Shawnee City Commissioners and Mayor Richard Finley offered their take on the push for premiere treatment of one of the city's oldest historic roadways — also with mixed opinions.

Progress or parking?

Dialogue may not have resolved last week's million-dollar question, but it became a solid building block toward working through a controversial situation.

City Hall was filled with residents eager to hear and share views on a proposed Broadway beautification project. A recent onslaught of yard signs quickly revealed that residents had a decidedly-mixed set of opinions over the plan, which spurred the need for a community-wide discussion.

The proposal, though it has several improvements in mind — such as adding pedestrian lighting and a street design aimed at slowing traffic — appears to be receiving much opposition from one element in particular: suggested bike lanes. The idea is being rebuked because many homeowners want to keep their curbside parking.

At the meeting 17 residents (half were Broadway residents) chose to voice concerns, ask questions or extend kudos about the proposal.

By the close of the evening there was a pretty even split among speakers, even among city leaders — between those pushing for progress in the name of health, safety and economic development, and those dedicated to keeping their street and their routines intact.

After residents had their say, city leaders took a turn to share their views on the topic.

City leaders

Shawnee City Commissioners and Mayor Richard Finley offered their take on the push for premiere treatment of one of the city's oldest historic roadways — also with mixed opinions.

Ward 1 Shawnee City Commissioner Ed Bolt said he thinks it's good when everyone comes together to talk and get each others' opinions.

“We are very lucky to live in a place where we can come and disagree with each other, and work things out,” he said. “So many people in the world can't do that.”

Bolt said he's heard a lot of agreement on some things, as well as some disagreements on others.

“I think there's some things we can all agree on; we'd like to slow people down on Broadway,” he said. “People drive too fast. … it's a safety concern.”

Proper lighting is an issue, too, he said.

Broadway is too dark, he said, and personally he doesn't like parking on Broadway because it's so dark; he worries some kids or pets will come out between cars.

“I don't want anybody to get hurt,” Bolt said.

The big sticking issue he said seems to be parking.

“Unfortunately , this conversation didn't include everybody two years ago; I was at every one of them,” he said. “We did get some turnout at some — at others there were only two; we should be ashamed that more don't turn out.”

It's our job — both sides — to show up and get involved, he said.

“There's still plenty of time to talk about this and to work on this and to come up with something I believe everybody can be mostly happy about,” he said.

Ward 2 Shawnee City Commissioner Ron Gillham Sr. said in his research he has found that when major developments are made in an area and improvements that are very visible, properties tend to increase in value because people take better care of their properties.

“Broadway has been a feature of Shawnee for many years, many parts of it have been slowly changing — not being quite so attractive, that will tend to affect other houses eventually, if that continues,” he said. “This (project) will put a dramatic stop to that; it's a positive thing.”

There are some who will be heavily impacted, Gillham said, we need to find answers for that.

“The value of an area has a lot to do with appearance; cars off the street create a much better appearance in an area,” he said. “I know a lot of people are unhappy, but I'll tell you we have had improvements on other things recently and they've panned out to do what we hoped them to do.”

Sometimes you have to lose a little to gain a lot, he said.

It's something that needs to be looked at carefully, Gillham said.

Ward 3 Shawnee City Commissioner James Harrod said he'd like to see the project, but he doesn't want people to lose their parking.

“I'd like to see the sidewalks on the west side fixed; I'd like to see the lighting and things like that,” he said. “I want to see the projects we already committed to to be completed.”

The project itself looks good on paper, and would be good for the neighborhood, but is it something the city can afford at this time, he asked.

When people bought those homes on Broadway, they thought they were going to be able to park on the street, he said.

“I'm opposed to taking that parking away from them,” Harrod said.

He said he would rather see previous projects that have been committed to, first, he said.

Ward 4 Shawnee City Commissioner Darren Rutherford said everyone needs to keep talking, keep listening, keep considering everything and try to move forward and see what can be done to keep this on track and try to make the community as a whole, better.

“Maybe there is some kind of compromise on the parking; we also need lighting and sidewalks and good transportation for people to get downtown,” he said. “There are good parts (along Broadway) and there are bad parts,” Rutherford said. “It would be nice to see it back in its glory from the old days.”

He said he doesn't know the answer to how to make that happen, but community dialogue can offer ideas on what will work and what won't.

“We need to make it what's best for Shawnee, and its future — including kids and grandkids,” he said.

