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Narrow Douglas Avenue to one lane each way? That’s the proposal

Proposals to turn East Douglas Avenue into a more bike- and pedestrian-friendly street downtown include reducing the lanes for car traffic from five to three.

Two alternatives for reconfiguring the street were put on display Wednesday at a “conceptual design open house” at the office of the group Downtown Wichita, which contracts with city government to spur redevelopment of the city’s core area.

In both alternatives, Douglas would be reconfigured from two car lanes in each direction to one lane each way from McLean to Grove.

Both plans preserve the turning lane in the middle of the avenue.

The reduction in traffic lanes would create space for streetside parking and bike lanes on both sides.

The bicycle lanes would be the closest to the sidewalk with the parking lane separating car traffic from bike traffic. Electric rental scooters could also use the bike lanes.

Wichitans who attended the open house were largely embracing the ideas in the plan.

In a straw poll taken on site, economic development and pedestrian and bike access were identified as being substantially more important than easy parking and traffic flow.

“We’re just excited to see everybody kind of coming together on the plans,” said Kim Neufeld, executive director of Bike Walk Wichita. “This has been years in the making and in the discussion.”

She said the protected bike lanes are “really important since we have such an increase in bicyclists.”

“And the scooters are coming to town,” she added. “They’re illegal on the sidewalks, so if they’re not in the bike lanes, they’re going to be in the street traffic. And they only go 15 mph, so they need to be taken care of. There’s going to be several hundred scooters coming.”

Jane Byrnes, a member of the city’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Board, gave the plan high marks.

“The whole thing will be trendy looking,” she said. “I think it’s splendid.”

She said she’s glad the protected lanes extend all the way east to Grove because it will include Wichita East High School.

“I’ve been interested for a long time in how you make things safer for seniors and school children,” Byrnes said. “East High is students we love and want to keep safe.”

Jeff Tumlin, of the San Francisco consulting firm Nelson Nygard, said Douglas is the key to creating a downtown that’s safer, more prosperous and more inviting to families with children.

“Douglas is the opportunity to knit the city together and create some cohesion,” Tumlin said.

Reducing Douglas from five car lanes to three would get everyone to slow down and encourage more people to get out of their cars to shop, he said.

“If the city is going to keep it five lanes, I wouldn’t invest any more money on Douglas,” he said.

Any changes to Douglas would have to be approved by the Wichita City Council.

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Senior Journalist Dion Lefler has been providing award-winning coverage of local government, politics and business in Wichita for 20 years. Dion hails from Los Angeles, where he worked for the LA Daily News, the Pasadena Star-News and other papers. He’s a father of twins, director of lay servant ministries in the United Methodist Church and plays second base for the Old Cowtown vintage baseball team.