“It prevents me from being independent” Neighborhood walk auditors evaluate I-70 corridor with MoDOT and consultants

We often say that once you take a walk with BikeWalkKC, you can never just “go for a walk” again. Once you notice how street trees shade a neighborhood, or how uneven pavement makes a sidewalk unusable, you will always consider how our built environment either divides or connects our communities.

This awareness will help you understand what thousands of Kansas Citians already know.

“As a wheelchair user, I encounter mobility issues all the time,” says Tony Waterhouse-Leal, who lives near Prospect and I-70. “It doesn't just prevent me from getting to the store, it also prevents me from being independent and living life to the fullest, which for me is very important as a person with a disability who is a wheelchair user. Sometimes you just want to get out and explore and enjoy the weather.”

Tony, Sheila and Paxton, and Travis navigate around a broken driveway approach near Prospect and 13th St.

Jamie and Matthew pause to take notes after crossing a busy ramp onto I-70.

Tony joined a recent walk audit organized by BikeWalkKC in support of MoDOT’s Improve I-70 KC project. Neighbors, Councilperson Melissa Robinson, advocates from Black Men Run Kansas City, the Metropolitan Organization to Counter Sexual Assault (MOCSA), The Whole Person, KCMO and MoDOT city staff, along with consultants from TREKK and Parson + Associates evaluated key intersections along I-70 from a human’s perspective. Participants observed and noted sidewalk and street conditions, intersections, traffic controls like stop signs and signals, accessibility for people with disabilities, and street lighting.

Sheila Styron, Public Policy Specialist at The Whole Person, walked with her guide dog Paxton. “I should hear a beeping ‘locate tone’ as I approach the walk button that will tell me when I should cross the street. Crossing the street is even more hazardous if the accessible pedestrian signal is malfunctioning or the volume is too low to compete with the ambient traffic noise.” This can be especially dangerous when she is trying to cross an intersection that includes on-ramps and off-ramps to a noisy interstate like I-70.

Jamie Guyer lives and works in the neighborhood, and she started biking to work regularly when her car needed an unexpected and extensive repair. She enjoys riding, but illegal dumping and streets and sidewalks in poor repair are significant safety concerns. “My dream is to see my neighbors on the east side of the city (and all over) enjoying life outdoors in a safe way, and relying less on traditional vehicles and more on walking or biking to get around,” says Jamie. “Being outside and more physically mobile helps us improve our physical and mental health, and improves the personal relationships and bonds in our community.”

Councilperson Melissa Robinson wears a fluorescent yellow vest and carries a clipboard. She gestures at street conditions in an intersection.

The Historic Northeast neighborhoods are isolated by US 71 and I70. Councilwoman Robinson observes an intersection near Benton and Indiana.

Blue and white yard sign promoting the East 23rd Street Pac neighborhood clean up event

Neighborhoods near interstates become a dumping ground for highway litter and crash debris. The East 23rd St. Pac neighborhood assoc. organizes regular clean up events.

A group bushwhacks through a weedy and overgrown pedestrian bridge over I-70

Despite heavy weeds and brush, pedestrians have worn a path up the hill to this neglected pedestrian bridge near Cypress and Lister.

Residents like Jamie and Tony were eager to share their daily experience with agencies and city leaders that have the power to make a difference. The Improve I-70 KC project team was receptive. “Performing the walk audit at several locations along the corridor provided invaluable insight into how the existing infrastructure can be improved,” said Tawn Nugent of TREKK. “The diverse group of individuals who participated provided a broad perspective on several aspects of the corridor’s multimodal features. As the project moves further into the design phase, this experience and feedback will guide the team to make enhancements for pedestrians and cyclists.”

The construction of I-70 dug a trench through Kansas City’s downtown and East Side neighborhoods, displacing families, bulldozing businesses, and fracturing neighborhoods. Since the highway’s completion in 1970, the communities flanking the highway have suffered isolation, air and noise pollution, and dangerous streets. But  MoDOT has an opportunity to heal some of the damage, and to plan for a brighter future if the state chooses to center people in their planning work. 

BikeWalkKC is grateful to everyone who participated in the walk audit, and we especially appreciate the residents and advocates who volunteered their time to lead the project team through their neighborhood. We walked together, and now it’s MoDOT’s turn to design an improved I-70 corridor that connects our communities rather than divides them.

Want the details? Read the memo we sent to MoDOT about our complete findings from the I-70 Walk Audit.

Walk auditors met at Gregg Klice Community Center before sending them out to evaluate key intersections along I-70.

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