Ward 5 Shawnee City Commissioner Mark Sehorn the revitalization of Broadway will take some major funding to do it; the downside is we need to address parking and some things that are going to be a problem for homeowners.

“How are we going to pay for it, that's probably the big thing; we're talking millions to go in and redo that, which is an expense that as a community, do we want to make that or not?” he asked. “We've looked at all these other projects, but if I lived on Broadway I would be thrilled to see them redo it because I promise you when they do, not only would Broadway, on Beard, Union, all this will steadily develop — it's going to make the rest of that around it develop and be invested in.”

He said it's a tough scenario.

“Nothing is set in stone,” he said. “I think everybody's willing to listen. O know all the commissioners up here want to look at what's best for the community, not just what's best for a few.”

He said the commission is looking at it from a bigger viewpoint.

“We're looking at building our sales tax-base, people coming in to buy a house; we're promoting the city of Shawnee, not just Broadway,” Sehorn said. “Parking will be addressed; will it be exactly what you would love or I want? Probably not, but there is neutral territory.”

Ward 6 Shawnee City Commissioner Ben Salter said he's got a lot of misgivings about the Broadway project.

The city has really got to look at 45th Street, he said; in about two or three years there's going to be hundreds more cars per day because of the new elementary school that is soon to be built in the area.

“We have a lot on our plates,” he said.

He said there are new state laws that protect cyclists.

“We're just going to have to work together to get this worked out,” Salter said.

Mayor Richard Finley said the board knows there are issues to be addressed.

“We're smart enough I think we can address 90 percent of the issues and get it resolved,” Finley said. “The parking is an issue and will continue to be in some form or another unless we can reach some kind of reasonable compromise,” he said. “I think we can come up with some stuff.”

Finley did remind residents Broadway belongs to the whole community, not just those living along its edge.

“Nobody wants to create a hardship on anybody,” he said. “as we move forward, be creative in how to solve this and come to the table with us.”

Blue Zones Project

At Finley's request, information about the proposal was shared by Blue Zones Director Rachael Melot.

“The proposed Broadway project actually looks at making Broadway a complete street,” she said. “A complete street includes components that calm traffic in a way that the street self-polices.”

She said a lot of the research around the world supports the fact that if you design streets properly, people properly use the right speed.

“There are design elements that are being proposed because the research supports it won't require police enforcement to get people from going 50 (mph) to 30,” she said. “The actual design creates that slower speed.”

There's a lot of research and input done into the project around the idea that many residents complain about the speed, she said.

The other component of the Broadway project — and actually probably one of the most expensive line items, Melot said, is about proper lighting.

“The research that supports lighting says well-lit neighborhoods are safer and have lower petty crime,” she said.

People who have great lighting in front of their homes or businesses see decreased petty crime, she said.

“We heard a lot of complaints about petty crime and about thieves,” Melot said. “So the other reason for one of the larger items being proposed is lighting, to deter crime.”

She said the other thing that lighting does is when pedestrian-level lighting is added then people feel more safe to walk.

A former Broadway resident herself, Melot said she participated in audits that counted the number of light posts, safe intersections, driveways — including the capacity of every driveway at every house on every block — assessments that were done early on.

“We have very minimal lighting on Broadway, and it's all for car intersections, not for the pedestrians,” she said. “So when investment is made in lighting more people will walk.”

The other hot topic is the bike lane.

“Quite frankly, the bike lanes are the cheapest line item of the whole project because paint is fairly inexpensive,” she said. “But the reason bike lanes were considered is because we were hearing from downtown business owners and residents that they would like a safe north-south route.”

Now cyclists really wanted east-west routes, she said.

“However, on this particular issue, it was more about the non-cyclists, but more about the people who use cycling as a means of transportation,” Melot explained. “When interviewing individuals in Kickapoo Park, we heard a lot of requests for access north of Highland to get to jobs,” she said.

Because the city does not own Kickapoo Street or Harrison, the discussions became about other north-south streets, she said.

“Broadway Street formerly having the trolley cart, it actually was the most conducive to this project,” she said.

So it is not without a lot of input, in which people are trying to make a really good decision, she said; this is a proposed project — it has not been fully designed.

Though meetings and input sessions have been in the works for about two years, no official plans have been drawn up and no actual decisions have been made regarding the future of this project; another town hall discussion was suggested as a next step.

City leaders encouraged residents to remain interactive throughout the process.

Read related articles and see videos of the town hall online at news-star.com.

Watch for updates.