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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.