Study reveals ambitious plan for downtown Scranton
The City of Scranton has received recommendations for an ambitious overhaul to traffic patterns that an urban planning and design team says could make it safer for pedestrians and cyclists.
After a year of studying Scranton’s traffic patterns and 10 years of crash data, urban planner and author Jeff Speck said the city could take action and immediately make an impact on safety.
“Your typical street downtown, some are better than others,” he said, “but it feels like a place to go fast and not a place to go slower.”
Speck presented the results of a nearly 150-page study – The Downtown Scranton Connectivity Plan – in front of an audience Wednesday at Lackawanna College. He’s known for his 2012 book, Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time. The research was conducted by Speck & Associates and Nelson\Nygaard, a Boston-based transportation planning company.
The report suggests broad changes for Scranton, from more visible crosswalks to resized driving lanes. Many of those ideas should bring more people downtown, encourage them to drive slower and even visit more local shops, Speck said.
Slowing down traffic also means accidents with pedestrians are less likely to be fatal, he said.
“A car going 35 miles an hour is eight times as likely to kill you as a car going 25 miles an hour,” he said.
Changing some one-way streets into two-way streets is a quick fix to affect traffic. The city could even include bike lanes in several areas and add more parking with simple street restriping, according to the report.
Adjusting traffic patterns should also make it easier on first responders, he said. In talks with local police and fire departments, Speck said teams so far have been supportive of proposals.
The report also recommends replacing traffic signals at 22 intersections in Scranton with all-way stop signs. Drivers won’t have to wait at red lights and pedestrians won’t feel compelled to jaywalk, Speck said.
Other changes on state roads like Jefferson Avenue and Mulberry Street would require approval from PennDOT, but Speck said the transportation authority is already aware of some details in the study.
More elaborate plans are suggested for Lackawanna Avenue on the southern border of downtown. Speck would like to see a cobblestone median that can double as a turning lane, dozens of trees added along the road and a protected bike lane on the sidewalk.
“It’s nice to just hear these things from a professional and not feel crazy when it comes to… road use downtown, about lane width, about the ways people are incentivized to drive incredibly dangerously fast through some of these intersections,” said Kuba Jennes with the Anthracite Bicycle Coalition, a local advocacy group.
“I cycle everywhere down here and when you do that, you feel that out here on the roads very acutely,” Jennes said after the presentation.
The study also offers a grand revisioning of Penn Avenue leading up to the iconic Penn Paper building, made famous by the opening credits in “The Office.” Speck said it’s worth considering a park or “walk of fame” dedicated to the show nearby the landmark.
“‘The Office’ was the most streamed television show globally in 2020,” the report reads, “Yet its most postcard-worthy location goes uncelebrated.”
Another notable project would replace the parking lot in front of the Radisson Hotel at the Lackawanna Station. Speck said in its current state, it’s a missed opportunity. The gateway to the city could be a beautiful public square instead of “a K-Mart parking lot,” he said.
With the study results in hand, the city can more easily seek money for the projects.
In a brief speech before the study presentation, Mayor Paige Gebhardt Cognetti said the city would “aggressively pursue” state and federal grants. City engineer Tom Reilly said the federal Safe Streets and Roads for All program is already on their radar.
During his talk Speck also paid tribute to Jane Jacobs, a journalist, activist and urban theorist born in Scranton in 1916. Speck said he made the decision to become an urban planner after reading her 1961 book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities.
Speck has some advice for diving into the study. The report is lengthy, “but I would definitely ask [residents] to focus on what makes walking and downtown safe, because that’s where we really focused most of our energy,” he said.
You can read the full study here.