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Group hopes to get City Hall help in promoting hitchhiking

December 16, 2013


Lawrence city commissioners are being asked to give a thumbs up to a unique form of hitchhiking.

A new nonprofit group is asking commissioners to rewrite part of the city's traffic code to make it legal for people to join a sort of hitchhiking network that supporters hope will become a reliable and convenient form of public transportation.

"We think it not only is going to be a great way to get people to where they need to be, but also a great way to build trust, community connectedness, and neighborliness," said Jenny O'Brien, director and founder of the Lawrence OnBoard program.

O'Brien and a group of about 20 volunteers envision riders and drivers signing up to be part of the network. Riders would be given a folding whiteboard bearing the Lawrence OnBoard logo. The hitchhiker would write his or her destination on the whiteboard and pick a safe place to stand along a city street. Then it's just a matter of waiting for a kind motorist to stop and offer a ride.

O'Brien said she knows the concept works because she frequently uses it to get from her rural Jefferson County home to her office near downtown Lawrence.

"The third car that came by today took me into town, and we had a nice chat along the way," O'Brien said.

City commissioners at their 6:35 p.m. meeting on Tuesday will consider exempting the city from part of the state's traffic code that makes it illegal to stand along a street for the purposes of soliciting a ride. Sgt. Trent McKinley, a spokesman for the Lawrence Police Department, said the department has expressed some concerns about the proposal. He said vehicles suddenly stopping along busy city streets to pick up a hitchhiker could create traffic problems. McKinley said the concept of hitchhiking also goes against one of the common pieces of safety advice the department offers.

"We wouldn't suggest people taking a ride with people they don't know," McKinley said.

O'Brien said she hopes to address safety concerns by having people who sign up for the program submit to a background check. The program also would recommend that hitchhikers send a text to the main office of Lawrence OnBoard that includes the license plate or membership number of the motorist they are riding with.

The program, however, will allow motorists who haven't undergone a background check to pick up hitchhikers. O'Brien said users of the program will have to use common sense.

"But the bad reputation hitchhiking got in the 1970s was way overblown, I think," said O'Brien, who said her personal rules include not accepting a ride at night or entering a car that has two or more men in it.

O'Brien said that if commissioners approve the traffic ordinance change, it likely still would be six months to a year before a program was operational.


Clark Coan 4 years, 3 months ago

I remember hitchhiking three or four times in the early 70s while in college, but these were long-distance trips. One driver said he'd just been on the Johnny Carson Show and that he had a gun under the seat. He also demanded we give him money for gas. We didn't have any, so he stopped in to a Catholic Church in Salina and came out with a $10.00 for gas (which was plenty back then).

Another time I got stranded in Topeka and had to return to Lawrence.

Finally, I hitchhiked with my college roommate and two co-eds from Elkhart to Santa Fe, NM for Spring Break. First, we got picked up by the local undertake,r but he left us stranded in the panhandle of Oklahoma on US 56. Fortunately, a nice older couple with a camper shell gave us a ride to SF. We were even able to catch a ride back to Kansas with them.

It might be too dangerous to allow hitchhiking within Lawrence. All it takes is just one creep...

Phil Minkin 4 years, 3 months ago

I heard a presentation by the group organizing this and they seem to have thought of everything. I hope it works out.

Julius Nolan 4 years, 3 months ago

Is stupidity contagious? Is there something in the water or the air that spawns these "brilliant" ideas? Now the local serial killer simply needs to buy a whiteboard, stencil city approved on it and open up for business? Does anyone think someone offering a ride is going to wait while you run around to back of car, get license number and then text that to someone? Obviously idea from someone who has never done any serious hitch hiking.

James Sneegas 4 years, 3 months ago

Yah! Lets do all we can to destroy the transit system that has been in place here in town for many years now and is barely making it as is. This is a really silly idea. Bad people that prey on the innocent love wacky ideas like this. I can pretty much guarantee that there would be a tragic event occur in the first year. Lets be sensible here!

John Graham 4 years, 3 months ago

The city has a bus service that they can't get enough riders on, so this group believes the city will change the law to make hitchhiking legal thus potentially decreasing bus ridership. I am not one to think the current commissioners are the sharpest knives in the drawer based on some of their decisions, but I can't believe they would go for this idea.

Also I hope this group that will be checking backgrounds and giving IDs has a lot of insurance. By giving IDs and doing background checks it would seem that they are in some sense vouching for these people. I can see some bright lawyer suing them if one of the background checked people assaults a driver. What about the registered drivers? If they have a bad driving record does this cause liability issues? What happens if a registered driver gets in an accident and the hitchhiker is injured? What if the driver is impaired? Since they are registered doesn't that give an attorney an opening to sue the company? If the city endorses this group does it put the city at risk?

Beator 4 years, 3 months ago

Why doesn't the Network exchange phone numbers? Need a ride? Call up one of your connected Network neighbors and be on your way.

Beator 4 years, 3 months ago

Anybody know what happened to all the bikes laying around town to create a network that will become a reliable and convenient form of public transportation?

Clark Coan 4 years, 3 months ago

Good idea, Mike Beaton. Why not create a Ride Share program and have the vetted network members call each other for rides?

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