The city's senior citizens deserve some special parking consideration.
The public parking situation near the Lawrence Senior Center deserves the serious attention of city officials.
City Manager Mike Wildgen probably is right that it's unreasonable to consider reserving the entire public parking lot between the senior center and the Lawrence Public Library just for people visiting those two facilities. But city officials shouldn't be dismissive of the complaints about a lack of adequate parking for the people who make use of senior center services.
This is not a new problem, and it is almost certain to recur, especially in the hot summer months. The public parking lot between the library and senior center is one of the most-utilized downtown parking lots at all times of the year. It provides some long-term parking for downtown workers as well as parking for downtown visitors.
The problem is greatly magnified during the summer when visitors to the Lawrence Outdoor Aquatic Center are added to the mix. The lot and angle parking on Kentucky Street provide the most convenient parking for pool patrons. The peak times for pool usage afternoon and evening also coincide with peak times for patronage of the senior center and library.
A petition asking that the lot be restricted only to people using the library and senior center was submitted by members of Lawrence's Oldsters United for Responsible Service (OURS). This group is primarily known for its afternoon dances at the senior center, but providing access to an enjoyable recreational activity is by far not the main issue in this debate.
Douglas County Senior Services, based in the senior center, provides many vital services to the community's older residents. It may not be vital that seniors be able to park close enough to the center to come to a dance, but it is imperative that seniors be able to come to the center for other reasons.
In hot summer weather, some seniors may come to the center just to stay cool. Many people come to the center to eat their noon meal. If they can't get to the center, they may depend on the Senior Meals program to bring their only meal of the day to their home. That service also is suffering because older meal-delivery drivers can't find close parking places and can't carry the heavy food containers through the heat to their cars.
In the type of weather Lawrence has experienced in the last week or two, a two- or three-block walk in the heat of the day would tax an able-bodied person much younger than the senior center patrons. Such a walk could put a possibly dangerous strain on a senior citizen. The city bus system may be of some help, but getting from home to the bus also would require many seniors to walk several blocks.
In a letter to the J-W Public Forum, the DCSS executive director suggests that the difficult parking situation downtown may signal the need to move the center to another facility, such as a former nursing home on 27th Street. While that may be a good solution, it seems unlikely that the city and county would undertake such a project when they already are having trouble holding the line on tax increases.
Until a better solution can be found, maybe the city could reserve a certain number of spots at least during the noon hour when people come to eat and pick up meals for senior center patrons. It's a small courtesy that would be a big benefit for people who need the center's services.