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August Is The Deadliest Month For Kansas City Pedestrians In 2018

Hubert Figuière

When a pedestrian was struck and killed in a hit-and-run along Interstate 435 near Highway 350 on Monday, the Kansas City Metro hit a grim milestone for the month.

"By our counts, there have been four pedestrians who have been killed. That makes August the deadliest month in 2018," Michael Kelley, policy coordinator for the advocacy group Bike Walk KC, told host Gina Kaufmann on KCUR's Central Standard.

Pedestrian safety is a growing concern in Kansas City, where a culture of commuting via car clashes with walkability. According to data provided by the Mid-America Regional Council, pedestrian fatalities have been on the rise, with a total of 36 deaths in 2017. 

Policy changes could create shorter sidewalks and more visible crosswalks, Kelley said, creating conditions where "negative interactions ... between pedestrians and drivers" would be less likely.

So what makes a crosswalk feel dangerous for pedestrians? Earlier in the week, Kaufmann asked Central Standard listeners via Twitter to name crosswalks they feel are dangerous in Kansas City. Here's a map of those responses:

(Map by Coy Dugger, KCUR 89.3)

While listeners cited intersections throughout the Metro, several referred to crosswalks in Midtown shopping districts such as Westport and the Plaza.

Kaufmann spoke with Deborah Reynolds about the challenges of walking around Broadway and Westport Road.

"Drivers don't always respect the fact that even though it's 'turn on red,' it does say for us to go," Reynolds said.

Crossing a busy street is always a risk. Reynolds said she has a strategy in place to negotiate safe passage with drivers. 

"I look at them. If I'm halfway out there, I stop and look at them, like 'Hey, I'm out here,'" Reynolds said. "If you look at them and see eye-to-eye contact, you can figure out what they're going to do."

Eye contact is key to Rhianna Weilert, a Kansas City resident who said she has not owned a car in four years and prefers to commute downtown via foot. Weilert also uses the Twitter handle, @KCPedestrian.

"Eye contact is so important. Sometimes you'll be walking and you kind of know (drivers) are looking for traffic," Weilert told said. "And then they happen to see you, and you can see they're kind of surprised. Then they'll slam on their brakes and let you go."

The tense moment of negotiation isn't always in favor of the pedestrian, however. Drivers have a rather threatening bargaining chip in the form of a two-ton mass of metal.

"I've encountered a lot of drivers who are frustrated that because they're turning and you're walking, they have to wait for you to cross the street," said Weilert. "I've had drivers look me dead in the eye and drive straight at me because they don't want to wait and they're frustrated at the situation."

While the walkability of Kansas City is seemingly hindered by a culture of driving, Weilert said the city has made improvements for pedestrians in the past few years.

"I think there was something (the city) did about street harassment, which was a major issue. I've seen it get a lot better," she said.

Bike Walk KC's Kelley noted that the city's Complete Streets ordinance, passed last December, provides a framework for Kansas City to develop a multi-modal transportation network that is more inclusive for people who choose to walk or bike.

"There are a number of guidelines that it sets out that whenever there is major re-construction or roadwork that needs to be done," Kelley said. "The city has to follow those guidelines to really get an idea of how they're supposed to redevelop that with pedestrians, cyclists and other vulnerable road users in mind."

Listen to the full conversation here.

Coy Dugger is an assistant producer for KCUR's Central Standard. Reach out to him at coy@kcur.org.

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