Saturday, December 20, 2014

Lower Merion invites public comment on first draft of City Ave. official map

Post-it notes with suggestions for bike racks, pedestrian bridges and roadways stuck to a map of a very familiar area for Lower Merion community members: the City Avenue District.

Lower Merion invites public comment on first draft of City Ave. official map

A Lower Merion resident suggests starting with a "network of streets" before going forward. Community members jotted down comments on Post-its at the official map workshop Saturday morning at the GSB Building in Bala Cynwyd.
A Lower Merion resident suggests starting with a "network of streets" before going forward. Community members jotted down comments on Post-its at the official map workshop Saturday morning at the GSB Building in Bala Cynwyd.

Post-it notes with suggestions for bike racks, pedestrian bridges and roadways stuck to a map of a very familiar area for Lower Merion community members: the City Avenue District.

Saturday marked the first official map workshop between residents and the township staff to continue progress on ensuring the City Avenue ordinance passed in December can go into effect April 30 as planned. Held on the top floor of the GSB building overlooking the district’s landscape, Director of Building and Planning Bob Duncan asked attendees to examine the official map draft put together by township staff and offer comments using Post-it notes.

Now, the township can compile a list of suggestions in order to move forward with a process intended to improve the design of the district.

Twenty-year Plan

Members of the township staff, including Duncan and Assistant Director of Planning Chris Leswing, created the map independently from the public so that when Saturday came, everyone could have a starting point. The staff drew from planning and pathway concepts used in other municipalities, such as the mixed-use paths used in New York City to separate walkways from bike routes.

Also, after countless meetings with the Neighborhood Club of Bala Cynwyd, commissioners and other township residents, the wants and needs of the community aren’t complete secrets to the township staff.

“We’re open to the fact that the map may have to be amended,” Duncan said.

Duncan also acknowledged that if an official map is approved, developers could still come up with a plan contrary to the layout and petition to the Board of Commissioners that an amendment is made.

Because not all developments will happen at once, the final form of the official map adopted April 30 might be a blueprint for years to come. It’s possible that for some time, a bicycle route might not lead directly to the Cynwyd Heritage Trail or a walking path could be less fluid. The temporary inconsistencies, Commissioner George Manos of Ward Nine where part of the district is located said, are the reasons the timeframe of the overarching plan is important to recognize.

“You have to remember this is a 20-year plan,” Manos said. “It may be that this is just the way it will have to develop. When you’re planning, you have to think 20 years ahead for anything to exist in the future.”

Transportation Methods

The proposed roads on the draft of the official map mean several opportunities for new SEPTA stops to exist. Part of the impetus behind developing City Avenue and the official map has been to offer alternative modes of transportation to residents.

SEPTA and bicycle routes are at the face of alternative transportation methods. Though the township spoke with SEPTA officials regarding new bus routes and stops throughout the City Avenue district, Duncan said SEPTA would not make changes until the need is prevalent.

“SEPTA has said, if the people are there, we’ll adjust our routes and hours,” Duncan said. “SEPTA wants the critical mass first.”

The draft of the map also shows three connections to the Cynwyd Heritage Trail via the Cynwyd Station and West Laurel Hill Cemetary. Selma Davis, a resident of Bala Cynwyd since 1969, saw problems with focusing on bike routes without hard numbers regarding the number of bikers who might use the trail.

“I don’t have those numbers,” Duncan said, “but there is a demand for these alternative ways of transportation. There are people who work at the University of Pennsylvania [who live in Lower Merion] and would bike to work if they could.”

Another workshop to discuss the amendments proposed by the Neighborhood Club of Bala Cynwyd will be held tonight at 6:30 in the Board Room of the Township Building. Have questions about what an official map is? Check out the township's FAQ document, and if you don't find answers you want, let us know in the comments section.

About this blog
Josh Fernandez is a 2011 graduate of Temple University where he studied journalism and gender studies. He was a writer and editor for The Temple News, and has interned at Philadelphia City Paper and the Philadelphia Daily News. Josh lived in Aston, Pa. in Delaware County before moving to University City in Philadelphia.

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