City agrees to consider changing ordinance to accommodate hitchhiking network

The idea of using hitchhiking as another form of public transportation received a warm reception from Lawrence city commissioners, but they stopped short Tuesday night of changing a key city ordinance that would help the project.

Instead, commissioners unanimously directed staff members to research the feasibility of changing a city ordinance that currently prohibits people from standing along the side of a city street for the purposes of soliciting a ride.

Jenny O’Brien, the founder of the local nonprofit Lawrence OnBoard, said that ordinance is more restrictive than state law, which simply prohibits people from standing on a street to solicit a ride.

“We want to find out a way to get to yes on this,” City Manager David Corliss said after about 30 minutes of mostly favorable comment was delivered to city commissioners. “We just haven’t had much chance to talk with the city attorney’s office and the police department about what unintended consequences there may be.”

Commissioners did express some concern about the safety of motorists and hitchhikers who use the program. O’Brien, though, said over the next several months her organization would be working to develop safety-oriented guidelines for riders and motorists. O’Brien said if the city changes the ordinance, it likely would take six months to a year to develop an operational rideshare program.

City commissioners expect to receive a report on the ordinance change at some point in January.