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Bike-friendly Middletown: Is it possible? Penn State Harrisburg grad student working with borough

By Dan Miller

danmiller@pressandjournal.com

717-944-4628
Posted 7/3/19

A proposal to make Middletown a “bicycle friendly community” is in the works.

Developed by Alejandro Davila, a Penn State Harrisburg master of business administration degree candidate, …

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Bike-friendly Middletown: Is it possible? Penn State Harrisburg grad student working with borough

Posted

A proposal to make Middletown a “bicycle friendly community” is in the works.

Developed by Alejandro Davila, a Penn State Harrisburg master of business administration degree candidate, the plan would make streets in Middletown safer for riding bicycles, by adding bicycle lanes and road markings that alert drivers to the presence of bicyclists.

Davila also proposes placing bicycle-sharing stations at locations throughout Middletown, where people could rent a bicycle at one station and return it to any other station in town.

Bicycle-sharing stations also would be located at Penn State Harrisburg, which Davila hopes to incorporate in his plan.

A number of midstate municipalities, including Harrisburg and Hummelstown, have these bicycle-sharing stations in place, also known as Zagster stations for the company that provides the bicycles.

Davila was introduced to borough council during its June 18 meeting by Borough Manager Ken Klinepeter. He was encouraged to meet with Middletown Public Works Director Greg Wilsbach, so that Wilsbach and Davila can jointly develop a plan that would be presented to council.

Council Vice President Mike Woodworth encouraged Davila pursue the initiative, “because I think it is a good idea.”

Davila and Wilsbach have held their first meeting. Wilsbach said there is a lot of work to be done, but that Davila’s plan ties in with the vision for the new Amtrak train station to be built along West Main Street.

That plan includes extending West Emaus Street to West Main Street, and making West Emaus more pedestrian and bicycle-friendly to make it easier for Penn State Harrisburg students — and people in general — to get downtown.

For example, Wilsbach noted that bicycle road markings on Union Street were added as part of the downtown improvement project.

Train station construction is to begin in 2020, with the station to open in 2021 or 2022 under the most recent Pennsylvania Department of Transportation timetable.

“You’re going to have more and more college kids using bicycles. Not all of them drive,” Wilsbach said. “Transportation and recreational bike paths are good for the community.”

Davila grew up in Harrisburg and went to Penn State Harrisburg as an undergraduate student, during which he lived in the Village of Pineford for two years. He now lives just outside Harrisburg, but has returned to Penn State Harrisburg for his graduate studies.

He works at the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, where he first learned of engineers working on sustainability projects such as making communities bicycle-friendly.

He said he sees Middletown as a good candidate, because of the presence of Penn State Harrisburg and transportation hubs such as the train station and Harrisburg International Airport.

“I just saw an opportunity not just for the students at Penn State, but for the surrounding community, and as a member of the community I felt like I should at least propose it, or do some kind of work to see if it was feasible,” Davila said.

Davila owns a bicycle, but has also embraced the opportunities presented by the bike-sharing program in Harrisburg.

He likes to drive his car to City Island or downtown Harrisburg. He then parks it and rents a Zagster bicycle at one of the bike-sharing stations.

He rides anywhere he wants in the city, along Front Street, to the Broad Street Market, even outside the city to Wildwood Park near Harrisburg Area Community College. He also likes to ride on the Greenbelt.

He uses an app on his smartphone to unlock and rent a Zagster bicycle at any of the many bike-sharing stations in the city. For $25 a year, he can rent and ride a Zagster 365  days a year for up to two hours. Over that, he pays $2 an hour.

Zagster also offers a pay-as-you-go membership where you pay $2 an hour, or up to $20 a ride, according to the Zagster website.

The Zagster bicycles are outfitted with a basket in the front to haul groceries and other items. Lights on the front and back are activated by pedaling, and there is a bell on the handlebar.

When he’done for the day, Davila returns the Zagster to any bike-sharing station in the city.

In and around Middletown, Davila said Zagster bike-sharing stations could be set up at places such as shopping centers, schools, Penn State Harrisburg, the train station and at HIA.

“If the demand is there, I like the idea,” Wilsbach said.

Davila said he wants to know more about what Middletown residents would like to see as part of a bicycle-friendly initiative, based on these questions suggested by the Statewide Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator who works for PennDOT:

• Where do people in the community ride/bike in Middletown?

• How do people in the community get to the airport? How will they get to the new Amtrak station once it is finished?

• Where would you like to bike to that is not accessible now?

Davila said he believes grant funding is available from PennDOT that would help Middletown pay the costs of implementing a bicycle-friendly program.

Not counting road paving, Davila estimates his proposal would cost $96,000, including bicycle lanes and associated markings, stencils and signs, and racks for the Zagsters.

Davila added these estimates are preliminary and do not reflect changes in the plan resulting from his discussions with Wilsbach, before the plan is ready to be presented to council.

PennDOT has $40 million available in competitive grant funding each fiscal year for capital projects that improve transportation assets, said PennDOT spokeswoman Alexis Campbell.

Of that, $35 million is legislatively mandated for highway and bridge projects, leaving $5 million available for any other mode of transportation including projects that improve or create bicycle facilities, Campbell said.

Crash figures

Bicycle crashes statewide have been trending downward since 1998, when 2,761 were recorded statewide, according to data posted on the PennDOT website.

In 2017 there were 1,142 bicyclist crashes in Pennsylvania — the lowest for any year since 1998. There were 1,305 crashes in 2016. Data for 2018 is expected to be available in August.

In Dauphin County, bicyclist crashes have steadily declined, from 57 in 1998 to 20 in 2017.

However, there were fewer such crashes in Dauphin County in both 2007 and 2009 — 17 in each year — and in 2010 (19) and in 2014 (18).

But the 20 crashes in 2017 is the lowest in Dauphin County since 2014. There were 28 crashes in 2015, and 25 in 2016, according to the PennDOT data.

Campbell attributes the steady decline in the number of bicyclist crashes in Pennsylvania to “a lot of attention” being focused on bicycle and pedestrian safety, both nationally and at the state level. “This has led to infrastructure improvements as well as educational opportunities to improve bicycle safety.”

PennDOT’s Strategic Highway Safety Plan details what PennDOT has been working on since 2017 to continue supporting this downward trend in bicyclist crashes, Campbell said.

Additional information about what PennDOT is doing can be found on the agency website, including developing an updated Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan for Pennsylvania.