Kansas City Bicycle Log

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Friday, December 20, 2002
Bike tour of Raytown Christmas lights . . .
My six-year-old son, Jonathan, and I decided to take advantage of a nice 60-degree December evening and take a bike tour of the Christmas lights near our home in Raytown. Click here for photos and ride report . . .

Friday, December 13, 2002
Highway 71 Pedestrian Deaths
A while ago I wrote a little harangue to the list about KC being rated the 20th-most dangerous city in the US for pedestrians. Some of you made the mistake of encouraging me, so I edited my comments a little and they appeared this week in Kansas City infoZine:


More or less by chance I singled out 71 Hwy as being about the biggest, baddest pedestrian problem in the area. There have been 3 very serious pedestrian accidents near 71 and Gregory Ave in about the last month. One of the victims died Friday. I believe that means that two of the accidents were fatalities (I may be wrong because I often don't catch the follow-up news reports). You can read more news reports on this topic at:


I drive 71 Hwy occasionally and, more often, cross it on my way east or west. So just on general principle I thought I had a good idea of why the area is so dangerous for pedestrians.

But on my bike ride Saturday I decided to examine the entire area carefully from the pedestrian's perspective.

What I saw confirms my worst suspicions about the cause of the problems.

Basically this is a pedestrian killing zone and until something fundamentally different is done, pedestrians will continue to die here.

The results are very predictable. The news reports give the impression that pedestrians are just crawling under fences and running around willy-nilly over the road, but in fact it is clear that pedestrians are crossing at places and in ways that are perfectly logical for pedestrians and the alternatives that officials want to foist on the pedestrians make trips unacceptably longer and not much safer.

The problem area of 71 Hwy is between about 55th street and Gregory. Here, by court order (a lawsuit brought by neighborhood activists--I don't know the details of it, does anyone?), Hwy 71 must have traffic lights and at-grade crossings.

I think what the neighborhood activists may have had in mind is that traffic here would slow down and become more a part of the neighborhood--much like what Hwy 291 does Lee's Summit, when it changes from being a controlled-access freeway, very fast moving, to being an urban arterial with much slower traffic, traffic lights, and business districts, then back to being a "highway" again south of town.

Unfortunately, in the case of Hwy 71, the result was not anything like that. Instead, it is a freeway with a couple of traffic lights plopped in the middle of it. Drivers react accordingly, driving at ultra-high speeds and racing off the 'starting line' as the light turns green to "make up lost time".

I have to say that I have seen some aggressive driving in my life. But standing on the corner of Gregory and Hwy 71 I saw BY FAR the most aggressive driving I can EVER recall seeing.

I was standing by the pole for the traffic signal, perhaps 3 or 4 feet from the side of the road, when the light for the southbound lanes turned green. There were perhaps 30-50 cars lined up in three lanes of traffic. Speed limit is 45 MPH.

The first cars through were going a somewhat reasonable speed by the time they passed me. But by the time the LAST cars that had been waiting at the light passed me, they were uniformly traveling at 55-65MPH.

It reminded me a lot of the start of the Indy 500.

This is just a little frightening when you're standing just a few feet away.

My wife thinks (and she is probably right) that drivers don't like stoplights in the middle of their freeway. So as soon as it turns green they just floor it try to resume their interrupted "driving experience" as quickly as possible. At any rate, the aggressive driving was not by a few individual nutcases. It was by basically every vehicle on the road.

What we have here is a freeway with crosswalks. That just won't work no matter how you slice it.

It strikes me that there are two possibilities here: Hwy 71 can either become a real controlled access freeway, with at-grade street crossings at Gregory, 59th, 55th, etc., converted to overpasses, AND with sufficient pedestrian over- or underpasses added in places where trails worn in the median already show--without the need for any further analysis--that there is more than sufficient demand.

(According to what I've heard, this kind of conversion is very unlikely, because of the court order--the at-grade crossings are probably here to stay.)

Or--it can become what the neighborhood and court almost certainly envisioned: a road that integrates with the neighborhood with slower speed limits that are strictly enforced, real, safe accommodations for pedestrians (not the bare minimum accommodations now present), more pedestrian crosswalks that are clearly marked with signals (these could be synchronized with existing traffic lights leading to essentially zero effect on the traffic flow), and basically a complete change of character in the road, from the freeway it is on either end of this stretch.

This might not be all that pleasant for the motorists who are cruising in from Lee's Summit and Grandview to do their Christmas shopping on the Plaza. It might add as much as 3 minutes to their trip.

But right now they're buying those 3 minutes with people's lives. That can't be allowed to continue.

More later, if you can stand it . . .


Hwy 71
Some of the "other side of the story" on Hwy 71 is here:

(including backups as much as 30 blocks caused by the stoplights . . . )

Another "other side" is that, despite the severe problems in certain areas, the overpasses over 71 generally have rather nice pedestrian accommodations--I understand the one at Meyer Blvd was even up for an award of some sort. Overpasses on, say, the I-70 corridor often don't have anything of the sort.

So on the one hand, Hwy 71 was a step forward. At least pedestrian needs are being considered rather than totally ignored! But just in the place where Hwy 71 is supposed to be "friendliest" and where pedestrian access is most in demand, the highway is the most dangerous for pedestrians . . .