Buses, builders and bulldozers, oh my.
It is not the latest elaborate act for Lawrence’s Busker Fest. Instead, it may be the newest solution to finding a location to temporarily house downtown Lawrence’s public transit hub.
Commissioners at their meeting tonight will consider a new option for the transfer point: the 700 block of Vermont Street. For those of you who have forgotten your downtown geography, that’s where construction crews are building a $19 million expansion to the Lawrence Public Library.
The latest bus proposal calls for using the east side of the 700 block of Vermont Street for bus parking, and loading and unloading. That is the opposite side of where the construction work for the library is happening. (We’re basically talking about in front of the AT&T building and the vacant Local Burger building.) City transit officials have evaluated the site and haven’t come out against it, but they expressed several concerns. Transit staff believes there is a “high potential” for service disruptions or delays due to the library construction under way across the street. Construction vehicles often use the center lane of Vermont Street to make deliveries to the site. Transit officials also note the large number of buses that will be turning onto westbound Seventh Street may create problems for motorists trying to back out of the parking spaces in front of the post office.
But the new location was suggested by City Commissioner Mike Amyx, who is trying to find a location that doesn’t upset the parking balance downtown. City commissioners late last year agreed to move the transit hub to the 800 block of Vermont Street, but as the time came closer for the move, several merchants objected to the 13 long-term parking spaces that would be lost from the 800 block of Vermont. This new proposal for the 700 block of Vermont Street also will eliminate parking spaces. Transit staff estimates 12 to 16 spaces will need to be removed from the street. But I guess the thinking is the loss of parking in that area will be less objectionable because the new multi-level parking garage next to the library is expected to open this fall. We’ll see whether that theory holds. Thus far complaints about loss of parking haven’t emerged with this proposal, but that may be just because many folks in the area don’t know about it yet. (The proposal showed up on the city’s agenda late yesterday.)
Staff members have countered the new proposal with additional ideas on how they could mitigate parking problems in the 800 block of Vermont. They think they can place six five-hour parking meters on the north side of the 100 block of W. Ninth Street to partially offset the loss of the 13 meters in the 800 block of Vermont. In addition there are eight existing short-term spaces in the 200 block of W. Ninth Street that could be made into five-hour metered spaces. Staff members also believe about 20 two-hour spaces in the public parking lot near Ninth and Vermont could be signed so that people with 10-hour parking permits could use the spaces.
With all those changes, the number of long-term parking spaces near the 800 block of Vermont would nearly double. Merchants have said the need for the long-term spaces is critical because the area is used by downtown employees.
In case you have forgotten what started all this, the city is seeking a temporary home for its transit hub because its current location will become unworkable once construction begins on a new hotel at Ninth and New Hampshire streets. Word around town is that work on the hotel is expected to begin by the end of the month. City officials already have commissioned a consultant to help find a permanent home for the transit hub. It is likely that hub will be outside of downtown, but it may take a year or more to make the necessary improvements and route changes to accommodate a new transit hub. City commissioners later this month are expected to receive information from the consultant.
As for tonight, it is hard to say where the transit hub may land. Staff members thought the issue was settled months ago when they first presented the 800 Vermont proposal.
But this process has kind of turned into one of those complicated home improvement projects. You know they type: You remove, by hand, 20 cubic yards of soil for your new swimming pool only to have your spouse walk out the back, give the dreaded shake of the head and suggest a bird bath and herb garden instead. (The home improvement analogy is appropriate because as we’ve previously reported, the big item at tonight’s meeting is consideration of Menards’ plan to build a home improvement center near 31st and Iowa streets.)
We’ll have to wait and see how the transit hub debate plays out. In the meantime, I’m going to rest up for tonight’s meeting by doing the backstroke . . . in my birdbath.