Public meeting held on downtown bicycle and pedestrian study

Consultants for the Downtown Wilkes-Barre/Downtown Scranton Pedestrian and Bicycle Network Study held a Downtown Wilkes-Barre Public Input Session Jan. 21 on the second floor of the Marts Center to review draft plans for a new bicycle network.

Wilkes-Barre is looking into new street plans that accommodate cyclists alongside motorists. The study focuses on two areas in Wilkes-Barre: the first is between Pennsylvania Avenue and River Street, and the second is between Jackson and South Street.

The study commenced for the mostly grant-funded project in January 2019, and there have been a number of previous meetings with a Stakeholders Committee comprised of key individuals from Wilkes-Barre and Scranton to determine where the best routes would be to place bicycle facilities.

Funding secured by the study includes $54,500 from the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) and $75,000 from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR).

Public participation was noted as being a key in developing the early stages of the Bicycle and Pedestrian plan, resulting in input sessions such as the one held last week. They hope to have the proposals finalized in the spring.

“The LLTS MPO noticed that bicycle facilities have been a key and thriving mode of transportation and economic development in different cities around the United States and really wanted to try to incorporate them in the downtowns of both Scranton and Wilkes-Barre,” said John Petrini, Transportation Planner for Luzerne County Planning. “Linking these new proposed routes to existing trails/routes will be key in developing a successful bicycle network.”

The proposals could reduce some lanes of traffic in order to accommodate cyclists, which would result in more congestion. Some of the proposed bike route ideas include “sharrows,” where lanes would be shared by both motorists and cyclists.

Incorporation of street signs and road-surface striping and symbols would designate lanes as either strictly for cyclists or shared between cyclists and motorists.

“I think it’s valuable they’re trying to improve cycling, but in a real cycling environment where you have street lights for cyclists, cyclist boxes and all that kind of stuff, I don’t know how that’s going to happen. We’re not at that point yet here in Wilkes-Barre,” said Dr. John Koch, professor of computer science at Wilkes University.

Koch has biked for over 15 years and currently bikes to campus from Shavertown. He noted that there have been more cyclists in the area the past few years. He would have liked to see more Kingston routes.

Other proposals included changing one of the driving lanes on West Northampton, South Franklin and Jackson streets into bike lanes, and narrowing the driving lanes on Main Street to create bike lanes on both sides of the street.

There are no cost estimates yet for any of the proposals, which encompass 18 downtown streets and Public Square.

Feedback from the audience was positive but with concerns. Many liked the Franklin Street proposal and felt that it would be the easiest to implement, as well as being a benefit to students of both Wilkes and King’s campuses. Others felt that while the plan was friendly to cyclists, it was equally unfriendly to motorists.

A point raised was that the Wilkes downtown was designed in 1975 and that traffic patterns needed to be reorganized in order to implement many of the proposals. Questions raised included where traffic would go after the changes were implemented and how drastically the changes would affect the cityscape.

According to the LLTS MPO website, “The use of bicycles for commuting as a transportation alternative is well documented within our downtown areas. Yet presently, the only existing connections within both downtown areas are at grade on city streets, with no safe amenities (such as signage, delineation and bike racks).”

Petrini said that even after the plan gets finalized, placing actual bicycle facilities within both Wilkes-Barre and Scranton will not be accomplished overnight. Future phases of the study plan to account for traffic patterns and traffic counts.

The next phase of the project would be to eventually connect the two cities of Scranton and Wilkes-Barre. Petrini noted that this would require more grant funding for another study, but this would be the overall goal down the road.