Council looks over Toytown troubles

The rush-hour traffic was constant in Toytown Friday as three City Council members walked through the neighborhood with about 15 residents to discuss solutions for problems caused – or exacerbated by – motorists’ failure to comply with a designated construction detour.

The result may be suggestions for one-way stretches, right-turn-only designations and signs for “local traffic only” and “no trucks” in the neighborhood sandwiched between 31st and 32nd streets and Broad and Pine avenues.

At one point, Scott Brown, one of the leaders of a delegation of neighbors who complained about the traffic to council on Wednesday, joked about changing the name of one thoroughfare to “You shouldn’t be here street.”

The current construction along 31st Street precedes construction on nearby Broad Avenue. The diversion of traffic through the neighborhood has seriously worsened a cut-through problem that has been growing for decades, according to neighbors.

The shortcutters have included drivers coming down Mill Run Road and turning right through the neighborhood to avoid the traffic light at Broad Avenue.

And it has included drivers coming down the steep hill of Broad Avenue Extension and turning left into the neighborhood as a shortcut to the Curtin school area.

The current traffic has made it unsafe for kids to ride bikes and dicey for adults to walk their dogs, and it has damaged streets not designed for hard use, according to residents.

“This may be the way good neighborhoods go bad,” said Marcia Rossman, a teacher in the Hollidaysburg Area School District who has had opportunities to move closer to work, but who prefers it in Toytown.

She feels safe there, and people help one another -shoveling snow, for example, she said.

But since traffic has grown so heavy, it’s no longer pleasant for neighbors to sit together on porches on warm evenings to chat, she said.

Houses normally sell quickly, but she wouldn’t want to buy one on Race Street now, she said.

The council contingent – Mayor Bill Schirf and councilmen Bruce Kelley and Dave Butterbaugh, which is less than a quorum to abide by the Sunshine Law – referred periodically to council’s intervention a couple of years ago to discourage shortcutters in Garden Heights.

That led to one-way designations and stop signs that calmed the problem, according to Butterbaugh.

Still, changes like the ones proposed Friday can only occur in many cases after traffic studies to provide evidence to justify them – and they won’t happen right away, Schirf emphasized.

They will need to involve the city engineering office and PennDOT, he said.

“You can’t just throw up four-way stop signs,” he said.

And there’s always the problem of unintended consequences to consider.

It’s like trying to get a bubble out from under a carpet – you push it, and it tends to go elsewhere, rather than disappear, Kelley said.

Nothing is likely to happen until after the construction is over, Schirf added.

That’s OK, according to resident Paul Myers.

“We’re more worried about the long term,” he said.