Amid pedestrian deaths, advocates and planners push for change

Posted at 3:57 PM, Jan 29, 2018
and last updated 2018-01-29 20:01:31-05

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Jyra Hill was walking home Friday night, a snack for her son in hand, when she was hit and killed at Highway 71 and Gregory.

"She said momma I'll be back, and I said okay. She walked out the door, and at 11:30 my stomach balled up so tight," Elena Hill, Jyra's mother, said.

Hill was just 25-years-old with plans to become an accountant. 

Her favorite role in life arrived 8 years ago, when she became a mother to Jire.

"She loved me good," the boy said with tears streaming down his cheeks.

Hill was one of three pedestrians killed over the weekend in Kansas City.

"She didn't deserve to get run over and treated like nothing. She was somebody. She was somebody," Hill's mother said.

What needs to change?

"I think we have a long way to go for people to feel safe, completely safe, walking around in Kansas City," BikeWalkKC Policy Director Eric Bunch said.

Members of the nonprofit found themselves drafting a press release on Monday in response to the deadly weekend.

"These types of crashes are preventable, but they're not preventable by simply critiquing what the pedestrian is wearing or blaming the pedestrian for being distracted," Bunch added.

According to Bunch and other advocates, these crashes also aren't preventable by simply telling drivers to slow down or pay attention.

"The way we design our roads is the critical factor," City Planner Joe Blankenship said.

Blankenship, along with other members of the city's planning department, is working to rewrite the Bike KC plan. 

On Thursday from 6 to 8 p.m. at Alphapointe, the city, MoDOT and MARC will host a community meeting to gather feedback about pedestrian issues along Prospect and 71 Highway. Both areas were the sites of crashes over the weekend.

"I'm glad that we're studying this issue. I wish that we had been able to study this issue and implement some recommendations before these two hit and runs," Blankenship said.

Road Diets: One Potential Solution

Although advocates agree the issues are systemic, there are some changes that can easily be made on streets across the city.

One such solution is called a "road diet." It's a term used to describe lane reductions on roads that can make more room for pedestrians and slow down traffic.

"When there's room for more cars that generally means cars are free-flowing and their field of vision is more narrow, so there's greater likelihood for speeding," Blankenship explained. 

This fix was implemented along 20th Street in the Crossroads district. Instead of four lanes, there are now just three. The sidewalk was expanded, and bike lanes line both sides of the street. 

Blankenship described 20th as a model street in Kansas City. BikeWalkKC's Eric Bunch hopes the road diet fix can be implemented elsewhere in the city.

"That's a cheap fix. Anytime the street gets resurfaced, we could restripe it in a way that makes it safer," Bunch said.

You can find out more about the city's plans to make streets safer for cyclists and walkers here.