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Archive for Friday, January 20, 2012

Town Talk: City to host meeting about converting Santa Fe Depot into transit hub; a bus system the city uses but doesn’t pay for; more on gasoline prices; street renaming on city’s agenda

January 20, 2012

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News and notes from around town:

• Get ready for a new effort to convince Lawrence City Hall to take over ownership of the Santa Fe Depot in East Lawrence.

As we’ve previously reported, a group of residents who want to see the 1950s-era depot at Seventh and New Jersey streets restored, have asked City Hall to take over ownership of the building. But city commissioners have been reluctant to do so because they don’t have a clear idea of how they would pay for about $400,000 worth of fairly immediate repairs needed to the building. An architectural report also has identified about $1 million worth of longer-range improvements to the site.

But in November, city commissioners expressed interest in studying whether the building could be used for a transit hub for the city’s bus system. That would allow the building — which already serves as the depot for Amtrak service — to perhaps become eligible for Federal Transit Authority grant money. The city has been successful in competing for those types of grants in the past.

Well, City Hall leaders soon will hold a public meeting to get feedback on the transit hub idea. The city’s transit staff will host a meeting from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Feb. 1 at the Santa Fe Station, 413 E. Seventh Street.

I’ll be interested to see if anybody brings up what could be labeled Lawrence’s most forgotten public transit system, but perhaps one of its more successful. That’s the K-10 Connector service. The service — run by Johnson County Transit — transports passengers from Johnson County to Lawrence. It operates five days per week, from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., on most days.

The service has two drop off locations in Johnson County — the Johnson County Community College and the KU Edwards Campus. In Lawrence, it also has two locations — the KU Park & Ride lot on West Campus, and the shopping center at 19th and Haskell.

Folks who come in from Johnson County can get off at either location and catch a city T bus or one of KU’s buses to get to other locations in the city.

And, there are a lot of them who do so. Chuck Ferguson, deputy transportation director for Johnson County Transit, told me that about 130,000 riders a year used the service in 2010. Numbers in 2011 were strong too. In August, for example, there were about 1,100 riders per day.

“You can catch a bus about every hour, and it is a pretty direct trip, so I think that is one of the reasons it has been popular,” Ferguson said of the service that started in 2007. “We did a study before we began, and we expected to have 500 riders a day after five years. We had 500 riders a day after about five months. It has been growing significantly.”

But just like folks who use the city’s T system, riders don’t really have any type of bus station to serve them while they wait to catch their next ride. That’s one of the problems the city is trying to fix for T riders by converting the Santa Fe Depot into a transit hub. It will be interesting to see if anyone suggests the city try to tackle the problem for both bus systems.

Maybe the city’s idea of using the Santa Fe Depot for a transit hub could work for the K-10 Connector too. Or maybe not. I drive by the 19th and Haskell site regularly, and it is not at all unusual for 60 to 70 cars to be in that parking lot. Most of them are people who have driven to the lot in order to catch the bus. It would seem very difficult for the Santa Fe station to accommodate that level of parking. In fact, space at the site is so tight that the city says the T buses likely won’t be able to pull into a parking lot for loading and unloading. Instead that will be done off Seventh Street.

It will be worth watching whether the city looks at any other locations for a transit hub, or whether it focuses solely on the Santa Fe Depot. I don’t know what type of partnership possibilities are available at the KU park and ride lot to build a station, or for that matter, occupying existing space at 19th and Haskell. Of course, both of those locations perhaps would cause some significant reworking of routes and may cause the city to move away from its strategy that the bus system be downtown-centric. It also would mean that there wouldn’t be Federal Transit Authority dollars available to restore the Santa Fe Depot. So there would be some trade-offs to consider.

Fortunately, I don’t get paid to make such decisions, and I’m not trying to imply one way is better than the other. But I do get paid to bring up issues that folks aren’t necessarily talking about.

• Speaking of issues that don’t get much talk, Lawrence voters overwhelmingly approved new sales taxes in 2008 to pay for the city’s transit service. But do you know that neither the city nor the county pays anything to support the K-Connector Service? The folks at Johnson County Transit sure have noticed.

“We’re footing the whole bill for it,” said Ferguson, who said his office has approached Douglas County governments about participating in the costs. “We certainly would like to revisit that issue. We have not put on a full court press, but with the economy the way it is, we may be forced to do so.”

Ferguson said the idea of charging non-Johnson County residents a higher fare to ride the bus also has been discussed. Currently, people can buy 10 rides for $22.50 or buy a single ride for $3. Ferguson said, though, a general rate increase is being discussed, perhaps increasing rates to about $25 for 10 rides.

