City divided on when to change Douglas chokepoint

The Wichita City Council has approved a traffic plan for Douglas that calls for the eventual elimination of a chokepoint that narrows the street to one lane eastbound for the block in front of Eaton Place.

At least one council member supports making that change as soon as possible, while the main planner for the area wants to hold off a while.

The plan itself does not call for immediate change, but is designed to phase in over time as redevelopment takes place along Wichita’s downtown main street.

Funded with $125,000 in federal and state grants, the traffic study makes a series of recommendations to make Douglas easier to use for motorists, pedestrians and public-transit users.

The Design Workshop, a Denver-based consulting firm, recommends that the city restore two-way traffic, both directions, on Douglas all the way through downtown from McLean to Washington. About 10 years ago, at the request of a developer, the city narrowed Douglas to one eastbound lane for about a block to replace parallel parking with angle parking in front of the Eaton Place.

That causes congestion, as eastbound traffic leaving downtown is forced to merge from two lanes down to one lane between Emporia and St. Francis streets.

Council member Michael O’Donnell said he supports moving toward eliminating the bottleneck as soon as possible.

“It is that quick fix that would make it easier” to travel through the area, he said.

Scott Knebel, downtown revitalization manager in the Metropolitan Area Planning Department, acknowledged that the bottleneck causes traffic problems at rush hour, but recommended against acting rapidly to change that.

He said fledgling retail businesses in the Eaton block are “fragile” and benefit from the easier access that angled parking provides as compared to parallel parking. The city is working to provide more angle spaces on side streets.

Before restriping Douglas for four lanes in front of the Eaton block, “We need to make sure we have a plan for convenient and short-term parking for their customers,” Knebel said.

O’Donnell, however, said every other business in every other block on Douglas downtown gets by with parallel parking in front.

The report also recommends:

  • Installing trees and landscaping in what is now the center lane of Douglas, with turn pockets only at intersections.

-Parallel parking on both sides of the street throughout downtown.

  • Curb extensions to keep cars from trying to park too close to intersections and to reduce the distance people have to walk in traffic to cross the street.

  • Improved street furniture, public art, trash cans, etc, along with wider sidewalks to allow for more outdoor dining and activities.

-Bus shelters every two blocks.