Lawrence City Commission to consider updated downtown layout to respond to coronavirus
photo by: Gould Evans
City leaders will soon decide whether to approve a temporary layout for downtown that limits parking in an effort to give businesses more space to safely operate during the coronavirus pandemic.
As part of its meeting Tuesday, the Lawrence City Commission could approve the temporary layout as proposed, approve a modified version of the layout, direct staff to explore more options, or make no changes, according to a city staff memo to the commission. The city has gotten a mixed response from downtown business owners, with some saying the plan benefits restaurants more than retail shops.
At their meeting June 2, commissioners expressed support for the new layout but wanted the city to remain open to other alternatives. Some changes have been made to the proposed layout since then, and a more specific block-by-block rendering of what the downtown right-of-way configuration would look like is now available as part of the agenda materials on the city’s website, Lawrenceks.org.
Under the updated proposal, the driving lanes on Massachusetts Street would remain the current width, but the angled parking spots that currently line the roadway from Sixth Street through 10th Street would be converted into parallel parking spots, or space that could be used for pedestrians or outside dining or retail sales. Under the proposal, the parallel parking spots would be designated as 15-minute curbside pickup. The proposal calls for the layout to remain in place through the end of Dec. 2020, but it could be modified or repealed at an earlier date, according to the memo.
photo by: Gould Evans
Reconfiguring the layout would cost the city about $100,000, about half of which would be for actual materials, such as new parking signs, pavement markings, traffic delineator posts and rubber curbs, according to the memo. The other half would be for the use of city labor, equipment and some contingency funding. It would be up to the individual businesses whether to expand dining or retail in the newly created space, and businesses would also be responsible for outfitting the area with tables or other materials.
About 10 downtown businesses and organizations have submitted correspondence to the commission regarding the proposed changes, with seven supportive of the changes and three against them. Two longtime downtown retailers, Weaver’s Department Store and Eagles’ Rest furniture, are included in the businesses expressing support for the layout.
Weaver’s President Brady Flannery said in an email to the commission that he acknowledged the plan was not perfect for any individual business or industry, but that he saw it as a compromise by all businesses and interests.
“This proposal simply gives each business the opportunity to adapt in this ever changing environment while keeping several key components in place that are more consistent with the way businesses connect with their customers,” Flannery said.
The three businesses that submitted correspondence against the changes — Yarn Barn, Stitch On, and Arizona Trading Company — spoke specifically about the replacement of the angled parking along Massachusetts Street with 15-minute parallel parking. Jim and Susan Bateman, of Yarn Barn, said they appreciated the intent, seriousness and effort put into the plan, but that the tradeoffs were too great. The letter states that the idea that most walk-in retail or service businesses will have any significant benefit from having more outside space is not realistic, especially given summer temperatures in Lawrence.
“As we all know from Sidewalk Sale experience, when it gets hot customers go inside or just got away,” the Batemans said. “When we see this happen on a special, highly promoted day there is no reason to think that July and August shopping behavior will be different.”
The city also collected feedback on the layout on the Lawrence Listens platform, and received dozens of responses from residents. The responses ranged from those who said they wanted no parking taken away from downtown to those saying the plan didn’t go far enough and should create larger pedestrian areas.
Downtown Lawrence Inc., the architecture and design firm Gould Evans and other local partners helped create the layout and the local health department has expressed support for the plan. Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health Director Dan Partridge said in a letter to the commission that the organization is in favor of the proposal as a way to support social distancing and maximize opportunities for local businesses.
The City Commission will convene virtually at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday, with limited staff members in place at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St. The city has asked that residents participate in the meeting virtually, if they are able to do so, using temporary meeting procedures put in place to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. Directions for submitting public comment and correspondence are included in the meeting agenda that is available on the city’s website.