The Hays City Commission during a special session Tuesday evening voted 3-2 to keep Canterbury Drive from 13th to 27th a four-lane road, reversing a decision made in February to re-stripe the road as three lanes.
Mayor James Meier voted in favor of maintaining four lanes, along with commissioners Shaun Musil and Sandy Jacobs. Henry Schwaller IV and Chris Dinkel dissented, having previously spoken in favor of sticking to the commission’s original action as recommended by city public works staff.
Musil repeatedly has spoken against the lane changes since the idea first was introduced to the commission last November, and he was one of two commissioners who offered comment Tuesday.
“I just don’t see the overall gain for so little traffic,” Musil said Tuesday, noting the section of Canterbury Drive in question carries an average of 7,500 vehicles per day. “I just struggle going against staff because these guys do it for a living.”
The practice of reducing four-lane roads to two driving lanes and a center turning lane is recommended by the Kansas Department of Transportation as a way to reduce potential conflict points and the number of accidents.
It also was recommended by city staff in this case to reduce speeding, provide safer crossings for pedestrians and offer protected left turns. Canterbury currently averages approximately 15 accidents each year, according to statistics from city staff.
Drawbacks to making the change included longer stacking at signal lights due to only one through lane and possibly reducing gaps for entering traffic. Lane reductions also often result in slowing traffic down -- which Dinkel said could be a benefit on that portion of Canterbury.
“I think this stretch of road is one that would benefit more than any of the rest because of the amount of left-turn traffic and the broad demographic of drivers. We’re talking about retirement homes right across the street from the hospital. We’re talking about left turns into Via Christi, left turns into clinics, left turns into the hospital, left turns on to 22nd,” Dinkel said. “Maybe the stretch by Midwest Energy isn’t as necessary because most of that is residential. … But I see slowing down the traffic and reducing aggressive driving in front of the hospital and all of those retirement homes is a very beneficial feature to this.”
Tuesday’s meeting came after commissioners reported receiving a high volume of feedback from Hays residents regarding the issue. Many of the residents opposed the change, a factor that played into two commissioners -- Meier and Jacobs -- changing their opinion in the matter.
“As I reflect on it more, do I think that 22nd and Canterbury can improve? Sure,” Meier said at Thursday’s regular meeting. “Or we can just keep it the same and no one was complaining about it to begin with. In this instance … I think people contacting us and saying ‘Leave it alone, don’t change it’ is a reason to revisit it.”
The issue surfaced because Canterbury has been diamond grinded to even out the driving surface, which removed the painted lines.
Three residents also addressed the commission at Tuesday’s meeting, with two opposing the change and one speaking in favor of a three-lane road. Hays resident Ben Tillman expressed opposition to the change, and asked if the city’s bicycle lanes were a factor in the three-lane proposal.
That question was met by an emphatic “no” from all five commissioners, who reiterated that bike lanes never have been the catalyst for the city to consider implementing road diets. The reduction from four to three lanes has been made on portions of 13th and Hall streets in efforts to improve traffic flow and reduce potential for accidents, Meier said.
Connie Mermis, who lives on 13th Street, also addressed the commission and asked them to keep Canterbury the same with four driving lanes.
“I am not an advocate of three lanes because of longer wait lines,” she said. “It’s actually much, much harder to get out of my driveway and onto 13th Street. If I were Casey’s or one of the other businesses along there, I would be very against the three lanes.”
Resident Matt Tottle, who said he drives a bus for Access Transportation, offered a different viewpoint. He said he has experienced traffic issues on Canterbury as drivers make sudden left turns without blinking -- sometimes causing those behind them to brake quickly -- or weave in and out of traffic at higher speeds.
He noted a lane reduction could cause difficulty when Canterbury traffic is at its peak due to school hours, but said he thinks the change would be beneficial most of the time.
“A lot of times, if you’re trying to make a left onto Canterbury from any other streets or driveways, you have four lanes of traffic you’ve got to watch,” Tottle said. “A lot of times the two lanes in either direction are going different speeds, so it’s really hard to judge the gap. I really think going to the three lanes -- even before this was being discussed -- I was thinking this would be a great road to bring down to three lanes because it gets the people who are making left turns out of traffic and lets the traffic go through.”