Talking about walking in Scranton

Jun. 25—SCRANton — Scranton takes a new step Monday, beginning a walkability study with a public presentation by an urban-design expert hired to review the streetscapes and recommend improvements.

The meeting at Lackawanna College’s theater, 501 Vine St., starts with a meet-and-greet at 6:30 pm with Jeff Speck of Massachusetts-based Speck & Associates, followed at 7 pm by his presentation and a Q&A session.

Speck is a city planner, consultant, international speaker and author of the 2012 book “Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time.”

In December 2018, Speck gave a lecture at the University of Scranton about how to make the downtown more walkable and pedestrian-friendly, as well as an overview of traditional city designs, sprawl and urbanization movements.

The city in 2019 initially authorized a contract with Speck for a downtown connectivity plan but the project got delayed for various reasons. The city recently got it back on track. The anticipated cost of the study is $239,800, funded with federal American Rescue Plan money. Speck’s firm is partnering with Nelson/Nygaard, one of the largest transportation planning companies in the nation.

Though called a walkability study, it will broadly look at improving pedestrian safety as well as informing future streetscape and infrastructure projects, said Assistant City Planner Craig Beavers.

“What he (Speck) is going to do is come in and examine our streets and take a look at ways that we can make our downtown more vibrant,” Beavers said. “He’s going to present his project goals and discuss exactly what the key issues are related to downtown Scranton.”

Starting Tuesday, Speck will meet with about a dozen stakeholder and constituent groups and spend afternoons out walking the streets.

His study will be “focused on making downtown more vital and just a better place to walk, bike and even drive around,” Speck said. “We want to make it better for everybody. And making it better for walking and biking does not mean making it worse for driving.”

Preliminary findings should be completed in a few months.

Some of Spec’s observations and expectations of the study include:

Downtown “bones”: Traffic infrastructure is very good but over time has been weakened by the goal of moving vehicles quickly, as opposed to efficiently and safely.

Bicycles and cycling: Downtown lacks bike lanes and facilities.

PennDOT: While the community seems aware of street and traffic deficiencies, a main challenge will be convincing the state Department of Transportation to allow street/traffic changes.

Two-way streets vs. one-way: Two-way streets tend to be safer and better for businesses than one-way streets. The study will look at whether to revert some one-way streets to two-way.

Widths of road travel lanes: Wider lanes promoting speeding. There might be opportunities to “rededicate asphalt to other uses,” including more parallel parking or bicycle lanes.

Traffic lights vs. stop signs: The study will review whether to replace some signals with four-way stop signs. Intersections with four-way stop signs have fewer serious pedestrian injuries than those with lights, and allow motorists to travel through a downtown quicker because they do not have to sit at red lights.

Center lines: The study will review whether to remove center lines from two-way streets. Motorists go 7 mph slower on roads that don’t have center-line striping because of the level of risk perceived while driving. A center line gives a driver more confidence that the vehicle is not in the opposing lane and thus they drive faster.

Dangerous intersections: Those with the most pedestrian collisions are Mulberry Street at North Washington Avenue and Wyoming Avenue at Lackawanna Avenue.

Downtown vitality: The health of the downtown and sites that have the most potential for redevelopment will be examined.

“We’re coming with a lot of data and a lot of best practices that we know have worked in other places,” Speck said.

emailto:Contact the writer: jlockwood@timesshamrock.com; 570-348-9100 x5185; @jlockwoodTT on Twitter.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.