The construction on Chester Road, the most visible of the College’s projects, continues to face significant opposition from a small but vocal group of borough residents. A lawsuit to halt this particular construction project, led by attorney Patricia Biswanger and several community members, has been filed against the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation on the grounds that a 23-point review of proposed road construction had been circumvented. Community members also expressed discontent at how quickly the project was moving and how invasive the development was, and they also felt as if their voice had not been heard during the planning stages of the project.
Patricia Biswanger’s office declined to comment on the developments, but other groups in the borough feel that the lawsuit is only delaying a process meant to improve the quality of life for both Swarthmore students and borough residents.
“The roundabout was always in discussion. There were opportunities to discuss the roundabout,” said Jane Billings, manager of the Swarthmore borough.
She explained that there had been an extensive review of the way in which the development projects were being implemented and that PennDOT had even “sent [the reviewing procedures] to an outside contractor” in order to assure that all the proper procedures had been followed. Billings also expressed confusion as to why borough residents would be opposed to the project.
“Their dislike of the roundabout is a little blinding … because of the good things it will bring,” she said. She also said that at one of the community meetings about the construction projects, a resident complained that he was not going to be able to speed through the town anymore because the traffic circle would require him to slow down. The traffic circle would indeed slow down commuters, but in a safer way that would actually decrease commute times for local residents, Billings explained. She also said she had positive opinions regarding the college’s interactions with the borough as well as in regards to the development projects specifically.
“It’s disappointing that there were such extensive reviews and people still want to speak out. People in town really do feel a connection to the college … [and] I’m personally very grateful to the college for spending their own money on a public improvement project,” she said.
Timothy Kearney, the mayor of Swarthmore, holds a similar opinion. Kearney has been involved in these construction projects since their earliest stages.
“One of my main interest[s] in joining the Planning Commission was the Town Center Revitalization Project, now known as Town Center West,” he wrote in an email. “I helped draft the ordinance that defined the zoning requirements for the project. Counting my attendance at the Town Center Revitalization meetings and the discussions of the liquor license, I have been following this particular project for 15 years.”
He believes that the borough and the college have a very strong relationship.
“Nine times out of ten, college goals and borough goals are parallel. The fact is that many people in the college community are in the borough community as well and most of the people I speak with like living in a college town. Speaking for myself, the reasons that we moved here 19 years ago was because of the college and the train,” he wrote.
He also said that the opponents to this project were a small yet vocal group, and a definite minority.
“The people who are against it gripe a bit but for the most part the comments have been positive, more relief that it is finally happening,” Kearney continued. The pending lawsuit won’t have any impact in future projects unless the borough of Swarthmore decide to put more roundabouts on state roads.
But more roundabouts may be constructed in the near future because of their utility. Mayor Kearney supports the construction of roundabouts, explaining that they make neighborhoods more walkable and safer for residents.
Roundabout construction is increasing all over the country and is supported by a large volume of research and publications on safety. The Federal Highway Administration notes that traffic circles are vastly safer than traditional intersections, by causing more than a 90 percent reduction in fatalities, 76 percent reduction in injuries, 35 percent reduction in all crashes and slower speeds that are generally safer for pedestrians. They also reduce congestion by being more efficient during both peak hours. Roundabouts are more environmentally friendly, as well. They reduce pollution and fuel use due to fewer stops and hard accelerations, and motorists spend less time idling. They save money because traffic circles often have no signal equipment to install, power, and maintain.