Transportation experts say that a pedestrian who’s struck by a car traveling 40 miles per hour has only a 10 percent chance of survival.
That makes Harrisburg’s N. 2nd Street, where commuter traffic traveling north out of the city clock average speeds of up to 38 miles per hour, a near-certain deathtrap for pedestrians who are involved in a crash.
Speeding vehicles on N. 2nd Street is just one reason that Harrisburg is pursuing a major project to restore much of the three-lane, northbound street to two-way traffic flow. The conversion will also eliminate one of 2nd Street’s traffic lanes north of Forster Street.
Mayor Eric Papenfuse said that he believes that reducing traffic volume and speed on a major road will transform all of Harrisburg. Tonight, more than 100 residents attended a public meeting at St@rtup Harrisburg to learn how it will affect infrastructure and traffic flow across the city.
The $6 million project already has grant funding from Impact Harrisburg and PennDOT. Preliminary plans call for changing traffic flow over a two-mile stretch of 2nd Street north of Forster Street, leaving its three northbound lanes in downtown Harrisburg intact.
As residents learned at the meeting, 2nd Street was originally built as a two-way road. Harrisburg officials converted it to a one-way, three-lane mini-highway in the 1950s to accommodate commuter traffic.
Today, engineers ironing out the technical details of a new, two-way 2nd Street are left with two big questions.
Where will displaced commuter traffic go after the conversion? And, what’s the best use for the extra space that’ll come from eliminating a traffic lane?
Planners and engineers think they know the answer to the first question. They expect much of the evening commuter traffic on 2nd Street to flow north on 3rd Street instead, said Adam Vest, associate engineer at the planning firm Kittelson & Associates.
Other cars will go to 6th and 7th streets.
Overall, engineers expect that 70 percent of traffic between 4 and 5 p.m. on weekdays will be diverted to other roads. About 1,400 cars travel down 2nd Street during rush hour each day.
Outside of those five hours each week, however, the traffic volume on 2nd Street is usually low enough to travel in a single lane northbound lane without much displacement, Vest said.
Mike Hughes, who lives on the 2200 block of N. 2nd Street, wasn’t too worried about displacing commuter traffic.
“Ultimately, commuters are going to have to change routes, but they don’t live here or pay taxes here,” Hughes said.
Like many other residents at tonight’s meeting, Hughes was more concerned about reducing vehicle speeds along 2nd Street.
Traffic study data show that vehicle speeds on N. 2nd Street increase as cars travel north out of the city. Cars approaching Verbeke Street travel an average of 33 miles per hour – already well over the 25-mile per hour speed limit. That speed rises to 35 miles per hour as cars approach Maclay Street and hits 38 miles per hour just south of Schuykill Street.
Over the course of the two-week study, 93 percent of drivers exceeded the 25-mile per hour speed limit, Vest said.
Vehicle crashes are relatively rare on 2nd Street, according to PennDOT data. But an absence of crashes doesn’t guarantee safety for drivers, cyclists or pedestrians.
It also makes the street less comfortable, especially to those who don’t travel by car, Vest said.
“With those speeds, nobody wants to be on 2nd St,” he said. “We’re trying to make a street people want to be on.”
Which brings up the next lingering question: What to do with the lane of traffic that will be eliminated in the two-way conversion.
During an hour-long breakout session tonight, residents debated the merits of bike lanes, angled parking, traffic circles and sidewalk expansions – all options on the table for a two-way 2nd Street.
Trimicka Crump-Joseph runs an after-school theater program for youth at 2nd and Reily streets. She said that vehicle speeds endanger children walking or being dropped off at class.
“I need traffic to slow down because right now, I’m only zoned for 10 children,” Crump-Joseph said. “I could have more, but want it to be safe for kids to walk or get dropped off.”
Crump-Joseph said that replacing the middle traffic lane with a landscaped median would be an unobtrusive, aesthetically pleasing solution.
Steve Brawley, who lives on the 1700-block of N. 2nd Street, feared that the city couldn’t afford to maintain landscaped medians. He and other residents urged the city to use the extra space to create angled parking, which he said would increase the parking capacity along N. 2nd Street.
But that’s not always the case with angled parking, according to Vest, who said the conversion would generate just one or two additional parking spots per block.
What’s more, angled spots are most commonly used in retail zones where there’s high turnover of vehicles, he said.
Residents were split on the question of bike lanes, which could be installed along one or both lanes of two-way traffic.
The consensus among the half-dozen residents who spoke publicly at the end of the meeting was that 2nd Street would be too heavily trafficked to accommodate cyclists. Others supported a single, protected bike lane traveling north, to complement the southbound bike lane on Front Street.
3rd Street resident Chloe Bohm wanted the city to use the conversion project as a chance to address other traffic hazards across the city. Bohm said that delivery trucks frequently stop in traffic lanes on 2nd Street, forcing other drivers to flow around them.
She wanted to know if the city would install loading zones on 2nd Street to accommodate trucks unloading at restaurants and businesses.
Bohm also wanted improved visibility for cars approaching 2nd Street from cross streets. Street parking currently impedes visibility for cars crossing 2nd or turning into its traffic lanes, she said.
City Engineer Wayne Martin said that project managers expected 50 or so residents to attend tonight’s meeting. He and Papenfuse were both pleased with the final turnout, which was more than double that number.
Planners and engineers will use the data collected tonight to inform their traffic plan for 2nd Street. They plan to hold a second public meeting in the spring and solicit input via an online survey before recommendations are finalized.