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As downtown Wichita grows, more pedestrians along Waco could spur traffic changes

With pedestrian traffic surging thanks to new apartment buildings such as Corner 365 in the area, city officials want to conduct a corridor study of Waco between Central and Douglas which could lead to changes in the area.
With pedestrian traffic surging thanks to new apartment buildings such as Corner 365 in the area, city officials want to conduct a corridor study of Waco between Central and Douglas which could lead to changes in the area. The Wichita Eagle

Sara High was nearly to the ramp in the crosswalk at Central and Waco in downtown Wichita recently when she heard tires squealing.

"I looked up and he was coming at me and I said, 'Oh, my god,'" said High, who uses a wheelchair. "If he hit me he probably would have knocked me clear through the intersection."

With several new apartment buildings opening on or near Waco between Douglas and Waco, pedestrian activity in the area is increasing. The Wichita City Council on Tuesday is expected to approve a traffic analysis of Waco between Douglas and Central.

The study, which is projected to cost more than $25,000, will take anywhere from six weeks to two months, City Engineer Gary Janzen said.

"We had several issues, particular at First Street, of conflicts between pedestrians and cars," Janzen said.

No actual collisions occurred, he said, but there have been enough concerns raised that the study is needed.

While vehicle counts have not increased significantly in the recent past, foot traffic has risen, according to city staff.

Pinnacle Lofts and Apartments, with 70 units, opened just west of Central and Waco. Corner 365 opened at First and Waco with 36 units.

River Vista next to First and Waco has begun leasing apartments and has 203 units. Colorado Derby Lofts, which is opening in the Wichita school district's former administration building at 201 N. Water, has 106 units.

The new living options are among more than 900 units that have opened in downtown Wichita since 2010, with another 600 units in various stages of development.

Studies have shown that having appealing downtown living options is vital for cities to attract young professionals, development officials say.

"Demand from renters who have a strong desire to be in the urban core has driven significant residential development in downtown Wichita," said Jason Gregory, executive vice president of Downtown Wichita.

Rising employment figures at businesses in the area are adding to the foot traffic as well, according to city staff.

"There's a variety of things we want to look at," Janzen said.

Because vehicle traffic hasn't increased much, he said, recommendations could include reducing traffic from four lanes to three, with a center lane dedicated to left turns. That would clear left-turning traffic from the intersection before pedestrians enter the crosswalk, he said.

Such a change would make street-side parking and bicycle lanes possible, too.

"They need to do something" to protect pedestrians in that area, High said. "It took me quite a few days to get over that" scare. "Now I’m even more paranoid than I was."

Any changes resulting from the study could be in place soon, Janzen said.

"We'll most certainly have something in place by this fall," he said.

The Colorado Derby Lofts, a 9-story apartment building in an old USD 259 administrative building, are scheduled to open to the public June 1. The downtown lofts have ribbon windows, as well as a rooftop pool and grills. (Music: Bensound.com)

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