The perils that exist on 27th Street in Hays long have been a subject of debate. The inconsistent number of lanes, parking availability for residents on the south side of the street, and the number of vehicular accidents have been noted for at least eight years.
A citywide traffic study conducted by HWS Consultants in 2004 indicated the 27th Street corridor was a medium priority issue. Noting that 27th is five lanes at Vine Street, decreases to two lanes west of Plum and then re-expands to four lanes west of Hall, HWS recommended restriping the stretch from Fort to Englewood to be three lanes to better match what it called "driver expectancy." The high-priced advice suggested a left-turn lane would alleviate congestion and make for a safer street.
In 2008, the Hays City Commission was ready to implement the changes. That is, until the residents along the street challenged the proposal.
Fast-forward to 2012. The hodgepodge of lanes remains in place. While traffic counts haven't increased significantly, the number of accidents have. In 2008, accident counts averaged nine per year. Now they're up to 11. The only thing that's decreased is the amount of money needed for restriping. What once was estimated at $20,000 is down to $6,000.
And some officials are ready to make a move.
"... 27th is the only street we have that runs east to west," Commissioner Henry Schwaller IV said at last week's work session, "(that) connects 183 bypass to Commerce Parkway and Canterbury. And the traffic flow on this street is not going to decrease. It's going to get worse and worse."
Hays Police Chief Don Scheibler and Assistant Public Works Director John Braun are in favor of the reconfiguration. Scheibler described it as a "no brainer."
"When you talk about safety, everybody traveling down that road or the quality of life for 10 households ... it's what it comes down to," Scheibler said.
The commission has directed city staff to contact affected property owners to get their feedback once again.
We're guessing residents will have not changed their minds.
Nor have we. The majority of the accidents are not caused by drivers turning off of 27th Street. Most of them occur with people backing out of their driveways or entering the street from the Dillons parking lot. Lately, a number of the accidents have involved motorists hitting parked cars.
We believe the restriping and resulting ban on parking along the south side of the street will make 27th Street more dangerous. Having that many more automobiles backing out of driveways will add to the confusion that apparently exists. And if there are no parked cars to hit, we suspect the sidewalk itself will become a danger zone. Merely adding a left-turn lane will not have the desired effect.
But something does need to occur. The inexplicable varying numbers of lanes drivers encounter needs remedy. We would encourage commissioners to consider decreasing the speed limit while other options are considered. Perhaps a different street further north could be used to funnel traffic from the northwest quadrant to the hospital and other points east. Barriers to protect pedestrian traffic on the sidewalks might be useful to consider as well.
Restriping alone will not get the job done. Nor will it satisfy those who live along the route. How to balance the concerns of a few residents with the voliminous daily traffic is indeed the responsibility of the commission. We just don't believe the most effective remedy can be as simple as restriping lanes.
Editorial by Patrick Lowry