Public transit hub topic of debate at City Commission forum

The six candidates for the Lawrence City Commission are divided on how to reorganize the city’s public transit system.

Candidates at Wednesday evening’s candidate forum sponsored by the Voter Education Coalition were split on whether building a new multimillion dollar transit hub near 21st and Iowa streets would improve the city’s public transit system, also known as the T. Candidates Stuart Boley and Matthew Herbert both said they thought the location, which is basically just south of Fire Station No. 5, was too remote.

“Can’t we do a destination hub where all the people will be coming together, and there is actually something to do there?” said Boley, who noted that the proposed site is in his neighborhood. “I think we’re missing an opportunity if we don’t create a destination hub.”

Herbert said he also thought a transit hub — which basically is the location where most city buses would come at the end of their routes, and where transfers would occur — needed to be in place that promotes more economic activity.

The transit hub currently is located in downtown, across from the Lawrence Public Library in the 700 block of Vermont Street. Buses, however, basically just park along the curb of the street.

“It is not working downtown,” said Stan Rasmussen. “It is taking up too much curb space, and it is not real efficient when we have parades and such.”

The two incumbent commissioners seeking re-election — Terry Riordan and Bob Schumm — both said they favored the proposed location near 21st and Iowa streets, in part because the location is close to Kansas University’s campus.

“Coordinating our system with KU’s bus system is important,” Riordan said. “And you want a site that has minimal intrusion into the neighborhood, and this site provides that.”

Leslie Soden said she could see the value in the site because it could allow for greater coordination of city and KU bus routes. But she said she wanted the city to work harder to mitigate the concerns of the neighbors before moving forward with the site.

Candidates touched on a number of other topics in the forum, which will air multiple times on the WOW cable system prior to the April 7 election. Among the other comments from the forum were:

• Several candidates expressed an interest in changing the city’s zoning code to require new development in downtown to provide adequate off-street parking. Currently most of downtown has a special zoning category that does not require businesses to provide off-street parking. Boley, Herbert, Rasmussen and Soden all said they wanted to consider code changes. Schumm, a longtime downtown property owner, noted that many businesses have helped pay for public parking in downtown through special benefit districts that have been created over the years. Riordan said he thought providing more parking as part of downtown development was needed, but said it would require public-private partnerships and likely also city incentives to make it feasible.

• Candidates said they believed race relations in Lawrence were generally good. Soden said she would like the police department to keep better data that could be useful in spotting incidents of racial profiling or harassment. Herbert said he thought continuing to teach the importance of diversity to the city’s school-aged population was the most effective way to improve race relations in the city.

• Herbert said a proposed grocery store for 11th and Massachusetts streets “simply won’t work.” He cited parking concerns in the area. He said he would prefer to look for redevelopment near the Johnny’s Tavern site in North Lawrence near the Kansas River levee. Other candidates were less specific about their views on the 11th and Massachusetts proposal, which has called for a parking garage and a multi-story building that would house a grocery, office and apartments.

Soden said she thought smaller corner-style grocery or convenience stores could be a solution for the downtown and East Lawrence neighborhoods, which currently don’t have a grocer nearby. Rasmussen said he also liked that concept, but said it would requires change to the city’s zoning code to be feasible. Riordan said the amount of space needed for a full-service store and parking in downtown was challenging. He said he thinks a grocery in North Lawrence is a “real possibility,” if the city could provide some incentives.

The City Commission election is April 7. The top three finishers in the election will receive at-large seats on the commission.

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