A good night's sleep may soon come a little easier in North Lawrence.
City commissioners Tuesday night said they were interested in the idea of creating a quiet zone that would allow trains to travel through the North Lawrence area without blowing their whistles at every crossing.
"I've had calls from people who said they couldn't sleep at night," Ted Boyle, president of the North Lawrence Improvement Assn., told commissioners. "They just weren't used to the train whistles. I've had calls from people who were intending to buy property in North Lawrence but wanted to know what we could do about the train horns."
The area has about 70 trains per day travel through it.
Commissioners agreed to forward the request to the city's Traffic Safety Commission, but said they may not be able to support everything the neighborhood was asking for. Neighbors originally had asked for the quiet zone to be in place 24 hours per day. But city commissioners said they were leaning toward a policy that would limit the whistles only during overnight hours.
Commissioners took that stance after an official from the company that provides bus service to Lawrence school children expressed concern.
"We would be very concerned about reducing or eliminating the horn requirements during school hours," said Wayne Zachary, driver development and safety manager for Laidlaw Transit. "A lot of times our drivers will hear the horns before they see the gates start to go down. It alerts them there is a train in the area, and we won't try to cross a track if there is a train in the area."
Jonathan Douglass, a management assistant with the city, said federal regulations would allow the city to create a partial quiet zone limiting train whistles from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m.
The peace and quiet will come with a price, though. Douglass said federal regulations would require the city to spend approximately $50,000 for safety improvements at two intersections. Douglass said the city would need to install medians on both North Third Street and North Seventh Street to meet federal guidelines. The medians would make it difficult for a motorists to drive around the crossing's safety arms. A pedestrian crossing at the North Fourth Street intersection also would have to be removed.
Boyle said he thought a partial quiet zone still would be a major improvement for the neighborhood. He said although longtime residents don't notice the whistles much, a quiet zone could make the area more attractive for new residents.
"We believe this could really enhance North Lawrence and encourage residential and commercial development," he said.
The issue will need to come back to the city commission for final approval, but no timeline was set for the issue's return.
Ballon advertising may be able to fly
Balloons attached to the antennas of cars at local auto dealerships may soon become legal.
City commissioners at Tuesday's meeting said they were willing to work with auto dealers who were miffed by a recent letter from city inspectors saying the longtime practice of tying balloons onto the cars violated the city's sign code.
Commissioners directed staff members to work with the auto dealers to come up with a way to rewrite the sign code so the practice would be legal. The auto dealers said the balloons were a useful device in drawing attention to their merchandise.
Commissioners also said they wanted to take a broader look at the sign code to ensure that it was up-to-date and user-friendly.
Commissioners keen on green-space proposal
The idea of spending $5 million over the next 10 years to preserve critical pieces of open space throughout the county received a warm reception from city commissioners.
Commissioners didn't talk about how an open space program would be funded, but commissioners expressed support for the idea put forward by ECO 2 that the city needs to move forward with both the development of new industrial space and the preservation of open space.
"Anybody who studies economic development knows that the many factors that contribute to quality of life are very important," Commissioner Mike Rundle said. "We need to put energy into keeping this momentum going."
Commissioners received a report that detailed four open space projects that should receive serious consideration: a new pedestrian bridge over the Kansas River in North Lawrence; preservation and improvements to the Black Jack Battlefield site near Baldwin; preservation of the county's native prairie; and protection of a pristine forest area north of Baldwin.
County commissioners are scheduled to receive the report later this month.