Kansas City is changing roads to make life harder for reckless drivers and street racers
In neighborhoods like Power & Light and the Crossroads, where stunt driving and car sideshows have become a nuisance, city crews are installing small black discs that are meant to disrupt the movement of sliding or skidding tires.
David Johnson lives at the corner of 19th Street and Baltimore. It’s an intersection where residents see a lot of illegal street parties and stunt driving.
“It's kind of impossible to not notice a car squealing in your intersection near your home,” Johnson says. “So, if it's happening, I'm hearing it. And what's interesting now is that the crowds seem to have increased.”
Recently, Kansas City began installing devices that officials hope will deter those illegal activities, which police say have increased in number and turned deadly in recent years.
Three people have been killed in the past two months in activities related to street racing or sideshows, says Kansas City Police Traffic Division Commander Major Dave Jackson. Two were participants, while one was a pedestrian who was struck when a driver tried to flee the scene.
“These selfish actors that are participating in this are taking away people's ability to use the streets and the bike lanes for what they were designed to be used for,” Jackson says.
Jackson describes the deterrents as “pucks.” They look like small black discs embedded in the road at intersections, and are intended to disrupt cars from sliding or skidding on the pavement.
Several neighborhoods notorious for street racing, including Power and Light and the Crossroads, have already seen the deterrents installed.
“We've had tenants that live in apartments all around the city that can't sleep at night because these engines rev so loud,” he says.
Jackson says most people who are riding a bike or driving normally won’t even notice -- the pucks stick up less than an inch above the surface of the street and measure approximately four inches across.
Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas says the city’s open spaces draw these kinds of activities.
“It is fair to say Kansas City builds some very large streets and boulevards and it was part of our City Beautiful movement of the 1920s,” Lucas says. “The negative, of course, is that you have these spaces that are great for people that want to do either stunt driving, spin outs, any number of things.”
Johnson, who sits on the Crossroads Community Association Board of Directors, is hopeful the deterrents will stop what’s becoming a nuisance along Southwest Boulevard.
“There’s quite a few offices that are kind of up against the sidewalks,” he says. “And so, so one false move and you're landing inside a restaurant full of people.”
In addition to bothering residents, the sideshows and racing are also damaging to infrastructure like bike lanes and walkway.
Lucas says the pucks make for an inexpensive response — the city purchased the devices for less than $100,000, and integrated their installation into other street resurfacing projects.
“I think it is a smart first step,” he says. “Because what we don't want is one officer-alone patrol car intervening in a crowd of hundreds of people, many of whom are often armed in connection with these types of activities.”
In May 2021, Kansas City Council passed an ordinance that created stiffer penalties for street racing and sideshows, including a $150 fine for first-time offenders and up to 30 days in jail. Vehicles used in these activities could be impounded as well, and spectators of street racing activities could be fined up to $100.
Lucas says the city has been looking for ways to deter the activity without infringing on people’s ability to move around the city.
“We will never accept hooliganism in the streets,” he says. “And there is certainly crime prevention through law enforcement. We've seen enhanced activity there, but there's also crime prevention through environmental design. And that's the work that we're trying to do.”