Merriam prohibits pedestrians from medians at 9 busy intersections

Merriam panhandling

Merriam City Administrator Chris Engel said the ordinance is aimed at improving public safety for drivers and pedestrians, not eliminating panhandling. File photo of a person panhandling in a median at 75th Street and Interstate 35 — one of the intersections included in the ordinance.

The Merriam City Council Monday approved an ordinance that will ban pedestrians from medians at nine of the city’s busiest intersections.

City leaders say ordinance aimed at improving safety, not curbing panhandling

City officials say the ordinance intends to address public safety concerns at the nine intersections that account for more than half of the city’s accidents in the last 10 years.

Merriam City Administrator Chris Engel said he thinks the ordinance, at its heart, is about public safety and not about “what most people are trying to make this about,” referring to the concern about pushing out panhandlers.

“It’s inherently unsafe to have pedestrians next to traffic,” Engel said. “As Chief [McLaughlin] said, we didn’t design medians for standing platforms, we did not make them three-foot wide or four-foot wide. They are there to separate traffic from crossing over and running into someone else.”

Pedestrians, including panhandlers, charity groups and others, will be prohibited from the following nine intersections — of the city’s 388 total — throughout Merriam:

  • Interstate 35 and Shawnee Mission Parkway
  • Johnson Drive and I-35
  • 75th Street and I-35
  • 67th Street and I-35
  • I-35 and Antioch Road
  • Shawnee Mission Parkway and Antioch Road
  • Antioch Road and Johnson Drive
  • 75th Street and East Frontage Road
  • Shawnee Mission Parkway and Mastin Drive

Questions raised about ordinance’s impact on homeless or jobless individuals

Although the ordinance’s language does not explicitly identify any type of pedestrian as being prohibited from the median, some councilmembers and residents fear it will push out panhandlers.

Resident Stacey Chivetta, who ran against Councilmember Bob Pape, said said she “vehemently disagrees” the ordinance is about public safety and not panhandling. Chivetta said Merriam should focus on finding ways to help homeless and jobless individuals instead of pushing them out.

“It feels very much like this reasoning is being used to cover up the fact that this issue is making people uncomfortable and they don’t want to believe that our pristine city would have an issue with homeless people,” Chivetta said.

Michael Kelly, a representative of Bike Walk KC (and not the same Mike Kelly, who is mayor of Roeland Park), expressed opposition to the ordinance on behalf of the member-supported organization. Kelly said as driver distractions are the leading cause of wrecks at these intersections, it isn’t fair to restrict pedestrians.

“Simply put, the proposed ordinance does not address the problem at hand,” Kelly said. “Better policies for protecting pedestrians and other vulnerable road users include Complete Streets and Vision Zero.”

Effort to table ordinance fails

While some governing body members like Councilmember Chris Evan Hands and Scott Diebold expressed support for the ordinance, and emphasized concerns for pedestrian safety,  Councilmembers Jason Silvers and Whitney Yadrich spoke against it.

Yadrich asked several questions about data McLaughlin sent directly to her. Yadrich said she calculated eight pedestrians were hit by a vehicle at the nine intersections in question from 2010 to 2020.

Additionally, Yadrich asked if it was possible for city staff to provide data on subcategories of distracted driving on crash codes.

“What I’m worried about is that we are passing a law based on an anecdote, and that is not a precedent I’m willing to set,” Yadrich said.

Engel said having a data-driven conversation about the ordinance gets away from the fact that pedestrians in the middle of the roadway creates a public safety hazard.

Yadrich, who voiced her desire for the city council to not vote on the ordinance just yet, motioned to table it until the next city council meeting on Feb. 22. The motion to table failed in a 5 to 3 vote, with Councilmembers Yadrich, Jason Silvers and Brian Knaff voting in favor.

The city council adopted the ordinance in a 6 to 2 vote, with Councilmembers Yadrich and Silvers voting in opposition.