There may be light at the end of this tunnel, but it doesn’t produce much optimism.
When it comes to the pedestrian tunnel that travels beneath Sixth Street near Pinckney School, the smell usually overshadows everything else.
“On certain days it is scary,” said Thomas Huang, an Old West Lawrence resident who has two children who use the tunnel to walk to school. “There are days where there’s standing water and you can still smell the urine.”
Then, there is the reading material. It is scrawled on the walls in the form of graffiti, and most certainly isn’t on the suggested reading list for elementary students.
“I’ve continually described the area as depressed, at best,” Huang said.
But Huang, who also is an associate professor of industrial design at Kansas University, thinks the tunnel could be turned around. A group of his students has put together a plan that would line the tunnel with LED tiles that would create a bit of a light show as pedestrians walk through the tunnel.
The current plan calls for the tunnel to emit a blue glow during the day — and then when a pedestrian passes through, an orange shadow would appear on the wall. At night, the color scheme would be flip-flopped.
But there is a part of the project that may scare City Hall leaders — its cost. Public Works Director Chuck Soules estimates the improvements would cost about $600,000.
“It sounds like a cool project, but on the list of priorities it may be tough to find funding for because we have all types of infrastructure and sidewalk issues,” Soules said.
But Huang said he’s not expecting the city to come up with the full funding. Instead, he hopes that city commissioners will be open to the idea and allow staff members to apply for state or federal transportation grants to fund the project.
But if the project won federal or state funding, the city likely would have to provide matching funds, perhaps up to 20 percent of the project’s cost.
Huang, though, said the city should consider it. He said the tunnel is an important piece of infrastructure that allows not only students but adults to cross Sixth Street safely.
He and his group of four students have discussed the idea with Pinckney PTO, and the Old West Lawrence and Pinckney neighborhood associations.
Huang said the reception has been good, and he thinks the project could be a community-building exercise because it involves several aspects valued in the city — pedestrian-friendly design, art and education.
Plus, he thinks the project would be effective in cutting down on the inappropriate activity that happens in the tunnel.
“If you look at the murals around town, people tend not to mess with those,” he said. “I’m an idealist. I believe that if people think there is something beautiful worth appreciating, they are not going to mess with it.”
City commissioners are tentatively scheduled to hear a presentation from Huang and his students at the June 14 City Commission meeting.