City leaders question study results for bus transfer hub location

photo by: Mike Yoder

A Lawrence Transit System bus stops just south of Seventh and Vermont streets, Monday, Jan. 18, 2016.

Some city leaders and neighbors are questioning the results of a consultant-led study that determined the two best locations for the city’s bus transfer hub.

One of the recommendations, on Stewart Avenue, is one block north of a site recommended by a 2014 location study. As was the case then, some residents of the nearby Schwegler Neighborhood oppose the location, citing concerns about noise, traffic and safety. Residents submitted a petition to the commission against the Stewart Avenue site and in favor of one on Bob Billings Parkway, and more than a dozen attended the commission’s meeting Tuesday.

Schwegler Neighborhood Association board member Edna Mosher told commissioners that having a bus hub on the Stewart Avenue site would negatively impact the neighborhood, adding to issues created by the recent development of the University of Kansas Central District.

“The Schwegler Neighborhood is already negatively impacted on the north side by traffic, lighting and noise with the development of it over the last two years,” Mosher said. “(The Stewart Avenue site) would negatively impact this neighborhood on the west side with the same exact issues, and add the issue of assuring security and safety for all in the area.”

The city hired consulting firm TranSystems last year to evaluate potential locations for a bus transfer hub, and consultants identified the 700 block of Vermont Street and 1941 Stewart Ave. as the two best locations. The recommendation was based on several factors, including how geographically central the sites are to populations that need transit, the effect on travel times, and the cost to acquire the property.

photo by: TranSystems

Consultants completed a comparative analysis of the five final bus hub site locations. Shaded in circles represent a favorable evaluation.

Conceptual plans at the Stewart Avenue site call for buses to enter and exit the site from a new access point off of Iowa Street, as opposed to using residential streets.

Some commissioners also questioned the Stewart Avenue site’s proximity to the neighborhood. Vice Mayor Lisa Larsen said she doesn’t think she could support the location because input gathered as part of the study indicated that residents did not want the transfer hub within a residential area.

“It was the only one on list that was within a residential area, so I really struggle with the idea of putting it in a location that does not meet the goals that were set out by this study,” Larsen said.

Larsen, as well as Mayor Stuart Boley, indicated they would like the city to consider a site on Bob Billings Parkway that scored high in the consultant evaluation but did not end up in the final recommendation. Boley also said he had concerns about how the flow of buses would work considering the amount of traffic on Iowa Street and the site’s proximity to the fire station directly north of the site.

The study indicated that the site on Stewart Avenue would improve travel times for most riders, while the site on Bob Billings would maintain current travel times. Transit Administrator Robert Nugent said another issue with the Bob Billings site, which is owned by KU, is that university representatives said they already have plans to make it an entryway to west campus. Nugent said KU indicated it prefers the transfer hub be located on the Stewart Avenue site, which is owned by KU Endowment and near the university’s new central district.

Commissioner Matthew Herbert did not agree with Larsen and Boley’s idea to pursue the Bob Billings site, noting that cutting down on travel time is important if the city is to increase ridership on the bus system. Herbert said if transit is to be more than just a last option, it has to be more convenient for riders.

“Ultimately, a hub serves no purpose if it doesn’t actually reduce times, if it doesn’t actually improve the system,” said Herbert, who said he was trying to stay open-minded about the location. “My advice in all of this would be, whatever we narrow it down to needs to be a location that actually has a purpose to be built there, other than just spending this giant reserve fund that we have in transit.”

Commissioner Leslie Soden said that she was in favor of going forward with the recommendation for the 700 block of Vermont Street, which is the current location of the transfer hub and across the street from the Lawrence Public Library. She said she supports the conceptual plans to add pedestrian crossings, shelters and other improvements to the site, but is also interested in looking to see if a secondary transfer site could reduce travel times.

Over the course of the study, consultants looked at about 20 potential locations, and previously narrowed that list down to five finalists. Consultants used seven factors to evaluate the sites: travel time, location, accommodation of an indoor facility, accommodation of fleet operations, outside of residential neighborhood, property acquisition costs and ease of constructability. Three of the finalists essentially tied for the most favorable factors: Bob Billings Parkway and Crestline Drive; Clinton Parkway and Lawrence Avenue; and 1941 Stewart Avenue, according to a chart included in the study.

Members of the Public Transit Advisory Committee reviewed the study last week, and indicated a preliminary preference for the Stewart Avenue site because it reduces travel times and also has the ability to accommodate growth of the transit system.

Ultimately, the commission voted to receive the study and directed city staff to talk to KU further about the potential to use the Bob Billings location, and get more information about why KU prefers the Stewart Avenue site. Commissioners also indicated they want to maintain a downtown transfer point regardless, and Nugent said downtown would remain a location where riders could transfer buses even if a different primary hub was created.


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