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How a group of artists is making these Kansas City intersections brighter and safer

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Artist painting pedestrian median in the Independence Plaza neighborhood in historic Northeast
Duron Netsell
Street Smarts Design + Build
A Kansas City artist paints a pedestrian median near Independence Plaza in Kansas City's historic Northeast neighborhood.

A Kansas City design firm is using artwork and nature to prioritize people instead of cars at intersections across the metro. The goal is to reduce pedestrian injuries and fatalities.

A Kansas City design firm is taking asphalt art to dangerous intersections across the city in an effort to reduce traffic fatalities across the city.

Riding the success of their initial design concept at the Midtown intersection of Westport Road and Wyandotte, Street Smart Design + Build are improving streets in two other metro neighborhoods.

As of August 4, Kansas City has seen 15 pedestrian fatalities in 2022, according to KCTV 5.

Principal founder of Street Smart, DuRon Netsell, is promoting a concept called traffic calming, which uses curb extensions to create a funnel into the intersection for incoming traffic, slowing speeds considerably. Colorful art painted directly on the asphalt also serves to extend curbs and make the intersection more vibrant.

Reclaiming 4,500 square feet of pavement from motor vehicles, the Westport space is filled with half-ton boulders and native trees in poly-resin planters. The paint is 100% acrylic for durability and the color palette is limited to maintain a uniform color scheme for projects.

“The first aspect of our design there and often in many intersections is creating a four-way stop. So we're forcing cars to stop before they move through the pod, through the intersection, which forces them to move in much slower rate,” Netsell told KCUR’s Up To Date. “It gives pedestrians the priority and it makes it safer for everyone in Westport.”

The program started with a $25,000 grant to upgrade the Westport intersection. Now, they have $250,000 to expand to other intersections across the city.

Street Smart has been with Midtown KC Now, the Kansas City Artist Coalition, and other community groups. Local artists can submit their work to a community selection panel curated from the neighborhoods involved.

Once the selections are made, the artist consults with neighborhood associations to create a design unique to them.

The Lykins and Independence Plaza neighborhoods became the newest builds outside of Westport, where they started with a simple concept to improve the lives of citizens who used public transit in that community.

“Since we’ve been observing 12th and Benton every day, we've been watching people stand at the bus stop and it's just heartbreaking to see people standing in the sun,” Netsell said. “So we built two bus stop benches and asked one of the runner up artists who was not selected for the asphalt to paint her design on that bench or those two benches.”

An additional upgrade to that neighborhood for pedestrians are two median islands that provide a respite within the busy intersection for non-drivers.

The company's overall goal is to think about the pedestrian first — making Kansas City neighborhoods safer for non-drivers.

“We decreased average traffic speeds by 45 percent and reduced the crossing distance in half for our pedestrians,” said Netsell. “An interesting bit of data is we also lowered the average noise of the intersection by about 11 decibels."

Learning lessons from the initial project, they are now incorporating more sustainable paints and protection methods to extend the life spans of each design.

“Our crew came in and we sealed the asphalt with the driveway sealer. And so the combination of that along with the expensive paint, I think is gonna allow this artwork to last quite some time,” said Netsell.

Now that they have secured funding for the Westport design to become permanent, Netsell hopes to secure more funding for additional temporary projects, since they only cost a tenth of construction cost for permanent design builds.

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As senior producer of Up To Date, I want our listeners to hear familiar and new voices that shine light on the issues and challenges facing the myriad communities KCUR serves, and to expose our audiences to the wonderful and the creative in the Kansas City area. Just as important to me is an obligation to mentor the next generation of producers to ensure that the important conversations continue. Reach me at alexanderdk@kcur.org.
As Up To Date’s senior producer, I construct daily conversations that give our listeners context to the issues of our time. I strive to provide a platform that holds those in power accountable, while also spotlighting the voices of Kansas City’s creatives and visionaries that may otherwise go unheard. Email me at zach@kcur.org.
As KCUR’s race and culture reporter, I work to help readers and listeners build meaningful and longstanding relationships with the many diverse cultures that make up the Kansas City metro. I deliver nuanced stories about the underrepresented communities that call our metro home, and the people whose historically-overlooked contributions span politics, civil rights, business, the arts, sports and every other realm of our daily lives.
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