Indiana planning workshop elicits suggestions for traffic, housing improvements
Members of the Indiana community gave planners some insight into what they love — and what they dislike — about their town at a concluding Indiana Community University District Plan workshop Feb. 19 at the Kovalchick Convention and Athletic Complex.
The workshop began with a two-hour open house, during which several area organizations promoted their own community development projects. Members of the public had the opportunity to view a Multimodal Corridor Study, which sets forth options for developing safe connections among key locations in Indiana Borough, White Township and the Indiana University of Pennsylvania campus.
Later, attendees gathered in groups to consider design suggestions for three key aspects of the Indiana community — transportation and mobility, housing and development, and open space.
Bob Doyle with consultant SmithGroupJJR, an architectural and engineering firm based in Ann Arbor, Mich., led a presentation Feb. 19 on the Indiana Community University District Plan.
“This is about attracting people, about creating high-quality places that are interesting and memorable, places that people want to be,” Doyle said of the plan.
He emphasized that the plan is meant to be a starting point not only for design, but also for creating partnerships for pursuing improvements and seeking out funding sources for implementation.
“The idea is that we're starting a conversation about how you achieve these goals,” he said.
The plan is broken down into what Doyle called “character areas” including the downtown area, neighborhoods and a suburb/commercial district.
Some of the problem areas the planners are hoping to address with the plan are poor pedestrian experiences — narrow sidewalks and little or no buffers between parking lots and roadways. Doyle also pointed out inconsistent building patterns, gaps between buildings, and lack of a distinguishing line between the town and the IUP campus.
The plan likely would include transit hubs, where people could switch modes of transportation for easier trips into downtown Indiana or to outlying points of interest.
The community input gathered Feb. 19 followed the trend of comments received at two earlier workshops in September and October. At the workshops, people living and working in the Indiana area were asked what they would like to see preserved, enhanced and improved.
At the most recent workshop, participants were asked to identify their top three priorities in the areas of transportation and mobility, housing and development, and open space.
According to Doyle, a distinct pattern emerged, expressing a lack of non-motorized facilities. Public input indicated that pedestrians and bikers don't feel safe crossing certain roadways.
Two main intersections were pinpointed as particularly problematic — Oakland Avenue at 13th and Maple streets, and Wayne Avenue at South Seventh and Locust streets.
In the areas of housing and development, public input identified a need for new development, improved retail and food offerings and greater diversity in housing options.
Regarding mobility, workshop attendees suggested widening sidewalks, installing street trees and lights and improving intersections for both vehicular traffic and pedestrians.
Workshop attendees also wanted to see better management of parking lot locations and designs, including making better use of the parking garage in downtown Indiana.
Addressing open spaces, community members expressed a desire for more of them, within each ward of Indiana Borough, as well as a broader range of outdoor activities and community gateway enhancements.
Doyle acknowledged that many of the ideas featured in the plan could require changes to municipal zoning and development standards.
“Those are things that we're going to be scrutinizing as a steering committee,” he said.
Ross Bricklemyer, who sits on Indiana Borough Council, was one of the community members who attended the workshop.
“My personal opinion, it's a very good plan, but I believe there's a number of issues that have to be addressed to try to execute it,” he said, starting with Indiana's strict zoning. “I'm not sure the current zoning would allow a lot of this development, so we'd have to decide if we want to change the zoning.”
He listed funding and a surplus of housing among his other concerns.
Byron Stauffer, executive director of the Indiana County Office of Planning and Development, said the district plan follows a comprehensive approach and can be broken down into multiple phases for implementation as grant money is obtained.
“We think we have a unique community,” said Stauffer. “And we think it's worthy of investment, looking at what it can be and not what it is, and just giving a vision for the future.”
Doyle said his firm will take the input gleaned from all three workshops and will incorporate it into a final draft of the plan. There likely will be some fine-tuning before the results are presented sometime in April to the Indiana Community University District Plan steering committee, made up of two representatives each from the borough, township, county and IUP.
The Multimodal Corridor Study involves the same four entities. It is an effort to determine the feasibility of a connection between the Hoodlebug Trail, which is maintained by the county's parks and trails department, and the White Township Recreation Complex east of the borough.
“I think the community, by and large, the majority of people, want a safe, walkable, bikeable community,” said Stauffer. “It's that type of town.”
