HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — Sometimes you need to step back to see a problem for what it really is.

Like, 370 miles back.

That’s the altitude at which satellites capturing Google Earth images orbit, providing what a world-famous city planner says is strong evidence that Harrisburg street-parking advocates and bicycle safety advocates should be fighting on the same side against a common enemy: travel lanes on State Street in Allison Hill that are ridiculously numerous and ridiculously wide.

“You’ve got too many lanes in there,” said Jeff Speck, who has redesigned streets around the world and has written three books, most recently “Walkable City Rules: 101 Steps to Making Better Places.” And those lanes, Speck said, are too wide.

The analysis for abc27 News by Speck is important and timely, given that the two sides are poised to clash Tuesday night at a city council meeting following the city’s announcement last week that it’s tapping the brakes shortly after construction began on a long-planned project on State Street to add a dedicated bicycle lane, accomplished largely by reducing car lanes from two to one most of the day — but not during rush hour.

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The preservation of two lanes during rush hour, in turn, was slated to be accomplished by eliminating street parking from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. on the north side of State Street (leaving two lanes for inbound traffic) and on the south side of Street from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., during the afternoon rush.

News of the pause pleased Evelyn Hunt, who owns an apartment building at 19th and State and has lived in the area for 60 years: “Finally, somebody is listening,” she said, characterizing her reaction. Eliminating half the parking along State Street would have required residents to move their cars twice a day, leading to “parking wars,” Hunt said.

Reaction to the same news by Ross Willard of Recycle Bicycle? “It was like, ‘What? Wait a minute.'” It’s not that Willard doesn’t want Hunt and countless others to have a place to park. It’s that he worries if all-day parking is back in, the bike lane will be out.

Willard is Recycle Bicycle’s founder and identifies himself as the nonprofit’s “chief mechanical officer.”

Along the span of the road in question, State Street generally has seven lanes: two parking lanes (one on each side); four regular travel lanes (two in each direction); and one left-turn lane in the middle, serving vehicles traveling in both directions.

Speck, the city planner, has made a living (i.e., has gotten paid) to solve problems like these as far away as overseas countries and as close as Lancaster. He agreed to take some basic measurements and provide perspective regarding State Street to abc27 News at no cost.

Speck’s findings, based on information about the project provided by abc27 News (including PennDOT data showing about 5,300 cars travel the road each weekday in each direction) and measurements he took using Google Earth, which is accurate to within about half a foot:


Speck said State Street’s five travel lanes, including the turn lane, are far too many, relative to the number of vehicles that use the road. He provided a list of roads in other cities that handle considerably more vehicle traffic with just three lanes — all, he said, reduced from a previous four with no reduction in vehicles handled and little change in speed at which those vehicles could travel.

Speck said even rounding up generously from PennDOT’s calculation of 5,300 daily vehicles each way, or less than 11,000 cars in both directions, to (say) 12,000 — accounting for more office-workers returning as the pandemic subsides, for example — “you have a street that has 12,000 cars per day, which barely deserves a left-turn lane in a two-lane street. And somehow it has five lanes.”

“This is a street that has no reason to be more than three lanes wide, in terms of drivers,” Speck said.


And then there’s the width of the lanes. For decades, city planners like Speck have said drivers base their speeds not mostly based on speed limit signs and police enforcement (i.e., the threat of a speeding ticket) but based on how fast a road feels. Lots of lanes — and especially, lots of wide lanes — make a street feel like a highway.

Speck noted a new standard by the National Association of City Transportation Officials that lanes on city streets should be 10 feet wide. But Speck’s calculations determined State Street’s lanes are 12 feet wide.

“A 12-foot lane is a 70-mile-an-hour lane. So you have lanes that are encouraging speeds that are dangerous to live near,” Speck said. “So if you’re posting a speed under 70 miles an hour, you probably want a 10-foot lane and not a 12-foot lane.”

Speck said even solving just one of the two design problems would provide more than enough room for a bike lane while preserving all the street parking.

“Even if you were to keep the number of lanes that you have if you right-sized the lanes to the standard of 10 feet, there’s an extra 10 feet in that street that’s doing nothing but causing people to speed, which should be put to better use,” Speck said. (The math there: Two extra feet times each of the five travel lanes equal 10 extra feet across.)


For avoidance of doubt, we asked again if Speck is advocating something that could cause congestion.

“If it caused congestion, I wouldn’t be doing it. I wouldn’t be allowed to do it” for client cities that pay him, he said. “In Oklahoma City, I was able to get rid of a third of the driving lanes without causing congestion… We will only reduce lanes where it won’t cause congestion, and I believe you have one of those circumstances here.”

And Speck said he certainly wouldn’t recommend reducing the supply of parking below an acceptable level for residents.

“I lived on a street in [Washington] D.C. where if we’d lost our parking space, we would have had no place to put our car,” he said.

Willard, of Recycle Bicycle, said he has long believed this shouldn’t be a zero-sum game, a choice between parking — and bicycle and pedestrian safety. He said he advocated for a reduction in travel lanes a half-decade ago but accepted the now-paused project because it was the only way to get a bicycle lane at all.

“I sympathize,” he said. “What about your parking? But what about the people trying to walk to their parking?”

In other words, parkers are pedestrians too. So if residents manage to preserve their parking without design changes such as those suggested by Speck?

“It is a hollow victory,” Willard said. “If somebody says, ‘I kept my parking place — my side of the street was filled today, so I parked on the other side’ and as they walk to the other side, they get hit because they had to play Frogger…” — a reference to a 1980s-era arcade game in which the player has to help a frog navigate across a busy street, dodging traffic.

“And so you can play Frogger a lot easier on three lanes than on [five].”

So what’s next?

“We’re going to work on figuring out a redesign that is in the best interest of all residents,” Harrisburg city spokesman Matt Maisel said. State Street is a state road, so PennDOT will have to approve and oversee the project.

“They [PennDOT] are incredibly receptive to our concerns as a city, and they are absolutely willing to sit down with us and move this forward,” Maisel said.