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Open house allows Old West Lawrence residents to voice concerns, discuss future of neighborhood traffic program

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Neighbors shared observations and concerns Tuesday evening during a virtual open house to discuss a pilot traffic program that has caused some division among Old West Lawrence residents.

Barriers and diverters were installed at multiple intersections in November as part of plan to reduce cut-through traffic and speed, and to increase safety in the neighborhood. Since their installation, however, the “traffic-calming” devices have had an opposite effect on some residents who believe the changes are improving circumstances for some neighbors at the cost of others.

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“We really started with a blank slate,” said Steven Buckley, senior traffic project engineer with JEO Consulting Group. “We want to come up with a solution that achieves our goals but is also equitable to the neighborhood as a whole. As you can guess, that’s easier said than done.”

Discussions on social media since the pilot plan was implemented have periodically become contentious. Neighbors who were unaware of the plan to install barriers said they were blindsided in November. Many disagreed not only on the traffic program itself, but also on how OWL neighborhood association leadership was collecting and disseminating information.

Since December, multiple surveys have been established to collect public opinion about the program, including one created by the OWL neighborhood association and a second created by an OWL resident.

“In the interest of democracy, there’s been a lot of controversy and I think both surveys should be given to people to look at and (the results of) both surveys should be considered,” Nancy Stark said.

The tone of Tuesday’s meeting was cordial and mostly cooperative until officials reminded those attending the meeting to complete the city survey gathering public input.

“What level of communication will go on with neighbors other than through the neighborhood association?” asked Kyle Johnson, who has gathered survey responses from approximately 350 people. “To be quite blunt, that is where the breakdown is occurring. The neighborhood association is not communicating with the neighbors and does not represent all the neighbors. That’s the problem here.”

Neighbor Haley Bruns was quick to respond, “That does not represent all of us, so you need to speak for yourself.”

Informational slides presented by Buckley to the nearly 175 meeting attendees included traffic counts collected since November. Although multiple streets showed a range of success in traffic reduction, several, including Michigan and Maine streets, have seen dramatic increases.

OWL-data

Neal Barbour, who lives with his family on Maine, was one of several residents who mentioned the disparities in results and cited equity as a concern.

“I want to start by saying I believe in this project,” he said. “We have two young kids. My concern is with a solution where we were going to become the new arterial. A 41% increase is not something we want to live with on our street.”

The meeting provided neighbors their first glimpse of a map highlighting proposed adjustments to temporary barrier placements based on feedback and in the hope of relieving increased traffic on some blocks. Those changes included removal or movement of several median barriers along both Seventh and Eighth streets, changing the direction of a diverter at Seventh and Mississippi, and the addition of speed humps or cushions along Michigan, Maine and Mississippi streets.

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Laurie Martin-Frydman commented that changing the direction of the diverter at Seventh and Mississippi would complicate access to downtown from her home, a sentiment that was echoed several times during the meeting.

“It’s one thing to ask us to have that in front of our house and be blocked off,” she said. “The whole reason I have this house is to be connected to downtown. To arbitrarily say nope, not anymore — it’s very upsetting, frankly.”

Neighbors raised multiple concerns during the meeting and asked for clarification on how data was being collected. Some were focused on traffic caused by drivers cutting through to reach the University of Kansas campus, while others brought up planned development that might affect traffic well into the future.

Additional concerns included the aesthetics of traffic calming devices if they become permanent neighborhood fixtures. Several neighbors asked whether roundabouts might be a better answer in both desired traffic effects and because their appearance might be less damaging to property values. Buckley said the city was interested in hearing all ideas, but he mentioned each had advantages and disadvantages.

“What’s out there now is temporary,” he said. “If this does go permanent, I know the city’s priority is to make them as aesthetically pleasing as possible. Part of the challenge is that we want to keep the barriers as narrow as possible to make turns as easy as possible.”

Buckley said that if the OWL neighborhood were designed to modern standards, most of its streets would dead end at both Sixth and Ninth, leaving only a few collector streets feeding from central blocks to main corridors.

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Resident Scott White said he hoped there was a way to calm traffic in OWL, but said the current approach felt like a “whack-a-mole.” He said he had no desire to live in a neighborhood designed to modern preferences, eschewing their winding roads and cul-de-sacs.

“I don’t want to live in suburbia,” he said. “I saw people stating on Facebook how fun it was to play catch with their kids in the streets because the traffic was down, but I think that wasn’t my goal for living in the neighborhood. I had two kids born and raised in this neighborhood. We had parks nearby where we could do those kinds of things. I don’t want to see Old West Lawrence become unnavigable to the uninitiated like west Lawrence is. I really like this neighborhood because it’s not that.”

More information about the Neighborhood Traffic Management Program and the pilot program in OWL is available on the City of Lawrence website. Residents can also visit the Lawrence Listens webpage to respond to the city’s online survey.

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Andrea Albright (she/her), reporter, can be reached at aalbright (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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Open house allows Old West Lawrence residents to voice concerns, discuss future of neighborhood traffic program

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Neighbors shared observations and concerns Tuesday evening during a virtual open house to discuss a pilot traffic program that has caused some division among Old West Lawrence residents.

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