Maintaining the status quo along 23rd Street simply isn't good enough.
Every time a business along the heavily commercialized portion of 23rd Street is allowed to rebuild, remodel or reconfigure its building without improving the traffic situation along that street is a lost opportunity for the city of Lawrence.
A story on the J-W business page last week outlined plans to raze and rebuild the Dunkin' Donuts store on the south side of 23rd Street just west of Louisiana. Dunkin' Donuts seems like a fine enterprise and the owners have a right to be proud of their grown and entrepreneurship and excited about their new facility. But the fact that the city accepted plans that retained both curb cuts that currently provide access to the store is unfortunate.
The doughnut shop isn't the only culprit, and it's easy to understand why the owners would fight to retain their access points. They are only doing what they believe is best for their business. But city officials must look at what's best for the city as a whole. If the city is serious about trying to improve the traffic situation and reduce the number of accidents in this busy area, they must take a tougher approach.
Some guidance on this issue could be on its way. In August, a 23rd Street Corridor Study was approved with some revisions by the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission and is expected to go to city commissioners later this fall. Among the recommendations in the study, compiled by the city-county planning department is to identify driveways and curb cuts that might be closed or consolidated.
To go along with that, planners recommend that policies be set to manage access points along 23rd Street. The recommendation acknowledges that improvements in driveway spacing, consolidation and clearance from corners will be "incremental" and will be "reviewed on a case-by-case basis," but it's a start.
It seems that a prime time to implement changes in this area is when businesses are seeking approval for remodeling or expansion projects. Businesses with access points that aggravate traffic problems should be required to look at other options. Limiting access to businesses won't be a popular move, but unless traffic flow and safety is improved along 23rd Street, some of those businesses may suffer because fewer customers are willing to make the drive or the risky left turns to come to their stores.
Lawrence is paying now for lax planning years ago when commercial property along 23rd was developed. The proximity of businesses to the street limits the ability to widen 23rd Street, and the many curb cuts can snarl traffic. Planning along the street simply didn't account for the amount of traffic the road currently carries.
Officials and many Lawrence residents hope that construction of the South Lawrence Trafficway will ease the load on 23rd Street, but traffic studies indicate the trafficway won't solve all of 23rd Street's problems. If the city hopes to improve this situation, it must take a studied approach that addresses the needs of businesses but also improves traffic flow on this busy corridor.
The section of 23rd Street from Iowa Street to Louisiana Street is a good example of poor commercial development. It's too late to avoid the situation; all the city can do is draw the line and take steps to make it better.