s currently $150 million allocated for a $1 billion backlog. “If we want to be able to fully fund the repairs that need to happen, we need to figure out how to increase that funding,” Kelley says. “We have to have a serious conversation about what we want to fund.”