LEWISBURG — Traffic engineers recommend that borough council formally petitions PennDOT to ban heavy freight trucks from traveling Market Street and that the local governing body adopt ordinance themselves doing the same for all other streets in the historic district.
The recommendation garnered the loudest applause Wednesday inside Campus Theatre during the final public review of a traffic study conducted downtown. The study resulted from a public-private partnership amid growing concerns that increased traffic on Market Street (Route 45), particularly tractor-trailers and tri-axles, is disrupting the downtown economy and quality of life.
“We recommend the borough prohibit trucks on Market Street between Route 15 and Route 405,” said Ben Guthrie, project manager, Traffic Planning and Design, drawing loud applause from the half-filled theater. “We don’t feel truck traffic can be appropriately accommodated in the historic district.”
Guthrie said there should be exceptions to any bans on heavy trucks: local deliveries, government vehicles and emergency services among them.
The historic district largely constitutes the entirety of Lewisburg east of Route 15.
Guthrie said about 16,000 vehicles cross the river bridge daily, nearly an even split in both directions. Of those in-bound to Lewisburg, about 3,000 turn off onto a side street to avoid the downtown. That’s not the case for heavy trucks, he said, citing study data. The size of such trucks make it difficult to turn onto side streets. Most that cross the bridge, or turn onto Market Street from Route 15, travel straight through town, Guthrie said.
“These are trucks going from one highway system to another, using the historic district as a cut-through,” Guthrie said.
Truck volume is consistent from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m., about 90 an hour, Guthrie said. There’s some overlap for peak pedestrian crossing, with about 120 crossing Market Street hourly between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m., he said.
Borough resident Joe Campagna was first to the microphone when the question-and-answer period opened toward the end of the 90-minute event. He asked how such a ban could be possible on a section of a state highway.
Guthrie replied that PennDOT has a procedure in place for such requests. Municipalities can seek to have the department study a specific stretch of road in petitioning for a ban.
“If that’s correct then it’s got promise. I was under the impression that it’s a state highway and you can’t change anything,” Campagna said after the event.
Jenni Stieler and her husband, Scott, own four properties downtown.
“I think we knew we needed this engineering study to make good decisions but I don’t think most of us realized that was a potential outcome,” Jenni Stieler said afterward.
Kim Wheeler, special projects coordinator for Lewisburg, was among the main presenters along with Guthrie and his colleague, engineer Chris Lincoln. Wheeler said the Market Street Corridor Study was designed to seek data that could be used to petition for such a ban.
“We want to sit down and have a conversation with PennDOT District 3 as soon as this report is accepted by council. It’s really a matter of sitting down and learning how to navigate this,” Wheeler said.
A citizen-led steering committee raised all but $10,000 pledged by borough council for the study. Wheeler gave an updated figure Wednesday: $85,000 raised.
Data collection began in April. Engineers used monitoring equipment to collect data on traffic volume, speed, directions of travel, sound and vibration — that last one based on concerns about the potential impact on aging buildings and infrastructure. Measurements were taken from west of Route 15 and across the Susquehanna River toward Route 147 in Northumberland County.
Data is supplemented with visual observations from camera monitoring equipment and anecdotes and concerns raised by residents, merchants and visitors.
The engineering team behind the study recommended additional measures to counter truck traffic and enhance pedestrian safety.
One recommendation is to reduce the historic district’s speed limit from 25 mph to 20 mph. Other recommendations utilize the enhancement of downtown aesthetics: add “bump-outs” or plantings to widen sidewalks into Market Street and enhance the gateways into town at Route 15/45 and the Susquehanna River bridge leading to Route 405.
Another suggestion is to adjust traffic signals along Market Street to cut down on pedestrian wait-times to cross. Also, it was recommended borough council review existing brake-retarder and noise-level ordinance to see if enforcement is needed.
The presentation revealed survey results of downtown merchants concerning economic impact. Eighty-six businesses were selected for the surveys, namely those dealing on-site with customers such as retail, service and lodging. About half responded. Of those, 67 percent reported that congestion and traffic volume impacted their revenues, while 88 percent received complaints from customers about traffic issues. Safe-crossing, noise spoiling the downtown culture and parking were among such complaints.
According to a noise study, peak volume brought noise levels downtown comparable to that of a construction site or a night club with music playing.
There were 230 survey respondents, either by paper or online, and nearly 61 percent said they didn’t feel safe crossing Market Street.