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KC group sounds alarm on spike in traffic fatalities

cycle track kcmo.jpeg
Posted at 6:39 AM, Jul 07, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-07 08:04:21-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — There have been fewer cars on the roads due to stay-at-home orders which were in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but the number of fatal car crashes has gone up.

In 2020, data from the Missouri State Highway Patrol shows fatal traffic crashes are up roughly 15 percent compared to the same time frame in 2019, with 450 so far this year compared to 390 last year.

The numbers apply to Kansas City, Missouri, as well. So far in 2020, the police department report 51 traffic fatalities. In all of 2019, there were 78.

KCPD traffic fatalities.jpg
Kansas City, Missouri, police shared data about traffic fatalities between 2010 and 2020.

Michael Kelley admits is almost sounds contradictory that fewer cars on the road have resulted in more fatalities.

Kelley, who is the policy manager for BikeWalk KC, offered an explanation: Speed kills.

He said the drivers who have been on the roads are driving faster because there is less traffic. But higher speeds result in more severe crashes.

“We’ve built our streets so that it is very easy for drivers to speed,” Kelley explained. “And especially in the age of the coronavirus, with fewer cars on the road, that encourages people to speed even more.”

Numbers from the police department back up Kelley’s claim. KCPD said it saw speeding violations soar during the pandemic.

The police department said a car speeding down Main Street while racing another car hit and killed a woman last month. The suspected driver turned themselves in and the investigation remains open.

Kelley said there are a few solutions to keep everyone on the road safe.

First, a concept called Vision Zero. The city adopted the goal in May. Vision Zero is a nationwide effort to change the infrastructure in order to have zero traffic fatalities. The city’s goal is to reach zero by the year 2030.

Next, it will appoint a task force to create an action plan and present it to the city council by December 1, 2020.

“When we make our streets safer for people who walk, people who use transit and people who bike, we inevitably will make it safer for everyone, including drivers,” Kelley pointed out.

A second solution is putting a focus on complete streets.

In 2017, Kansas City adopted an ordinance to prioritize complete streets. This year, the city installed a cycle track along Gilliam Plaza between Armour and Linwood boulevards. The track creates a protected lane for bicyclists and, in theory, forces car drivers to slow down.

“When it’s harder for people to speed, it’s much harder for them to cause the types of crashes that can injure themselves or kill someone else,” Kelley said.

Bike lanes haven’t come without critics. Several drivers say a bike lane along Amour Boulevard has blocked the line of sight for drivers.

Kansas is at the same pace of deadly car crashes in 2020 compared to the same time period in 2019.