Editorial: Despite opposition, city should find a way to extend sports complex road

photo by: Journal-World Photo Illustration

Lawrence Journal-World Editorial

The dog’s bark is worse than its bite, the old saying goes. It is not always true, a three-fingered man can attest, but it still is advice worthy of consideration by the Lawrence City Commission these days.

City commissioners are hearing lots of loud complaints from dog owners and other visitors of the Mutt Run Off-Leash Dog Park below the Clinton Lake Dam.

The dog park is near the city’s YSI and softball complexes, which for years have created periodic traffic and safety problems for motorists who travel the adjacent South Lawrence Trafficway. The reason for those problems is that there is only one entrance and exit for that multi-acre complex that can attract more than a thousand people on particular days.

The city has received more than a $1 million state grant to extend 27th Street in a manner that would create a second access point for the sports complex. However, the extension of the road would travel by — not through — the dog park.

The potential of a road running by that highly popular dog park has resulted in a petition that has at least 1,300 signatures opposing the road’s extension.

Thus far, the city has continued to inch ahead on the project, most recently agreeing to hire a firm to do community engagement on the project. That’s good because the city should not tuck its tail and run from this project, despite the loud voices of opposition.

If the city abandons the project in deference to the opponents, it runs the risk of ignoring the voices of an important group that doesn’t yet know it needs to speak. That group could be called future accident victims.

It is not good design to have one entrance and exit for that sports complex. While the 27th Street extension certainly won’t solve all the problems at the YSI entrance/exit on the SLT, it can help. It stands to reason that traffic volumes at the intersection will be less than they would be otherwise, if motorists have a second option to enter and exit the facility.

Not all opponents see it that way. Commissioners heard comments that it would be “unconscionable” to build the road along the park and thus “urbanize” green space. To be clear, the road would not shrink the size of the dog park. It would require some fencing that doesn’t exist today.

Hopefully tensions can ease on all of this. It would be unfortunate if this becomes a contest of who can yell the loudest and create the heaviest petition. But it may be come to that, as parents of soccer, baseball, youth football and softball teams who use the complex surely could get a large petition as well. It would be a sorry sign if that is how business is done at City Hall, and it likely would be a frustrating sign to state transportation officials who gave the city the competitive grant. City officials shouldn’t forget about the message that is being sent to those funders.

Rather, the city should take the position that it is reasonable for the sports complex to have a second entrance/exit, and it is reasonable for dog lovers to have an off-leash park they truly can enjoy. It also should be doable. More discussion is obviously needed, and perhaps some good old-fashioned political trading as well. Are there some amenities the city could add to the dog park that might lessen the sting of the fence?

At the moment though, the debate is careening toward an old-fashioned not-in-my-back yard argument. For some, that is a tough argument to swallow, given that the dog park opened in 2001, while the sports complex dates back to the 1980s. It was clear to city officials when they opened the dog park that the road would be extended some day.

It still should be clear that it will happen. City commissioners should be respectful of the opposition but also try to find a reasonable solution. To simply abandon the project would be the path of least resistance, but it also would leave us with a road more dangerous than it needs to be.


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