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City set to clear way for test of legalized hitchhiking program; engineers propose unique design for pump station near 31st and Louisiana


At the moment, my thumb is still multicolored from a mishap with Easter egg dye, melted chocolate bunnies and several exploding marshmallow Peeps. But soon enough, it will be all clean and ready to participate in a new legalized hitchhiking program that city commissioners are set to advance.

If you remember back in December, we reported on an idea by a new group who wants to create a ride-sharing program around the idea of hitchhiking. Back then, city commissioners told staff to research ways to allow the program to fit into a city law that technically makes it illegal to stand alongside a road for the purpose of soliciting a ride.

Well, commissioners at their meeting on Tuesday will consider granting a six-month exemption from that law to the group Lawrence OnBoard. The exemption will give Lawrence OnBoard the time to conduct a test of the idea, using about 30 volunteers.

As previously reported, the program is built around a couple of ideas:

— The basic concept is that hitchhiking will become a more reliable form of ride sharing. But instead of simply sticking your thumb out and hoping for the best, members of Lawrence OnBoard will be equipped with a folding white board with a logo. The rider will write his or her destination on the white board, and then pick a safe place to stand alongside a city street. — Riders will be asked to register with Lawrence OnBoard before they begin using the system. They'll be issued a photo I.D., and a background check will be run on each member. As for the drivers, people also can register to be a driver, but any motorist can choose to pick up someone holding a whiteboard. For security purposes, Lawrence OnBoard suggests that riders send a text message to the Lawrence OnBoard office when they get into a vehicle. The text message could include the membership number of the driver — if the driver is a member of Lawrence OnBoard— or the license plate of the vehicle. The test program will give Lawrence OnBoard organizers a chance to see what type of locations work best for catching rides, what other guidelines need to be put in place and what safety concerns riders had using the system. Jenny O'Brien, founder of the Lawrence OnBoard program, told me in December she often uses the method to get from her home in rural Jefferson County to her office near downtown Lawrence. She said the program covers a greater geographic area and allows more flexibility than the city's bus system, for example. "We think it not only is going to be a great way to get people to where they need to be, but also a great way to build trust, community connectedness and neighborliness," she said in December.

City staff members said they are fine with granting a temporary exemption to allow the program to be further studied, but noted that the police department stressed "safety should be a priority in conducting any such ride-sharing program."

Back in December, police spokesman Sgt. Trent McKinley said the concept does go against a common piece of safety advice.

"We wouldn't suggest people taking a ride with people they don't know," McKinley said.

In other news and notes from around town:

• Maybe they'll call it Mt. Wastewater. I doubt it, but a project near 31st and Louisiana streets could be called one of the first signs that construction is nearing on a new $75 million sewer treatment plant south of the Wakarusa River.

Commissioners at their meeting on Tuesday evening will consider approving the design of a sewage pump station that will be built near the northwest corner of 31st and Louisiana streets. Staff members are recommending a unique berm design that essentially will hide the station from the view of the residences to the north of the site. See below for some renderings. As you can see, it will create a bit of a hill in what is otherwise a flat area that the city recently purchased.

The pump station will be a key piece of infrastructure that will transfer sewage to the new treatment plant. If you are confused about where the new sewage treatment plant will be, here's what I've been telling people lately: Go south on O'Connell Road. When you get to the Wakarusa River, keep going. You'll fall into the river, because there is no bridge there. But when you get out of your car and wade across, you'll basically be about where the city plans to build its new sewer plant.

If approved, construction work on the pump station isn't expected to begin until spring 2015. Work is expected to last until the end of 2016. But a new memo from city engineers suggests we'll soon start seeing construction work at the site of the sewage treatment plant south of the river.

Plans call for access roads and fill work to begin at the site in June. The entire construction project for the plant is expected to last through 2017. As part of their meeting on Tuesday, commissioners are scheduled to approve a $4.6 million contract with Black & Veatch Corp. to conduct several engineering tasks for the project.

• Now that your car is in the Wakarusa River, you may care more about this next project: A new transit hub for the city and university's public bus system. The city and KU are considering a site at 21st and Iowa streets. The city will be hosting an informational meeting on the project at 6 p.m. Monday at Fire Station No. 5, 1901 Stewart Ave.

A view from the southwest of the proposed pump station near 31st and Louisiana streets Photo:Courtesy City of Lawrence and PEC

A view from the southwest of the proposed pump station near 31st and Louisiana streets Photo:Courtesy City of Lawrence and PEC by Chad Lawhorn

A view from the northeast of the proposed pump station near 31st and Louisiana streets. Rendering courtesy of City of Lawrence and PEC

A view from the northeast of the proposed pump station near 31st and Louisiana streets. Rendering courtesy of City of Lawrence and PEC by Chad Lawhorn


Matthew Herbert 3 years, 7 months ago

Excuse me for being overly dramatic, but when the spokesman for the Police department has to come out and say that this program goes against everything law enforcement suggests the community do to be safe, it's PROBABLY not a great idea for the city commission to throw their support behind the program.

Leslie Swearingen 3 years, 7 months ago

So, hitchhiking within the city limits of Lawrence is only permitted to those who are registered with Lawrence OnBoard, and have been vetted and issued a photo ID? Preposterous!

Showing preference to one group over another is unconstitutional. If they have a right to hitchhike then so should I.

More flexible than the bus? I think not, and who is so cheap they can't afford to pay a dollar, if you are a student your fees pay for this and you just have to show your student ID to ride, but they can use the drivers gas and wear and tear on the car for free?

Fred Mion 3 years, 7 months ago

You have a constitutional right to hitchhike?

Sounds like you've got a bug up your rumpus.

Clark Coan 3 years, 7 months ago

There's a constitutional right to travel according to US Supreme Court rulings.

Lawrence Morgan 3 years, 7 months ago

In San Francisco there is a major program similar to this. There are certain places people stand and they will be picked up to cross the bay to the other side. Usually they both check IDs and pay part of the cost of going over. There has never been a problem with this as far as I know.

Lawrence Morgan 3 years, 7 months ago

Oh, and I wanted to say thanks to Chad for these great photographs. They make his column much more informative.

Richard Ballard 3 years, 7 months ago

Excuse me too.

But how many more rear-end car crashes on major streets be be caused by all LOB cars slamming on the brakes to pick up a sign-board LOB bearer standing by a major street?

It's bad enough now with all the cell-phone distracted, text messaging, Totally Oblivious drivers on the streets already!

I've been rear-ended twice by distracted drivers in four years now, just setting at a stop light!.

Heaven forbid more cars stopping suddenly between intersections & traffic lights.

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