News and notes from around town:
• It looks like there will be some sidewalks to shovel again. As I think most everybody knows, Lawrence has an ordinance that requires public sidewalks that traverse your property to be shoveled within 48 hours following the end of a snowfall. (Warning: If you wait until the end of this snowfall, you may well buy yourself a hernia.) So, I thought you might be interested in some data that shows how heavily sidewalks are used.
The city conducted pedestrian and bicycle counts at 12 locations across the city in September. (The city didn’t get very specific with exact locations, but I’ve asked for more detail and will post later if I get it.) The city then used that data to estimate how heavily sidewalks are used throughout the year. Whether this makes you more or less excited about shoveling, I don’t know. But here’s the data:
• Naismith Drive: 571 per day or about 208,000 per year.
• Massachusetts Street: 509 per day or about 186,000 per year.
• West Ninth Street: 431 per day or about 157,000 per year.
• West 27th Street: 290 per day, or about 105,000 per year.
• North Second Street Bridge: 230 per day or about 84,000 per year.
• East 19th Street: 101 per day or about 37,000 per year.
• Harvard Road: 94 per day, or about 33,600 per year.
• Monterey Way: 92 pedestrians per day, or about 33,700 per year.
• West Sixth Street: 71 per day, or about 26,000 per year.
• Bob Billings Parkway: 60 per day , or about 22,000 per year.
• Iowa north of 15th Street: 55 per day or about 20,000 per year.
The report — which the city did as part of the National Bicycle & Pedestrian Documentation Project — also compares the amount of pedestrian traffic along the roads with the amount of vehicle traffic. West 27th Street had the highest percentage of pedestrians at 8.97 percent. When you throw in bicyclists, the number of non-motorized users grew to 13.95 percent. Iowa Street north of 15th Street had the lowest percentage at 0.22 percent. At six of the 12 locations, pedestrians accounted for more than 1 percent of the total usage. The other locations were Naismith Drive, 8.22 percent; Harvard Road, 4.35 percent; W. Ninth Street, 3.13 percent; Massachusetts Street, 3.03 percent; Monterey Way, 1.23 percent.
• As you've probably heard, or at least surmised, the Lawrence City Commission has canceled its meeting for tonight. Items on tonight's agenda will be heard at the Feb. 8 meeting.
• All right, now I’m officially scared. The Oak Park Mall this morning sent out a news release announcing it is closed today because of the weather. But perhaps there is still some hope that Armageddon can be fended off: Dillard’s and some of the exterior restaurants will remain open.
• Speaking of retail, the national news about Borders bookstore continues to be troubling. On Sunday evening Borders announced that it once again would delay payments to publishing houses and its landlords in an effort to “help the company maintain liquidity while it seeks to complete a refinancing or restructuring.” A New York Times story speculated that a bankruptcy filing was likely, and at least one source indicated that perhaps as many as half of the company’s stores could close.
“Now, the conversation is going to shift to what is the best way to make sure that the successful stores, which is about half of the stores, can go forward as some kind of viable business,” an executive with a major publishing house told the Times, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “And it feels like that’s going to be in some form of in-court restructuring.”
The stakes are high for downtown Lawrence. Borders, at Seventh and New Hampshire, occupies one of the larger retail spaces in downtown.
• Also from the national news, J.C. Penney announced last week that it was closing several stores. The Lawrence store is not among them. The company is closing six stores that it said no longer meet the company’s “profitability threshold.” None are in Kansas. The closest is in Des Moines, Iowa.
• As we previously reported, several neighbors northwest of Lawrence were not pleased with the City Commission’s decision to annex and rezone 51 acres of property at North 1800 Road and East 1000 Road near the Lecompton interchange on the Kansas Turnpike. The rezoning will allow for heavy industrial uses in the future. When commissioners approved the rezoning last week, a representative of the neighborhood group said a legal appeal likely would be filed or already had been filed. He was unsure. We did some checking, and indeed an appeal has been filed in Douglas County District Court by Lawrence attorney Ronald Schneider on behalf of the Scenic Riverway Community Association. The filing is an appeal of action taken by the Douglas County Commission, which previously made a finding that cleared the way for the city to annex the property. The appeal calls the county’s actions “unreasonable, capricious,” and several other stock legal terms. The same group of neighbors filed a similar appeal when the city annexed 155-acres near the Lecompton interchange. The neighbors have lost a ruling in Douglas County District Court in that case. But as the say in the investing world, past performances are not a predictor of future results.
• One other thing about that northwest area: During the City Commission discussion the argument of urban sprawl was brought up and how annexing lands will put more pressure on city finances. Commissioner Rob Chestnut decided to address it in an interesting way. He noted that in 2007 when he took office, the city’s property tax mill levy was about 26 mills. Today, it is still about 26 mills. The county, he noted, had a mill levy of about 30 mills in 2007 and today it has a mill levy of about 35 mills.
Chestnut said his point was that “we’ve proven that we can be fiscally responsible.”
County officials weren’t at Tuesday’s meeting, but they might have noted that during that time period the city has added three new sales taxes to their revenue stream, and the mill levy will increase in the future for an expansion of the Lawrence Public Library. City voters, though, approved all three of those tax increases.
Make what you will of Chestnut’s comments, but there is a definite source of pride at City Hall that the city has the lowest mill levy of the three major governments in Douglas County.