New lighting to be installed on North Main

Allegheny College’s efforts to improve student safety continue after the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation recommended a number of changes be made to the portion of North Main Street that runs through campus, in a Dec. 20, community meeting. The college has also begun installing lights along the west side of the street.

Brian Smith, traffic engineer for PennDOT’s district 1-0, said the plans were made with the assistance of a consultant, Whitman, Requardt & Associates. Changes could be split into short-term and long-term plans, Smith said.

Short-term plans, according to Smith, would include implementing “traffic-calming” measures in three different sections of campus. On the southern end of campus, overhead gateway signs could be implemented to alert drivers that they are entering a college campus.

It doesn’t help to reduce the speed limit, because people usually drive what they think is a safe speed.

— Jim Carroll

The plan for the central part of North Main as it runs through campus could involve the construction of a raised intersection.

“Pedestrians who are crossing there [would be] up higher, more visible to traffic,” Smith said.

A raised intersection would lift pedestrians up by approximately four to six inches, Smith said, which would have a “good effect” on their visibility to drivers.

On the northern end of campus, the short-term plan would involve the construction of a boulevard, which would create two one-way roads with vegetation planted between, Smith said.

The short-term plan, according to Smith, can be carried out at once or in three segments depending on the amount of funding available.

Other plans involve lane narrowing, according to Jim Carroll, the press officer for PennDOT’s district 1-0. Carroll said narrowing the lanes would have a more apparent effect on reducing the speed of traffic than changing the speed limit.

“If a lane is narrowed or there’s a curvature to it, or something like that, traffic automatically slows down,” Carroll said. “It doesn’t help to reduce the speed limit, because people usually drive what they think is a safe speed.”

PennDOT would only work to narrow the lanes in specific areas of the road, rather than along North Main as a whole, Carroll said.

North Main could also experience the implementation of bulb-outs, which extend the length of a sidewalk near crosswalks to reduce the distance pedestrians need to walk in order to cross a road.

The long-term project proposed by PennDOT is a roundabout at the intersection of North Main Street, Allegheny Street and Limber Road. Carroll said roundabouts are safer than traditional four-way intersections, leading to 90 percent fewer fatalities and 75 percent fewer accidents that cause serious injury.

“A roundabout helps by calming traffic,” Carroll said. “A modern roundabout—a single-lane roundabout—which was proposed there, would slow traffic down to about 25 miles per hour.”

Carroll said roundabouts are also more efficient, being able to handle up to 30 percent more traffic at peak times than traditional intersections, as traffic is always in motion rather than needing to stop at stop signs or traffic lights.

The construction of a roundabout, according to Smith, would allow the college to install another sign to alert drivers that they are entering a college campus.

“It’s just a way to force traffic to slow down as they’re entering the campus,” Smith said. “It would provide a nice gateway to the college. What’s nice about the roundabout is that you have the center section where they can put a sign in there announcing the college.”

Both Carroll and Smith said the short and long-term plans are both in preliminary phases and are not currently considered projects.

“They would have to be approved for funding, be designed and go through engineering,” Carroll said.

In addition to these proposed changes, the college has started installing new lights along North Main Street. In a post on MyAllegheny dated Jan. 19, it was announced that the sidewalk on the west side of the street will be closed through Feb. 2, as lights are installed.

Linda Wetsell, the college’s chief financial officer and treasurer, said between 20 and 24 lights will be installed by A&MP Electric on the west side of North Main Street. The lights will be on metal poles similar to the green light posts that illuminate other parts of campus, Wetsell said.

The lighting project is funded both by the college and a state Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program grant. After the lights are installed, the college will ask to be reimbursed for 50 percent of the costs, Wetsell said. Wetsell said she did not know what the final costs of the lights will be.

“The goal was not only better lighting, but also safety,” Wetsell said. “To enhance the lighting on Main Street from sidewalk to sidewalk.”

Traffic safety and lighting on North Main has been under scrutiny since the Oct. 29, 2015, death of Hannah Morris, a neuroscience major who suffered fatal injuries while crossing the street at night in front of North Village II. Since the fatal accident, many have questioned the speed limit, which PennDOT declined to lower due to state laws.

“Personally, I would love to see the speed limit a little bit slower,” Wetsell said. “I think that [PennDOT] put forward good options to choose from, and I look forward to their final recommendations.”