The Hoodlebug Trail currentely has its northern terminus at Hoss's Steak and Sea House, off Wayne Avenue just south of Indiana. The trail's southern end is at Corporate Campus Drive in Burrell Township, near the WyoTech automotive trade school east of Blairsville.
Zach Norwood, chief planner with the Indiana County Office of Planning and Development, noted the envisioned non-motorized corridor leading to the township complex would be a pathway in its own right, not just an extension of the Hoodlebug Trail.
The proposed connection would incorporate increased safety measures for pedestrians and bicyclists as well as other modes of transportation, such as skateboarding.
Robert Genter, director of land development services with Mackin Engineering Company of Pittsburgh, was on hand at the workshop to speak with those visiting the Multimodal Corridor Study display. Mackin has been tasked with working out the logistics of connecting the Hoodlebug Trail to the township recreational facility.
“People who walk, people who ride a bike, people who take a bus or transit, even people who drive a car, this affects all community members, and it's meant to offer different opportunities for transportation,” Genter said of the proposed corridor.
A north-south leg of the proposed corridor would connect the off-road Hoodlebug Trail to the heart of Indiana Borough via a route extending through the IUP campus and following Wayne Avenue and Pratt Drive.
For an east-west segment through Indiana, the corridor would follow either Gompers Avenue or Philadelphia Street, from Eighth Street to Twolick Drive, depending on a decision by borough council.
The path then would jump onto East Pike in White Township to reach the recreation complex.
“The idea here is to connect recreation to downtown businesses and shops, to education centers, places to work, places to go to school, and allow people safe routes to bike and walk,” said Genter.
The study also designates three sites as possible transit transfer points — at the recreation complex, in downtown Indiana and at IUP. These are sites where people switch modes of transportation — parking their car or leaving their bike to board a bus, for example.
Those areas would have parking lots and possibly even changing rooms, shelters and lockers for storing bikes and belongings.
“The whole idea is to make it as friendly to all (transportation) modes as possible, get more people outside exercising, and offering choices to move through the community,” said Genter.
No money has been allocated to move forward with the corridor project, but Norwood said partners involved in the plan could seek to tap funding available through PennDOT or other transportation-related sources. He noted that funding designated specifically for trail use would not qualify, as it is targeted for recreation while the proposed corridor is geared more toward transportation.
Norwood said a federal Congestion Mitigation Air Quality grant has been awarded to Indiana County and may be used toward the Multimodal Corridor Study if various pieces of the project begin to fall into place. He indicated planners are waiting for the involved partners to agree to pool together money to fund the project's design phases.
Though not part of the Multimodal Corridor Study, the construction of a proposed pedestrian bridge over Route 22 near the WyoTech campus is a possibility. The Park and Ride parking lot along Old William Penn Highway could act as a trailhead, Norwood noted.
“We're looking to find funding towards that and get a design started,” he said.
The county was awarded about $1.7 million in Multimodal Transportation Fund money, which has been earmarked for the pedestrian bridge. Norwood said the project originally was expected to cost $3 million, but he expects that number to increase.
“If we can get the first preliminary design phase completed, we'll have a better idea of what the overall costs will be,” he said.
With the hope that the pedestrian span will become a reality, Blairsville officials have begun plans to extend the trail system on the other southern side of Route 22, to connect the Hoodlebug to Blairsville's Riverfront Trail.
If the pathway proposed in the Multimodal Corridor Study reaches completion, it would make moving through the IUP campus and downtown Indiana much easier for those who prefer non-motorized modes of transportaion.
“It would make better access for borough residents who wouldn't necessarily have to get into a car to go to a trailhead,” said Stauffer. “They'd be able to, through the downtown network, ride their bikes or walk onto the Hoodlebug Trail and through the university and go to some of these amenities.”
Anyone with ideas or suggestions for either the Multimodal Corridor Study or the Indiana Community University District Plan is encouraged to contact Jeff Raykes, deputy director of planning in the county planning office, at [email protected] or by phone at 724-465-3874.
“The biggest thing for either of these projects to survive or move forward is community support,” said Norwood. “If the community is willing to support them and see them as being valuable, then the projects are more likely to succeed and actually be developed. So, having the public voice their opinions, good or bad, on the projects is important.”
Gina DelFavero is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-459-6100, ext. 2915 or [email protected].