City to revert unused expansion areas in temporary downtown layout back to parking
photo by: Rochelle Valverde
Updated at 5:34 p.m. Tuesday
After fewer businesses than anticipated opted to use a temporary downtown layout meant to give businesses more room to operate outdoors amid the coronavirus pandemic, the city will be reverting the unused expansion areas back to angled parking.
The City of Lawrence announced in a news release Tuesday that the angled parking will automatically be restored to all businesses that are not currently participating in the program on Wednesday. The release states that although the program is still an option for businesses, the city will return the angled parking spots directly outside of businesses that are not currently planning to use the expansion areas.
Though some businesses were supportive of the ability to expand outdoors, where it’s more difficult for the coronavirus to spread, others were concerned that the new layout benefits only restaurants and bars and hurts other businesses by taking away parking. The city states in the release that it is making the changes based on concerns from downtown businesses and the recent increases in local coronavirus cases.
“Since the implementation of this plan started, the rise in positive COVID-19 cases in Douglas County — along with other unforeseen challenges — has resulted in less business interest than originally assumed in utilizing the parking area for other activities,” the release states. “In the same way that businesses that drive Lawrence’s economy have been flexible through the COVID-19 pandemic, the City realizes that being flexible with this plan is important to meet the needs of all stakeholders through this exceptionally difficult time.”
Under the new layout, currently set to be in place until Oct. 31, the angled parking spots that previously lined Massachusetts Street from Sixth Street to 11th Street were replaced with parallel parking spots, creating space along the sidewalk and at the end of each block for businesses to use for outdoor seating or sales. The parallel parking along Massachusetts Street was designated as 15-minute parking zones. On June 16, the Lawrence City Commission voted 3-2, with commissioners Lisa Larsen and Stuart Boley opposed, to approve the changes, but with the direction that city staff should revert some areas back to angled parking if no businesses applied to use the expansion areas.
The decision to revert unused areas back to angled parking is being made with the support of Downtown Lawrence Inc., which initially recommended the new layout. DLI Executive Director Sally Zogry said in an email to the Journal-World that the DLI Board of Directors met Friday and wrote a letter to the city regarding the downtown plan as it has been implemented thus far.
“This meeting was the board’s way of addressing issues and concerns now that the plan has been partially implemented,” Zogry said. “We always knew this plan needed to be flexible and it was a perfect time to discuss changes given the dynamics of the current climate of COVID-19.”
The letter states that over the past week, DLI discussed the layout changes with nearly every downtown business owner and it has become clear that the new parking arrangements are less desirable to most downtown businesses. The letter states that there is also concern that walking spaces are more confined and less safe, and that downtown is less inviting overall.
The letter states that DLI still supports the ability for businesses that want to use the expansion areas to do so and the addition of sanitation stations and way-finding signs for parking, two aspects of the plan that have not yet been implemented. However, the letter emphasizes that circumstances have changed since DLI recommended the plan.
“Since that time, it has become clear that a significant increase in Covid-19 cases appears likely in our community, masks have been mandated in public spaces, and bars have been forced to close,” the letter states. The letter goes on to say that DLI remains committed to solving difficult and complex issues, even when that means changing course from previous recommendations.
As of Tuesday, eight businesses were in the process of applying to use the expansion areas, according to information from the city permit office. All of those businesses were restaurants or bars.
The city used pavement markings, traffic barricades, rubber curbs, signs and traffic cones to create the boundaries of the new layout. City crews will begin removing those features at 7 a.m. on Wednesday, starting with the 600 block of Massachusetts Street and working south, according to the release. Traffic may be restricted for a short duration, where a single lane may be closed to accommodate the work, but the city does not anticipate the need for a full closure of the street at any time.
The city will work with those who have already completed the permit process for the program and will continue to accept new permit applications, according to the release. Businesses that wish to have the parking in front of their building reverted to angled parking but later decide to use the expansion area will still be able to submit permits and use that space in the future if they desire. Businesses interested in using the temporary right-of-way program can visit lawrenceks.org/downtown-reconfiguration for more information.