A center left-turn lane on Iowa Street certainly is a far better way to spend $700,000 than the three options previously suggested by the Kansas Department of Transportation.
City traffic planners currently are working with neighbors to make sure they have support to build a left-turn lane on Iowa Street from Harvard Road to University Drive. The stretch of road has been the site of 48 accidents in the last two years. With that number of accidents, the street seems an apt target for a state-funded improvement.
There is no question that the Iowa Street project would have far more support from most Lawrence residents than the three projects that earlier had been earmarked for state funding. The three proposals were: a new roundabout at 19th Street and Naismith Drive, a left-turn lane on Ninth Street at Avalon Road and a convoluted plan to route left-turning traffic from Sixth Street onto Iowa through a roundabout on McDonald Drive. For either financial or practical reasons, neither city officials nor the public could get very excited about any of those projects, even if the state was willing to contribute $700,000 of the cost.
The left-turn lane on Iowa Street is another matter. Although at least one resident east of Iowa has raised the concern that the turn lane would encourage more traffic to cut through his neighborhood, it seems that the overall safety advantages to the project far outweigh what may or may not be a modest increase in neighborhood traffic.
During heavy traffic times, cars turning left off Iowa Street create dangerous backups. Visibility is poor, and drivers making a turn are likely to grow impatient waiting for traffic to clear. Rear-end accidents are another threat, along with accidents caused by drivers suddenly changing lanes to avoid the backup.
City officials are smart to make sure they have adequate support for the project now rather than dealing with negative fallout later after putting in the effort to convince state officials to redirect their funding. Although the city should be sensitive to the concerns of residents who live between Iowa Street and Kansas University, they also should be concerned about the safety of the thousands of motorists who travel that stretch of Iowa, which also is U.S. Highway 59.
A left-turn lane between Harvard Road and University Drive would greatly enhance traffic safety in that area. City officials are right to try to shift state funding to a traffic project that will be much more beneficial and acceptable to Lawrence residents.