Harrisburg is moving closer to making major changes to N. 2nd Street, thanks to a green light from City Council last night.
Council authorized funding for a traffic study and engineering plans to convert N. 2nd Street from one-way to two-way traffic flow. The new pattern would take effect between Division and Forster streets and reduce the current three lanes of traffic to two.
Mayor Eric Papenfuse began advocating for the lane conversion in 2013, during his first mayoral campaign. He believes that rerouting commuter traffic to N. 7th Street and restoring two-way flow to 2nd Street will benefit homeowners and pedestrians near the river.
“We want to give that neighborhood more of a residential feel and make it safer for pedestrians,” Papenfuse told reporters after last night’s council meeting.
According to reporting from TheBurg’s Paul Barker in 2013, the current iteration of 2nd street – three lanes of northbound traffic flanked by two lanes of street parking – came into being during a 1956 transformation of Harrisburg’s major roadways. That year, Harrisburg also converted Front Street into a one-way, three-lane mini-highway, and widened Forster Street to six lanes.
Those road conversions were Harrisburg’s response to a new problem facing American cities in the mid-century: commuter traffic. After World War II, middle- and upper-class whites relocated in droves from cities to suburbs. Their jobs, however, did not necessarily follow, and cities had to accommodate the flood of drivers coming in for the work day.
Many American cities, including Harrisburg, prioritized the new commuter class at the expense of residents and pedestrians. Today, many 2nd Street residents complain about traffic speed and noise.
“People fly down this road,” said Sotirios Ntzanis, owner of Midtown Tavern, located at the corner of Herr and 2nd streets.
He’s optimistic that the lane conversion will slow down traffic and even benefit small businesses.
“Slower traffic could help with exposure, since a lot of businesses along here get missed,” Ntzanis said.
Other residents worry that the conversion will bring more harm than good. Dave Johnson, who lives on the 1700-block of N. 2nd Street, thinks that his street will get more congested as long as Front Street remains one-way.
“It’s going to get backed up,” Johnson said. “We’ve already got three lanes of constant flow.”
Nicolas Conigliano has lived on the 1000-block of N. 2nd Street for six months. He said that traffic there moves quickly and creates noise, but he’s unsure that a two-way flow would help either problem.
“What I’ve noticed on other streets in the city is people go as fast as they want to go,” Conigliano said.
The resolution approved by council last night also said that the final 2nd Street lane configuration might include bike lanes or a two-way, left-turn lane. Project engineers will also consider the possibility of building a bridge above the railroad tracks at Division Street and Industrial Road.
The city has retained the Maryland-based design firm, Wallace Montgomery & Associates, to perform a traffic study, provide preliminary engineering and final designs. Funding for the project comes from a PennDOT grant.
Papenfuse estimated that six to eight months of planning are necessary before any infrastructure changes could be authorized. During that time, he expects to solicit input from residents and business owners in a series of community meetings.
As part of the changes to 2nd Street, the city also wants to make substantial improvements to several other streets to divert outbound traffic to N. 7th Street and to Division Street.