The intersection of Highland and Germantown avenues is particularly dangerous. CHCA committee members are looking for ways to make it safer. (Photo by Pete Mazzaccaro)

By Wesley Ratko

Chestnut Hill Community Association Traffic, Transportation, and Parking committee member Debra Ferraro appeared before the Land Use Planning and Zoning committee Thursday night to discuss a wide range projects designed to improve pedestrian safety along Germantown Avenue from Evergreen Avenue down to the bottom of the Hill at Winston Road.

The proposals are the result of a series of discussions by the Traffic, Transportation and parking authority that the group would like to suggest to the city and other government agenices.

Ferraro began by describing some proposed improvements to the intersection of Evergreen Avenue and Germantown Avenue, which would include adding a pedestrian indicator to the traffic signals and new treatments to refresh the pavement markings of the crosswalk. The indicator would feature countdown signals that alert pedestrians to the amount of time they have left to cross before the light changes.

“We have that proposed at almost every intersection,” Ferraro said.

At Highland and Germantown avenues, she said the committee weighing the cost of realigning the northern crosswalk with the benefit such an improvement would provide.

“It will be expensive,” she said, adding that it would involve relocation of a utility pole and storm water inlet, as well as sidewalk ramps for the handicapped, known as ADA ramps.

“I’m not sure if the cost-benefit works out, but it’s something we’re considering,” she said. An additional cost to that realignment would include the need to reset the historic granite pavers in the sidewalk. The new ramps would need to be set in concrete, something that couldn’t be done unless the pavers were moved. They would not be eliminated, just relocated.

She added that if the intersection were to be realigned, the project could include the installation of a “bumpout” along Germantown Avenue. A bumpout is an extension of the curb out into the roadway that serves as a “pedestrian refuge” that shortens the crosswalk. In this case, bumpouts are only constructed at corners. “They’ve been proven to increase pedestrian safety tremendously,” she said.

Ferraro also said they would look at retiming the signals at Highland Avenue to protect the northern crosswalk, especially during school dismissal hours.

“There is conflicting traffic that’s almost coming straight on when pedestrians crossing at that cross walk have the right of way,” she said.

Moving south down the Hill, Ferraro observed that the curbs at the intersection of Willow Grove Avenue and Germantown Avenue are damaged and would need to be replaced, in addition to the other improvements suggested.

Referring to improvements at the bottom of the hill, Ferraro talked about a project that would redesign Winston Road so as to narrow the roadway and realign the intersection with Germantown Avenue. She described this project as having the potential to provide a “gateway” area to Chestnut Hill. She said the project had been suggested as part of previous studies of Germantown Avenue.

“That would be for pedestrian safety,” she said, adding that the project could “provide an enhanced streetscape plaza with street trees and space for market festivals.” She added that “green” storm water infrastructure could be a part of those improvements as well.

Finally, she recommended the need for a long-term replacement plan for the many aging sidewalks up and down Germantown Avenue.

LUPZ Committee co-chair John Landis asked about the recent work done to improve the state of the cobblestones in Germantown Avenue at the top of the hill and down by Cresheim Valley Drive.

“One of the issues that’s come up recently at both the DRC and the LUPZ was resetting the cobblestones,” Landis said. He said he saw the resetting as a good thing, but wondered about whether PennDOT (which owns Germantown Avenue) or the city Streets Department would coordinate and do the work on side streets.

“If you have a PennDOT project and they’re working on Germantown Avenue, they can include side street approaches,” Ferraro said. She cautioned, however, that there are limits to how much of this approach work could be included.

LUPZ co-chair Larry McEwen asked Ferraro about funding and whether there are grants available to pay for some of this work. She said that the best approach would be to “phase” the work, which means that those proposed improvements that are easier and/or cheaper to implement are done first as funding becomes available.

She said that PennDOT distributes funding on a competitive basis for signal and pedestrian safety projects from money collected through the automated red light cameras currently deployed at several intersections throughout the city. She said that the most recent round of those awards has just closed but that other opportunities would be available again.

Committee member John Haak added that city departments also make money available for “streetscape” projects through the capital budget.

Committee member Jean McCoubrey asked about accident data, jokingly saying that her “near-death experience” happened at the intersection of Highland and Germantown Avenue. McEwen agreed, saying he had a similar experience at the corner of Willow Grove and Germantown Avenues.

Ferraro said she had reviewed the crash data but added that nothing looked especially dangerous compared with other comparable areas.

The committee took no formal action on Ferraro’s presentation but said that her recommendations would be circulated to the other technical committees for consideration and additional feedback.