Urban exodus strips KC of too many stoplights
The Kansas City Star
It sounds like a disaster show on TV in which the traffic signals stopped working.
The lights here didn’t go out altogether. Instead, at nearly 40 intersections in the urban core, stoplights began to flash red.
Stop signs also went up. I first noticed the change on my predawn jogs.
Vehicles did rolling stops at Van Brunt Boulevard and St. John Avenue, and kids hurrying to catch school buses often crossed diagonally. Such helter-skelter behavior never happened with the stoplights.
If there had been red light cameras posted, the city could have collected a lot of $100 fines. The Kansas City school board was right to object to pulling stoplights. It is a safety concern for children.
The loss of stoplights is just another symptom of the decades-long exodus from the urban core. White flight removed people, finances and resources from the city.
A flight of the black middle class to the suburbs followed, continuing the drain of people, businesses and jobs.
The change is impossible to miss in unkempt and boarded up property. Poverty increased, and crime rates rose.
Schools also vanished. Many have closed over the years. A tipping point seemed to have occurred in 2010 when the district closed almost half its schools. Some have been sold, others are on the market. But as the schools closed, a lot of the neighborhoods suffered. Meanwhile in fields where new neighborhoods have grown in the Northland and south Kansas City, roads have been widened to accommodate an increasing number of people, and new traffic lights have been installed. Barry Road between Interstate 29 and U.S. 169 was mostly two lanes with few traffic lights 36 years ago.
It is multiple lanes now with dozens of businesses, homes and apartment complexes and plenty of traffic lights. New Northland schools have been constructed to accommodate the needs of new families.
When I moved to the Martin City area in 1989, State Line Road was mostly two lanes. It had few traffic lights and little commerce. That changed as more families moved to the area. The road was widened dramatically to accommodate new arrivals on both sides of the state line.
Big-box stores followed and so did other stores, adding to commerce in the area. What had been a quick drive from Martin City to Interstate 435 degenerated into a slow, stop-and-go slog.
The opposite is occurring in the inner city, where people can now see more stars at night than one can in the suburbs. Light pollution has diminished in town while it has increased impressively in the suburbs.
But the loss of the stoplights in Midtown is just one more of a thousand cuts, including a decline in attention from City Hall. It’s not just occurring in Kansas City.
The effects of the urban exodus are obvious in every major city in America. Census tracts and city directories have shrunk as younger people leave and older folks die.
Because of a resolution introduced by Councilman Jermaine Reed, the City Council suspended the stoplight removal process and is seeking a re-evaluation of the lights that have been pulled and public ideas on future stoplight plans. Margaret May, executive director of the Ivanhoe Neighborhood Council, said taking out stoplights worked against efforts to get people to move back into the urban core.
Up to now, it had been more difficult to get a traffic light installed than to have one removed. Residents wanting the stoplights back in working order have a good case.
The subtraction has left a a sense of lost community and trust in City Hall. The relative tranquility in the urban core has attracted some younger “urban homesteaders” who are aching for a nonsuburban, less-rushed lifestyle. They appreciate cheaper homes with character, front porches, a closeness to jobs, entertainment, and other amenities and a great sense of accomplishment in helping to restore the core.
Let’s hope a balance can be achieved with some stoplights restored.
To reach Lewis W. Diuguid call 816-234-4723 or send email to Ldiuguid@kcstar.com.