Lawrence City Commission approves reduced plan for 21st Street bike boulevard

photo by: Screenshot/City of Lawrence

The Lawrence City Commission and city staff meet over video conferencing Tuesday, April 21, 2020.

After plans to construct the city’s first bike boulevard turned out more expensive than expected, city leaders have voted to construct a scaled-down version of the project that keeps it within budget.

As part of its meeting Tuesday, the Lawrence City Commission voted 4-1, with Commissioner Lisa Larsen opposing, to approve a design plan for a bicycle boulevard on 21st Street that stays within the project’s remaining budget of about $331,150. The lowest bid, from Phoenix Concrete LLC, came in about $69,000 more than expected, and the plan commissioners approved removes several features from the project to keep it within budget.

Bicycle boulevards are designed to reduce speed and volume of traffic to make streets safer for cyclists and pedestrians. Larsen said she was concerned about the value of proceeding with the project after so many elements had been eliminated, and suggested tabling the project for a later time when it could be reevaluated.

“I strongly believe in us moving forward with something at some point, but I don’t know if now is the right time to do that,” Larsen said.

The rest of the commissioners, however, wanted to go ahead with the project with a reduced scope. The plan approved by the commission will cost about $329,700. Several features that were in the original plan are gone in the new plan: one of two traffic diverters meant to reduce cut-through traffic, three of four speed bumps meant to reduce vehicle speed, and a pedestrian crossing beacon with flashing lights originally planned for the intersection of 21st and Louisiana streets. Commissioners expressed interest in potentially adding the pedestrian beacon in the future when other such beacons are installed in town, which could potentially reduce costs.

Mayor Jennifer Ananda noted the project was the city’s first bike boulevard, and said she thought it was the city’s lack of experience with such projects that led to the bids coming in significantly over budget. Ananda also said she thought there had been some negative reaction to the idea of a bike boulevard, but that in reality the boulevard — which still allows cars to use the street — is more akin to a traffic calming project.

“The very term that we used to describe this project tends to be polarizing for folks, but when we talk about calming our streets, this is what our community wants,” Ananda said. “We have a multitude of requests for traffic calming in our community and we revamped that program.”

Plans for the 21st Street bicycle boulevard have it running from Ousdahl Road to Massachusetts Street and also include bike and pedestrian safety improvements along Ousdahl from 19th Street to 21st Street. The improvements on Ousdahl would link the boulevard to the recently completed bike and pedestrian tunnel under the intersection of 19th and Iowa streets. The boulevard includes various features, such as a set of speed bumps, a traffic diverter, an expanded pedestrian island, and pavement markings that aim to deter cut-through traffic and reinforce a 20 mph speed limit that is safer for bicyclists and pedestrians. The boulevard will also include the city’s first chicanes, which are horizontal deflections in the course of the street designed to reduce vehicle speeds.

Commissioner Courtney Shipley agreed with Ananda, and said she thought the reduced design was a good compromise that would still deliver what the commission wanted. She said the commission probably would not be reconsidering the project at all if the bids had come in within budget. She said she was not comfortable throwing out years of public discussion, planning and the money spent on the design. Shipley said she wanted to see the project go forward, but within budget, and that the priority was neighborhood safety.

“I think we need to continue moving forward with projects that answer to our desire to be bikeable, answer to our desire to be walkable,” Shipley said.

City Commission Meeting 04/21/20


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