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Kansas City Wants To Eliminate Traffic Deaths Even As Other Cities Struggle To Reach That Goal

Alex Smith
KCUR 89.3
The recent death of a well known cyclist has prompted city officials to take a closer look at traffic fatalities in Kansas City.

The Kansas City Council this week will discuss an ambitious proposal to eliminate all traffic deaths by 2030.

The measure, dubbed Vision Zero, was introduced following the death of a well-known Kansas City cyclist late last year.

The strategy, first implemented in Sweden in the 1990s, has seen success in Europe, but American cities that have followed suit have struggled to lower traffic fatalities.

Michael Kelley with Bike Walk KC says Vision Zero starts with a basic philosophy.

“Because we know the ways that we can keep traffic crashes and fatalities from happening, we have to come to the conclusion that none of them are acceptable,” Kelley tells KCUR.

According to Kansas City police, the city typically has between 60 and 80 deaths each year from traffic crashes.

Chicago, San Francisco, Denver and Los Angeles are among the dozens of cities across the country that have adopted similar policies.

But according to analysis from CityLab, cities are having mixed results. While some, like San Francisco and New York City, have reduced traffic deaths, other cities have seen fatalities remain flat and in some cases increase.

Funding battles and half-baked plans have made gains difficult.

Councilman Eric Bunch, who is sponsoring Kansas City’s Vision Zero resolution, acknowledges other cities have stumbled.

“There’s always fights over money, and priorities are different district to district… so Vision Zero has become politicized rather than strategic,” Bunch says.

Ten years may be a short time frame for eliminating traffic deaths, but it’s a long time in city government, so a future city council may not have the same goals.

But Bunch says Kansas City already has dedicated infrastructure funding in the form of an $800 million general obligation bond for infrastructure improvements over 20 years.

“We have a pretty sizable five-year capital improvement budget through the [General Obligation] bond… that provides a lot of money for street improvements,” Bunch says.

He says implementing quick fixes doesn’t have to be expensive — especially if the city uses data to identify where projects have the most impact. His plan would require that a working group come up with five projects that can be implanted rapidly.

“Going from four lanes to two or three lanes is one of the most effective things that we can do first for traffic safety, and that's often just paint. We could use plastic flex posts and planter boxes and things to help slow traffic down. Those are things that we can do quickly and inexpensively,” Bunch says.

Still, as Kansas City closes out another year with more than 150 homicides, garnering support for such an ambitious goal could be a challenge.

Lisa Rodriguez is a reporter and newscaster for KCUR 89.3. Follow her on Twitter @larodrig.

Slow news days are a thing of the past. As KCUR’s news director, I want to cut through the noise, provide context to the headlines, and give you news you can use in your daily life – information that will empower you to make informed decisions about your neighborhood, your city and the region. Email me at lisa@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @larodrig.
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