A plan scheduled to be presented to Lawrence city commissioners Tuesday already has gotten some mixed reviews from business owners along 23rd Street.
HNTB, an Overland Park engineering firm, has put together a plan to reduce the number of curb cuts on 23rd Street between Louisiana and Iowa streets. The idea is to improve driving safety along that busy stretch by reducing the number of options people have for turning into driveways to access businesses along the street.
But what's good for safety isn't necessarily good for business. Reducing the number of access points to a business or requiring drivers to take a more roundabout route to reach the front door generally isn't something business owners will favor. In this case, however, the situation on 23rd Street is bad enough that almost anything might be seen as an improvement.
There are a total of 55 curb cuts on 23rd Street between Louisiana and Iowa streets. At a busy time of day, with traffic dodging in and out, it seems like even more. The HNTB plan would consolidate and remove access points to reduce the number of curb cuts to 38. The changes plotted individually in the plan mostly make sense from a driving standpoint.
Some larger businesses, like Dillons, that have two 23rd Street curb cuts leading to their parking lots, would have one centrally located access point. A number of smaller businesses would share a curb cut, meaning the only access would be through someone else's parking lot, a move that would require some easement agreements. In a couple of cases, businesses would lose their access from 23rd Street entirely, forcing their customers to enter from a north-south street.
As noted, the changes make sense from a driving safety standpoint, but perhaps not from a business standpoint. In some cases, by the time a driver sees a certain business, he or she may be past the curb cut that gives access to that business. Drivers also will be forced to double back to some businesses, and traffic patterns within parking lots may get more hazardous.
The plan to be presented Tuesday is a "conceptual" plan that addresses goals established in an earlier study aimed at improving safety and traffic flow along 23rd Street. In meeting with property owners who would be affected, the engineers and city staff members have found some support, but also some concerns. In some cases, the city might have to condemn property to move forward.
City officials have said they hope to have some businesses volunteer to make changes rather than being forced to make alterations. A few success stories, they say, might allay the fears of other businesses along the corridor. Making all the changes on the conceptual plan would cost about $770,000, of which the state would pay 75 percent. In addition to the new curb cuts, the city may also help with other improvements like reconfiguring parking lots.
Twenty-third Street may be Lawrence's most prominent monument to poor planning. The original planning for businesses in the area simply didn't anticipate the volume of traffic the street now carries. Reducing the number of curb cuts on 23rd Street won't please everyone, but it may be the best available solution for a bad situation.