Lancaster city has a plan to rebuild Water Street into a “bicycle boulevard” that can be used by cyclists, motorists and pedestrians alike, LNP’s Tim Stuhldreher first reported Sept. 5. “The bicycle boulevard and off-road path would serve as one of the principal north-south thoroughfares in the city’s bicycle network,” Stuhldreher reported Sept. 22. “Intersections would be redesigned to promote safety and speed tables added to slow down motorized traffic.” The city, which is still working to secure all of the needed funding, hopes to begin construction in 2021.
We like bicycles.
We’re not here today to disparage bicyclists or the movement to make Lancaster more bicycle-friendly.
As we wrote in this space nearly five years ago: “A welcome movement to make Lancaster County roads more bicycle-friendly holds the promise of contributing significantly to this area’s quality of life. ... The movement increases tourism, has overall positive health effects, helps the economy, is in step with a younger generation that does not want to be so automobile-dependent, and is good for the environment.”
All of that remains true. The number of people who wish to travel by bicycle is clearly growing.
We have expressed our support for the Zagster bike-share service that was launched in Lancaster city two years ago. It’s the kind of alternative transportation a city in the midst of an ongoing boom — which Lancaster is — needs.
We generally support the Lancaster Active Transportation Plan, which has a countywide vision that includes communities linked by walking and biking trails, greenways trails and a Lancaster city biking network.
And we believe there are praiseworthy aspects of the Water Street bicycle boulevard, for which $1.5 million in grant funding is already secured. We like that it could help to diffuse and calm traffic. And, as Stuhldreher notes, rain gardens would add greenery and contribute to stormwater control efforts, while newly designed public art along the boulevard would spotlight neighborhoods’ identities and cultural heritage.
It additionally has the potential to revitalize some struggling areas of the city, especially in its southwest section.
We see this bicycle boulevard as a positive for Lancaster.
What about drivers?
So, yes, we like bicycles and plans to make areas more bicycle-friendly.
But how about first making the city streets friendlier to motor vehicles — and their tires, shocks and struts?
Quite simply, we wish there would be more focus and urgency toward expediently fixing roads in and around Lancaster city.
Anyone who has spent significant time in Lancaster city this year understands that car travel has been a nightmare. And we’re hardly the only ones noticing. Here are some excerpts from letters we’ve published in 2019:
— “Driving the streets of Lancaster city is such a mess. The conditions of the streets are bad enough. Then add in the poor ‘patch’ jobs being allowed by construction crews.” (March 14)
— “After driving through the city down Walnut Street, it’s abundantly clear that this is the worst road ever. How can anyone expect the public to drive their cars down this road and not be appalled?” (March 21)
— “If you think it’s bad driving a car in Lancaster city, try driving a motorcycle.” (July 11)
— “I was born and raised on College Avenue and cannot believe the shape of the roads. Every year they tear them up and do what with them — who knows?” (June 13)
— “Who cares which way Lancaster city streets run, as they’re in such deplorable condition that they are virtually impassable anyway?” (Feb. 22)
There’s truth behind these fiery comments. We all want better roads in and around the city. We want traffic to improve. We want roadwork to be completed as quickly as reasonably possible. We want a smooth ride, free of potholes.
These aren’t just selfish desires. For Lancaster city’s future, good roads are more important than ever.
The downtown is flourishing. Plans are underway to add more parking, along with more events, hotel rooms, businesses and public places to draw local and out-of-town visitors and workers.
Bad roads and headache-inducing traffic are huge obstacles to the continued success of this renaissance.
Will visitors want to come back after an unpleasant driving experience? Will they recommend Lancaster city to others?
In an April op-ed for LNP, Lancaster Mayor Danene Sorace explained the complexity of maintaining the city’s 113 miles of streets, some of which are the responsibility of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. There have been paving jobs, UGI gas line replacements, water and sewer line replacements, pothole repairs and more taking place throughout the year.
We must stress this: Solutions to Lancaster’s roads must be derived from a calculus that involves city government, PennDOT and utility companies. The city plays the key role, for sure, but it does not hold all of the authority or responsibility.
Sorace understands the frustration and impatience of drivers, especially those who must traverse city streets every day. She called the streets of Lancaster “a work in progress,” which is an understatement.
We are drawn, though, to something else Sorace said — this more recently. In touting the Water Street bicycle boulevard, the mayor said this to critics of the proposal: “If we don’t do anything different, it’s not going to change. ... What we’re proposing to do is something different.”
We like that view.
We believe that same bold philosophy could be applied toward new visions — outside-the-box ideas, perhaps — for Lancaster’s streets and vehicular traffic. And the sooner the better.