As a daily commuter along Route 65 (AKA Ohio River Boulevard), I am often challenged by driving habits seemingly influenced by haste, carelessness, inattentiveness, and/or ignorance. In fairness, I must admit that some of these habits are my own as well. I also wrote about this subject almost exactly one year ago. Perhaps it’s a springtime thing.
Despite recent improvements to the roadway in several places, these and other challenges continue to manifest themselves. They often include the existence of tiny side streets, driveways, and entry points in and out of numerous business establishments and other institutions.
Remarkably, there are still areas along the Boulevard in Allegheny County that are legally viable targets to be developed into commercial properties. Some of these properties are in Edgeworth, just across its border with Sewickley.
As the above graphic illustrates, the area in front of the newer Esmark Center has reportedly been approved for a drive-thru Starbucks Coffee location. Immediately north of that, a development application was submitted to Edgeworth Borough to build a full service McDonald’s restaurant in what is now an overflow parking area for the adjacent Edgeworth Square medical office building.
Anyone reading the Sewickley Herald over the last few weeks is likely familiar with the reaction of some area citizens to this proposal. From front page coverage to a half-page ad taken out by “concerned residents” on April 16, there appears to be a coordinated effort to oppose the development, citing issues related to traffic and safety from both vehicular and pedestrian vantage points. An online petition is also out there.
While these opponents are likely celebrating last Wednesday’s announcement that McDonald’s has withdrawn their application, the issues will likely remain so long as there is a desire to develop the property – unless steps are also taken to alleviate those factors contributing to the traffic overload.
I looked at these types of issues almost two years ago with University Boulevard in Moon Township. In all fairness, the folks in Moon are still worse off – that roadway still has no center turn lane, there is no apparent effort to coordinate traffic flow between neighboring businesses, and the possibility of massive new development threatens to create even more traffic and safety challenges. One change is forthcoming – there is a left turn lane planned from this roadway into the main entrance of Robert Morris University.
A first look at the current situation in Edgeworth would seem to support the notion that traffic flow through this campus of businesses is well-coordinated, via the intersection at Hazel Lane and several entrances south of that. The lone exception is Burger King, which is isolated by curbing and landscaping from the remainder of the campus.
There are several factors related to traffic loading, capacity, and history that complicate this proposal beyond what could be considered reasonable.
Hazel Lane – Beyond Capacity
The focal point of access to this commercial area is the signaled intersection of Ohio River Boulevard and Hazel Lane. Edgeworth Borough, through its various regulatory boards and agencies, sent the development application back for tweaking at least twice, over parking and traffic management issues.
Critical to the viability of any additional development is the ability of this intersection to handle traffic flow not only in and out of the area in question, but also the Eat N Park restaurant and the Edgeworth Village strip shopping center. Many motorists, especially senior citizens, appear to be uncomfortable entering or exiting the complex without the apparent safety of a traffic signal.
Edgeworth resident Michael Tomana is one of the area citizens spearheading the effort to oppose the McDonald’s development. His concerns about traffic resonate even in the absence of any immediate additional development:
The obvious two issues are the traffic coming from Eat n Park, Edgeworth Village lot blocking Hazel Lane exit and the fact that traffic turning into Hazel from 65 can be blocked even now by congestion in the Hazel Lane exit from the medical building and Edgeworth Village lot. This can leave a car turning as a sitting duck to 65 traffic because it can’t get in. I have witnessed accidents there myself.
Pedestrians crossing 65 from Edgeworth will be at risk – the lure for kids at the new Academy field to run across 65 can’t be ignored.
Mr. Tomana’s point about Sewickley Academy is well taken, especially with a new events center going up – a facility that may host larger scale events, and draw larger numbers of pedestrians to whatever establishment(s) may be available across the Boulevard in the future.
Mr. Tomana also expressed concern about the traffic study that the developer had submitted, which used a Sheetz store in Washington County (see photo above) as a comparable example of traffic patterns. He stated that residents “are asking for an independent traffic study to address issues left out by the McDonald’s study”.
It’s also likely that PennDOT will get involved in any study comprehensive enough to evaluate all aspects of traffic through this intersection.
Recent reports about the disgruntled nature of the current relationship between McDonald’s Corporation and its franchisees, or the corporation’s reported plan to close “hundreds” of restaurants as part of a business recovery strategy, may or may not have played a role in the decision not to pursue a store in Edgeworth.
Whether or not the developers or property owners acceded to the position taken by many residents, and/or were discouraged by the response of government thus far to their proposal, is hard to know.
One thing that’s not hard to know are some of the players in the development process. In this instance, the owners of the property that would have become McDonald’s.
According to Allegheny County property records, the owner of this property is listed as Edgeworth Real Estate Associates, LP. The Pennsylvania Secretary of State lists this business as partnered with Edgeworth Advisors, Inc. This record also lists the President of Edgeworth Advisors as Geoffrey H. Wilcox.
Mr. Wilcox, along with W. Grant Scott and Michael D. Felix, are listed as the officers of Edgeworth Management, Inc., which is partnered with Edgeworth Development Associates, LP. Edgeworth Development is listed as the owner of the Edgeworth Square medical office building. Mr. Wilcox and Mr. Felix are also physicians – they operate Hope Bariatrics at this location.
If I might speculate a little – I’m sure that these doctors want to remain on good terms with the Edgeworth community. Perhaps with an agreed-upon plan to improve traffic movement and safety for the entire corridor and surrounding neighborhoods, their parcel will attract a different kind of establishment, perhaps one geared toward the healthier lifestyle that their practice and profession espouses. Maybe Noodles and Company, or something like it.
The Past Shapes the Future
This area of the Boulevard is not without its share of tragedy. There was no center turn lane in November 1971, when four local youths were killed as the station wagon they were riding in was rear-ended while waiting to turn left into Burger King.
In September 1976, a friend of mine was hit by a motorcycle while trying to cross the Boulevard just north of the Hazel Lane intersection, which had no traffic signal at that time. He died a month later. Petitions to PennDOT to approve Edgeworth’s request for a signal at Hazel Lane were circulated among local residents, as well as students and faculty at Sewickley Academy.
These and other incidents likely shaped the current configuration of Ohio River Boulevard in this area. The development of what was once vacant commercial and industrial land, into the busy office complexes in existence today, requires a re-evaluation of traffic loading and movement in this area, before additional demands on traffic infrastructure are made.
Due diligence on the part of all concerned is an important part of this process. From the looks of it, residents and other stakeholders are in it for as long as it takes to assure that commercial, residential, and educational purposes can safely coexist with what continues to be a significant surface roadway through our region.
Best wishes to them.
Acknowledgments: Sewickley Herald Digital Archive