Q: I've read that road widening and other traffic improvements related to the proposed FedEx Ground project in Allen Township will cost an estimated $40 million. This makes me wonder if anyone has considered, or cares about, dedicating a piece of land for a bus shelter at the intersection of Cascade Drive and Race Street north of the airport, where people waiting for a bus were killed or injured by a car. I find it troubling that no one publicly proposed doing something to improve the safety of those workers while waiting for a bus. There is still a bus stop sign in place on the airport side at the intersection of Cascade Drive and Race Street, but no shelter or protection for riders.
— Paul Tews, South Whitehall Township
A: Actually, there was some public discussion about possible safety improvements, including installation of a bus shelter for riders on the north side of Race Street at Cascade Drive, scene of the Sept. 10, 2012, accident that killed two men and injured two others.
Within days of the tragedy, Janice Snyder of Catasauqua and John Pors of Bethlehem steered suggestions for a bus shelter or other improvements onto my email parking deck, and Shanell Rivera of Bethlehem circulated a petition for a traffic signal at the intersection.
Officials seemed receptive to these ideas, though unfortunately, no concrete plans have materialized. As you note, Paul, the stop remains today almost exactly as it was when a motorist veered off Race Street and plowed into a group of waiting bus passengers, killing two and injuring two more: a single LANTA bus-stop sign on a post marks its location. One difference: The accident took out a utility pole, which had to be replaced.
Snyder and Pors felt that a LANTA bus shelter, though it wouldn't necessarily bring an out-of-control motor vehicle to a dead stop, might at least add a measure of safety to the open, grassy stop on a narrow, sloping strip of land where bus passengers wait, chain-link fencing to their backs. Though one person managed to jump out of the vehicle's path to safety, evasion opportunities are limited by the fence and the topography.
Pors cited the fence as contributing to the danger, blocking an instinctive escape path to the rear. He wondered whether Lehigh Valley International Airport officials would allow a small piece of property to be used for an expanded, safer waiting place with a bus shelter.
I put the question to airport Executive Director Charles Everett just a few weeks after the accident and was pleasantly surprised by his reaction. "We think it's a good idea," he said, "and we will do whatever we can to support the installation of a bus shelter." That support remains, Everett said recently, though LANTA has initiated no plans for a shelter there.
I discussed other possible safety improvements with LANTA officials in the weeks after the accident, and they cited potential difficulties for each possible solution. Relocating the stop to the opposite side of Race Street, on the parking lot for the businesses where the bus passengers work, would force buses to make dangerous left turns across the oncoming lane of Race Street, officials said. And permission would have to be secured for buses to use the private property in the small industrial park (though at least one owner verbally granted that permission at the time).
In response to Rivera's petition, the township paid for a traffic study, but conditions failed to meet the traffic-signal warrants, or minimum traffic numbers and other conditions needed, according to Township Manager Sandra Pudliner. "It did not even come close to meeting warrants," she said recently.
But as you note, Paul, a development that wasn't even on the GPS screen at the time of the accident — the FedEx distribution center planned nearby, and the road improvements hitched to its bumper — might help put Race Street bus-stop safety improvements in gear.
LANTA Planning Director Owen O'Neil said a bus shelter, with all the optional equipment including permits and installation included, comes with a sticker price of about $12,000 — not a subcompact sum, but there should be a way to siphon that much off the $40 million fuel tank.
O'Neil's said the best bet for bumping up the safety factor might be a shelter with curb and sidewalk. "We'd like to see curbs and sidewalks, at least for the immediate area of the bus stop," he said, though that would run into even more money, and he couldn't commit LANTA to any contributions. "We can certainly suggest it" as part of the FedEx work on Race Street, he said.
If FedEx continues to advance, Race will be widened, with a travel lane added in each direction. The fence would have to be moved anyway, so a little extra room for curb, sidewalk and a shelter should be available. If the controversial FedEx plan comes to a roadblock, it's possible this type of safety improvement could be funded through a federal "TIGER" grant, for which regional officials expect to apply in the coming weeks, O'Neil said.
There are other LANTA stops on Race, and though not all possess the same kind of dangerous features — faster vehicle speeds, the slope, the fence — the stop at nearby Fashion Drive probably should get the sidewalk-and-shelter treatment, too. There's a danger of these plans becoming a road with no end.
O'Neil said that even a perfectly level stop, absent the fence, may not have averted catastrophe in 2012. According to police, it's a case of a motorist simply driving off the road; she told authorities she dropped her cellphone and took her eyes off the road in reaching for it.
"There's nothing really unique to that specific spot," O'Neil said. "The driver drove off the road. That could have happened at any bus stop."
Perhaps. But it seems that eliminating the slope, adding a shelter, and providing more room between the road and the fence would make the stop safer.
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