Community Engagement - Early and Often

In downtown Carlisle, Pennsylvania, we recently completed an interesting project called the “Carlisle Road Diet.” Although the engineering requirements were clear and straightforward, this project was unique in terms of the extent of community outreach and involvement. Business owners, commuters, biking advocates, and residents in general all had an active interest in this highly visible effort.

Borough of Carlisle leaders were looking for a solution to calm busy traffic and enhance the small-town atmosphere in the downtown area. Safety was an issue: A key concern was reducing accidents and creating a safer environment for pedestrians and bicyclists. After a comprehensive traffic study, our team made several recommendations for traffic pattern changes that were in line with PennDOT’s Smart Transportation initiative.

Our core recommendations included the conversion of two streets from four vehicular lanes to three, with a dedicated bike lane in each direction. The bike lanes would have the added benefit of making parallel parking easier and making it safer to enter and exit parked cars. We also recommended dedicated left turn lanes to improve traffic flow, and the implementation of the InSync® Adaptive Signal System.

From the beginning, some residents were opposed to the project, with concerns about the impact on traffic and the cost to implement these changes. While we were confident in our solution, we also knew public buy-in was critical.

Early in the process, we began to involve the public. Working closely with the borough, we held public meetings and asked for input. I spoke at the Chamber of Commerce and the Rotary Club. We provided extensive information to the borough for its website, including similar case studies in Pennsylvania (recognizing that success stories close to home would have more of a positive impact than communities in other states). The borough posted an FAQ section that addressed many questions and concerns raised during the meetings.

The Carlisle Sentinel followed the project closely, and we recognized the importance of this newspaper in keeping residents informed. We spoke regularly to reporters and always returned their phone calls and emails right away to answer questions or provide an update.

Open lines of communication were vital to the success of this project, which was completed in August.

The most important lessons learned? There are two that stand out for me. The first is to stay patient throughout the process. People have concerns because they care, and because they believe in what they are saying. Listening carefully is an important step in communicating and educating the public, because their concerns must be addressed thoughtfully. The second lesson is to engage the public early and often. People became supportive of this project because we brought them in early and kept them informed, allowing them the opportunity to really understand and embrace the potential for positive change.

The Carlisle Road Diet recently won the “2011 Project of the Year” award from the Mid-Atlantic Section of the Institute of Transportation Engineers. Our team was pleased to accept this award on behalf of Dewberry, the Borough of Carlisle, and a community that cared about its downtown, took the time to learn about the project, and supported this transformation.

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