Graphic from the Borough of State College Downtown Master Plan
Downtown State College may see some drastic changes in its landscape in the coming years with the recent adoption of a new Downtown Master Plan by the Borough Council. This plan has two phases focusing on the marketing and branding of downtown, but also focuses on creating a more pedestrian friendly environment.
The purpose of the Master Plan is to develop long-term effects that would make downtown into a center for people to come and visit. It aims to give downtown a unique identity, transforming it into a more pedestrian friendly and multi-modal district, improving the comfortability and cohesiveness, attracting more people to the area, and having the area thrive as a safe and appealing destination.
With a big university just across the street and a thriving shopping and dining scene, it is no surprise that there is a high density of foot traffic downtown. One of the most drastic changes is the second theme of the plan, the “Navigating the District” theme. It looks to alleviate some of this tension by transforming the downtown so that the management of people becomes the priority over cars.
Borough councilman Jim Rosenberger is most looking forward to a streetscape improvement that would transform the 100 block of Allen Street, including the intersection with College Avenue, into a promenade. He says that this is “the heart of the downtown, and the gateway to the campus from downtown.” This project would revamp the current Allen Street into an all brick street with the sidewalks at street level. Rosenberger says that “these improvements will greatly enhance the visual beauty of this area with the use of brick pavers and improved sidewalk for pedestrians.”
Some techniques for pedestrian improvements proposed in the second theme are adding curb bulb outs, road diets and widening sidewalks.
Curb bulb outs are extensions to the curb that shorten crossing distances for pedestrians, and allow for better visibility for drivers where previously their view may hAvenuebeen obstructed by parked cars. These are projected to be utilized mainly along College Avenue between Atherton Street and University Drive.
A road diet is a planning technique that reduces the width or number of travel lanes, freeing up space that can then be used to add cycle lanes, widen sidewalks or add landscape features. Road diets would be implemented on College Avenue between Atherton Street and University Drive, between Atherton and Buckhout Streets, and on Beaver Avenue between Atherton and Garner Streets and Garner and High Streets.
There is also talk of shutting down Allen Street to vehicles, at least partially, some of the time to allow for more pedestrian traffic. This is an attempt to make Allen Street a hub for activity in the downtown area allowing for festivals, pop-up cafes and other events. Most of the time though, the street will function like usual with two-way traffic and parking on both sides.
The Master Plan encompasses many aspects of transforming the downtown area but there may still be some things lacking. Borough Council member Evan Myers suggested there are some things he feels aren’t being considered that would contribute to making State College more pedestrian friendly.
Myers suggests changing Calder Way and even College Avenue, at least part time, to pedestrian-only traffic, much like the 16th Street Pedestrian Mall in Denver. He believes that there needs to be an adoption by the whole community in order for this to successfully work.
The adoption of the Master Plan is a good place to start in the effort to make State College more pedestrian friendly, but it is still in its beginning stages. As of now the plan has just been developed and Rosenberger says that the borough is inviting comment from the public.
Rosenberger says the next move in making State College more pedestrian-friendly is “improving and widening the sidewalk at Locust Lane and Beaver Avenue, [this] will provide improved safety for pedestrians crossing Beaver Avenue at that location.”
He added, “also, adding an island on Park Avenue, at McKee Street will make crossing Park Ave. for pedestrians much safer, since pedestrians can cross one lane at a time, when traffic is heavy, and wait in the middle of Park Avenueon the island.” Rosenberger says that construction of the island will be under way once Penn DOT gives the final approval.
The projected timeline for the whole Master Plan is not set in stone, as the plan is more of a guideline for improvements over the next decade or two. As priorities change over the years, the plan may never be truly finished, but the borough seems eager to make improvements to enhance the overall and pedestrian experience.
Myers believes that in order for the plan to be efficient, it has to be a collaborative effort between the community, the government and the University. “The Master Plan is a good place to start, but the question is how far should we go,” Myers said. ■
By EMILY EDLING
VOICES Staff Writer