Drivers will need to slow down starting next month on a stretch of Atherton Street in State College.
Borough Council on Monday night unanimously approved an ordinance amendment that reduces the speed limit to 25 miles per hour from the current 35 miles per hour from the intersection of South Atherton Street and West Prospect Avenue to the intersection of North Atherton Street and Mitchell Avenue.
"This whole area of Atherton Street has been problematic for decades," Council President Evan Myers said. "Several people have been killed by vehicles walking across this area. I think this is a good first step but we should only regard it as a first step."
The intersection of North Atherton Street and Park Avenue has been the site of a number of fatal vehicle-pedestrian crashes over the years, the most recent in 2016 when 66-year-old Josef Blunschi was struck and killed.
Other areas of the 1.4-mile stretch of road also have seen pedestrians struck by vehicles as well, most recently in March when a 35-year-old male was seriously injured at the intersection of North Atherton Street and Woodland Drive.
Because Atherton Street is a state highway, the borough requested in March that the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation conduct a speed reduction study from the north to south municipal lines.
PennDOT reviewed traffic operations, crash data and compliance with state and federal regulations and determined that the reduction to 25 miles per hour was justified between West Mitchell Avenue and West Prospect Avenue, according to district traffic engineer Erik Brown's response to the borough. The study did not, however, justify a reduction on South Atherton from West Prospect Avenue to South Allen Street.
Myers and Councilman David Brown requested that borough staff ask PennDOT to look again at the section that was not justified by the study.
PennDOT will place a speed display board in the area that will be reduced once 25 miles per hour signs are installed.
Myers said he also would like to see signage indicating high pedestrian areas and urging drivers to slow down as well as better highlighting of crosswalks.
"I think we need to have a strategy to make pedestrians safe on that part of Atherton Street and certainly throughout the whole borough," he said.
Councilman Jesse Barlow said he wants PennDOT to take some further steps that have been suggested by the department, including pedestrian crossing-only periods for several intersections, such as at White Course Drive and Curtin Road.
Councilwoman Cathy Dauler said that though the speed study was just performed, the borough and College Heights Association have been advocating for changes on Atherton Street for several years.
"College Heights was especially vocal about seeing some improvements made," she said. "I think the suggestions residents made were taken seriously by PennDOT and it’s encouraging for all of us that we have received this response."
She noted that PennDOT has already made some safety improvements at North Atherton Street and Park Avenue by changing street markings.
But the intersection remains a problem, Barlow said.
"There are some significant issues with the intersection of Atherton and Park," he said. "It’s still the most dangerous intersection in town."