Van Gogh murals and “giant speed bumps” will highlight a $3.5 million plan to make Old Town prettier and safer.
The Wichita City Council on Tuesday approved design plans for a full facelift to First and Second streets where they pass through the popular drinking, dining and entertainment district.
The streets, which date back to when Old Town was a grubby warehouse district, are in serious need of repair with cracked pavement and outdated design, officials said.
First and Second streets will be completely torn out and rebuilt, along with the water, sewer and other utility lines running under the street, said Mayor Jeff Longwell.
Speeding through the area is an ongoing safety problem for pedestrians and bike riders, so the redesign is being done with “traffic calming” at top of mind, City Engineer Gary Janzen said.
That will include “bulbing out” the sidewalks at the intersections to make the street look narrower than it actually is, Janzen said.
In addition, the intersections themselves will be elevated slightly, he said. That will act as “more or less a giant speed bump,” he said.
Those design features should be more effective than lowering the speed limit because motorists tend to drive as fast as they feel they can safely go, regardless of what the speed-limit signs say, Janzen said.
Murals will be painted over the white concrete railroad bridges at both First and Second streets.
The city Design Council has selected works of Vincent Van Gogh, the 19th-century post-impressionist Dutch artist, for the murals, Janzen said.
The plan will be worked around March 2018 to avoid having the streets torn up when Wichita hosts two rounds of the “March Madness” NCAA basketball tournament. The event at the Intrust Bank Arena is expected to bring thousands of visitors to Wichita and city officials don’t want them to be inconvenienced by the project.
Janzen originally recommended that the city wait until after the basketball tournament to start on the project, but Longwell said he wants to get at least part of the work done by the time the visitors arrive.
Janzen agreed that his department can get the murals painted before the tournament. They can also pave part of St. Francis, a gravel street, where it crosses First and Second streets, he said.
Both First and Second streets are key parts of the city’s downtown bike-path system.
Longwell said paving the intersection approaches will help make things easier for pedestrians and riders because vehicles using St. Francis now scatter gravel onto the intersection and sidewalks.