City hosts community discussion on PIAC funded St. John traffic calming

On Thursday, Dec. 17, Northeast residents, business owners and stakeholders had the opportunity to give input on the St. John Avenue Traffic Calming Project from Elmwood Avenue to Belmont Boulevard.

The project was awarded funding through a 2019 PIAC request that was approved for $500,000 in fiscal year 2020. While requests for additional grant funding were submitted this past summer, they were not awarded. 

HDR, an Omaha-based engineering firm was selected for the project this summer.

The PIAC request was for five intersections along St. John: Elmwood Avenue, Van Brunt Boulevard, Quincy, Denver and Topping Avenues. These intersections were prioritized because of pedestrian traffic and their proximity to parks, schools or community centers.

There are three main components to the project: an engineering study with public involvement and engagement, preparation of construction plans, and construction. HDR was scheduled to begin the traffic study and data collection in September and conclude them in January 2021. The studies document traffic speeds, all-day traffic counts by hour, peak-hour intersection counts, street inventory and five years of crash data.

Peak-hour intersection counts include pedestrian and bike traffic. Street inventory measures widths, parking, driveways, curb ramps, curb radii, traffic control measures and lanes. Additionally, school schedules, speed limits, zoning and land use are considered.

The first public meeting, originally planned as a walk-about event along the corridor, occurred virtually, with participants completing a series of surveys as the project team guided them down the corridor via a shared Google Maps screen.

In January 2021 a draft set of recommendations and sketch are scheduled to be presented ahead of the second virtual public meeting in February. The full project design and actual construction of the traffic calming measures will occur after the study portion is completed. Final recommendations and report are due in March 2021.

Solutions being evaluated include traffic circles, bulb outs and medians, striping modifications, speed limit  changes and increased signage, optical narrowing and speed feedback signs.

The project team asked members of the community in attendance what they viewed as the primary safety concerns along the corridor, specifying trouble spots or intersections, and other concerns the project team should know about moving forward. 

Residents noted that at the Elmwood traffic signals, cars accelerate to cut off drivers at the stoplight, and it is an intersection with a lot of pedestrian traffic due to its proximity to shops and Healing House.

Though sideshows have caught the attention of those downtown in recent weeks, they have been a consistent nuisance in Northeast for years. At Van Brunt, which is considerably wider due to its boulevard status, sideshows and donuts are common. With its proximity to Gladstone Elementary, Northeast Middle and High Schools, pedestrian traffic is heavy when school is in session. The project team polled the audience on raised sidewalks versus speed tables or bumps, and bump outs to narrow the intersection.

There were mixed feelings from the audience about the current bulb outs, or curbs that extend into the streets to calm traffic, near Budd Park and their effectiveness. One concern that was raised with bulb outs was making sure they are visible with snow over the top for plows. Residents also noted that in the past, the Kansas City Fire Department has had trouble at intersections with a narrow turning radius in the historic neighborhood.

Due to the church and food pantry between Oakley and Lawndale on St. John, there is a lot of foot traffic and frequent loitering in or near the street. Oakley is the only side street east of Hardesty that travels north from Independence Avenue to St. John Avenue. All the other side streets are one way south or are truncated by a business corridor at Wilson Road.

Business owners on St. John Avenue offered feedback about cars picking up speed heading down the hill on St. John east of Hardesty, whether to drag race or unintentionally. The intersection at Hardesty and St. John was noted as one with a lot of impatience, and with sightline issues.

That speeding reaches a head, sometimes near 60 or 70 mph, at St. John and Topping, or Lawndale. Mattie Rhodes Center and James School both have families and children crossing at those intersections where residents voiced concerns over the need for traffic calming measures.

Bellaire has visibility issues from semi truck deliveries, one resident noted. The loading dock

was designed for box trucks to load on North Bellaire, but semis frequently park on St. John and block visibility from people turning off of North Bellaire onto St. John Avenue.

Residents were also asked to share ideas they have about ways to calm traffic during the hour long discussion. Since both this community input session and the one scheduled for early 2021 are virtual, residents requested the project team reach out directly to residents and businesses on St. John Avenue, whether through door hangers, flyers or surveys.

The team will be assessing the effectiveness of four-way stops along the corridor and consider flashing lights or signage to help, and considering bringing back traffic signals at some intersections.

Residents seemed interested in adding smaller or temporary traffic calming measures in more locations rather than fewer large installations, making sure to spread the funds out along the corridor and not letting one intersection eat all the funds. Discussion included adding flowers, trees or other beautifying elements to the bulb outs at Budd Park, such as artistic paintings or street murals that assist in traffic calming. While Northeast neighborhoods have had trouble getting such projects approved in the past, Green said a new approval system, the Paint the Pavement Policy will be put in place soon.

The project team noted that KCATA is interested in piloting bus bulb outs if a painted bike facility is implemented to reduce the conflict between bikes and buses. They will consider striping bus lanes and reducing speed limits. There will be intentional coordination with crossing guards and school districts to learn routes to school patterns at Elmwood, Van Brunt, Topping, Lawndale, and others.

Those who were unable to attend the meeting can direct their ideas, questions and concerns to Project Manager Mario Vasquez at Mario.Vasquez@KCMO.org or Public Information Officer Maggie Green at Maggie.Green@KCMO.org.The project website is https://www.kcmo.gov/Home/Components/FacilityDirectory/FacilityDirectory/211/360.

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