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Engineers propose roundabout for Wakarusa Drive; new details on plan to bring Google-like fiber project to downtown, East Lawrence


Let's get ready to go round and round. City engineers are proposing a large, multilane roundabout for one of the busier streets in Lawrence.

City commissioners at their meeting on Tuesday will be briefed on a proposal to build a dual-lane roundabout at Wakarusa Drive and Legends Drive, which is also Inverness Drive. (Legends is to the west. Inverness is to the east. The odd naming situation already makes me dizzy.)

The roundabout would be the biggest one in Lawrence, and it would be the first one in the city that would allow two lanes of traffic. In other words, as you are taking those big curves of the roundabout, you could be side-by-side with another car.

You know what that means. I'll finally get to simulate my dream of doing side-by-side racing in turn 4 of Daytona Motor Speedway. Actually, I think engineers are seeking to discourage that type of driving. One of the reasons they are recommending a roundabout is because they believe it will increase safety at the intersection. The roundabout is expected to reduce the average speed through the intersection.

Commissioners won't be taking final action on the project at their Tuesday meeting, but they are being asked to provide staff members feedback on the proposal. Instead of a roundabout, commissioners could direct staff to design the project with a traditional traffic signal. But city engineers estimate that a traffic signal would cost $500,000, compared to $350,000 for a roundabout. Plus, engineers believe a roundabout would increase safety for drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians, compared to a traffic signal.

Engineers said the roundabout, which would be about 20 feet larger in diameter than the next largest one in the city, would be similar to the roundabout on Renner Road in Olathe, next to the Bass Pro Shop. (Ours won't come with a Bass Pro Shop, I'm told.)

The intersection currently uses plain old stop signs to create a four-way stop. That option isn't likely to be considered for the future. In addition to the roundabout issue, commissioners will be briefed on plans to rebuild the portion of Wakarusa Drive that surrounds the Legends Drive/Inverness Drive intersection.

Plans call for the section of road to be expanded to accommodate a center turn lane. The preliminary design shows two 11-foot lanes of traffic in each direction, the center turn lane, a bike lane in each direction, and a six-foot sidewalk on each side of the street. The section of Wakarusa Drive to be rebuilt would run from the Legends/Inverness Drive intersection south to Oread West Drive. That would tie into the newly rebuilt section of Wakarusa Drive that was completed just a few weeks ago. Construction would take place in the summer and fall of 2014. Preliminary plans call for traffic on Wakarusa Drive to remain open during construction. Traffic on Inverness/Legends Drive would be detoured at times. The project is expected to cost about $2.3 million to $2.5 million, and will be paid for through the city's infrastructure sales tax fund.

It will be interesting to see how commissioners react to a roundabout on Wakarusa, and also how the public responds. Years ago, roundabouts used to be one of the hottest of the hot-button issues at City Hall. I don't hear as much about them these days, but that may be because the more recent roundabouts have been in less prominent locations.

The dual-lane aspect also adds a new twist to the discussion. With the dual lanes, you'll get some signs like the one in the picture below. That will be fun. It is like you get a free Rorschach test every time you enter the intersection.

If commissioners approve this roundabout idea, they may be starting a new roundabout trend. Engineers already have said if a roundabout is approved for this intersection, they likely will recommend a roundabout for the Wakarusa and Harvard Drive intersection in future years.

Commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. on Tuesday at City Hall.

In other news and notes from around town:

• If you remember, I told you $500,000 in city funds would buy a traffic signal. Well, the same amount, city officials are being told, also will buy a pilot project that could bring super-fast Internet service to downtown and parts of East Lawrence.

The folks at Wicked Broadband, formerly Lawrence Freenet, are still working to create their own version of the Google Fiber project that is bringing super-fast 1-gigabit-per-second Internet service to large parts of Kansas City.

Lawrence-based Wicked has now announced the neighborhood that it wants to use for its pilot project. It basically is the area from Sixth Street to 11th Street from Vermont to the Kansas River. That encompasses the heart of downtown plus large parts of the residential portion of East Lawrence. In total, Kris Adair, one of the co-owners of the business, who also happens to be a Lawrence school board member, estimated there are about 1,100 homes and business in the area that would be eligible to sign up for the service.

