PennDOT holds pedestrian traffic forum

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, the City of Meadville and Allegheny College hosted a public meeting to solicit input regarding traffic along the North Main Street corridor in Schultz Banquet Hall at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 21. The corridor being examined spans from Henry Street to Limber Road.

According to PennDOT’s Project Level Public Involvement Handbook, available on PennDOT’s website, the purpose of public meetings are varied.

“Public Meetings will be held, when appropriate, at various stages during project development, typically to: Introduce the project to the community, assess local issues and concerns, present project needs, present preliminary and detailed alternatives and their associated effects, and present possible mitigation measures,” the handbook reads.

James Carroll, the press officer at PennDOT Engineering District 1-0, said PennDOT is looking for input from the students as well as the permanent residents of Meadville.

“We’re looking for more discussion. … We would like to get as broad a spectrum of information and sources as possible,” Carroll said.

Linda Wetsell, chief financial officer and treasurer of the college, alerted the Allegheny community to the meeting via email on Oct. 13.

“The public meeting is part of an ongoing effort to develop a comprehensive approach to improve pedestrian safety along the North Main Street corridor,” Wetsell wrote in the email.

According to Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Eileen Petula, the meeting was open to every member of the community who had a vested interest in the future of North Main Street.

“For instance, you could live in Meadville or drive through Meadville every day and find out about this and have a real concern if they were going to slow down the speed or whatever,” Petula said.

Wetsell said the meeting is part of an ongoing study on pedestrian and vehicle traffic along North Main Street. A national engineering firm, Whitman, Requardt & Associates, installed traffic cameras along the road between Sept. 21 and Sept. 29.

Wetsell said the college asked PennDOT to initiate this study, and her email said the study will be completed by early 2017.

The college asked PennDOT to lower the speed limit along the road, according to Petula, though the department declined that request.

“So the college initially and would still love to see the speed reduced, but PennDOT’s already basically said we don’t meet those criteria, so they declined that,” said Petula.

According to Brian Smith, district engineer and project manager with PennDOT, the speed on North Main Street was not reduced due to state regulations. Smith said there is an 85th percentile rule they must follow.

“Say you sample the speed people are driving, with a posted speed limit. You sample 100 cars.  You count starting from the lowest speed and count up to the 85th car.  Regulation says that the posted speed limit must be within five mph of the speed the 85th car was driving,” Smith said.

When a survey was done to determine if the speed limit needed to be changed, Smith said the 85th percentile speed was 36 mph, so the posted speed of 35 mph on North Main Street remained the same.

Petula and Wetsell agreed that they would appreciate PennDOT proposing ways to ensure student safety along the North Main corridor.

“Ideally, I think a reduction of speed along with other things would be ideal,” Petula said. “But since one is impossible, I’m hoping that the alternatives that PennDOT is going to come up with is strong enough mitigations to really impact the overall safety, because that is the goal.”

The main goal of the meeting, according to Smith, was to engage the community in order for PennDOT to identify general safety concerns as well as concerns about specific areas.

The meeting consisted of a short presentation in which PennDOT delivered the statistics it has collected so far, followed by an open discussion for those in attendance.  There were stations set up with visuals so community members could identify the specific areas they had concerns about.

Some of the suggestions community members voiced included flashing pedestrian crossing signs at the busiest times of the day, narrowing the road or changing it  in some way so drivers are more inclined to slow down, continuing to try to lower the speed limit and posting more signs so it is clear where pedestrians crossings are located.