Sunday, September 21, 2008

Kudos to PENNDOT a Roundabout For Jenkintown

Former BCGP board member and bike map cartographer Steve Spindler offers some inspiration for all of us to get involved locally to improve bicycling and walking regionally. Steve worked with Jenkintown neighbors, local planning experts and PENNDOT to develop a bike and pedestrian friendly solution to the Greenwood Avenue bridge over the busy Jenkintown-Wyncote Train Station.

PennDOT's project management team responsible for rebuilding the Greenwood Avenue Bridge deserves recognition.

About Jenkintown:

In case you don't know about Jenkintown. Jenkintown Borough takes pride in being a safe and pleasant place to walk and bike. Speed humps have been installed on busier neighborhood streets. The business district has plans to install bike racks and the borough is redoing the streetscape, and SEPTA increased the number of bike racks at the train station at the Jenkintown Community Alliance's request. The Borough is engaged in the 611/263 Corridor Study. A Safe Routes to School proposal has been submitted. It's probably one of the few school districts in the United States where children can walk to school from Kindergarten through 12th grade. Jenkintown is the most frequently used SEPTA regional rail station outside of Zone 1 and is only a 20 minute ride from Center City Philadelphia. And it's an awesome place to live.

The challenge of rebuilding a bridge:

Greenwood Avenue Bridge in Cheltenham Twp borders Jenkintown and crosses over SEPTA tracks at Jenkintown-Wyncote Train Station. This spring, PennDOT consultants presented a plan to rebuild the bridge to the same width as the current bridge. Borough representatives pointed out that a bridge only gets built once every 75 years and that it needs to be designed with pedestrians and bicyclists in mind. This was the challenge.

Figuring out what's feasible:

Tom Branigan, Bob Thomas, Bill Ince and I met for lunch and walked around the site. Nobody knew what the solution would be, but Bob reflected on the Walnut Lane Bridge roundabout in Philadelphia (near the Wissahickon Park) and suggested that a roundabout would eliminate the need for a left turn lane. This would create space for bicycle lanes and a wider sidewalk.

I printed out an aerial photo from the internet and sketched roundabouts on it. We met with Mike Girman, of DMJM Harris, the following week and showed him the concept. Mike appreciated that we were not asking to widen the bridge, and he offered to have an outstanding roundabout specialist, Holly Rybinski, assess the feasibility.

The solution:

In August, DMJM Harris and PB invited us to see the roundabout plan they had developed. They wanted informal feedback before presenting it more formally to Jenkintown and Cheltenham.

This week, PennDOT presented the bike/ped friendly bridge design to both Cheltenham Township and Jenkintown Borough. Brian Teles, of PB, presented a draft design for the roundabout. It is actually an oval designed to reduce travel speeds to 15 mph.

The reaction:

Borough Council Members thanked PennDOT's team for listening and coming up a desirable solution. Council members and others at the meeting were really pleased.

The benefits:

Project can continue forward without revisiting environmental clearances.
Solution improves traffic flow.
Solution is bike/ped friendly.
Solution benefits SEPTA, which is building a 700 car parking structure adjacent to the bridge.
Solution reduces vehicle emissions.

Why I sent this:

I feel fortunate to have seen engineering and design at its best. I hope everyone involved will be proud of the outcome. Jenkintown is really going to benefit. I'm grateful for this.

Steve Spindler