A new study will aim to make downtown Wilkes-Barre more friendly for pedestrians and bicyclists.
It’s a timely mission because the nonprofit Earth Conservancy’s recent land donation will bring the 165-mile Delaware & Lehigh Heritage Trail from the Seven Tubs Natural Area in Plains Township to the base of what is commonly known as Giant’s Despair in Wilkes-Barre Township.
Now officials say they must figure out how to link the popular trail to the River Common Park along the Susquehanna River for the recreational benefit of people who live here and want to visit.
“This study will look at the most safe and effective route,” said Daniel Butch, a Luzerne County Planning/Zoning office analyst.
Two state agencies — the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and Department of Community and Economic Development — provided funding for Luzerne and Lackawanna counties to plan bicycle/pedestrian networks in downtown Wilkes-Barre and Scranton, Butch said.
Proposals from consultants interested in completing the study are due July 27.
The planning is warranted because the use of bicycles has started to change from “strictly recreational and health benefits to a means of commuting into and around the two downtown areas,” Lackawanna County Planning Department Manager Steve Pitoniak wrote in a document for interested consultants.
A bicycle network would improve downtown amenities, which could spark further economic development, Pitoniak wrote.
A lack of established routes with signs and other safety amenities results in a “chaotic and unsafe situation for bicyclists, pedestrians and motorists” in both downtowns, said the request for proposals, which is under the umbrella of the Lackawanna/Luzerne Transportation Study Metropolitan Planning Organization, or MPO.
The study must propose designated routes, list needed improvements and cost estimates and detail items needed to increase commuting, such as bicycle racks and lockers, repair stations and bus racks, it said.
Butch, who works with the MPO, said he is optimistic a steering committee will select the consultant this summer.
As for the downtown link to Giant’s Despair, Butch said he does not believe the most direct route on Northampton Street will be the best because it is a busy and somewhat narrow artery with two-way traffic and cross streets.
“Everyone has an opinion, and there are a lot of alternative routes to look at,” Butch said.
Public input meetings will be a required part of the study, he noted.
The federally designated D&L trail follows anthracite coal’s past route from Wyoming Valley mines to market in Bucks County near Philadelphia.
The new stretch from the Tubs to Wilkes-Barre Township will take at least two years to construct and will follow a rail path through wooded areas and past culm banks, a North Branch Land Trust representative has said. The nonprofit trust assumed ownership of the recreational loop to and from the Tubs and will oversee its construction before turning the trail over to the state for future maintenance.
While some connections are still in the works, the trail continues from the Tubs to Mountain Top, White Haven, historic Jim Thorpe and beyond.
Located off Route 115, the Seven Tubs Nature Area opened to the public in 1992 and includes a formation of seven sandstone potholes in the path of flowing Wheelbarrow Run. Many geologists believe these tubs were formed during the last Ice Age more than 10,000 years ago, officials have said.
Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.