Planters at end of JoCo streets cause big stir: Are they haz­ards or safety fea­tures?

The Kansas City Star - - Local - BY LYNN HORSLEY lhors­[email protected]­star.com Joanne Stang Lynn Horsley: 816-226-2058, @Lyn­nHors­ley

When a reck­less driver last May crashed into a dec­o­ra­tive planter at the end of a res­i­den­tial street in Mis­sion, he did a lot more than dis­lodge some bricks into the road­way.

The er­rant mo­torist sparked an im­pas­sioned de­bate over how best to pre­serve quiet, safe streets and neigh­bor­hood tran­quil­ity not far from Shawnee Mis­sion Park­way.

City of­fi­cials say they can’t just fix the bro­ken planter, which has been there for more than 25 years, be­cause it doesn’t meet the lat­est na­tional high­way safety stan­dards. The city has floated the idea of re­mov­ing this planter and five oth­ers that cur­rently cre­ate dead­end bar­ri­ers for 61st Ter­race, 62nd Street and 62nd Ter­race off Hodges Drive.

But nearby res­i­dents are fiercely op­posed and have turned out in force at town meet­ings and pe­ti­tioned to try to save the planters. Res­i­dents say that, while the planters may not tech­ni­cally meet traf­fic stan­dards, they help beau­tify the neigh­bor­hood and im­prove pub­lic safety by slow­ing driv­ers down and prevent­ing cut-through traf­fic from Shawnee Mis­sion Park­way.

“We like the friendly na­ture of these,” said Susie Gen­ova, who has lived on Hodges Drive for more than 30 years and sees the planters as an ef­fec­tive traf­fic calm­ing de­vice. “You can walk your dog through, you can stroll your stroller through, but not cars.”

Gen­ova said the city used to block the streets with guardrails but re­placed those un­sightly metal fea­tures with the six planters at the neigh­bor­hood’s re­quest in the early 1990s.

Un­til one of the planters was dam­aged by a mo­torist last spring at 61st Ter­race, these fix­tures weren’t on the city’s radar. Gen­ova said she and other neigh­bors have filled them with flow­ers in the sum­mer­time and have spent thou­sands of dol­lars main­tain­ing them over the years.

Sara and James Newell, who live on West 62nd Street, were among more than 80 peo­ple who signed pe­ti­tions urg­ing the city to pre­serve the planters as no-out­let bar­ri­ers lim­it­ing traf­fic on their streets.

“The planter boxes were a sell­ing point when we pur­chased our home 11 years ago,” the Newells wrote on their pe­ti­tion. They said their three chil­dren, ages 11, 8 and 6, can safely walk to school and ride their bikes on the quiet streets in part be­cause of the planters.

“Re­mov­ing the planters opens all of the neigh­bor­hoods to in­creased traf­fic,” they wrote. “This cre­ates a se­ri­ous safety is­sue.”

Joanne Stang, who has lived at Hodges Drive and 61st Ter­race for 42 years, agreed.

“It’s great liv­ing on a dead-end,” Stang said. “It would be a real shame to change a great neigh­bor­hood into a neigh­bor­hood not so safe.”

City of­fi­cials say the crash in May high­lighted the fact that the planters them­selves are a safety haz­ard. They also raise con­cerns that the planters block fire trucks, am­bu­lances and snow­plows from en­ter­ing the streets from Hodges Drive.

Still, City Ad­min­is­tra­tor Laura Smith rec­og­nizes that sim­ply re­mov­ing the planters is not ac­cept­able for con­stituents.

“We ob­vi­ously touched on a very emo­tional sub­ject for the neigh­bor­hood,” Smith told the Mis­sion City Coun­cil at a Jan. 9 meet­ing.

She promised to work with area res­i­dents on other al­ter­na­tives, al­though she said it’s pre­ma­ture to dis­cuss what those op­tions might be or po­ten­tial costs.

At the Jan. 9 meet­ing, Dave Men­nenga, a civil en­gi­neer­ing con­sul­tant with GBA (Ge­orge But­ler As­so­ciates), told the coun­cil and res­i­dents that the planters aren’t well lit or eas­ily vis­i­ble at night and re­main a crash risk.

He said he’s worked with neigh­bor­hoods through­out the metro area on traf­fic calm­ing ap­proaches and he can sug­gest types of guardrails or more aes­thet­i­cally pleas­ing treat­ments that could al­low bet­ter emer­gen­cyve­hi­cle ac­cess with­out open­ing the roads to pub­lic traf­fic.

Po­lice Chief Ben Hadley said he lives on a cul-de­sac in Shawnee, and he sym­pa­thized with res­i­dents’ de­sire that their streets re­main dead ends. He said the planters aren’t a prob­lem for po­lice be­cause their cars can sim­ply drive around them, onto peo­ple’s yards if nec­es­sary, in deal­ing with emer­gen­cies or pur­su­ing sus­pects.

But he said that’s not the case for fire trucks.

“If your house is on fire...it will take the fire depart­ment longer to get to your house,” Hadley said, al­though he ac­knowl­edged that’s not been a prob­lem in the 21 years he’s been with the city.

Gen­ova and other neigh­bor­hood rep­re­sen­ta­tives vol­un­teered to work with the city on pos­si­ble al­ter­na­tives, as long as they re­tain some type of street bar­rier. Smith pledged to give the city coun­cil an up­date in March.

But Gen­ova also ques­tioned whether all this is re­ally nec­es­sary. She’s seen ex­am­ples where planters are used in other cities as at­trac­tive and af­ford­able traf­fic calm­ing de­vices, in­clud­ing serv­ing as bar­ri­ers for bi­cy­cle lanes in busy streets with mov­ing traf­fic.

“I think it’s not a smart thing to do fi­nan­cially to spend the money to take them down and re­build an­other thing,” she said. “I don’t ap­pre­ci­ate my tax dol­lars be­ing spent like that.”

‘‘ IT’S GREAT LIV­ING ON A DEAD-END. IT WOULD BE A REAL SHAME TO CHANGE A GREAT NEIGH­BOR­HOOD INTO A NEIGH­BOR­HOOD NOT SO SAFE.

TAMMY LJUNGBLAD tljung­[email protected]­star.com

Mis­sion City of­fi­cials want to re­move some planters that block streets that in­ter­sect with Hodges Drive, south of Shawnee Mis­sion Park­way. But res­i­dents say they like how the planters pro­tect their streets.

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