Sixth Street just west of downtown would be a far safer drive with the addition of a center turn lane.
Plans to add a center turn lane to Sixth Street just west of downtown were derailed this year by a change in the summer repaving schedule, but they shouldn't be forgotten.
Mayor Erv Hodges had suggested that the city consider adding the turning lane from Kentucky to Maine streets as part of a planned summer repaving project on Sixth Street. That idea was dropped, however, after neighborhood opposition started to surface. The need to make a timely decision on the state funding for the project prompted City Manager Mike Wildgen to recommended using the money allotted for that project to instead repave a section of Iowa Street, which is in worse condition than Sixth.
At the same time that repaving priority was shifted, however, other street projects have increased and accentuated the need to add the center turn lane on Sixth. Work that is expected to last all summer to replace water and sewer lines along Ninth Street in downtown Lawrence has pushed significant amounts of traffic onto Sixth. And work that has closed one lane on each of the downtown bridges over the Kansas River has slowed that traffic and created lengthy backups on North Second Street to the north and Sixth Street on the west.
The result is a dangerous situation for any motorist who is trying to make a left turn off Sixth Street, especially during peak traffic times. Drivers turning left must wait on long lines of traffic and are inclined to grow impatient and press their luck with oncoming traffic. While the turning vehicles wait, traffic backs up behind them. Also impatient, those vehicles may dart into the right lane -- with or without looking carefully at the traffic behind them -- to get around the turning vehicles.
Anyone who drives this street regularly has seen any number of close calls resulting from such circumstances.
Residents along Sixth Street are not enthused about the addition of a lane, which would require the removal of on-street parking along the stretch. But if the parking is removed, the lane can be added without widening Sixth Street or encroaching further on residential property.
A city task force recommended in 1990 that a center turn lane be added to the stretch of Sixth Street, but neighborhood opposition prompted city commissioners to reject the proposal. Even some commissioners who voted against the five-lane configuration in 1991, however, said they could see that as traffic increased, the lane probably would be necessary. The traffic increase is particularly intense now because of nearby road work, but even when construction isn't a factor, the traffic load the street carries justifies the addition of the lane.
At an added cost of $20,000 for the estimated $300,000 repaving project, the turning lane would be a bargain and pay healthy dividends in terms of safety and traffic flow. It seems unlikely the issue will be revived this summer, but city commissioners should be sure it comes back to the table and is approved as part of next year's repaving work.