Connecting Swope Study, initiative to make 71 Highway safer, nears completion

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — For more than a year, leaders around the metro have been studying ways to make 71 Highway safer.

The Connecting Swope Study is a joint effort from the KCATA, MARC, the City of KCMO and the Missouri Department of Transportation. 

It was initiated in May 2017 because of safety concerns, especially since the upcoming Prospect MAX bus line will draw many riders across the highway. 

The dangers of crossing are well known to the family of Jyra Hill, who was killed in January while crossing 71 at Gregory.

"One thing I know, my daughter was in the crosswalk, so she did follow that rule," Elena Hill, Jyra's mother, said.

Following the rules doesn't always ensure safety. 

From 2012 to 2016, there were 86 collisions involving pedestrians or cyclists in the Connecting Swope Study area. Ten percent of pedestrian crashes were fatal, which is 20 times the rate of fatalities in collisions between vehicles.

"Unfortunately, we've seen too many incidents over the years of crashes, fatalities along the highway with people trying to cross," KCATA Planning Manager Shawn Strate said.

Strate and other staff involved with the study identified possible solutions. Some are simple, like sidewalk and crosswalk improvements.

"We'll also be presenting some longer-term ideas for improving pedestrian safety. Things that might be very expensive but that we need to be looking at for the future," he said.

One of those ideas is adding overpasses or underpasses to 71 Highway, so pedestrians are completely separated from cars.

The final community feedback meeting will be held Tuesday from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Southeast Community Center. Study leaders will take public comments into account before presenting final recommendations. After that, the city, the KCATA and MoDOT would need to identify funding for the fixes. 

Jyra Hill's family is happy the issue is being studied. Until permanent changes are made, they're relying on something else for safety.

"Only thing I can think of is praying every time you walk out the door. Praying every time you get under the wheel. Praying when you cross the street, because lights and all that's not working," Elena Hill said.

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