Site selection, public outreach process for downtown bus station slated to begin in 2024
photo by: City of Lawrence screenshot
It won’t be long before work to bring a new bus station to downtown Lawrence begins in earnest.
The Public Transit Advisory Committee set the stage for that work Monday, when it met to discuss future plans for the site selection and public outreach process of the project. The last time city leaders considered moving forward with a downtown bus station was in 2021.
Adam Weigel, the city’s public transit and parking manager, gave a presentation about the project timeline at Monday’s meeting, starting with a Lawrence City Commission work session slated for the group’s Dec. 19 meeting. Weigel said that will set the foundation for the process and gather feedback from city leaders, which could be used to rework parts of the plan if needed. From there, Weigel said the next step will be establishing a steering committee composed of voices from many different perspectives, which will then work to define a downtown boundary and establish the site selection criteria.
Then, Weigel said the committee will solicit “all possible site ideas,” rank a set of sites for test concepts and, eventually, propose a single site for a final design. The Lawrence City Commission would be responsible for selecting which sites to move forward with both for test concepts and final design.
Weigel told the group that despite the new Central Station at 2315 Bob Billings Parkway that’s slated to open soon, improvements in the downtown area are no less a priority.
“One of things we’ve been hearing is surprise at the fact that a downtown station project is still on our books with Central Station opening,” Weigel said. “There’s some misconception that because that bus station is opening, we are no longer looking at improvements downtown, and that’s not the case.”
Weigel said that’s because there are still five bus routes that will serve the downtown area, with or without improvements. The project is intended to provide additional comfort and convenience and make it a more viable option to use public transit in the area.
The project will cost roughly $2 million, Weigel said, but the city has already secured $1.6 million in federal grant dollars to help cover the majority of the cost. According to his presentation, design and construction would take place during 2025.
Weigel noted that a downtown project wouldn’t be to the same scale as the Central Station project, which includes an entire building, indoor lobby and customer service amenities. But a downtown station would add “core” features that the current temporary bus hub located across the street from the Lawrence Public Library lacks. For instance, the current platform lacks individual bus bays, weather protection, seating, restrooms for bus drivers and signage to inform people when the next buses are departing.
Weigel said there are a few concerns about the project that have “bubbled up” more frequently, including the perception that few people ride the bus, but he said that an average of 561 riders per day have boarded buses from the hub at Seventh and Vermont streets during 2023.
Another prominent concern is the perception of public transit as feeling unsafe due to rider behaviors, which Weigel said is being addressed in a couple of ways. Lawrence Transit implemented a rider suspension policy a few months ago, for example, and is currently developing a code of conduct for Central Station.
“That does give us a good framework for how we address negative behaviors, unsafe behaviors that can happen on the bus,” Weigel said. “That has been in operation since June of this year, and is going pretty well. We’re working through things as they come up, and that’s been a helpful tool.”