Wichita City Council green-lights downtown street plan that will serve as blueprint

Courtesy of the City of Wichita

The Wichita City Council put their stamp of approval on a blueprint for re-envisioned downtown streets that aims to encourage commerce and improve safety and mobility in the city core.

Under the new plan, Main, Market and Topeka will be converted to two-way streets and Broadway and Waterman will undergo the road diet, replacing four lanes of traffic with two lanes and a wide median.

“Upon first blush, I would have said this is about mobility and about safety, but it truly is about economic development,” council member Becky Tuttle said before the unanimous vote Tuesday. “I’ve always said the world looks a little bit different at maybe one mile per hour when you’re walking or 10 miles per hour when you’re riding a bike versus 40 miles per hour in a car.”

The proposal, born out of Wichita’s Project Downtown master plan, was presented at each district advisory board. The city’s transportation department and Nelson/Nygaard consulting firm held more than a dozen public engagement events about the blueprint and sent out some 20,000 postcards.

“This seems like one of the most publicly engaged projects I’ve seen in a long time,” Mayor Brandon Whipple said.

Wichita’s Capital Improvement Plan allocates $17.4 million for upgrades to downtown streets over the next 10 years. The council on Tuesday approved $460,000 for the design of “near-term improvements and consideration of Douglas Avenue alternatives” not addressed in the plan.

Each individual street project will be returned to City Council for a vote, and there will be further community engagement opportunities on each, staff said. There’s no timeline yet for individual projects, but staff say the first priority will be re-striping one-way streets for two-way traffic.

Assistant City Manager Troy Anderson said that beyond safety and convenience, he expects the street conversions to have a significant economic impact.

“We’re finding across the nation that these one-way to two-way conversions are making it easier for businesses to grow and to find opportunities for location of tenants within existing lease spaces,” Anderson said.

Council member Brandon Johnson said as part of the downtown street plan, the city should prioritize upgrades to make bike lanes safer.

“If there are ways for us to do more delineation on the bike lanes, walk lane, I think we should do that,” he said. “I’ve been looking into some rubber delineators that kind of look like curbs but just something more than the paint. We’ve heard a lot from folks who ride bikes that sometimes it’s dangerous with that paint — drivers don’t see it.”