A two-way traffic conversion on 2nd Street isn’t the only big road improvement being proposed for Harrisburg.
City officials are asking the state Department of Transportation (PennDOT) to eliminate a right-hand turning lane and expand pedestrian-friendly curb bump-outs at the intersection of Forster and Front streets in downtown Harrisburg, as they also prepare to install protected bike lanes along heavily trafficked roads to the west.
The intersection at Front and Forster was the site of 43 vehicle crashes between 2015 and 2017, according to PennDOT data, making it the most dangerous intersection in Harrisburg’s riverfront neighborhoods south of Division Street.
The next-most dangerous intersection, at 3rd and Forster streets, saw 25 crashes in the same period.
City officials reviewed the crash data while developing traffic plans for the N. 2nd Street two-way conversion project, according to city Engineer Wayne Martin. At the same time, they also learned that wheelchair ramps at Front and Forster were not compliant with federal ADA law.
Realizing that a renovation of the ramps was inevitable, Harrisburg officials asked engineers at the firm Wallace Montgomery to develop preliminary plans to bolster vehicle and pedestrian safety.
The resulting proposals would eliminate the eastbound, right-hand turn lane that allows cars to merge from the Harvey Taylor Bridge on to Front Street. In its place would be a landscaped pedestrian pedestal and a sidewalk extension along Front Street.
The bigger curb bump-out would shorten the crosswalk distance for pedestrians crossing Forster Street
An alternative plan calls for a landscaped pedestrian refuge in the middle of the six-lane street, as well as larger, landscaped curb bump-outs at the intersection’s remaining three corners.
Neither plan would eliminate the right-hand turning lane at the northwest corner, which allows traffic on Front Street to access the Harvey Taylor Bridge.
Harrisburg has to convince PennDOT to make the proposed changes, since Forster and Front streets are state-owned roads. But since PennDOT is legally required to fix the Front and Forster intersection to meet ADA requirements, Martin said, they could simultaneously implement the crosswalk enhancements.
Greg Penny, a PennDOT community relations coordinator, said that PennDOT elected to delay the curb bump-outs when they resurfaced Front Street in 2014.
PennDOT knew the city would pursue other multi-modal projects in the future, Penny said, which would require all-new curb infrastructure. PennDOT decided to defer the compliance process until then, which Penny said is “okay in a transition period.”
As for the city’s Front Street renderings, Penny said PennDot is “in conversation with the city, reviewing its concepts and looking to see what we can incorporate in a future project.”
Harrisburg Mayor Eric Papenfuse said on Wednesday that city officials have emphasized pedestrian and cyclist accessibility in ongoing negotiations with PennDOT.
“We continue to advocate for a safety-first approach in keeping with our Vision Zero philosophy for the city,” Papenfuse said, referring to an initiative to eliminate pedestrian fatalities in Harrisburg.
The first phase of the Vision Zero project will roll out on upper State Street in spring 2019, Papenfuse said.
One of the proposals would install protected bike lanes on both sides of road, which currently is comprised of two lanes of street parking and six traffic lanes.
The proposal would move street parking into the road to protect cyclists from vehicle traffic. It would also reduce the number of travel lanes, Papenfuse said.
The protected bike lanes would run from 13th Street to Civil War Drive. Any proposals need final approval from PennDOT, since State Street is a state-owned road.
Protected bike lanes are also coming to 7th Street as part of a traffic redesign project planned for 2019, Papenfuse said. They’ll be the first of their kind in the city.
The same project will install the city’s only traffic circle at 7th and Reily Streets.