Members of the Mission governing body on Wednesday asked that the city convene a public forum to gather community input before they made a decision about whether and how to address safety concerns around the intersection of Johnson Drive and Woodson.
The intersection, which joins the business district’s central roadway with an arterial street that provides the easiest access for pedestrians to city hall, the police station and the pool complex, had a stoplight for decades before it was removed during the renovation of Johnson Drive in 2014.
A 2011 study had found that traffic volume at the intersection didn’t warrant having a stoplight there, and to be eligible for approximately $2 million in federal funds for the Johnson Drive renovation, the city had to follow all of the traffic engineer’s recommendations.
But some city officials — including Mayor Steve Schowengerdt — say the removal of the stoplight has left an accident waiting to happen, and have pushed hard to see a new one installed. On Monday, the city’s community development committee met with a traffic engineer from Olsson Associates to discuss traffic patterns at the intersection and possible traffic calming measures. During that discussion, Mission public works director John Belger said his assessment of traffic patterns at the intersection was that it does not warrant a stoplight.
That prompted a rebuke from Schowengerdt, who said the traffic analysis does not take the full picture, including pedestrian safety, into account.
“This is not for traffic,” Schowengerdt said. “This is for safety. And by gosh I bet you if your kids were walking across the street, you would want a light there.”
Schowengerdt argued that with many retirees in the area as well as individuals with special needs (The Mission Project is nearby), the city had an obligation to take extra care to make it as safe as possible to cross the street.
But other members of the city council wanted to explore alternatives before committing to the reinstallation of a stoplight. Olsson had recommended restriping a section of Johnson Drive around the intersection from four lanes to three, similar to what Prairie Village did on Mission leading to the Village Shops, as a way to slow traffic. They also floated the possibility of installing a HAWK beacon, which stops road traffic to allow pedestrians to cross, over the intersection. At $150,000 and $100,000, respectively, the restriping and HAWK options would be considerably less expensive than the installation of a new traffic signal, which would cost $307,000.
The price tag caused concern among some members of the governing body. Suzie Gibbs said she was worried about how the city would fund the project, especially given the uncertainty surrounding the city’s financial obligations in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling against the “driveway tax” last week, and an upcoming review of staff salaries.
Advocates of installing the full stoplight, though, said cost should be secondary to pedestrian safety.
“I think you’re putting cost in front of a human life sometimes,” said councilman Thomas Geraghty.
“You know — you know! — that someone has almost been hit,” Schowengerdt said. “And if you don’t do something about it, it’s going to be on you.”
The councilmembers directed city staff to convene a public input session in the coming weeks to gather feedback before making a decision on the matter. We’ll publish details on the time and place of that session as soon as it’s set.