Shawnee may put one of its major north-south corridors, Nieman Road, on a “road diet” — reducing the number of lanes from four to three and adding bike and pedestrian space to better connect the city’s downtown with the Turkey Creek Trail.
City officials have been looking for a way to improve the traffic flow at the intersection of Nieman and Johnson Drive and to simplify the driveway access for businesses along the route, said Assistant City Manager Katie Killen.
Part of that also includes making a better bike and pedestrian experience, she said. Pedestrians now must walk close to fast-moving traffic. Some of the proposed options would widen sidewalks or include a protected bike and walkway.
The city has had the corridor from 55th Street to Shawnee Mission Parkway in its sights since at least 2012. Efforts gained momentum with a federal grant and one from the Mid-America Regional Council.
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Since then, staff and consultants have presented three alternatives to residents at an open house. Citizens also may weigh in until the end of the month through an online survey.
Instead of making a wider right-of-way, the proposals call for reconfiguring the space that’s already there. Two alternatives would restripe the street to three lanes and use the extra space for expanded bike and pedestrian space. The third leaves the street at four lanes but realigns them at Johnson Drive. All of them call for streetscaping and lighting improvements.
A realignment of the Johnson Drive intersection is a key component of all the plans. Killen said the intersection has been difficult because the left turn lanes do not line up opposite each other on Nieman. As a result, the lights cannot be timed to let both directions turn together.
The three-lane options have a center turning lane and wider pedestrian use. One alternative has 6-foot wide sidewalks with a shoulder stripe or painted bike lane next to the curb. The other has 6-foot sidewalks on one side and a 10-foot bike and pedestrian path on the other. The multi-use path would be separated from the street by an 8- to 10-foot parkway.
That is the option citizens have been the most interested in so far, Killen said.
Since the corridor is still in the planning stages, no specific cost estimates have been determined. However, the city has budgeted $6.8 million in its capital improvements budget for the project for 2017. Of that, about $3 million may come from the county road fund and the remainder from the city’s economic development fund.
City council members have so far been divided over what to do with the road. Some council members have been reluctant to make wholesale changes in the corridor. Council member Mickey Sandifer said during a recent committee meeting that it would be more sensible to start with restriping and see how that goes. Council member Eric Jenkins called the street improvements a “want” rather than a “need.”
But Councilman Jeff Vaught said he’d rather the city make the changes in one package than piecemeal. A dramatic project will be more noticeable to the public and nicer-looking streets will draw in customers and business to the struggling downtown, he said.
“It isn’t a want. It’s a necessity,” Vaught said. “This is unacceptable, our downtown. We just can’t go on like this.”
The city also has a couple of related studies ongoing to find the best way to link to the Turkey Creek Trail in Merriam and to improve stormwater drainage along the corridor.
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