Media depictions of “bikes versus cars” are missing the point: Kansas City’s streets are deadly

This weekend, we were disappointed to see another piece in the Kansas City Star with a “bikes versus cars” narrative. Rather than pitting motorists against people who walk, bike, or use a wheelchair, we should instead be focusing on creating thoughtfully designed, carefully implemented built environments, based on the input of a diverse cross-section of community members, to make our streets safer for all road users.

Traffic deaths are as much of an epidemic as homicides

BikeWalkKC, our members, and our partners will continue to speak up for safer streets for people who walk, bike, or use public transit. Traffic deaths are as much of an epidemic as homicides, but receive much less attention. Injuries and deaths among people walking and biking disproportionately impact low-income communities and communities of color, especially on Kansas City’s East Side and along the Independence Avenue corridor. Many parts of these neighborhoods have up to 50% of households without access to a car — so safe access to transit and places to walk or bike are critical for access to jobs, education, and other key destinations.

Bike paths are just one element of Complete Streets, which represent an opportunity to build the sort of walkable, bikeable, transit-oriented, connected, and sustainable neighborhoods that can make our city better. Complete Streets include elements that make our communities healthier, more equitable, more sustainable, more economically viable, and safer, and the KCMO Council unanimously approved a Complete Streets Ordinance in December 2017.

We take issue with the narrative that bike lanes are for affluent people to move through a community, rather than something for the people who live in the community. People of color, the homeless, youth, and elderly are all disproportionately impacted by traffic violence. That is why it was disappointing to see a continued focus on a few outspoken people of privilege, not on the individuals struggling every day to move around the city to get to jobs, get their kids to school, or get to basic services like health care. 

It’s about life and death

There is a real cost for our collective decision to not invest in multimodal transportation, especially in neighborhoods that have suffered systemic disinvestment for decades. It includes the life of Mark Hovey, who was killed by a motorist while waiting for the bus at 67th and Troost. It includes the anguish of the family of Anthony Saluto, who buried their son after he was struck and killed by a reckless driver while biking home from work on Independence Avenue. Yet it also includes LaShanda Temple, who survived her ordeal with a hit-and-run driver on Benton Boulevard, but lost one of her legs in the crash.

Their stories, and the stories of those who continue to navigate an unsafe, disconnected, and ineffective transportation system, should be amplified, not disregarded.  Creating complete streets that accommodate all transportation modes will reduce traffic fatalities, improve community connectivity, and make travel through our city safer for all. It’s time to tell that story.

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