The day after a 66-year-old Wichita man died after being struck by two hit-and-run drivers while leaving Sunday’s Kansas City Chiefs football game, a bicycle and pedestrian safety advocacy group renewed its call to make the surrounding area safer.
“This was inevitable that something like this was going to happen given the way that street is designed and given how much pedestrian traffic there is in that area,” said Brent Hugh, executive director of Missouri Bicycle and Pedestrian Federation, who lives not far from the fatal crash.
There is essentially no pedestrian access to the design of the area surrounding the Truman Sports Complex, home to Arrowhead and Kauffman stadiums, he said. People are often crossing multiple lanes of traffic along Blue Ridge Cut Off.
“This was a problem just waiting to happen and it is actually amazing that we’ve gotten this many years without having more problems, more fatalities,” Hugh said.
One of the simplest, quickest and cheapest fixes would be set up a few crosswalks in the area with barriers to create pedestrian refuges or safe havens, Hugh said. Even providing high visibility flags for people to carry across the streets would make pedestrians more visible to drivers.
For years, there have been calls to make the area surrounding the Truman Sports Complex more pedestrian and bicycle friendly.
Steven Hickle of Wichita was killed when he was struck by two hit-and-run drivers as he left Sunday night’s game at Arrowhead Stadium. He was trying to cross Blue Ridge Cutoff with another person near East 43rd Street when he was hit.
They had left the game early and police traffic crews were not yet in the area to help traffic exit the stadium.
A driver in a southbound vehicle struck Hickle and then fled without stopping. While he was lying injured in the street, a second driver ran over him. That driver also fled the scene.
Hickle later died at the hospital.
Police did not have descriptions of the vehicles or suspect information. However, they had pieces of a side mirror and turn signal light that appeared to have fallen from one of the vehicles.
“It’s incredibly unfortunate because, you know, we shouldn’t have to be worried about potentially being struck and killed by errant drivers when all we’re trying to is get to and from something as simple as a football game,” said Michael Kelley, policy director for BikeWalkKC, who at one time lived in the area.
Kelley said he hopes the drivers come forward because a person’s life was lost in the process.
There are several measures that can be done, according to Kelly, including extending existing sidewalks along Blue Ridge Cut Off, installing additional protected crosswalks and putting Blue Ridge Cut Off on a road diet, which would require reducing the number of lanes on days events aren’t being held, Kelly said.
Depending on where you’re trying to cross, there are between six and eight lanes of traffic to cut across.
“There’s several lanes of road that are only used for baseball or football games and otherwise it creates a very dangerous circumstances not just for pedestrians and cyclists but for drivers as well,” Kelley said. “All of those are things that should be put on the table for making that street in that specific area safer for both drivers and people who walk or bike or use transit.”
With the completion of the Rock Island Trail, which extends to the stadiums, and other changes in the area, “it should be pretty evident to everyone involved that more needs to be done” to make the area safer for everyone, Kelley said.
While there’s talk of a potential downtown stadium for the Kansas City Royals, the area surrounding the sports complex still needs to be addressed.
“Regardless of where the stadium goes, this is still a street that presents a serious opportunity for us to improve the experience for pedestrian, cyclists, transit users and those living with disabilities,” Kelley said. “So just because the stadium stays or goes, that shouldn’t stop us from trying to improve the safety and improve the experience for those users.”
Hugh also suggested having officers staged for the duration of the game at the major crossing areas to stop traffic and help fans cross safely. A measure he said could be done right away and wouldn’t cost much.
More expensive changes, like adding traffic calming measures, stop lights and crossing lights as well as reducing the lanes of traffic in the area when there’s not events taking place, would need to come as part of a more comprehensive plan involving the Kansas City, Jackson County and Missouri Department of Transportation officials; Chiefs and Royals representatives; fan groups; neighbors; and bicycle and pedestrian safety advocates, Hugh said.
“This is a place you need to take a comprehensive look at,” Hugh said. “That’s the real solution.”