This article was originally published by the Wichita Eagle newspaper on August 6, 2016

New parking restrictions take effect this weekend in Old Town

BY STAN FINGER



These are the kinds of growing pains that give Jason Van Sickle a face-splitting grin.

New traffic flow restrictions going into effect this weekend in Old Town were initially designed to enhance safety in the downtown entertainment district by reducing congestion — and the potential for clashes — when bars close.

But as other enhanced enforcement measures already in place have made Old Town safer, Van Sickle said, the traffic control measures will nonetheless serve a valuable purpose.

“It does a great job of creating corridors of pedestrian traffic to help people come and go from restaurants and bars...cross your streets and go down sidewalks without worrying about cars that are coming and going,” said Van Sickle, president of the Old Town Association.

“We’ve got to make sure people who are going around on foot have a safe way to get to where they’re going.”

The plan allows access to parking lots and garages but puts up barricades to keep vehicle traffic from designated areas between Mosley and Rock Island north of Douglas between 11 p.m and 3 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights, Wichita police Capt. Jose Salcido said.

The idea is to shift the pick-up point for party buses, Uber drivers or friends of those at clubs from the narrow streets of Mosley and Rock Island to the large parking lot west of the railroad tracks at Second and St. Francis.

People who have parked in the designated zones prior to 11 p.m. won’t be stuck there, Salcido said.

“If you’re already parked there when we shut it down...we’ll be able to let you out,” he said.

Drivers will still be able to turn north on Mosley from Second to get to a parking lot and a parking garage just north of the intersection, for instance, but they won’t be able to go beyond that point during the designated times.

The plan builds on best practices used in entertainment districts elsewhere in the country, Salcido said. The restrictions will affect less than 30 parking spaces — all along the plaza north of the Farm and Art Market south of First.

Authorities also want to eliminate the practice of vehicles blocking streets while waiting to pick up passengers because of the crowding that created.

Old Town visitors who are relying on other transportation to get home or to their vehicles will be asked to walk to the lot west of the railroad tracks. Salcido said police officers will be on hand to help pedestrians find their way to the lot.

Once they reach the sidewalk on Second, he said, “you can be here in no time.”

An increased police presence on Old Town’s busiest nights this summer has had a noticeable impact, Van Sickle said.

“You see a very clear, constant police presence today” in Old Town, he said. “That’s been really helpful. There’s nothing better for safety in any neighborhood than to see police officers walking around.”

Enhanced lighting has also helped, he said, and a comprehensive surveillance camera project is on its way for later this year.

“To me, it just feels like we’ve reached the tipping point” of taking Old Town to another level, Van Sickle said.

Rather than worrying about how to handle large crowds after clubs close, he now finds himself focusing on how to get people into and out of Old Town easily.

The traffic control measures will be a big part of that, he said.

“I really see it as, ‘We’ve created this great, safe neighborhood — now we’re fine-tuning things like ease of access,” Van Sickle said. “We’re feeling the growing pain of our own success.”