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It is time to fix the awful pedestrian access to Kauffman Stadium

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The Royals may slide downhill, but fans shouldn’t have to

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MLB: New York Mets at Kansas City Royals Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

The Royals draw fans from one of the largest regional territories in baseball, along with fans of visiting teams. Rather than driving to the stadium, many of these fans stay at nearby hotels, opting to walk the final distance instead (that parking fee will also buy a beer). When they do so, however, they are forced into a problematic, even dangerous, obstacle course just to reach a stadium only a few hundred yards from their hotel’s front door.

If you’re not familiar with the situation, take a look at this Google Map, and try to trace the pedestrian route from the Four Points Sheraton on the right, across the 8-lane Blue Ridge Cutoff, along E Red Coat Dr, and down the rutted dirt paths descending a steep hill to the parking lot (you can even see the eroded dirt tracked by pedestrians all the way across to the stadium). This situation could be vastly improved with a few sensible and affordable upgrades, and should be improved before the inevitable but avoidable injury and lawsuit.

As an out-of-town fan, I’ve experienced these problems multiple times, and am sick of the status quo. It is time to fix this.

Part I: Crossing Blue Ridge Cutoff.

Fans staying at the most prominent stadium hotel, the Four Points Sheraton (Sports Complex), first have to cross the eight busy lanes of Blue Ridge Cutoff. There is no signal or signage along this stretch, only a faded crosswalk up the road from the hotel’s entrance, which has no sidewalk leading to it or other guidance to tell hotel-based fans that it even exists (it leads directly to a gas station instead). So, inevitably, fans attempt to dart across on their own. I’ve seen a variety of near-misses as people dash across eight lanes of traffic.

Local police do set up a semi-official crossing zone at the crosswalk but this has its own dangers. Over and over, I’ve seen police officers in safety yellow vests step carefully into the road, attempting to stop traffic, only to have oblivious drivers blow right past (and almost through) them. It takes a while for even multiple officers to stop all lanes, before waving across the crowd of accumulated fans. Every single time I’ve made this crossing, I’ve seen a driver blow right past a mid-road officer, leaving the police cursing and shaking their heads, powerless to do anything about it. It’s even worse at night, after a game. Every time I cross, I make a point of thanking the officers for their help, knowing that they’re risking their lives just so I can see a baseball game.

This is a tragedy waiting to happen, but the answer is not difficult. Several straightforward steps can be taken, presented in order escalating cost and complication:

  • Paint more prominent crosswalks and install pedestrian warning signs leading up to this zone, to help raise driver awareness of the hazard. This would cost very little.
  • Install warning lights and/or electronic signs as a more direct form of information, which could be used near game times.
  • Install an actual traffic light, one that can be left green during all non-game times but run on a timer during game times, or alternatively can be triggered by pedestrian buttons. This costs more money, but is nothing unusual for local government.

All of these answers are sensible responses to a major tourist draw in the area, and will pay themselves back many times over in the prevention of injury and lawsuit.

Fans staying at the Drury Inn & Suites (Kansas City Stadium), on the west side of Blue Ridge Cutoff to the north, don’t have this problem. However, they have to get across the on- and off-ramps for I-70, no easy task when stadium traffic is flowing, and in these locations there are no police helping out. Any fans that make it beyond the road crossings to the edge of stadium property face the next challenge: the hill.

Part II: Descending the hill

All photos courtesy of Joanna Reuter

Kauffman Stadium is built in a low spot in the terrain, well below the elevation of Blue Ridge Cutoff, so pedestrians who have safely crossed traffic still have to make it down the steep hill separating the road and the parking lot. Technically there is a paved road that leads gently down in a sweeping curve, but it is so far out of the way that few use it. Instead, the herds of fans cut cross-country and descend directly down the slope, following a steep unofficial track with myriad hazards. Here’s what these two hills (separated by a road) look like from below:

This is what passes for pedestrian access to Kauffman Stadium: a rutted "trail" more suited to mountain goats than baseball fans. Slick under wet or dry conditions, studded with rocks and roots, confined by underbrush, it is difficult to navigate even for a former field geologist like myself. I have seen fans in nice clothing and loose shoes attempting to negotiate this route, including older fans that could easily injure themselves in even a small fall. We can do better.

Part III: How to fix the problem

Fixing this will take more investment than improving a pedestrian crossing. Posible options could include:

  • Erect barriers and signs to direct people along the road instead of down the bank.
  • Construct a proper staircase or walkway to channel pedestrians down the hill.

The second option is the best approach, so to explore its feasibility, I drafted a representative profile of the hill in question, using measurements taken from the Jackson County, MO online parcel viewer (all three land parcels this route crosses are owned by Jackson County). The hill consists of two steep drops: 30’-40’ from the edge of Blue Ridge Cutoff down to Dubiner Circle, which wraps around the stadium, and then 20’-30’ down to the parking lot level. In the profile below, I used the higher end of my height estimates to form a worst-case scenario for the project.

I consulted an experienced local contractor, Mike Brown (also a regular Royals Review commenter), to get an educated opinion about the cost of building a proper staircase down this slope. In his opinion, a commercial-grade staircase (maximum 6" rise and minimum 12" tread per step) would cost $15-20,000 for each section, so a total of $30-40,000 for the entire project. Mike also noted that it’s possible local government might require an ADA-compliant ramp, rather than a staircase, which would raise the price dramatically. On the other hand, such a ramp already exists in the form of E. Red Coat Dr, which descends the hill gradually in a wide arc back to the parking lot at the base; the problem is that regular pedestrians refuse to use it because it is such a long detour.

To be conservative, and allow for design and other expenses, assume the project would cost $50,000. Where would the funds come from? The Jackson County Sports Complex Authority leases the stadiums to the Chiefs and Royals, so any work on the grounds would presumably be undertaken and paid for by the Authority rather than the teams directly. According to the JCSCA’s 2015 annual report, the organization spent over a half-million dollars in both 2015 and 2014 on "improvements and repairs", and showed a net increase in financial position of over $100,000 from 2014-2015. So a one-time $50,000 project seems at least worth considering, given that even a single poorly-attended Royals game could easily pay for the project in parking fees (at $12/car, it would only take around 4,200 cars).

The Royals are happy to talk up their "green" initiatives, from the stadium’s solar installation to radio-based carpooling promos, but the most basic "green" approach of all, walking, is effectively discouraged by the embarrassing pedestrian conditions near the stadium. The various entities involved (Jackson county, the teams, even the hotels) could easily work together to change this, and should. After all, $50,000 invested now could save millions in future legal costs when the first fan tumbles down the goat path and sues, and the hotels might do more business with better access to the stadium.

Let’s make Kauffman safer and easier for pedestrians to access, for everyone’s sake. In the meantime, make sure to thank your friendly police officer risking life and limb every day just so you can attend a baseball game, and don’t hurt yourself trying to climb that slope on the way back to the hotel.