Before you quit your job and start planning to take over the world with super-fast Internet, there is a still a big question mark with this proposal. Adair confirmed that the pilot project likely won't go forward unless the city agrees to provide the company with a $500,000 economic development grant.

Back in May, we reported that Wicked sent a letter seeking a $500,000 economic development grant from the city for the project. Wicked plans to match the request with $500,000 in private financing. That request, however, has not moved at a super-fast pace. (I apologize, by the way, for getting all technical with you with terms like super-fast.) The City Commission hasn't publicly discussed the request, and it hasn't been the topic for the city's Public Incentives Review Commission, either.

Adair said she hopes city staff members soon will make a recommendation on the project and schedule a hearing for the request at the Public Incentives Review Commission. That would be the first step toward getting the proposal to the City Commission.

There is one other twist that has emerged with this project. Adair gave me a December 2012 City Hall memo that details an offer Wicked made to the city that would have avoided the $500,000 grant request. Wicked officials offered to deed to the city all the company's fiber optic cable and equipment, in exchange for the city taking over Wicked's debt. At the time of the memo, that debt was about $1.3 million.

Wicked officials were promoting the idea as way the city could jumpstart competition for broadband services in the city. Wicked officials suggested the city could rent the fiber optic infrastructure to private Internet service providers, who would compete for business in the city. Or, it was suggested, the city could start its own pilot project to deliver super-fast Internet service to the residents and business. Or, if the city wanted to be really aggressive, it could undertake a project to install the super-fast service citywide. According to the memo, such a project likely would cost about $36 million.

But discussion of Wicked's proposal to deed its business over to the city was never publicly discussed at City Hall. Adair said the company pulled the offer from the table after going six months without having the issue resolved.

We'll see what comes of the $500,000 request. In the meantime, Wicked officials are holding a series of meeting for residents and businesses that are interested in signing up for the service if it becomes available. The first meeting is at 5 p.m. today at the Cider Gallery, 810 Pennsylvania St.

The company also will host meetings at 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday and on Nov. 14. Both will be at the Cider Gallery. The company also will host a meeting at 2:30 p.m. on Nov. 10 at the Hy-Vee at 3504 Clinton Parkway. It appears the company also plans to offer the 1-gigabit service in a small area of West Lawrence, although I don't have the specific boundaries of that area at the moment.

I'll provide you an update as more details become available about how the city may move forward on this project.

A graphic showing the basics of dual-lane roundabout and some of the signs that would be posted to instruct drivers. Courtesy: City of Lawrence

A graphic showing the basics of dual-lane roundabout and some of the signs that would be posted to instruct drivers. Courtesy: City of Lawrence by Chad Lawhorn

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  • Comments

    Kris Adair 4 years, 5 months ago

    Join us for information meetings. We would love to have all residents come out to our sessions.

    Amy Varoli Elliott 4 years, 5 months ago

    I'm with you lets stop wasting taxpayer money on private businesses, and this one is 1.3 million in debt already

    Mike Silverman 4 years, 5 months ago

    Respectfully disagree. Not speaking to the specifics of this proposal for this business, but the government of Lawrence investing in infrastructure that will benefit all the citizens of Lawrence as well as make for a more desirable environment for doing business would be a good thing. Ideally, the City of Lawrence should build its own fiber network and operate it as a "common carrier" leasing it to any business who wanted to provide service - kind of how the City builds roads, and then different businesses can run services over those roads (and of course, residents can use the streets for travel too)

    Jason Johnson 4 years, 5 months ago

    I oppose any privately owned business from getting tax payer money. If you have such an awesome idea, then get investors.

    Jean Robart 4 years, 5 months ago

    Are the city fathers REALLY that fond of driving like at Trafalgar square? The roundabouts work fine in Europe, but they're a pain in the neck in Lawrence.

    Mike Silverman 4 years, 5 months ago

    Anything would be better then the stop sign currently there; a regular traffic light would be an improvement. Cars stack up badly on north and southbound Wakarusa around rush hour.

    Jean Robart 4 years, 5 months ago

    I agree--what in the world is wrong with putting up a signal light? NJOT a blinking light.

    Ron Holzwarth 4 years, 5 months ago

    "so few people know how to use them."

    A lot of people forget to drive on the right hand side of the road too, and that leads to a large number of accidents.

