Malvern hopes to slow King St. traffic to island time Concrete ovals in the middle of the main drag are designed for a "calming" effect on flow. Malvern tries to calm traffic

Posted: November 23, 2006

Malvern, a small town with a main drag - King Street - that has long served as a shortcut for speeding motorists trying to escape lights and traffic jams on Route 30, is trying another tack in its continuing battle to "calm" traffic.

The weapon is the East and West King Streetscape Project, a $370,000 effort (the borough paid $92,000, Chester County kicked in $278,000) that has left traffic patterns in Malvern in relative shambles over the last month.

At the crux of this construction are five "traffic-calming" islands: oval concrete structures that will be filled in with dirt, decorative grasses and trees.

The largest of these islands, at about 30 feet long and 10 feet wide, faces incoming traffic just after the intersection of King Street and Sugartown Road. This island will have a large, well-lighted "Welcome to Malvern" sign.

An identical sign will greet motorists entering the borough from Route 30 on the east end of town.

There will be no islands, however, on the part of King that goes through the heart of downtown, where shops and restaurants are.

Traffic calming refers to any concerted effort by a municipality to slow local traffic. Speeding through Malvern has always been a major problem as drivers, coming off roads where cars comfortably zip by in the 50 m.p.h. range, fail to slow down when entering the 25 m.p.h. town.

Extra stop signs, jumbo speed bumps, and heavy ticketing by Malvern police have been a few of the Borough Council's efforts to slow drivers over the last decade.

Apparently none have worked quite well enough; thus the Streetscape project, which has been in the works for more than three years.

Henry Briggs, Malvern City Council president for the last four years, remembers a time, before traffic-calming, when crossing King Street at lunchtime safely was akin to Moses parting the Red Sea.

"I sat out there one day with the former manager of the Wawa and videotaped us trying to cross King at lunchtime. It was ridiculous - we could barely make it across alive," Briggs recounted.

"But all we heard when we started doing [traffic calming] stuff about it is, 'There's been no major accidents, no major injuries, what do you want?' Well, that's a bad way to judge things - just because nothing has happened yet doesn't mean it couldn't."

While speeding is still a major safety concern, foes of Streetscape see drawbacks in the plan.

The islands essentially eliminate the middle third of road space on King. This is not lost on resident Linda Davis.

"I think that it is one of the dumbest things that I have ever seen," Davis said. "I'd be interested to know where snowplows will push snow as they come down King. If there's traffic going in both directions, and an emergency vehicle is coming through, I don't know how they're supposed to pass."

The islands have "mountable" curbs, ramped to allow emergency vehicles to drive up and over the sides of the islands, and to hopefully minimize vehicle damage in the event that someone accidentally runs into one of them.

There is a sizable gap between these curbs and the street level right now, but borough engineer Dan Daley says that once King Street is re-paved, one of the last touches of the project, the lips of the island curbs will be minimal.

Daley added that the trees planted on the islands will be at least 6 feet tall, so that in the event of a major snowstorm, the islands are still visible.

As far as possible issues when plowing, "they'll be marked and delineated, and guys will just have to be careful," Daley said. "Like any curb, I'm sure the outside edges will be hit, but I don't see there being an issue."

Perhaps the best assessment of the Streetscape project's impact came from Shawn Bendak, superintendent of Charleston Greene Apartments, across the street from the largest island.

"Sure, it will beautify the place, but will it slow traffic? Maybe, but I think it will mostly just push the traffic out towards the curbs. People are still going to speed, no matter what you do."

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