As city crews work each day to fill potholes, check signs and keep traffic signals functioning properly — efforts designed to ensure the orderly, efficient and safe flow of pedestrians, bicycles and motor vehicles on Lawrence streets — one intermittent barrier remains built into the system.
But city officials slowly are working to steer buses off the sides of streets as the large vehicles pick up and drop off passengers.
So-called bus “turnouts” are being included, where appropriate, as part of larger road reconstruction and repaving projects. Such turnouts allow buses to pull into dedicated temporary parking lanes so that they can avoid blocking lanes of traffic.
“It’s a direction we’re going to continue to pursue,” said Bob Nugent, administrator for the Lawrence Transit System, better known as the T. “It really does help with traffic flow.”
The south side of Ninth Street, for example, has a new turnout near Avalon Road, in front of University Terrace apartments. Several apartment complexes are in the area, and the stop is popular among Kansas University students and others.
Without the turnout, stopped buses would halt traffic heading east on Ninth. There’s one lane available for such travel, and it’s at the bottom of a hill.
The turnout helps keep traffic flowing safely, said Chuck Soules, the city’s director of public works. His department managed a project this past summer to upgrade Ninth by realigning the street’s intersection with Avalon, repaving the road from Iowa to Tennessee streets, and adding bike lanes where appropriate.
Bus systems are effective in reducing traffic congestion, Soules said, in that they reduce the number of cars on the road. But if buses are forced to stop in the middle of a lane to pick up and drop off passengers, the drivers following behind can lose that perspective.
“If you want to reduce congestion, ride the bus. Don’t drive a car. Ride the bus,” he said. “But to get people moving more efficiently, put in the bus turnouts.”
Such turnouts, of course, cost money: about $30,000 each, depending on the size and location, Soules said.
Earlier this year, as officials mulled potential projects that could be financed by federal stimulus money, the city envisioned seeking as much as $3 million to add turnouts in town.
That money never materialized, however, and neither the T nor the Public Works Department has set aside specific revenues to add turnouts in the future. Instead, individual projects are reviewed to see where or whether a turnout might be feasible.
The city, for example, is working on plans for rebuilding Kasold Drive, from Clinton Parkway to 31st Street. Engineers are looking at designs for accommodating all modes of transportation in the area, including transit.
A team of consultants also is working on a program to improve coordination between the T and KU on Wheels, the transit operation serving Kansas University. Those experts will be looking at a variety of issues and opportunities, Nugent said, including possibilities for turnouts.
The report is due early next year. Whether turnouts would follow — and who might pay for them — remains undecided, at least for now.
“We’ll make recommendations, I’m sure,” Nugent said. “Public works will make recommendations. If we know of some locations that we know will cause some problems, we will push through until there is some resolution.”