    Ron Holzwarth 4 years, 5 months ago

    Jean Robart? I highly suggest that you not drive on Trafalgar Square. If you do, expect your stay in the UK to be extended by much longer than you expected, and the accommodations in the jail will not be to your liking.

    And, if you think that driving laws are a pain in the neck, perhaps you should consider surrendering your driver's license.

    Clipped from:

    Trafalgar Square, at the heart of London, is one of the city’s most vibrant open spaces.

    Managed by the Greater London Authority, Trafalgar Square is a landmark in central London enjoyed by Londoners and all visitors alike. It is a lively place often used for a wide range of activities including: special events and celebrations like the Royal Wedding, Olympics One Year to Go, St Patrick's Day and Chinese New Year; filming and photography; and rallies and demonstrations.

    Home to the Fourth Plinth, which has been a centrepiece for some of the world’s most provocative contemporary public art since 1999, as well as Nelson’s Column, the square is rich in history and provides a platform for new artistic performances and events - visit our events pages to see what's on. If you wish to hold an event on the Square please go to the Booking the Square page.

    If you’ve got an idea for an event in Trafalgar Square then please complete our online booking form. We welcome all Londoners and tourists alike, and hope you enjoy your visit to London’s most famous square.

    Julius Nolan 4 years, 5 months ago

    Anything freenet with is involved with is a very bad idea.

    Julius Nolan 4 years, 5 months ago

    Dumb idea about roundabouts, especially there.

    Kate Rogge 4 years, 5 months ago

    Why can't they simply put in a traffic light at that intersection?

    Ron Holzwarth 4 years, 5 months ago

    Because people get injured, maimed, and killed at intersections that are controlled by traffic lights, and injuries are virtually unknown at intersections that are controlled by roundabouts.

    Kate Rogge 4 years, 5 months ago

    Ron, I know that's what's always said to justify these damnable roundabouts, but I think making a left turn in a single lane roundabout exposes me to being T-boned from traffic to my right and straight ahead as I pass before them, and making that same turn in a two-lane roundabout makes me vulnerable to the experience and judgment of whoever is in the lane next to me (if you're in the inside lane, you have to move out of it to do anything other than make a continuous circle). All roundabouts do, to the extent they work at all, is slow observant traffic down to a crawl because its clear we have to make darn sure that other traffic sees us. Not good enough, in my opinion, to justify the expense of building these things and making me worry about being struck from even more directions than are likely at an intersection regulated by a stop light or sign.

    Your argument seems to be that I will likely survive being struck. Mine is that I am more likely to be struck. I vote for continuing to take my chances with traffic lights and stop signs (and every driver's lifetime experience navigating them) and keep me and my venerable Volvo in one piece and on the road.

    Stop lights and stop signs don't stop inattentive or drunk drivers. Roundabouts don't stop them either.

    Ron Holzwarth 4 years, 5 months ago

    Good point. In order to comply with your ideas, let's get rid of all of the entrance ramps onto all of the Interstates and replace them with stop signs and traffic signals for traffic on the Interstates. At one time, many people argued for that, as you are arguing against roundabouts now. But, roundabouts have been working fine in the UK since 1909.

    But on a serious note, statistics are certainly not on your side. Serious injuries and deaths are virtually unknown on roundabouts, but they are certainly very common at intersections that are controlled by traffic lights and stop signs in Lawrence, Kansas. And of course, it's the same elsewhere.

    And, a T-bone accident is not possible on a roundabout, since when entering a roundabout, both vehicles are traveling in virtually the same direction. Unless one of the vehicles is flying through the air, which does happen from time to time.

    Kate Rogge 4 years, 5 months ago

    Roundabouts are like playing dodgem cars in the Country Club Plaza before they finally put in stop lights and stop signs.

    Scott Batson 4 years, 5 months ago

    Traffic entering modern roundabouts does not do so at a right angle, but at a much smaller one. A T-bone is a right angle crash. It's a physics thing. Your chances of being involved in a collision are dependant on the number of conflicts possible, and the number at a modern roundbout is significantly less than a traditional interseciton. The severity of a crash is what truly matters. Few people die or are injured at 20 mph.

