Here and elsewhere, streets have become more hazardous for pedestrians

06/06/2014 11:29 PM

06/06/2014 11:29 PM

Tim Current knows better than most the perils of pedestrians.

Not once, but twice, Current has been hit by a car while jogging.

He came out OK both times: a bruised hip and knee from one accident and a bruised shin from the other. But he’s still jittery when he runs.

“I don’t feel safe at all,” said Current, an Overland Park resident who jogs 60 miles a month. “It’s just people not paying attention. They’re on their phones, they’re talking to other people in the car. They’re in a hurry.”

Current’s latest run-in, with a Mitsubishi Endeavor along College Boulevard, is emblematic of an emerging problem both here and across the nation.

The number of pedestrian accidents is climbing across the Kansas City region, up 7 percent in 2012 from 2008. Nationwide, pedestrian accidents — injuries and fatalities combined — are up 10 percent.

The statistics puzzle local transportation planners. The increases are occurring at the same time they are recording fewer deadly crashes involving drunk driving, distracted driving and aggressive driving.

More pedestrian crashes are a result of how we’ve developed, building wider roads designed more for moving traffic than ensuring safe pedestrians, said David Goldberg, spokesman for Smart Growth America, an anti-sprawl group.

“We have to go back and fix our streets so they’re safe for everybody,” Goldberg said.

A new study done by Smart Growth America recently ranked the most dangerous places for walking. Kansas City was 21st.

Area cities already are spending big bucks to narrow roads, widen sidewalks, enforce crosswalk zones and add signs to enhance safety. Prairie Village is even considering decoy pedestrians to nab drivers ignoring crosswalks.

The Mid-America Regional Council recently completed a study examining where pedestrian accidents occur, who’s likely to get hit, what time of day they might happen and the contributing causes.

The study found most of our pedestrian accidents are occurring within the urban core of downtown and the immediate suburbs.

The areas with the most pedestrian crashes per square mile occurred within the downtown highway loop along Independence Avenue and in areas from Midtown to the Country Club Plaza, the study found.

The study highlighted several areas with multiple pedestrian accidents:

Grand Avenue from 10th to 14th streets.

47th Street in the area of the Country Club Plaza.

Troost Avenue from 31st Street to Meyer Boulevard.

39th Street near the University of Kansas Medical Center.

Pedestrians on 39th Street near the medical center are cautious even though the area is well-marked with neon green signs, crosswalks and flashing yellow signals alerting motorists to stop for walkers.

Kathleen Ashwill of Overland Park crosses 39th Street daily to get to work at the KU School of Nursing. She already needs a cane for an arthritic knee, so 39th Street drivers present a challenge.

“I’ve been nearly hit several times,” she said. “Just as you get halfway across, some car just comes flying through.”

The MARC study noted that areas such as 39th Street are densely populated and near large employers, shopping areas and entertainment venues that might drive up accidents.

The study also dug into causes of those crashes. One alarming trend surfaced: Pedestrians might not be aware of their surroundings.

Many times, walkers share some of the blame. Inattention and a failure to yield to traffic were among the leading causes when pedestrians contributed to accidents.

Consider these examples from the police files:

At the end of May, a Kansas City woman suffered a scraped elbow when she was hit by a car as she darted out from behind a parked truck near the intersection of Truman Road and Bennington Avenue about 7:30 p.m.

Last July in Overland Park, a Jeep Grand Cherokee slammed into a 24-year-old Grandview man crossing Metcalf Avenue about 4:30 p.m. The pedestrian rolled onto the hood and off the side of the vehicle, and he suffered a “significant” head injury. Police said the man was jaywalking.

In May 2011, an Overland Park man jogging on 119th Street was hit by a driver leaving Menorah Medical Center about 11:30 a.m. The runner suffered numerous cuts and bruises. Police said the man should have yielded to the vehicle because it had a green light.

“The driver’s got some responsibility for paying attention to what’s going on while they are operating a motor vehicle,” said Ron Achelpohl, interimtransportation co-director for the Mid-America Regional Council. “But the pedestrian also has the responsibility to be aware of their environment.”

Cities already are responding to the increasing number of crashes.

One example in Kansas City is at the intersection of 46th Street and Main Street near the Country Club Plaza, where pedestrians can push a button triggering a flashing red signal instructing traffic to stop. There are others, including one at Meyer Boulevard and Troost Avenue.

Engineers credit the device, called a high-intensity activated crosswalk, with cutting pedestrian crashes at those intersections by nearly 70 percent in other cities.

Kansas City also has added about 200 pedestrian signals with countdown timers in the past 10 years. Police increased enforcement of crosswalk laws in 2009 after a spike in pedestrian crashes. In one day, officers wrote 122 tickets.

“We take pedestrian safety very seriously,” said Deb Ridgway, bicycle and pedestrian coordinator for Kansas City.

The city of Mission is spending about $11 million rebuilding Johnson Drive. When it’s done, the city’s main strip will be about 8 feet narrower, and sidewalks in some areas will be 10 feet wider or more.

The goal is to slow traffic through downtown Mission and build an urban environment more accommodating for pedestrians.

The city took similar steps to enhance pedestrian safety several years ago when it narrowed Nall Avenue to three lanes from four while adding a wider sidewalk on one side of the street.

“We ignored pedestrian safety for so many years as suburbs were getting built,” said Martin Rivarola, Mission’s community development director.

“Now, people are saying, ‘I want to walk to the grocery store or walk my dog, and I don’t want to be walking in the street.’ We hear that a lot.”

Prairie Village, too, has been responding to complaints about cars ignoring pedestrians. The city has posted oversized public works signs warning motorists to stop for pedestrians in the crosswalk. It also installed a flashing beacon near a city park alerting drivers to pedestrians in a crosswalk.

Responding to resident complaints, Prairie Village police have done some limited crosswalk enforcement at times when children walk to school.

Because crosswalk enforcement is difficult — the car and the pedestrian don’t always arrive at the same time — Prairie Village police are looking at using decoy pedestrians to get tough with motorists.

At heart, though, the problem in the Kansas City area might be more than just engineering and enforcement. Residents are so car-centered that they’re not sensitive to pedestrian safety, transportation planners and police said.

“Education is needed across the region,” Kansas City’s Ridgway said. “I can’t tell you how many times I see drivers don’t yield to a pedestrian. That’s a basic driving law, but how many of us don’t do that?”

To reach Brad Cooper, call 816-234-7724 or send email to bcooper@kcstar.com.

Profile of a Kansas City pedestrian crash

Data show:

Victim is most likely to be a male

Most likely age group: 20-24 years old

Most likely time: 3 to 4 p.m.

Most likely day: Friday

Most likely month: May

Likely to be on dry pavement

Likely to be in clear weather

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