Lawrence city commissioners on Tuesday approved a contract for a final design of permanent traffic installations intended to slow and reduce traffic through Old West Lawrence neighborhood streets.
The concept includes eight speed humps, two speed cushions, six chicanes and seven traffic circles throughout the neighborhood, which spans roughly from Sixth Street south to Ninth Street, and from Michigan Street east to the alley east of Kentucky Street, though the project installations only go as far east as Indiana Street.
The project first came about because many residents were concerned about safety, and drivers speeding through the neighborhood. The OWL neighborhood association applied to be part of a new traffic management pilot program with the City of Lawrence and a consultant group, and the city announced in September 2021 that OWL had been selected for the project.
The first phase moved pretty quickly. The first round of the “traffic calming” pilot project devices, installed in November 2021, caused some frustration for many residents of the neighborhood, as some temporary barriers forced people to turn at certain intersections rather than drive straight down streets, among other confusion.
The project is now in its third iteration.OWL-Traffic-Calming-Map-March-2023-2
About two-thirds of the people who gave public comment Tuesday said they still had issues with the project. Specifically, a few community members raised concerns about the chicanes, or “chokers,” which narrow the street in some places.
Grant Sutton said multiple people had run into the chicane on his block because “it’s directing people into oncoming traffic and parked cars.” He said he didn’t have a problem with the speed humps because they weren’t causing the same issues.
Others had questions about the project’s price tag: The total cost to construct the final project is estimated at $306,250, split into two phases — $175,000 in 2023 for the speed humps, speed cushions and chicanes, and $131,250 in 2024 for the traffic circles.
The contract the commission ultimately approved Tuesday was for an additional $43,400 to JEO Consulting Group. The grand total — including the construction estimates, what the city has already paid JEO and what it will pay with the approved supplemental agreement — comes to $496,050.
A few other neighbors and OWL leaders said they felt the biggest issues had been resolved, however, and this project was a big step forward for safety in the neighborhood. Others provided written public comment ahead of the meeting indicating that they approved of the project.
“It’s a complicated problem to solve, so I’m really happy with the work that we’ve done,” said Kyle Johnson, who had spoken out against the project in its earlier phases.
“I just wanted to come back up here and let you know I’m no longer mad,” he said, drawing some laughter.
Steven Buckley, traffic senior project engineer with JEO Consulting Group, told commissioners the area had seen significant reductions in speed where speed humps and cushions were installed, and over the course of the pilots, the group continued to “see the things we wanted to see.”
Commissioner Courtney Shipley asked about the order of installation — why the chicanes, speed bumps and speed cushions before the traffic circles?
“No particular reason for the order, and there’s potential to swap around,” said Dustin Smith, senior project engineer. “We would do all of the design at one time and then bid the projects individually, but there is definitely an opportunity to do the circles first if that’s the direction.”
Vice Mayor Bart Littlejohn said knowing that there is still the possibility of modifying the project gave him “about as much optimism as I can have, so I will be supporting this.”
“I understand it’s not universally popular, but I do think it’s a good step forward and and look forward to using this again in other neighborhoods — maybe a little smoother, maybe a little quicker,” Commissioner Brad Finkeldei said.
One of OWL neighborhood residents’ biggest concerns ahead of the project was that many believed University of Kansas students were primarily the ones cutting through neighborhood streets — and speeding — to get to campus.
Commissioner Amber Sellers said she never thought of cutting through the neighborhood when she was a student. “Then I tried to do it with the temporary calming devices up and — yeah, I learned not to do it again,” she said. “So you made a believer out of me.”
Sellers said the sticker price may be shocking to “many of us because we don’t live in that world,” but she reflected back to a comment Shipley had made that a traffic light costs $350,000.
Shipley said that, for better of for worse, the project had cultivated a new generation of neighborhood leaders and activists, and “that’s the Lawrence that I want to know and love.”
“I’m really pleased by where we’ve gotten with this, and particularly the work the neighbors have done,” Shipley said. “And I don’t want to dismiss how stressful some of these parts of this process were for the neighborhood, but the city and the neighborhood both learned a lot, and I don’t want to dismiss that either.”
Shipley made the motion to proceed with design of the permanent traffic calming installations in Old West Lawrence and to authorize the city manager to execute the supplemental agreement with JEO for design. Commissioners voted 4-0 in favor. Mayor Lisa Larsen was in Washington, D.C. to meet with Kansas’ national representatives.