Ferguson didn’t say how much support they may seek from Douglas County governments. Like most transit systems, the service is subsidized by government with the idea that fewer cars on the roads create benefits and cost savings in other areas. In 2011, K-10 connector service was expected to have expenses of about $835,000. Fares were expected to offset those expenses by about $335,000. In other words, Johnson County government is subsidizing a bus service that runs to Lawrence each day to the tune of about $500,000 per year.

• I’m a bit surprised the buses aren’t fuller than they are. What is up with gasoline prices in the state of Kansas? As I mentioned Thursday, I was in Denver for the SLT oral argument in federal appeals court. I passed along one gas price of $3.04 a gallon in downtown Denver, but then on the way to the airport I saw a price for $2.89 per gallon. That seemed to be more the norm than the downtown stuff. By way of comparison, I filled up my truck on the way home from KCI and paid $3.19 a gallon along K-10. I figured a difference in state gasoline taxes must be the difference, because as far as I know, the Kansas City area has as good of access to gasoline refineries as Denver does. (Maybe I’m wrong, here. But for years, the standard advice for folks heading to Colorado was to always fill up before you get to the mountains.)

Anyway, gasoline taxes don’t appear to be the answer. According to this handy-dandy chart, Kansas’ gasoline taxes are only 3 cents higher than Colorado’s. As I’ve said before, it is a free country and gasoline retailers are free to charge what they choose. And I’m also free to point out the differences.

• One quick note about City Commission matters. If you have a strong opinion about renaming the portion of 11th Street from Mississippi to Missouri, Tuesday night is your time to speak up. Commissioners will consider renaming the street, which runs by KU’s football stadium, to Fambrough Drive. City staff has researched the issue and determined no addresses of property would need to be changed as part of the renaming. But in order to accomplish that, the city will be creating a situation where Fambrough Drive is abutted by 11th Street on both its east and west ends. Here’s a map that shows it in more detail.

Commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. on Tuesday at City Hall.

Comments

Jake Esau 2 years, 11 months ago

What would Fambrough say about his street intersecting with Missouri st?

d_prowess 2 years, 11 months ago

While I appreciate the passion of the folks for the Train Depot, I do think it has some definite problems that would prevent it from being a transportation hub.
First, the parking issue that you pointed out. If the JC Connector was included, there wouldn't be space for the folks to park their cars at the station before hopping on the bus.
Second, and I think this has been mentioned before, there is little reason to have this be a hub for the T either. It is 4.5 blocks from downtown, which doesn't seem like a lot when I type it, but having walked it before and being mostly residential, it seems too far to be practical.

gccs14r 2 years, 11 months ago

It is 200 meters from the station (New York) to downtown (Rhode Island). Using the depot as a transfer station has the advantage of being indoors and having restrooms. You could put a ticket/pass kiosk and an ATM in there, too. As for the Connector, there is parking available to the SE of the station (could use some improvements) and to the NE behind Springhill. (Might have to lease those.) Also, just because the Connector might connect downtown doesn't mean it wouldn't also stop at 19th & Haskell like it does now, so folks wanting to hop on there could still do that.

d_prowess 2 years, 11 months ago

I understand the advantages of amenities, I just don't think it is a reasonable location. R Regarding the distance, I feel like most would think of downtown being Mass St, not Rhode Island, but I guess that is subjective. But when it's cold or hot, you are still having to walk a good distance outside.
And if they did still stop at the 19th & Haskell location, I wonder how many people would actually want to stop at this "downtown" station. Part of the reason for the KU Park & Ride stop is that many of these folks I have heard take classes at KU. The buses are consistently running from that lot to campus serving all the students that have to park there, while I doubt the route from the Train Depot would be as frequent.
Again, I get the desire to make this work, but I think a lot of it feels like trying to push a square peg through a round hole.

Beeper 2 years, 11 months ago

Compelling arguments about renaming streets include a) confusion caused and b) the cost & hassle of changing addresses for postal customers. Creating Fambrough Drive on 11th Street by Memorial Stadium is a clever compromise, with no rerouting of local mail. Will GPS systems still be able to coordinate to 11th and Missouri, or 11th and Alabama?
(btw, in answer to Jake: The conflicting intersection of Fambrough Drive and Missouri Street is named-street poetry in motion. As long as it doesn't subliminally promote more collisions, it's a remarkable physical juxtaposition of Fambrough's emotional battle with the MU Athletic Department...but, they're no longer part of the conference. Somehow, that lessens the effect, knowing that Tigers won't see it year after year when they visit to watch football. (Perhaps the City Commissioners should hire a consulting firm to deduce such potential outcomes)!
Okay, enough time spent on THAT monumental issue about signs of the times.

Ron Holzwarth 2 years, 11 months ago

"for years, the standard advice for folks heading to Colorado was to always fill up before you get to the mountains."

