CARLISLE — It’s been almost two years since Carlisle’s road diet was completed. Downtown businesses have had time to gauge its effects and, much like opinions on the project since the beginning, it’s a mixed bag of positives and negatives.
“I still hear complaints from people,” said Stephanie Patterson Gilbert, owner of Georgie Lou’s Retro Candy and Gifts, 22 N. Pitt St.
The idea behind the plan may have been to make traffic flow more smoothly, but “in some way, the impression is that it made it harder,” Gilbert said.
That impression makes it difficult for Steve Hyvesson at Hammer & Nail Tattoo and Piercing Parlor, 139 S. Hanover St., to attract new customers to his business; though he has been able to keep the loyal customer base he’s built over 10 years.
Hyvesson said he can’t fathom how the road diet is helping businesses.
“There’s not a good thing about it,” he said.
However, Becky Richeson, director of development at Carlisle Arts Learning Center, said people have commented the road diet slows drivers down to allow them to see businesses.
Now that it’s moved to West Pomfret Street and has its own parking area, the center doesn’t have the dilemma it once did. Still, staff remembers what it was like before the road diet when they tried to get children or packages in and out of cars parked on Hanover Street with two lanes of traffic whizzing past.
After the road diet, the bicycle lanes offered some relief.
“People felt safer with the bike lane being a buffer,” Richeson said.
The bicycle lanes are only a buffer in the eyes of some business owners. Even though he sometimes rides a bicycle to work, Hyvesson said he never uses the bike lanes and rarely sees anyone else doing so.
“I can count on one hand how many people I see riding in a week,” he said.
Like several other business owners downtown, Karen Rhody, owner of Courthouse Common Espresso Bar and Bistro, said her business hasn’t been affected positively or negatively by the road diet.
She does, however, hear complaints from customers about traffic in town when there is an accident on the interstate, but she doesn’t blame the road diet.
“It was the same before the road diet when there was an accident,” she said.
The loss of dedicated crossing lights for pedestrians is a concern for Gilbert, who said she sees close calls between pedestrians and vehicles all of the time, especially when it is dark or raining.
The exclusive pedestrian crossing signals at some intersections had to be eliminated to allow the same amount of traffic to move through town with fewer lanes, said Michael Keiser, the borough’s public works director.
Drivers need to remember it’s state law to stop for pedestrians in the crosswalk, Keiser said.
Some business owners say more could have been done on the road diet.
“Potentially, it didn’t go far enough,” Gilbert said, pointing to ongoing issues with truck traffic and the project’s aesthetics.
“There needs to be a stronger effort on the part of the borough to ban trucks from the downtown,” Gilbert said.
Gilbert said other towns, like nearby New Kingstown, completed projects to keep the large trucks off its main street.
While the road diet succeeds aesthetically in opening the town, it lost some of its appeal when the faux brick medians were dropped from the plan and it was decided not to paint the bicycle lanes blue, Gilbert said.
The timing of the traffic signals also stymies business owners. Some say the signals have been synchronized to keep traffic flowing while others say it has yet to be completed.
“Synchronization is not an accurate term. They’re adaptive,” Keiser said.
The old signal system had a pre-determined timing system. The new system, however, reacts to traffic conditions and modifies the signal timing to adjust for traffic patterns in real time, Keiser said.
Blocking the intersections can throw off the timing of the signal system, Keiser said.
Traffic may have been better alleviated by adding dedicated turn signals at intersections rather than redesigning the whole street, Hyvesson said.