New details and concerns emerged Wednesday about a lighted pathway being planned between downtown Lawrence and the Kansas University campus, as student, city and community leaders discussed the best options to move the project forward.
The $350,000 path would contain new — possibly brick — sidewalks and would be illuminated by motion-activated light posts. City planners said they hope to begin the project next summer.
City staffers are aggressively pursuing the project, as application deadlines approach for two grants that could make the project a reality. The path is being considered to give students and others a safe way to travel between downtown and campus, a need that was heightened after multiple acts of violence in the neighborhood this year.
“We are working a lot faster and dedicating more time to getting it done,” said Mark Thiel, assistant public works director. “It’s a huge enhancement to the neighborhood.”
Student, city and neighborhood leaders involved in the project were mixed Wednesday on a few details that have yet to be sorted out.
"It's hard to say whether you support this or not," said state Sen. Marci Francisco, D-Lawrence, who was representing the Oread Neighborhood Association. "This is going to be a change for the neighborhood."
Thiel identified four questions that must be answered quickly: Who will pay for the project; what type of lights will be used; where will the path be built; and will students use it.
Thiel said he's confident the $350,000 will come through from a federal grant and a state transportation grant, combined with money from KU and the city.
As for the lights, there was general consensus Wednesday that motion-activated lights, which would illuminate more brightly when people were nearby, would be the best option and save energy if people weren't present. It would also let people know if others were around, increasing safety.
After Wednesday's meeting, two routes are being considered — a path on 12th Street and one on 14th Street.
Thiel said a path on 12th is the most viable, but students and neighborhood leaders questioned whether people would use it, as more students use 14th Street to travel between campus and downtown. Concerns also were raised about pedestrians crossing two busy one-way streets without pedestrian crossing lights, which Thiel said could possibly be added to make travel safer.
"We are cautiously optimistic," said Francisco. "Those of us who've lived in this neighborhood for years know that we want to have good lighting along the sidewalks and we also want to have a safe way to cross Kentucky and Tennessee."
Francisco advocated for a route along 14th Street, a path that already includes crosswalks at Kentucky and Tennessee streets. Thiel said that route has insufficient right of way because the street is narrow and leaves little room for a lighted pathway.
The group will meet again in December.