Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Burg View: Make Forster Safer

Forster Street in Harrisburg, 4 p.m. on Tuesday

The stories came to me on Facebook, through Twitter, via email and in person.

Last week, I told a harrowing story of nearly getting flattened while walking across Forster Street, Harrisburg’s dangerous mini-highway posing as a neighborhood street.

Apparently, this experience is not unique to me, as story after story poured in from people relating their own perilous journeys across Forster’s eight travel and parking lanes.

“This is the story of my life,” said one Facebook poster. “I’ve escaped getting hit by centimeters along Forster.”

Another wrote, “My husband’s office is on the corner of Forster and 2nd. Can’t tell you how many accidents he’s witnessed over the past 20 years. It’s a drag strip.”

Another reader, a bicyclist, decried the hazard at the foot of the Harvey Taylor Bridge, while several others mentioned nearly getting run over by cars speeding and running lights. Some told of actual accidents, both as pedestrians and motorists.

“I cross Forster every day,” one reader wrote. “It’s a crapshoot. State workers in a hurry just to get to the next red light will run you over and not think twice.”

I could go on and on and on, but you get the point.

Readers also had no end of suggestions over how to improve safety on Forster: better signage, reduced speeds, enforcement, an elevated pedestrian crossing. And, in past editorials, I’ve mentioned differentiated paving, bump-outs and a road diet, among other ideas.

But there seems to be one entity with no ideas—or at least no inclination to do anything about this menace. That’s the owner of the road, the only one that can improve safety on Forster Street and, for that matter, State Street—the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.

Speaking with fellow city residents over the weekend, I mentioned that road infrastructure is a curious thing.

At a fixed point in time, let’s say the 1950s, perhaps it made sense to plow through a city neighborhood, lay down acres of asphalt and give our lives over to the automobile. After all, weren’t we all going to rocket to work in our jet-engine cars?

But, since then, things have changed. People want to live in cities again, including in Harrisburg, but they’re stuck in a weird time warp, with decisions made by people of another time and another way of thinking. Over 70 years, society has changed and advanced, but our road infrastructure hasn’t.

Certainly, city residents are willing to make reasonable accommodations for vehicles. Most own cars themselves. But they don’t want to be dominated or victimized by them either. They also want to be able to walk and bike and skateboard and scooter in a city with a more integrated transportation structure–and to do so safely. People shouldn’t have to fear for their lives just because they want to cross between Midtown and downtown Harrisburg.

Bizarrely, PennDOT, headquartered on Forster Street, can witness what’s happening right outside their offices. They literally can look out their building’s windows and see cars speeding and running lights, and sometimes crashing, on the vast, overbuilt asphalt expanse, as well as watch people running for their lives trying to cross it.

It is time for PennDOT to abandon its ‘50s-era obsession with moving traffic as fast as possible and adapt to the new urban reality. In cities, in Harrisburg, there must be a better, more equal and safer balance between auto and human.

Lawrance Binda is co-publisher/editor-in-chief of TheBurg.

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