These Kansas City Kids Can See Their School — But They Can't Walk There

Sep 3, 2015

The North Kansas City School District says the neighborhood around Maplewood Elementary is too hazardous for students to walk to school.
Credit Sam Zeff / KCUR

It’s the kind of story that’s a little hard to believe until you visit the neighborhood.

Just after 8 a.m., a school bus stops on North Freemont Avenue and kids pile on.

They have their backpacks, lunches and homework. It all seems normal.

Except they only live a few blocks from the school and aren't allowed to walk.

It would take Jessica Andrews’ four kids about five minutes to walk to Maplewood Elementary School in the Northland. “We’re really, really close. Why aren't they walking, it’s so close? There’s no sidewalks. It’s not safe for them to walk."

The North Kansas City School District has deemed the neighborhood too hazardous to walk.

Jason Withington lives in the Northland and improving this neighborhood is his avocation.

"Fifty-second street has ditches on both sides so kids would have to walk in the ditch or the middle of the street. And there’s poor sight lines. As you can see there’s hills and everything and cars can’t see the kids walking," Withington says.

This neighborhood is far different than when it was built in the late 1950s.

Maplewood Elementary and the surrounding neighborhood was built when this part of Clay County was mostly farm fields.

Now, they sit in the shadow of Worlds of Fun and the rapidly growing Northland communities.

When the subdivision was built, nobody thought sidewalks and curbs were a big deal — there just weren’t that many cars.

But that’s changed.

Jessica Andrews says there’s so much traffic now that it scares her 11-year-old daughter.

"She does not want to walk to school. She is scared to walk to school," Andrews says. "I think it’s just because of this street. She just doesn’t feel safe. And she’ll tell you, there’s no sidewalk."

Part of NE 52nd Street near Maplewood Elementary is blocked off by police for morning drop off.
Credit Sam Zeff / KCUR

The process of transportation

Getting kids to school at Maplewood is a big production.

Part of Northeast 52nd Street, a busy route that connects drivers to U.S. 69 and I-35, is blocked off during drop off at Maplewood. On one end by the Kansas City Police and at the other by the Clay County Sheriff.

It’s so narrow there’s barely room for the buses.

But, turns out, this isn’t the only North Kansas City school where students are bused only a few blocks to a school. Assistant North Kansas City Superintendent Dan Clemens says students at nearby Maple Crest Middle School are bused, as are kids who go to West Englewood Elementary off Englewood Road in the Northland.

"So we believe that the buses are a safer place for that student to be transported rather than try to walk down the middle of the road," he says.

So why doesn’t someone just build some sidewalks?

Withington says he’s tried everyone. Kansas City, which annexed the neighborhood in the early 1960s, the county and the state legislature.

"No one has money and everybody points me to somebody else," he says.

Another case, some residents say, of the city just not caring about the Northland. "I talked to the mayor’s office last week. Mayor James told me I need to be patient, projects like this take time," Withington says.

Truth is, they’ve shown a lot of patience. Buses have been transporting students like this since 1988.

Councilman Scott Wagner represents the Northland and says it will cost $570,000 to just put in sidewalks. Widen the street to modern standards and add curbs and the price tag shoots up.

"The issue really is trying to do something in a manageable way for the dollars that it will cost to do those things," says Wagner.

But there has been some movement.

The city has provided $75,000 for an engineering study.

Three North Kansas City District schools, including Maplewood Elementary, forbid students from walking to class because of a lack of sidewalks.
Credit Sam Zeff / KCUR

"To say there is no hope is far from the truth. But there also has to be a recognition of the processes that we do have that can help make it possible in the time frames you have to work with them," Wagner says.

Parent Jessica Andrews says she may not be able to wait that long for sidewalks, curbs and safety for her kids. "I want to move. I love my house. I love who I rent from but I don’t like this street and I don’t like that nothing gets done about it."

Nothing has gotten done in almost 30 years and neighbors wonder if it will take another generation before something finally does.

This look at the Missouri River is part of KCUR's months-long examination of how geographic borders affect our daily lives in Kansas City. KCUR will go Beyond Our Borders and spark a community conversation through social outreach and innovative journalism.

We will share the history of these lines, how the borders affect the current Kansas City experience and what’s being done to bridge or dissolve them.