It doesn't have all the bars, restaurants and shopping that downtown Lawrence has, but the intersection of 21st and Iowa streets might soon be the center of the universe for the city's bus riders.
Lawrence city commissioners at their Tuesday evening meeting will be asked to move forward on a project that would move the city's public transit hub out of downtown and place it on university property near 21st and Iowa streets.
Yes, that's the 21st and Iowa area that's kind of next door to Fire Station No. 5, sort of across the street from Kansas University's park-and-ride lot and a couple blocks away from the shopping center that includes Hastings, CiCi's Pizza and other businesses.
That may not sound like the same pizzazz that downtown Lawrence has, but city transit leaders believe the move would be good.
"It is a great advantage to have the transit hub that close to the university," said Robert Nugent, the city's public transit administrator. "With this location, you could ride pretty much from anywhere in town and have a pretty direct route to the KU campus."
The current transit hub, which serves as the main gathering place for buses and as a transfer point for riders, is near Seventh and Vermont streets. Nugent said there's barely enough room on the block for the seven buses that sometimes have to be there at once. But the bigger issue is that the department has been forced to move from previous downtown locations due to development. Nugent said it is important for the service to have a location it knows will serve for the long term.
KU leaders have pushed for the 21st and Iowa area because they would like to have more robust transit service closer to campus. The city and KU operate separate, but coordinated, transit systems, and riders are encouraged to transfer between the two.
Nugent said the 21st and Iowa location is more centrally located than downtown, which he said could lead to dramatic improvements in service. He said his office is studying the possibility of making nearly all routes on the city's system run on half-hour cycles at the new location. Most city routes now run on an hour cycle, which can produce long waits for people who miss a bus.
"It would be a dramatic improvement," Nugent said. "When we have converted some of our routes to a half-hour frequency, ridership just explodes."
But Nugent said his department has heard concerns from riders about the system becoming less downtown-oriented. He said a new system would continue to have routes that serve downtown, but riders might be more likely to have to transfer to get downtown. Currently, many routes offer direct service to downtown.
Nugent said the department also has heard concerns from neighbors. A transit hub would require a traffic signal at 21st and Iowa streets. Nugent said neighbors have a legitimate concern that the signal would make it easier for motorists to use 21st Street as a way to avoid busy 23rd Street.
City engineers have looked at possible improvements for the street. Those include roundabouts at either 21st and Ousdahl or 21st and Stewart Avenue. Engineers also have looked at "entrance islands," which are devices that narrow the lanes of traffic at certain points. Making 21st Street one way also has been considered. Nugent, however, said fire department officials have expressed concern about the one-way street option.
As for increased bus traffic through the neighborhood, Nugent said the city would commit not to route more buses through the neighborhood. All buses would enter and leave the transit hub either along Iowa Street or Stewart Avenue, the short street behind Fire Station No. 5.
The transit hub — a series of canopies, driveways and a small building for bus drivers to take a break — has an estimated price tag of about $4 million. The transit department has money in its budget for the facility, which has been on the drawing board for years.
If the site is approved Tuesday, Nugent said it likely would be a year before the bus system would begin using the new facility.
Commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall.