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Plan To Remove Traffic Lights On Hold For Now

traffic light web.jpg
Alex Smith

Drivers may have noticed some changes on the roadways. At 37 intersections across the metro traffic lights are flashing red or yellow, and they’re not broken. 

The Public Works Department is planning to change out unwarranted stoplights to stop signs, but this plan is facing resistance from the city council and residents.

Mike Dethlefsen who lives at the corner of Main and Meyer, which is one of the intersections in question, thought at first the lights were broken.

“It’s really hard to pull out of my driveway now,” says Dethlefsen. “Because it’s just this constant stream of traffic, versus just a spurt and then a free space.”

He has been living at that intersection for the past ten years and has seen a lot of accidents there.  “Someone was telling me that they were having trouble walking their dogs across the street.  But the city ought to save some money – which is what I think they’re trying to do.”

The city will save money, but the Public Works Department says that’s not the main reason for the change. It’s about following federal traffic guidelines to maintain the city’s traffic standards and creating safer roadways for drivers and pedestrians.  

311 has been really busy explaining these reasons to all the concerned and confused citizens calling in, and there have been a lot. Members of the city council were also busy on the phone, including Councilman Jermaine Reed of the 3rd District, which is home to 19 of the 37 lights in question. 

He says, “Everywhere I go in the community people have stopped me and ask me about the removal process.”

So what is the process and how is it decided which lights stay or go?

The city has been working on assessing traffic needs for the past decade.  As population changes and people use other roads more frequently, like Bruce R. Watkins, some lights become unnecessary at certain intersections.

The city conducts traffic counts that assess pedestrian and vehicular traffic, and then use the federal guidelines to determine if a signal is warranted. A warrants is a set of conditions that justifies having a signal in a location.  These conditions are things like volume over an eight-hour period, volume during peak traffic hours, whether it’s near a school crossing, what sort of accident experience the area has had, and how the signal works in the roadway network overall.

Three hundred and fifty intersections across the metro are being reviewed, and of those 144 of them have already been determined to be unwarranted.  These 37 are just the first step.  They also happen to be the oldest lights in the city, nearly 60 years old, which makes them out of date with current technology. 

Councilman Reed says that studies can only go so far, and that it’s important for people in the community to be a part of this dialog before changes are made that greatly affect their neighborhoods.

He and the rest of the council all agreed to pass a resolution to put the program on hold for 60 days until the city meets with residents to get more community input.

He says, “The city staff used green in the beginning of this process… We are at a point where we have to use the yellow.  Where we suspend and make sure that we are yielding and taking our time before we come to a complete stop and making sure that the number one people who are affected by this, and that is the people of Kansas City, are communicated with.”

The city will conduct additional studies at the intersections in question, making more of an effort to engage pedestrians and educate members of the community before implementation. 

Sean Demory of the Public Works Department says he understands that communication is necessary, but still a change is going to have to come, and that these changes will actually benefit the community.

“People put a lot of faith in those signals.  And the idea of a stop sign maybe safer than a signal seems counter intuitive,” Says Demory.  “But if you really take a look at it.  If you come to a signalized intersection, assuming you are a top notch driver, you have a 33 percent chance of being required to yield the right of way.  If you come to a stop sign you have a 100% chance to stop at that intersection to yield the right of way. 

Which he says gives pedestrians more opportunities to cross and makes drivers more attentive.  He also says that signs instead of lights have a positive environmental impact.

“One of the down sides to signals that are not in warrant, in a lot of cases you have vehicles idling at intersections where they don’t need to. So you got additional vehicles burning additional fuel creating potential pollutants,” says Demory.

All of the pros and cons will be considered by the community as the dialog between residents, the council, and the Public Works Department continues in hopes of finding the best path forward for Kansas City’s traffic signs.

The 37 intersections

  • Bennington and 12th Street
  • Brooklyn and 18th Street
  • Jackson and Spruce
  • Monitor Place and 23rd Street/Avenida Cesar Chavez
  • Woodland and 18th Street
  • Benton and 27th Street
  • Brooklyn and 27th Street
  • Cleveland and 27th Street
  • Hardesty and 24th Street
  • Jackson and 27th Street
  • St. John and Belmont
  • St. John and Van Brunt
  • Benton and 39th Street
  • Brush Creek and Gillham Road/Harrison
  • Cleveland and 39th Street
  • Indiana and 39th Street
  • Meyer and Main
  • Meyer and Oak
  • 5100 block of Oak
  • State Line and 63rd Terrace
  • Wornall and 109th Street
  • Benton and 35th Street
  • Benton/Waldrond and Linwood
  • Cleveland and Linwood
  • Indiana and 35th Street
  • Jackson and Linwood
  • Armour and Holmes
  • Armour and Warwick
  • Brooklyn and 39th Street
  • Gregory and Main
  • Wornall and 50th Street
  • Paseo and 55th Street
  • Paseo and 59th Street

This story was produced for KC Currents, which airs Sundays at 5pm with a repeat Mondays at 8pm. To listen on your own schedule, subscribe to the KC Currents podcast.

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