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Old West Lawrence neighbors win city board’s vote to delay action on traffic plan

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Multi-modal Transportation Commission members listened to Old West Lawrence neighbors Monday and voted unanimously to hold off on approval of the city’s plan for permanent traffic barriers in the neighborhood. 

Several neighbors believe that through their group efforts, they have created a better plan to make the streets safer than what the city and consultants have proposed.

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The traffic devices placed throughout the neighborhood’s streets last fall sparked some disagreements among neighbors and had been a divisive issue. However, most of the vocal residents of the neighborhood — which spans approximately from Sixth Street south to Ninth Street and from the alley east of Kentucky Street west to Michigan Street — agreed that something needed to be done for safety and to reduce speeding and cut-through traffic on neighborhood streets. 

In March, the city announced that a modified second round of traffic barriers would follow the same process as the first, with a second community survey to gather feedback before proceeding to a permanent installation. Some neighbors were upset Monday that the second survey step hadn’t happened.

The 10 OWL residents who spoke asked the MMTC to hit pause on the process because they had come to their own plan for their streets. 

Amid the controversy over the winter, the OWL association’s traffic committee grew from three to 11 members, many of whom had polar opposite views of the issue when they first started meeting. However, over the course of 13 meetings, they got on the same page, and two days ago, the committee voted unanimously to approve their own design. 

One point that city staff and consultants noted in their presentation to the MMTC on Monday was that traffic on most streets had declined since the traffic barriers were installed, and average speeds had decreased; however, traffic on Maine Street had increased by about 41%.

August Rudisell / The Lawrence Times Barriers, pictured Nov. 16, 2021, limit traffic through the intersection of Eighth and Mississippi streets in Old West Lawrence in the first iteration of a traffic project.

One OWL neighbor, Charlie Sedlock, shared with MMTC the basics of the plan that the OWL committee designed. 

“Our plan goes further than the current versions to create a safer and more equitable solution for all Old West Lawrence streets, both local and collector,” he said. The neighbors also believe it would have a greater impact on reducing speeds, based on what they had seen from the first two versions of the project, he said. 

Sedlock brought printed diagrams of the plan and described some of the features it would include, such as planter-style traffic circles and some chicanes, or serpentine curves. 

“This is not some pie-in-the-sky, on-the-back-of-a-napkin design. It was at one time,” Sedlock said. “It’s cleaned up.”

MMTC Chair Nick Kuzmyak asked about buy-in from the rest of the neighborhood on the plan the committee had created. 

Katie Oliver, co-president of the neighborhood association, said the committee still wanted the opportunity to present the plan to the rest of the neighborhood and get their feedback before the MMTC approved the city staff’s plan. 

MMTC member Charlie Bryan asked why the action item was on the agenda before city staff had completed the public engagement process. 

Dustin Smith, senior project engineer, said staff members didn’t have time to publish a second Lawrence Listens survey, keep it open to collect responses for two weeks and compile that survey data prior to the meeting. 

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City Engineer Dave Cronin said he had not seen the OWL traffic committee’s plan. It was not clear Monday whether it would be feasible from the city’s perspective. Cronin said there would not be issues regarding the budget cycle if the MMTC’s vote on the plan was delayed, but data collection for a third revision of the traffic plan would not take place until fall when KU is back in session. 

The city estimated a cost of $158,000 for the permanent installation of the plan as staff members were recommending it. Smith estimated it would cost another $20,000 to $25,000 for data collection for a third iteration of the project. 

Bryan said in his opinion it would be best to figure out what the neighborhood actually wants, then look at the cost. 

MMTC member Pat Collette said the OWL neighborhood project is intended as a pilot to the rest of the community. 

“And I think getting this process right in the pilot project in terms of public engagement and input is really important as we go forward to other neighborhood projects,” Collette said. 

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Mackenzie Clark (she/her), reporter/founder of The Lawrence Times, can be reached at mclark (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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