    Seth Peterson 4 years, 5 months ago

    I hate roundabouts, but yay Ron and Scott (and city developers) for using logic and reason. It does make a lot of sense.

    But I still really hate round-a-bouts

    Fred Whitehead Jr. 4 years, 5 months ago

    No, no, no a thousand times NO!!! I am on the streets a lot in my job and the absolutely stupid and crazy stunts I see every day from Lawrence drivers (please note, I did NOT say students) are dangerous and frightening. These devilish roadway devices may work for Eourpean drivers but for a frightening group of Lawrence drivers, they are an unparalleled hazard. In a town where many people drive around in the early morning dark with no headlights, roll stop signs with no discernable slow down, and other stunts, roundabouts lose any recommendation that I can think of

    . Vote this one down. We already have enough driving hazards in little ole Larryville.

    Ron Holzwarth 4 years, 5 months ago

    From reading the above comments about the proposed roundabout, it appears that many share these three concerns:

    1) A lot of people do not understand what a 'Yield' sign means.

    2) A lot of people have difficulty staying in their own lane.

    3) A lot of people have trouble changing lanes safely.

    I sure hope that none of those people ever try to drive in a big city, such as Los Angeles or San Diego! I never had any trouble, but then, I'm used to it.

    David Smith 4 years, 5 months ago

    It's interesting to note that the small area of West Lawrence would provide this internet service to the personal residence of Kris Adair and her husband Joshua Montgomery. I also find it interesting that Joshua no longer seems to be the public face of Freenet/Wicked Broadband. Perhaps that's because he's burned so many bridges that the company is trying to play down the relationship?

    Oh, and roundabouts suck, or perhaps more accurately, people in this town suck at navigating them.

    Ron Holzwarth 4 years, 5 months ago

    I'm sure that if you trade in your present vehicle for a very large one with a lot of dents, you will quickly discover that everyone slams on their brakes and lets you through the roundabouts, because there seems to be an unwritten law that the largest and most dented vehicle is almost always given the right of way, regardless of the written laws.

    I had a bit of trouble driving here in town after I traded my small, but older and in very good condition, Honda Accord for a Ford Explorer, which was old and rather large. The problem was that at four way stops, the driver with the legal right of way would never go, waiting for me. So, we would both sit there, wasting our time. It was very unlike when I drove my Honda Accord, and this seemed to be an everyday thing.

    Finally I figured it out, and after that, getting through a four way stop was no problem at all. I am sure that it works the same way at roundabouts.

    Joshua Montgomery 4 years, 5 months ago

    Now that the LJWorld has revised its policy on anonymous commenters, I'd like to take this opportunity to call "David Smith" out.

    Mr. "Smith" has only created 1 comment on the LJWorld, his linked Facebook profile was created this week and he has no friends. What this indicates is that Mr. "Smith" is actually an anonymous comenter who deliberately created a profile to comment on a Wicked Broadband story and personally attack me.

    I can think of three classes of people who might have a motive to do this:

    1. An employee of a local competitor, out to attack the opposition. This person must be pretty descent at his or her job, or be a political viper to be among the 51% of employees that survived the layoffs.

    2. A public employee posting anonymously to the LJWorld. Since he or she would be held accountable at work for his or her comments if commenting under a real name, he or she has decided to take the coward's way out and weigh in anonymously.

    3. An employee I terminated for malfeasance. From time to time you get a bad apple and you need to cull them from the barrel.

    I am leaning toward #3. Regardless of who it is, however, the LJWorld owes it to readers to identify and shut down these anonymous accounts. If management wants to contact me I'd be happy to make some suggestions as to how this can be done technologically (with minimal human interaction).

    Chris Golledge 4 years, 5 months ago

    I kind of like the idea of not having to stop and wait at a red light when there is no conflicting traffic. Plus, what others have said about accident rates and injuries. FWIW, navigating the one at Renner Road is not a problem.

    rules: http://www.wcroads.org/sites/all/themes/wcroads/images/Roundabouts/roundabouts-nav1.jpg

    Chris Golledge 4 years, 5 months ago

    Kate, Re: "Not good enough, in my opinion, to justify the expense of building these things .."

    From above: "traffic signal would cost $500,000, compared to $350,000 for a roundabout"

    My guess would be that maintaining a roundabout would be also be less than maintaining a traffic signal.

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