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Plan to make Ross friendly to pedestrians gains momentum

| Friday, July 1, 2016, 5:27 p.m.

The process of making it easier to get around Ross without a motor vehicle by adding sidewalks, trails and bicycle paths is gaining traction.

Ross officials announced recently that the township received a $33,000 grant from the Active Allegheny Grant Program that will be used to develop a master plan for pedestrian access, according to Commissioner Jeremy Shaffer.

“There's a lot of (government) money out there to fund trail and pedestrian improvement projects, but one of the things that's necessary in order to be considered for the grants that are available is a plan that demonstrates the need,” Shaffer said. “Whether it's with sidewalks or trails, our goal is to connect our parks, residential areas, churches, schools and shopping districts. This grant will help us create the framework we need to proceed.”

PennDOT provides funding for things such as on- and off-road pedestrian and bicycle projects, programs that create better access to public transportation for people who do not drive, recreational trails and initiatives that make routes to schools safer, according to Steve Cowan, spokesman for PennDOT's District 11 office.

“The Wolf administration has put a renewed emphasis on developing safe walking and biking opportunities across Pennsylvania,” said Toby Fauver, a PennDOT deputy secretary, who noted that some $2 million has been earmarked for pedestrian and bicycle facilities.

The transportation agency also has a program to place “yield to pedestrian” signs along roads across the state.

“PennDOT Secretary (Leslie) Richards has directed that pedestrian considerations be included in highway improvement project planning,” Fauver said. “And we have started training and guidance for staff and planning partners regarding bicycle and pedestrian facilities.”

Earlier this year, township officials began drafting an ordinance that will require developers of new commercial and residential projects — and some existing businesses — to install sidewalks or pay into a fund so the township can build them.

But enacting a final version of that law could be delayed until after the township has completed its master pedestrian access plan, Shaffer said.

“One of the things we don't want to create is a patchwork of sidewalks and trails that don't connect to anything,” he said. “A master plan should help us target areas where it makes sense to put them in as well as places to avoid because nobody will use them.”

The problem of creating so-called sidewalks to nowhere became evident in March when a developer sought permission to split the former Baierl Kia vehicle dealership along McKnight Road into two lots where a bank and fast-food restaurant are being built.

LRC Development Co. was given the option of putting a 400-foot sidewalk along the two properties or paying $80 a foot, or $32,000, into the township's sidewalk fund.

A company representative told the commissioners that the payment option was selected because it did not make sense to install a sidewalk when there is no sidewalk on one side of the project and a decorative brick wall on the other side.

Craig Linner, president of the Ross Township Business and Economic Development Corp., or RED, said while many business owners recognize the benefits of making it easier for people to walk and bike around the township — including to and from their shops — they want to be sure that the township takes a commonsense approach.

“A single ordinance doesn't take into account the profile of what we believe are three distinct business districts in Ross — McKnight Road, Babcock Boulevard and Route 19 (Perry Highway),” Linner said.

Linner said business owners support the idea of placing sidewalks along Babcock Boulevard because it is comprised of smaller shops.

“But there's no point in putting sidewalks along McKnight because very few people would use them,” he said.

Business owners would rather see sidewalks along the streets leading to McKnight as well as measures that make it safer for people to cross the road.

Creating safe ways to travel along McKnight Road without a motor vehicle could be accomplished by connecting existing sidewalks and designating areas within shopping center parking lots as pedestrian/bike ways, Linner said.

Tony LaRussa is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-772-6368 or tlarussa@tribweb.com.

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