HARRISBURG— If you’ve driven by Reservoir Park in Harrisburg lately, you may have noticed new signs at the entrance announcing, “No Thru Traffic.”
The bright-yellow signs, erected by city officials a few weeks ago, are designed to discourage vehicles from using the park as a shortcut to get from Market Street to State Street or vice versa.
“Everyone who lives in Harrisburg knows it’s always been an easy cut-through from Market to State,” City Councilman Cornelius Johnson, who chairs the public safety committee.
But drivers who use the park as a way to shave a minute or two off of their drive diminish the true purpose of the park, which is for recreation, Johnson said.
“Sometimes I run through the park, and I’ll see cars flying by,” he said. “People who are familiar with the park are always on their guard. They feel like they have to have their head on swivel and it makes them nervous.”
As it stands, there are no walking paths that encircle the park.
“The walking path is the street,” Johnson said.
And the street contains many curves and blind spots.
“If you’re coming around the curve and someone’s walking, it could lead to potential accident,” Johnson said.
There aren’t a lot of reported accidents at that park. But a dispute between a jogger and driver last year escalated into conflicting allegations of attempted assault.
The 90-acre park would likely attract more walkers and bicyclists if the cut-through traffic could be eliminated and if drivers would obey the speed limit of 15 mph, said Scott Shepler, a longtime resident and park-user.
“I’ve seen drivers barreling 50 mph straight toward you, people who don’t slow up at all,” he said. “They think it’s a public road and they can do whatever they want on it…Look around at the number of streetlights that have been taken out. That gives you an idea that cars are not always under control in there and they don’t obey the speed limit.”
Shepler suggested the signs to Johnson after seeing similar ones in a park in Philadelphia. Johnson then worked with City Engineer Wayne Martin to get the signs ordered and placed at the park entrances.
“If someone’s trying to use the park as a shortcut, they might be in more of a hurry than someone else and not paying attention to things,” Shepler said. “I haven’t felt like I was going to get run over, but I do walk my dog up there with a retractable leash and you almost have to keep your dog by your side because cars come out of nowhere.”
After the signs were put up, Shepler said he noticed an improvement during his next outing at the park. But a friend of Shepler’s had a different experience on his Sunday bike ride and said the situation seemed worse.
Police may need to enforce the new signs to help drivers comply, Shepler said.
The city can legally enforce the signs, according to City Engineer Wayne Martin. The city does not get liquid fuels money for the road, he said.
“Municipalities are allowed to restrict through traffic in a park,” he said.
Despite the signs’ presence Monday, a blue Share-a-Ride van zipped into the park from Market Street and a man driving a U-haul van pulled out, although it appeared unlikely the occupants intended to use the park’s amenities.
“Old habits are hard to break,” Johnson said. “It’s probably going to take a little bit for people to adjust. If it’s a continuing thing, we could eventually put in speed humps, for another traffic calming method.”
Johnson looks at the signs as a necessary first step to remind drivers that the park should be preserved for its intended use. Other elements, including a total redesign of the park and its roads, could be possible through a reimagining process for the park that is underway.
The city won a $50,000 grant from the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources last year to create a master site plan to increase usage of the park. The grant plus a $50,000 match from the city’s Community Development Block Grant money will pay for the consultant to analyze the park and create an action plan by next summer that would require additional grants to implement.
The first of four meetings designed to get public input into a possible overhaul of the park is set for 6 p.m. next Tuesday, Oct. 25, at the Kappa Omega at 2020 State Street. Additional meetings are set for December, March and July.