With traffic deaths rising at record pace, KC to spend $4 million to make roads safer

With traffic deaths rising rapidly, Kansas City leaders gathered in the Brookside Neighborhood Wednesday morning to announce the city has dedicated $4 million to its Vision Zero initiative to make roads safer.

Kansas City’s government is committed to ensuring the city roads are safer for everyone, whether walking, driving, cycling or any other form of transit, said Mayor Quinton Lucas during a news conference.

“Vision Zero was designed to eliminate fatalities and serious injuries on Kansas City streets by 2030 while increasing safe, healthy and equitable mobility for all,” Lucas said. “The improvements include traffic calming, leading pedestrian intervals, protected mobility lanes, speed humps, curb extensions and more.”

Many of those safety enhancements can be found in Brookside, including along 63rd Street, which recently underwent a road diet, reducing the number of lanes and adding enhanced sidewalks, curbs and diagonal parking. A signalized light and crosswalk were added to protect pedestrians, runners and bicyclists using the Trolley Track Trail as they cross 63rd Street.

“Safety feels like being able to walk down this street and feel safe that you’re not going to be hit by a car . . .,” said Councilman Johnathan Duncan. “Since we’ve had this road diet as part of our Vision Zero plan, it feels safer.”

Kansas City has 300 Vision Zero projects completed or underway. It also touts having more than 30 miles of lanes that protect people on bikes, scooters, foot or other modes of mobility from traffic.

Last year, there were 102 traffic deaths, just one shy of the record of 103 deaths set in 2020. Last year’s traffic fatalities included 20 pedestrians and 18 motorcyclists.

Thus far, Kansas City is on pace to exceed the record this year. So far this year, there have been 47 fatalities, which is up 38% from 34 deaths for the same period last year.

“We recognize that accidental deaths are unacceptable, whether they be pedestrian or roadway fatalities, whether they be homicides in our city, fentanyl overdoses or anything under the sun,” Lucas said. “Kansas City government is committed to ensuring that people can be safe in our city, live long and healthy lives. Our investment in Vision Zero is one area that helps us do that.”

‘We have quite a ways to go’

Councilman Eric Bunch said he came to the news conference with mixed emotions because while they were celebrating the $4 million investment, the city is on pace for another record year for traffic fatalities.

“These deaths that we experience on our city streets are not accidents. They are preventable,” Bunch said.

Over the past 100 years, leaders have carved out the city to make way for the automobile and make it easier to flee from the city in vehicles through historic and vibrant neighborhoods, Bunch said, at the expense of the people who live there.

“This is traffic violence. It is something that disproportionately affects pedestrians who don’t have the luxury of a steel cage wrapped around them,” Bunch said. “It disproportionately affects people of low wealth because they have less access to automobiles. It disproportionately affects people of color because of historic institutional racism. So we have to do better.”

The city has the tools and the data to make the necessary changes, so it’s time to put the money where its mouth is and prevent unnecessary traffic violence and deaths, Bunch said.

While celebrating the $4 million funding, Mayor Pro-Tem Ryana Parks-Shaw, whose district has three of Kansas City’s five most dangerous intersections, encouraged the city to do more.

“I look at this as an initial step, but we have quite a ways to go,” Parks-Shaw said.