The loud bang, the emergency lights, the crushed vehicles.
On Tuesday morning, the scream of sirens wailed near my house then suddenly stopped. For those of us who live in this part of downtown Harrisburg, this halting sound typically means only one thing—yet another accident on Forster Street.
Sometimes, it’s 3rd and Forster, sometimes Green and Forster. But, most frequently, it’s Front and Forster, right at the foot of the Harvey Taylor Bridge, the result either of an illegal left-hand turn or, more often, speeding motorists trying to beat the light at the intersection. You can see the result in the accompanying photo above, taken by our reporter Yaasmeen Piper.
Over the years, we’ve taken pictures like this countless times, though this one is perhaps more vivid than most.
We’ve also written stories and editorials, pleading with the state Department of Transportation, which owns both Front and Forster streets, to do something about the clear and immediate danger to motorists and pedestrians.
Over the years, we’ve suggested simple, low-cost solutions like better signage, a lower speed limit, flashing lights and a speed strip to slow down motorists screaming off the bridge then losing a bad bet with the changing light. As a pedestrian, I personally have almost been hit there several times.
In addition, in order to calm down the raceway that is Front Street, we’ve suggested an additional traffic light, more enforcement, differentiated pavement, or, at the very least, better signage. Passing by the state Capitol, I’ve often wanted to take those yellow “pedestrian crossing” signs, meant to protect our delicate state lawmakers from almost no traffic at all, and move them into the new crosswalks on Front Street, where speeding cars nearly plough down pedestrians daily (and sometimes succeed).
To date, as far as we can tell, nothing substantive has been done.
How do I put this politely? It is far, far past time for PennDOT to get off its collective bureaucratic behind and take action. Right now. Today. Before another horrible crash and another heinous injury. Because, mark my words, the next terrible accident is not far off.
To date, the degree of apathy shown by PennDOT to its own state capital has been shocking. Up on State Street, another state road, four pedestrians and a bicyclist have been killed over just 20 months, making it, by one account, the most deadly stretch of road in the nation. In the nation.
Yes, PennDOT has joined the city in its Vision Zero pedestrian-safety initiative and, as we reported in this month’s magazine, a major study is underway examining the entire perilous stretch from Camp Hill to Allison Hill.
However, what do you do when you’re in charge of—responsible for—the most deadly segment of road in the country, as well as other, nearby streets that have proven profoundly dangerous? You don’t sit on your hands and patiently await the results of some study. You take action. You do what you can do today, using simple methods you know will make a difference, until you can implement larger, more permanent and more costly structural changes.
In Harrisburg, we have a serious crisis on our hands. It’s a crisis that cannot wait another moment to be solved. The galling part is that there are numerous ways to enhance safety along these dangerous streets, ways that any traffic engineer could rattle off in a few minutes, if only PennDOT would listen and implement them.
Lawrance Binda is editor-in-chief of TheBurg.