The Buffalo Valley Rail Trail – Final Section Feasibility Study was a collaborative planning process between the Buffalo Valley Recreational Authority (BVRec), Bucknell University’s Engineering Department, and Larson Design Group (LDG). Funded by a $5,000 Susquehanna Greenway Partnership Mini-Grant, this planning process included donated time and services from Bucknell University, LDG, and many volunteers that made up the design committee. The planning process also included extensive public outreach to adjacent neighborhoods.
Public Parks and Recreation: Essential Community Services
In November 2011, BVRec celebrated the opening of the 9.2-mile Buffalo Valley Rail Trail (BVRT) between Mifflinburg and Lewisburg. Due to limited funding and the need for a Route 15 trail crossing, the BVRT was stopped short of downtown Lewisburg and the West Branch Susquehanna River. Currently, visitors to the trail who reside east of Route 15 must drive to a trail head in order to safely access the BVRT and enjoy the beautiful open spaces the trail traverses between Mifflinburg and Lewisburg.
The feasibility study helped chart a path extending the BVRT into downtown Lewisburg to the West Branch Susquehanna River by providing recommendations on chosen alternatives and phasing and probable construction costs of the improvements. The current BVRT already connects many recreational uses.
Future extensions will allow additional connections to more public uses for an improved trail network in the years to come. This trail extension provides a new opportunity for users to have safe connectivity to important civic, recreational, and institutional uses. The study recommended the best methods to provide safe connectivity without compromising impact to neighborhoods, the existing transportation system, and the essential aesthetics of the area.
The completion of the BVRT extension will provide safe pedestrian and bicycle access across town, to the West Branch Susquehanna River, and across Route 15 to enjoy the initial BVRT segment.
Problem Yields Opportunity for a Solution
Multiple obstacles stand in the way of the next trail extension, including how to cross Route 15, how to cross an active railroad, how to extend a trail spur to the historic downtown commercial district, how to “squeeze” a trail along St. John Street (the original railroad ran down the street and had since been removed and the street widened to modern street standards), and how to renovate the railroad bridge to give trail users a highly sought after view of the West Branch Susquehanna River. The feasibility study carefully reviewed many options for consideration, and those options were presented during two public hearings to determine the best approach moving forward with design and construction.
For example, the trail segment traversing St. John Street brought unique challenges. Therefore, six different options were developed and studied to ensure minimal impacts to on-street resident parking, conflicts with adjacent resident doorways and access points, and safety between pedestrians on the sidewalk and trail users. Additionally, an innovative solution was developed and studied at the Route 15 crossing, which proposes to utilize a split phase traffic signal with a refuge island in the middle of Route 15. This solution provides for a safe trail crossing, while maintaining traffic capacity on Route 15 and cost effectiveness.
A Creative Approach
In addition to vetting solutions for crossing Route 15, aligning a rail with a trail segment to access the commercial core, and renovating the railroad bridge for pedestrian access, this feasibility study was completed by an innovative method for project delivery through the combination of the Susquehanna Greenway Partnership Mini-Grant, use of student engineers, the work of Bucknell University engineering department staff, and LDG’s expertise.
The preferred option for the St. John Street trail segment recommends the use of a two-way cycle track to separate vehicular traffic, bicycle traffic, and pedestrian traffic. This recommendation minimizes impacts on adjacent residential properties, maintains the existing curb-to-curb width of the street, and maintains a seamless trail system that will be inviting to trail users. Typically, cycle tracks are found in urban areas of large cities, but it clearly has value in the streets of downtown Lewisburg.
This feasibility study has become the catalyst in finishing the remaining length of trail, and possibly allowing for future trails along the existing north-south railroad to further connect Lewisburg’s neighborhoods, Evangelical Hospital, Bucknell University’s campus, and the Riverwoods active adult community.
Realizing Buffalo Valley Recreation Authority’s aggressive and unique ability to plan and implement recreation projects, two recent funding awards were made to continue BVRec’s progress: 1) A PennDOT Transportation Alternative Program award was made to complete construction of the 8th Street to Fifth Street trail segment with a spur to the Market Street commercial core; and 2) A DCNR C2P2 Grant award was made to extend construction of the trail from 12th Street to Buffalo Alley and to complete preliminary design on the Route 15 trail crossing.
By providing the Lewisburg community with improved trail access, visitors are encouraged to walk and ride bicycles to many destinations within the community in a safe manner. Safe access means those without vehicles can become more mobile; kids and teenagers can have safe access to social gathering spots and parks, and older residents have a safe location to walk and stay healthy. Providing access to the West Branch Susquehanna River will deliver a unique view to the river or to a bald eagle fishing for dinner.
The planning process utilized to develop this feasibility study was diverse and far reaching. The design committee included members of the governing bodies of two municipalities, the county planner, the Mainstreet Manager, the Elm Street Manager, elected officials, and others. This group ensured that all input was provided. Additionally, two public meetings were held; one focused for public officials and professional volunteers and one for the general public and residents. A small neighborhood gathering also occurred to seek input from folks not comfortable with speaking at a large public meeting and a survey was available for residents to complete.
The planning process utilized many professional resources available to the Lewisburg area to develop an affordable and thoughtful planning document that will guide the completion of the BVRT to the West Branch Susquehanna River. Bucknell University has been helpful over the years by lending their engineering expertise on local projects. In this planning process, three Bucknell University Senior students worked diligently on data collection, calculations, results summaries, and assisting on final recommendations. The Susquehanna Greenway Mini-Grant provided nominal funds to cover approximately 1/3 portion of the costs for LDG to facilitate meetings, prepare planning graphics, and edit the final report. The remaining costs were donated by Larson Design Group through our stewardship program in order to give back to the local communities where their clients and staff reside.