City’s resident survey shows increased dissatisfaction with infrastructure, diminished perceptions of downtown
photo by: Nick Gerik
As Lawrence residents filled out the city’s recent citizen satisfaction survey, streets and utility infrastructure seemed to be on their minds, and many were not happy.
Though a large majority of respondents to the city’s 2019 survey said they were satisfied with city services overall, only 37% said they were satisfied with the maintenance of streets and utilities. Since the 2015 citizen survey, satisfaction with the timeliness of street maintenance repairs and the condition of streets also significantly decreased. Another area that saw a significant decreases in ratings since the last survey was perceptions of downtown Lawrence.
The full survey results cover 99 different services in multiple categories, and were provided to the City Commission earlier this month. Mayor Jennifer Ananda said she was not surprised the survey indicated dissatisfaction with infrastructure maintenance and concerns about downtown, as both have been issues identified by the city.
“I think that the thing that I appreciate most is there were no shocking surprises in this report, which means we’re paying attention, and that’s important,” Ananda said.
The survey is the fourth conducted for the city by ETC Institute and included many of the same questions that were asked in previous years, according to a presentation the ETC delivered the commission. The survey was sent by mail and online to a random sample of households in the city. The presentation states 867 surveys were received and that the margin of error is +/-3.3% at the 95% level of confidence.
This year’s survey indicates only 22% of respondents were satisfied with the timeliness of street repairs; 45% with the condition of major city streets and 41% with the condition of streets in the their neighborhood. More than half of respondents were also dissatisfied with curb and gutter maintenance, sidewalk conditions in their neighborhood, and maintenance of pavement markings.
When City Manager Craig Owens joined the city last year, one of his first observations was the large amount of deferred infrastructure maintenance. As part of a report Owens delivered after his first 100 days in office, Owens said he suspected the cost of the city’s needed infrastructure maintenance will actually be many times more than current estimates, as the Journal-World reported at the time.
Ananda noted Owens’ observations and said infrastructure is a serious issue that has been neglected for several years, and she suspects Owens’ recommended budget will reflect that. She said getting “caught up” needs to be a priority and that every year of neglecting a piece of infrastructure compounds the problem.
“These are issues that need to be addressed and we can no longer put them off and defer funds from those things,” Ananda said. “We have to address this very core city responsibility now.”
Accordingly, when respondents were asked to identify three city services that should receive the most emphasis from city leaders over the next two years, about 70% of respondents choose the overall maintenance of city streets as one the top three priorities, with most indicating it should be the first priority. Coming in behind that was another traffic-related concern, the overall flow of motor vehicle traffic and congestion management, with 45% of respondents selecting that as one their top three priorities. In a potentially related question, only 48% of respondents said they were satisfied with the overall value they receive for their city tax dollars and fees.
There were also a few significant differences between 2015 and 2019 in the perceptions of downtown category, comprising the types of retail and entertainment establishments available; the appearance and cleanliness of downtown; and how safe people feel downtown after dark.
Satisfaction with the types of downtown retail and entertainment had the biggest drop of all areas of the survey, dropping about 14% to 48% in 2019. Satisfaction with downtown’s appearance dropped 8%, down to 79% in 2019. Additionally the number of people who feel safe downtown after dark dropped about 6%, down to 54% in 2019.
Regarding the downturn in downtown perceptions, Ananda said that Lawrence is a growing community and that retail landscape has been shifting. She said she thinks all the issues noted are part of the conversation about downtown, and would be included in the ongoing process to create a new Downtown Master Plan, which will cover downtown land use, development and other topics for the next 20 years.
“We have begun our Downtown Master Plan because we do acknowledge the landscape of that part of our community is changing, and it is incredibly important to our community,” Ananda said.
Though residents indicated dissatisfaction in some areas, their overall satisfaction with the city was relatively high. Overall, 84% of respondents indicated they are satisfied with the city as a place to live and 77% that they are satisfied with the overall quality of services provided by the city. Those results are only a couple percentage points lower than the 2015 numbers, meaning that when considering the survey’s margin of error those overall satisfaction ratings did not see a significant change.
The ratings of other services, comprising the quality of police, fire and medical, trash and yard waste, parks and recreation, and water and wastewater services, received satisfied ratings from more than three-quarters of respondents. About half of respondents said they were satisfied with the overall quality of the city’s public transportation and the overall effectiveness of city communication with the public.
Ananda said she is looking forward to using the information provided by the survey, as well as the input that is being gathered as part the commission’s upcoming strategic planning process, to help create a new strategic plan that everyone in the community can be excited about.