SHAMOKIN — PennDOT has provided its reasons for declining the City of Shamokin’s application to use five city blocks of Route 125 for a “Taking It to the Streets” ATV ride on Sept. 21.
The state agency had cited “state policy” and ATV, pedestrian and vehicle “safety concerns” when it declined a special event application that requested ATVs utilize Route 125 (Market Street) from Commerce to Spruce streets between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
In an email response to The News-Item this week, Kimberly Smith, safety press officer for District 3, explained that the policy states PennDOT does not allow ATVs to share state-owned roads with vehicular traffic due to safety concerns.
Smith provided statistics on reportable crashes involving ATVs on state highways, ATV manufacturing labeling and recommendations from the Consumer Product Safety Commission as PennDOT’s reasoning for not allowing ATVs on it’s highways.
The state Vehicle Code allows a governmental agency to designate any highway, road or street within its jurisdiction an ATV road and may, in its discretion, determine whether ATVs may share the designated road with vehicular traffic.
According to Smith, there were 1,148 reportable crashes involving ATVs on state highways in the commonwealth, including 119 fatalities. The numbers do not include crashes that occurred along municipally-owned roads where ATV operations may be legal, she noted.
“ATV’s are specifically labeled by all manufacturers for off-road use only,” she said. “The industry-backed Specialty Vehicle Institute of America has called for the prohibition of ATVs on public roads, except for the purpose of crossing them.”
She also explained that the Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends ATVs not be driven on paved roads. The commission’s 2016 annual report, she continued, listed 14,653 on- and off-road ATV fatalities in the country between 1982 and 2016, with the commonwealth being the fourth highest at 665.
According to the Vehicle Code, an ATV may make a direct crossing of a street or highway, if it is made at an angle of approximately 90 degrees to the direction of the highway at a place where no obstruction prevents a “quick and safe crossing.”
PennDOT, in its review comments for the application, recommended two options: that the application be resubmitted that only requests “a couple” Route 125 intersections be used during the event or reapply as an ATV procession (conducted like a parade).
PennDOT discouraged using the intersection of Arch, Lincoln and Market streets, adding that designated crossing points be controlled by certified flaggers, and have good sight distances and narrower approaches that would make it easier to control.
The single procession option, PennDOT stated, would require side streets be closed and a detour of Route 125, which would need to be approved, signed and manned with flaggers.
Smith said that special event permits are handled at the district level. In District 3, the first approval is in the Traffic Unit.
“In the case of Shamokin’s request to allow ATVs to be driven on (Route) 125, previous discussions were held with representatives from the statewide Bureau of Maintenance and Operations, city officials, representatives from the Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area (AOAA) and a representative from Rep. Kurt Masser’s office,” she said.
Shamokin Mayor John Brown said Thursday that city leaders expected PennDOT to turn down the application. Hopes are also low that Route 125 from the AOAA to the city will eventually become ATV joint-use.
“After talking to people at the department (PennDOT), there is probably no realistic way of getting that accomplished,” he said of some local interest in having a large portion of Route 125 become ATV friendly. “We were fully expecting that there would be no way to get ATVs on the state road, but you give it a shot and see if you get anything out of it.”
Brown, who was at the AOAA Thursday to review the upcoming ride, said the route will follow a similar path that previous car cruises followed. He said the approved route travels on sections of Independence, Water, Commerce, Anthracite and Diamond streets. Riders will not be permitted to cross or use Route 125.
“For the time being, riders won’t be able to drive to businesses west of Market Street,” he said. “We will be sitting down and looking to see how we can access the rest of our businesses. The next ride, in October, is the same day as the Food Truck Frenzy. So, we are planning rides one at a time and making adjustments as we find problems.”
Brown said anyone who wants to be heard is welcome to attend his office hours, which are the second, third and fourth Wednesday of each month from 4 to 6 p.m.
Brown said the event hinges on riders having access to an existing dirt trail in a wooded area between the Fifth Ward and Academy Hill. The Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area (AOAA) has proposed using the trail to allow riders access to downtown as a means to stimulate tourism dollars.
Dave Porzi, director of the AOAA, said Thursday that he expects a three-event lease between the AOAA and the city Housing Authority, the upper-most owner of the approximate mile-long trail, to be executed no later than Monday. Once authorization is given, work will begin to remove a near vertical embankment east of the Raspberry Hill Complex.
“As long as the AOAA gets a lease, we will start working,” he said. “I am very positive we should be able to get the trail opened.”
Porzi also assumed the city’s event application would be declined, which led to the approach of attempting to open the dirt trail from the AOAA to Terrace Avenue, off Lincoln Street.
“It’s the better route to go and the better way to approach it,” he said of bringing riders to downtown Shamokin. “We are keeping machines on a managed piece of property, where (riders) are traveling on a dirt trail to get to the city. From there, it’s less than a mile of asphalt.”