thursday, january 25, 2018

Montgomery Avenue Commercial Corridor - The Montgomery Mile

Friends from Narberth and Merion Park joined us for a discussion of needed improvements to Montgomery Avenue from N. Narberth Avenue/Old Gulph Rd to Meetinghouse Lane.  Montgomery Ave exists across municipalities, one side in Lower Merion Township and the other in the Borough of Narberth.

Sara Schuh of SALT Design presented a graphic of Montgomery Avenue noting the potential opportunities for an improved pedestrian-friendly streetscape and existing site challenges.  A pedestrian activated crosswalk from Staples to the Juice Merchant could be one of the first improvements to facilitate a better connection between Penn Valley and Narberth.  Current limitations include a lack of trash cans, recycling receptacles and places to sit.  A large number of curb cuts make walking difficult and unsafe.

Narberth councilman Bob Weisbord noted the historical context of Montgomery Ave including auto services, a nursery, banks and 60’s style drive-thrus.  The group discussed the possibility of bookending the corridor with gates, signs, landscaping or other defining elements from N. Narberth Ave/Old Gulph Rd to Meetinghouse Ln.

Narberth Mayor Andrea Deutsch, once a business owner on this stretch of road, mentioned the need for more green space and current limitations to opportunistic shopping as telephone poles on the Narberth side make it almost impossible to walk with children and dogs.

Penn Valley resident John Baker expressed concern about limited sight distances around buildings set too close to the road and the importance of more street parking.  Residents wondered about the commercial impact of the upcoming changes to the Lower Merion zoning code.

Narberth Civic Association president and founder of the Narberth Cycling Club, Kimberly Bezak mentioned the opportunity for better connection between Narberth and Penn Valley.  Cyclists mostly avoid this stretch because it is too dangerous.

Penn Valley residents discussed concerns about no left turn lanes from Montgomery Ave onto Bryn Mawr Ave and Old Gulph Rd.  All agreed that the pedestrian light at N. Narberth/Old Gulph Rd and Montgomery Ave is too short.  Timing at many intersections could be improved.

Sara Schuh mentioned 1) the need for on-street parking which makes pedestrians feel safer while walking, 2) the need for a Business Improvement District (BID), a non-profit business association to help take care of the streetscape and advocate for businesses, 3) the importance of incorporating tree trenches (instead of tree boxes) with soil under sidewalks for sustainable tree plantings.

Acme was mentioned as potential business leader.  Andrea Deutsch noted the historical attempt to start a BID for the “Montgomery Mile” and the challenge in finding interested business owners.  Going forward, she suggested that we formulate an improvement plan before starting a BID so that owners will understand what they’re paying into.

Penn Valley resident, Steve Filippone mentioned a need to consolidate the ample parking behind buildings on the Lower Merion side to encourage shoppers to park there and walk to nearby businesses.  Pedestrian friendly walkways from these parking lots out to Montgomery Ave are needed.  Steve also mentioned the challenging knee wall at Iona and the difficulty in crossing Montgomery Ave.  Pedestrian crossings take too long causing people to stand near fast moving traffic for long periods while waiting for lights to change or darting across at their own risk.

Residents of Narberth and Penn Valley recalled a traffic study done years ago and a road diet plan from 2005 and expressed an interest in seeing these plans again.

Commissioner Josh Grimes noted that the 3 lane plan idea has not been fully tabled.

Bob Weisbord mentioned the goodwill that exists between our communities but noted the difficulties in working together across municipalities.  Due to these challenges, he proposed that we meet with the County for planning assistance.

Kimberly Bezak is on the Bike Montgomery County committee and confirmed the possibility of grants from the County for projects dedicated to more people-oriented streetscapes.  Grants from Safe Routes to School might also be a possibility.  She suggested a pilot road diet.

A resident suggested we invite the LM Conservancy to participate in our efforts.

Merion Park Civic Association president, Mike Leibowitz expressed a shared interest in improvements to this business district area.  He noted the potential for County funds for sidewalks and help from the LM Shade Tree Commission and Tree City USA (Narberth) to help green the area.  He noted that existing code enforcement could help keep parked cars off of the right-of-way (sidewalk).  He also expressed concern about diverted traffic from Montgomery Ave if cars choose alternative routes through neighborhoods and noted the historic nature of the roadway suggesting that funds might be available for a historically-designated corridor.

The group recalled Montgomery Ave. as the historic Route 23 alternate (originally a county road) and wondered about the role of PECO in helping to bury the power lines on the Narberth side.  

The meeting ended as residents recalled Ted Goldsborough’s combined sidewalk/bike route from City Line Avenue to the Ashbridge Memorial Park that existed many years ago.  Residents remembered that it was developed with State funds.

Agreed next steps: Penn Valley Civic Association president, Michelle Detwiler will fill Commissioner and Board President Dan Bernheim and LM Director of Building and Planning, Chris Leswing in our meeting and then Bob Weisbord, Michelle Detwiler, Kimberly Bezak and Mike Leibowitz will arrange a meeting with the County to discuss potential opportunities for collaborative improvements.  

Requests for improvement to Montgomery Ave are summarized as follows.  These include comments collected by Michelle Detwiler in advance of the 1/25/2018 PVCA meeting and comments made during the meeting by residents of Narberth and Lower Merion as well as business owners and political representatives.

  1. Aesthetic improvements
    1. Landscaping of south facing storefronts
    2. Welcoming signage in vacant storefronts
    3. Coordinate buildings and signage for more attractive appeal, unified business climate
    4. Greening and tree maintenance (too much concrete), improved green infrastructure stormwater management
    5. Some commercial side yards unkempt
    6. Need trash and recycling receptacles and more places to sit
  2. Safety improvements
    1. Sidewalks for pedestrians
      1. Need repair, not contiguous
      2. Too narrow on the Narberth side.  Power lines need to be buried.
    2. Street striping for walkers
    3. Reduced number of curb cuts
    4. Traffic mitigation
      1. Revisit previous traffic studies
      2. Conduct a 3-lane pilot on this stretch of Montgomery Ave.
      3. Road so noisy and unsafe that pedestrians don’t want to walk and cars don’t want to stop - loss of opportunistic shopping/sales
      4. Difficult to recruit new businesses
    5. Pedestrian friendly walk lights, Iona and Old Gulph difficult for pedestrians
    6. More places to cross Montgomery Ave., need pedestrian-activated crossing bet. Staples and Juice Merchant
    7. Cycling friendly infrastructure, i.e. bike lanes, bike racks, fix-it station and way-finding signage
    8. Security cameras
  3. Business climate
    1. Need to brand the commercial corridor, “Montgomery Mile: We’re going to make you smile.”  Create an entrance with an arch, landscaping or other marker.
    2. Offer resource incentives from the Township/Borough to encourage restaurants and fun shops
    3. Need for coordinated events/sales
    4. Need for a non-profit business association
    5. Revisit operating hours. Hours on the Narberth side are different than those on the Penn Valley side.
    6. Lack of parking or obvious parking. Combine parking behind Staples and District Court with pedestrian friendly walkway out to Montgomery Ave. Consider combining other parking areas.
  4. Community building - opportunities
    1. Mural at Mainline Cycles - Penn Valley Civic setting up a committee
    2. Community pocket park - location?
    3. Other green space?
    4. Tree Planting - PHS Tree Tenders?