That's true. I discovered a few things during my last few road trips to southern California.

You should always fill your tank before you leave Kansas and cross into Colorado because the prices are higher there.

And, fill your tank before you leave Colorado and cross into Arizona because the prices are higher there.

Also remember, fill your tank before you leave Arizona and cross into California because the prices are higher there.

The reasons is not only taxation. Part of it is that oxygenated gasoline and progressively less polluting blends are required as you travel westward.

Ron Holzwarth 2 years, 11 months ago

Plus, since I'm from there, I can tell you for a fact that you have quite a lot of Colorado to drive through before you get to the mountains!

And the gas prices are higher right on the other side of the state line. When you are headed west on I-70, Goodland is the place to stop for gas, since it's only 10 to 15 miles from the Colorado line. Or, Colby would be good enough, if your tank is running low.

There's an interesting very small town in Colorado on US 36, which is another route many take when travelling westward. Depending upon where you are starting from, US 36 might be the most time saving route for you, although the speed limit is lower.

The name of the town is Last Chance. The reason it was named that is because it is your last chance to buy gasoline before you get to Denver, which is about 75 miles further down the road. So if you don't have enough gas in your tank to go 75 miles, you better gas up at Last Chance.

There's another interesting but terrible thing about Last Chance. It may have changed in the meantime, but has or had one of the most dangerous highway intersections I have ever heard of.

I don't know if it has been changed, but if not, it should be. This is a description of it as it was the last time I saw it, out of many, many times I have been through there:

If you are driving on US 36, you have the right of way at the intersection at the bottom of the hill at Last Chance. I don't remember any warning signs, but that does not mean there are none, it only means that I don't recall any. But, I always knew to be very careful at the bottom of that hill, because I know the history of that interchange.

US 36 going through Last Chance has no turns that I can recall for at least 30 miles in either direction. Highway 71 is the same way, both of them are both perfectly straight and have no stop signs at all for many, many miles on both sides of Last Chance.

So, if you are on driving north or south on Highway 71, you go perfectly straight with no stop signs at all for 30 or 40 miles, then at the bottom of the hill is a stop sign.

It is amazing how many people will drive over 30 miles in a perfectly straight line at 65 mph, and then fail to stop at the one and only stop sign!

My parents were eating at the combination gas station and restaurant at Last Chance, when someone ran that stop sign in the middle of the day and a very gruesome accident occurred. There were at least two fatalities, and more were seriously injured.

They expressed their shock to the waitress, who told them something like this: "Yes, there's been over 20 people killed at that intersection."

To her, it was no big deal, it happened all the time. But it was always people that were not from there, because everyone that lives near there knows this:

You better be careful going through Last Chance!

Eric Neuteboom 2 years, 11 months ago

Chad, regarding gas prices, the low grade in Colorado is an 85 octane; in Kansas, low is an 87 octane. I believe this offsets the price difference. Compare Colorado's mid-grade to Kansas' low for an apples-to-apples comparison.

Chad Lawhorn 2 years, 11 months ago

That would make sense. I figured there had to be something that I was missing. Thanks, Chad

newtongirl 2 years, 11 months ago

Eric is correct. I lived there 6 years and had to remind everyone that just looking at the sign didn't necessarily tell you the price you would pay for the grade of gas you were going to buy. Most signs showed the price for 85, E-85, and diesel. (My car's manual says it requires 87, so I never got the price on the sign.)

However, with Denver being on two major interstate highways, accessibility is not the reason for higher prices of anything (ie groceries). Denver is not located deep into the mountains. Although they won't admit it, most if not all of the city is technically in the plains with mountains nearby.

Also, note that when we camped in the middle of nowhere, the tiny town prices were noticeably lower than in Denver/Colorado Springs, and they're much less accessible.

Brian Hall 2 years, 11 months ago

Isn't KU already naming a street after Fambrough? Also, why do we have to rename the street? Why can't the city just give it an honorary name (i.e. Don Fambrough Memorial Drive) like what should've been done with 15th Street?

Flap Doodle 2 years, 11 months ago

If the deport were to be bulldozed, the rubble could be put to use finishing the SLT.

jhawkinsf 2 years, 11 months ago

Sounds like we in Lawrence and Douglas County owe Johnson County a big thank you.

classclown 2 years, 11 months ago

Beeper (anonymous) says…

The conflicting intersection of Fambrough Drive and Missouri Street is named-street poetry in motion. As long as it doesn't subliminally promote more collisions, it's a remarkable physical juxtaposition of Fambrough's emotional battle with the MU Athletic Department.

January 20, 2012 at 1:10 p.m

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Looking at the map, it appears as if Fambrough Drive is spreading its legs for Missouri. How poetic is that?

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