Overland Park advances plan to remove two traffic lights along 91st Street after months-long test phase

Overland Park 91st Street

An Overland Park city council committee voted to advance a plan to remove two traffic lights along 91st Street near Metcalf Avenue. Since the city began testing the removal in October 2020, five wrecks have occurred at the intersection with Glenwood, above, resulting in three injuries. Photo credit Kyle Palmer.

A plan to remove two traffic signals from two intersections along 91st Street east of Metcalf Avenue in Overland Park is moving ahead, despite continued objections from neighbors worried about crashes that have happened while the idea was being tested.

The Overland Park city council’s public works committee on Wednesday night gave its blessing to remove traffic lights where 91st intersects with Glenwood Street and Lamar Avenue. The issue was set to move to the full council Monday, but Councilmember Faris Farassati has asked that it be delayed to give neighbors more time to comment.

Removal was recommended by staff because the lights are 30 and 40 years old and the amount of traffic at the signals doesn’t meet the city standard to justify traffic lights.

The stoplight removal plan has prompted concerns from people living nearby who say the street is too busy for pedestrians to safely cross without lights at those intersections. That hilly section of 91st is also a planned corridor for a major bike-pedestrian trail that connects Meadowbrook Park to points west in Overland Park.

Five crashes during test phase

Neighbors have campaigned since last fall to keep the lights.

One of those neighbors, Donna Palatas, started a Change.org petition that had garnered more than 280 signatures as of Friday.

A traffic engineer’s report on a test of the intersections without the lights gave them more reasons to worry. On Oct. 22, lights at both intersections were put into flashing mode to study whether there would be any adverse impact.

By Jan. 5, there had been five crashes, three resulting in injuries and two causing property damage only. All the reported wrecks were at the Glenwood intersection.

According to traffic engineer Bruce Wacker, lights were set to flash red in all four directions at the Lamar intersection and red at the north and south directions at Glenwood. The east and west lanes of 91st and Glenwood had flashing yellow lights during the test period.

In addition, engineers put stop signs and warning signs near the intersections and mailed 350 letters to people living nearby, alerting them to the upcoming change.

Despite that, there were three vehicle crashes at the Glenwood crossing once the test began. City workers removed the light poles and mast arms to cut down on confusion, but two more crashes followed.

Wacker said the crash cluster was an anomaly probably caused by the fact that drivers may have been expecting cross traffic to stop, despite the signs warning that it would not.

No more crashes happened after Jan. 5, and city staff concluded that the intersections could safely operate without the signals. If not, the city could respond quickly by installing a four-way stop, Wacker said.

Concerns about pedestrians

Councilmember Scott Hamblin was skeptical about the light removal after learning of the crashes.

“It seems like what we set out to test has kind of failed,” he said.

Continuing with the removal seems to defeat the purpose of the study, he added.

The crashes weren’t the only concern of neighbors, some of whom spoke during the committee meeting Wednesday.

Allison Leever said she was most concerned about how pedestrians would cope.

Leever wondered if the test had properly taken into account the number of walkers who typically use the area but who were not out as much during the winter months when the flashing lights were being used as tests.

New apartments, including the Promontory nearby, have added to the pedestrian population, she noted.

Palatas said new offices at 93rd Street and Metcalf will also add traffic to the area, and she questioned whether the change would make crossing the street difficult for kids going to private schools near the intersections.

Differing views among councilmembers

Farassati, who has announced his intention to run for mayor this year, proposed that the committee deny the recommendation to remove the lights.

“If cost is not an issue, there’s absolutely no logical reason to touch this,” he said. But he and Hamblin were the only committee members who voted against it.

The majority decided to go ahead. Councilmember Curt Skoog, who is also a mayoral candidate this year, said he trusts the professional judgment of the traffic department to follow industry standards.

“I find it interesting a fellow councilmember who is a scientist [a reference to Farassati] challenges the science our city uses at every intersection, every trafficway within our community,” he said.

Traffic flow is dynamic and changing, and there will be a chance to revisit the traffic light question later and add more safety enhancements, if necessary, Skoog said.

Councilmember Logan Heley quoted a Rice University study that showed pedestrian and bicycle accidents were more likely in Houston at intersections controlled by traffic lights.

The measure was approved 4-2, with Farassati and Hamblin voting against and Heley, Skoog, Stacie Gram and Jim Kite voting in favor.