State College

State College Borough Council hears report on Atherton/Park traffic study

State College Borough Council saw a progress report Monday by State College police, the public works department and the state Department of Transportation regarding the intersection of Park Avenue and North Atherton Street.
State College Borough Council saw a progress report Monday by State College police, the public works department and the state Department of Transportation regarding the intersection of Park Avenue and North Atherton Street. CDT file photo

The borough has several options available in dealing with the dangerous dance between pedestrians and drivers at the intersection of North Atherton Street and Park Avenue, and these options will continue to be weighed into spring of next year.

The Borough Council saw a progress report Monday by State College police, the public works department and state Department of Transportation regarding the intersection — what measures have been taken to increase safety and where the future of the intersection is headed.

According to police Chief Tom King, crashes have been declining at the intersection over the past 15 years, but what has captured the attention of the community were two fatalities over the past two years.

In June, Joel Reed, 39, was struck and killed crossing North Atherton on a motor scooter. In July 2014, Penn State student Eva O’Brian, 18, was struck while jogging across North Atherton. She succumbed to her injuries about two weeks later.

A recent fatality of a second Penn State student in August occurred at the nearby intersection of North Atherton and Curtin Road and was not included in the statistics because the incident was not at the Atherton/Park intersection.

In the cases of both fatalities at the intersection in question, King said alcohol or drugs were not factors and they occurred on dry roads with no adverse weather conditions. Multiple witnesses and drivers had consistent accounts of the crashes.

Since the fatalities, officers have stepped up traffic enforcement at the intersection, he said, conducting enforcement on 50 separate days totaling more than 80 hours. Twenty-six traffic citations have been issued for red-light violations.

One of the most common violations saw drivers turning left from Park onto North Atherton into the oncoming northbound traffic lane. King provided video of the intersection showing several vehicles driving into the oncoming lane for several feet before realizing their mistake and crossing the median into the correct lane.

Several actions have been taken to correct traffic issues since the intersection came under scrutiny in August, King said. Yellow tracer lines now indicate the correct path to take when turning left off Park and have dropped the incidents of drivers turning into the wrong lane to almost nothing. A PennDOT mobile camera now records the intersection 24/7 for study purposes, and drivers have been permanently restricted from turning right on a red light from North Atherton to Park.

The borough took numerous suggestions from community members during a neighborhood meeting in July, public works Director Mark Whitfield said. These included minor suggestions such as increasing the leading pedestrian interval by an additional five seconds and allowing more time for pedestrian crossing, to more extreme ideas such as installing a roundabout or a pedestrian bridge or tunnel.

Some of the suggestions were deemed infeasible or unlikely, he said, such as a roundabout — which would severely disrupt the surrounding property — or speed bumps — which are not allowed on arterial streets used by emergency vehicles. Requests to reduce the speed limit have been denied in the past as well, he said, as speed has not been seen as a factor in crashes.

What is possible, Whitfield said, would be to increase the leading pedestrian interval to 10 seconds. The borough could also examine increasing the crosswalk width and refuge island opening and making “yield to pedestrian” signs more visible to drivers.

The next steps include a formalized origin and destination study for pedestrians at the intersection, he said. A public forum has been established at www.statecollegepa.us/parkatherton for community engagement, as well as the email address parkatherton@statecollegepa.us.

Concerned residents are also invited to attend a presentation to the College Heights Association on Thursday at the State College Church of Christ on Hillcrest Avenue.

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