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Front Street returning to one way

During the March 18 Catasauqua Borough Council meeting, council members voted to approve changing the traffic pattern of a section of Front Street.

Ordinance 1435 was approved, with a vote of 5-1, to revert Front Street, from Union Street to Bridge Street, to one-way traffic traveling northbound. Councilwoman Kim Brubaker was the sole nay vote. Council Vice President Brian Bartholomew was absent.

The matter was originally on the agenda for the Feb. 19 meeting, but was tabled. It was brought forth for discussion and a vote, largely on the basis for public safety, according to council President Howard Cunningham.

According to the ordinance, “Borough council is concerned about the safety of the general public, other motorists, parked vehicles, pedestrians and all persons traversing the two-way section of Front Street from Union Street to Bridge Street, particularly in light of the expected development of the Iron Works site.”

In her comments, Brubaker questioned why this was happening now. She said she would have liked more time to consider all the sides to the issue and wanted more concrete data before making a decision. She shared concern about traffic accessing the Iron Works site and the downtown business district, as well as additional stress this move would make on the surrounding side streets.

Cunningham reported the borough’s engineering firm, Remington and Vernick Engineers, did research and analysis of the site and, with the direction of Derrick Kennedy, Remington and Vernick traffic engineering discipline lead, put together a report. The report cited safety, parking and emergency vehicle operations as concerns.

It was noted the Front Street space in question is approximately 31 feet from curb to curb. Having two lanes of traffic with parking on both sides severely limits the lane size. It was reported the current lane sizes are smaller than the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation recommendations.

It was also noted challenges arise when there are stopped vehicles on the road with no way for other vehicles to drive around them. This is especially a concern with vehicles not having space to pull over to allow emergency vehicles to go around and get to their destinations.

Additionally, limited sight lines and obstructed visibility pose safety concerns for pedestrians in the area.

Cunningham addressed Brubaker’s concern about the developers for the Iron Works site. She was concerned potential developers would have problems with the traffic pattern changing from two way to one way in the area. Cunningham said he has met with potential developers and asked their thoughts about the change. He reported none of them were concerned.

It was noted one of the biggest reasons for making this change at this time is the timeline of a Multimodal Transportation Fund grant the borough received. This grant funding is for streetscape work in front of the Iron Works property for sidewalks and curbing, which are needed for access to the site. Borough Manager Glenn Eckhart reminded the public the introduction of sidewalks and curbs will cut into the already narrow lanes.

According to borough Engineer Vanessa Nedrick, they need to make a move and show some progress on this project to qualify for an extension on the grant. Nedrick noted they need a conceptual design and want to have environmental plans and clearances done by June.

“We need to make a move on that site or we lose that money,” Cunningham said.

Eckhart emphasized a change will need to be made once those sidewalks and curbs are installed. He said the options will be one-way traffic with parking on both sides of the street or two-way traffic with parking on only one side. The thought process was that switching to one-way traffic was the better option to preserve parking spots for residents in the area.

During public comment, one resident questioned if this change to one way will have a financial impact and if those costs were included in the budget. Eckhart reported it is a sum cost. He noted the cost is negligible and would involve more of a logistical change for the borough by moving around signage and personnel.

Another resident said the reason Front Street was changed from one-way to two-way traffic originally was to help slow traffic and allow better access to help build and support the downtown business district.

Access to the downtown businesses continued to be a concern for Brubaker. Cunningham responded by saying the businesses survived for years back before the change to two-way traffic. He also noted it works fine for Allentown, in reference to Hamilton Street being one way.

Mayor Barbara Schlegel said she has spoken about the change with members of the police department. She said all of the officers are in favor of this change.

Councilman Eugene Schlegel also spoke about his concern for safety, noting drivers parked along Front Street have to open their doors into traffic and the tight lanes cause a hazard. He also reported a number of residents have had their side-view mirrors knocked off, most often in hit and runs, leaving the drivers footing the bill.

Cunningham continued to emphasize the important focus for him was public safety.

“The issue is public safety and moving forward,” Cunningham said.

After the vote, a resident asked about the timeline for the change. It was noted they hope to have everything set in place in the next few months. Eckhart said the borough would be vigilant about posting notices and getting word out to the residents, so they are informed of the changes.