If going to a public meeting to talk about plans for biking, carpooling and public transit systems in Douglas County doesn’t sound like as much fun as it used to, local officials have a new gadget for you.
As part of its multimodal planning study, Lawrence and Douglas County officials have launched a new interactive mapping system that allows members of the public to make suggestions to the county’s transportation system simply by clicking on a map.
“We have heard a lot of positive feedback about it,” said Jessica Mortinger, a city-county transportation planner who is working on the study.
The map allows people to do a flyover of the entire county, and then pinpoint a location on which they want to leave a comment. For example, if a bicyclist wants to highlight concerns about a particular intersection, she can mark it on the map, write a specific comment and then submit it for everyone else to see. Other viewers can then click on the entry, add additional comments or simply hit a “like” button to indicate support for the sentiment.
“We have heard from people that it is great to see what everybody else is saying,” Mortinger said. “We think it adds to the transparency of the process.”
The city and its consultant have created three interactive maps for the project: One is for comments on the community’s bicycling infrastructure, one is for park and ride commuter issues, and the third is for the city’s public transit system.
The maps can be accessed at lawrenceks.org/mpo/studyinput. The system requires you to create an account and register your e-mail address. The city also will host a traditional public meeting to gather input on the plan from 4:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. on June 5 at the Union Pacific Depot, 402 N. Second Street.
The interactive maps are part of the information gathering process for the city and county’s first-ever multimodal transportation study. The study is designed to take a specific look at the systems that need to be in place for people to travel in ways other than an individual vehicle.
The study will focus on three areas:
• Creation of a new countywide bicycle plan. Currently the city of Lawrence has a bicycle plan, but a countywide plan isn’t in place.
“We know that people don’t just stop at the city limits when they are looking for bikeway connections,” Mortinger said.
The study is expected to help identify potential capital improvement projects that could be funded in the future to help improve the local transportation system for bicyclists, Mortinger said.
• Examination of potential sites for park and ride lots. A handful of park and ride commuter lots have sprung up in the city and the county over the last few years. But Mortinger said most of those lots are lacking any formal structure to ensure they’ll exist in the future. The study seeks to do planning for a more formal system because the idea of ride-sharing is expected to be more widespread in the future, Mortinger said.
• Review of the city’s transit system, with a particular emphasis on whether the system can be improved for pedestrians who are walking to and from bus stops.
“We want to do what we can to improve people’s ability to get to bus stops,” Mortinger said.
The study is expected to be completed by late 2013. Mortinger said the department decided to undertake the broad planning effort because the community likely will rely more heavily on alternative modes of transportation in the future.
“We feel like having more transportation choices really is critical to ensuring a good quality of life,” Mortinger said. “Active transportation can be the answer to a lot of issues, whether it easier access to services or improving health or a host of other issues.”
As for the interactive mapping system the city is using for this study, it may end up being the answer to another often-asked city question: How to increase public input on a host of city plans and issues?
Megan Gilliland, communications manager for the city, said the city is likely to look at whether there are ways to used online-based commenting sytems for other technology.
“I think as technology evolves, we need to look at ways to make it easier for people to talk to us,” Gilliland said. “One of the things I like about it is you don’t have to show up at a public meeting to comment and participate. You can log in from home. We think it is going to be a convenient way to communicate with City Hall.”