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Urban planners hope by making neighborhoods safer for residents to walk through, communities will become healthier

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Urban planners are making it easier for people to walk through city neighborhoods, with the goal of helping folks become healthier.

The intersection of 38th Street and Warwick Boulevard has been changed to make it safer for walkers and cyclists in Old Hyde Park.

Neighbors say cars often are seen racing through the residential streets at speeds up to 50 miles an hour.

That discourages folks from walking even a few blocks to the corner store, because they don't feel safe.

"This is an intersection that’s heavily used. We’ve had many closes calls," said Duron Netsell, a member of BetterBlock KC who lives nearby. "We’ve talked to many neighbors who’ve been involved in accidents at this intersection. We also have a lot of children in apartment buildings that play at the intersection."

Friday, urban planners deliberately narrowed the intersection down to two 10-foot wide lanes.

They've added colorful crosswalks to get drivers' attention, and bumped out the curbs so that it's not as easy for drivers to turn.

The result is that vehicles are more likely to slow down, and pay attention to what's around them.

And those walking or riding a bike through the neighborhood say it's much safer to cross the streets now.

"What it's able to do is get the vehicle to recognize that there are people crossing the street," said Corey Fischer, president of the Kansas City section of the American Planning Association. "And for the pedestrians crossing, they feel a lot safer while crossing the street. With these bump outs you see here they are able to cross the street in less distance than they normally would."

A Centers for Disease Control grant is making the demonstration project possible, showing the link between good planning and healthy environments.

The American Planning Association believes many neighborhoods would benefit from changes designed to slow down cars and encourage people to walk or pedal for short trips.

Those involved in the project claim nearly seven out of ten Kansas Citians are overweight. They are convinced that making it easier for us to walk around where we live is a big part of the solution.