NOT SO FAST.
When did the redesign of River Street in Wilkes-Barre – initially pitched as a way to slow vehicle traffic and make the place safer for pedestrians – turn into a blueprint for giving drivers everything they want: fewer tie-ups, fast commutes and free reign?
A "revised" traffic plan drawn up by the state Department of Transportation and publicly shown last week seems to have abandoned the project's original goals. Rather than reduce the lanes of travel from four to two for much of the stretch, it essentially calls for keeping the status quo. It includes no parking spaces near the newly built riverfront park and its amphitheater. And no grassy medians to beautify the streetscape, soak up rainfall and aid people crossing the street.
Sorry, college students. Too bad, senior citizens and parents toting young children. From the sounds of it, traipsing between the city's downtown and the River Common still will require a heart-pounding mad dash and/or avoidance maneuvers normally witnessed only by players of the arcade game Frogger.
However, for drivers intent on "timing" signal lights to save a few seconds, it's full speed ahead, according to PennDOT's reworked "improvement project." The key concerns of the citizens now steering this project: "capacity" and "flow." Add a checkered flag, and the River Street corridor might soon resemble a drag strip.
Construction is expected to start in spring 2015; meanwhile, public comment continues to be accepted.
Vocal critics assailed PennDOT's initial plan introduced at this time last year, prompting its employees to scrap the spirit, if not the intent, of the "traffic calming" initiative. Apparently, it was more important to calm the angry ones who opposed change and predicted unbearable vehicle congestion.
Where's the Wyoming Valley's leadership today, championing a progressive remake of one of the city's premier destinations? Where's the vision?
The situation appears to be a classic case of government bureaucracies failing to communicate. Federal and county leaders plunged ahead several years ago on a $20 million-plus riverfront park aimed at reconnecting people with the Susquehanna. The expectation was that the state soon would follow with a companion project, compelling motorists in the park's vicinity to opt for other routes or – gasp – ease up on the gas pedal.
Now, PennDOT is quickly moving in reverse.
Area residents who expect better, who value good design and first-rate public amenities over fixations with "convenience" and speed, should connect with transportation officials and tell them: Not so fast!
Write to PennDOT District 4-0, attention Charles Reuther, 55 Keystone Industrial Park, Dunmore, PA 18512, or call 963-4334.