By Roger DuPuis, Wilkes-Barre Times Leader
WILKES-BARRE — Local entities including the Luzerne County Transportation Authority, the Diamond City Partnership and LiveWell Luzerne (a YMCA program) have earned the praise of a national nonprofit for their efforts to promote public transit and walkability in Wilkes-Barre and surrounding areas.
Oregon-based America Walks spotlighted greater Wilkes-Barre as part of a case study on four communities that prioritize transit-walkability collaboration. The others were San Bernadino, Calif., Hartford, Conn. and Nashville, Tenn.
America Walks says it empowers communities “to create safe, accessible, and enjoyable walking conditions for all.”
The local study was entitled “Transit-Walkability leads the way in Wilkes-Barre.” It focused not just on improving walkability and access to transit, but LCTA’s efforts to better connect workers with jobs in the region’s industrial parks, as well as such seemingly small things as improving bus stops and shelters to make them safer and more convenient for passengers.
“The primary concern for all parties is how to improve LCTA’s systems and networks, and the time between services, to make using the bus a more viable option for more people,” the study notes. “A second goal was how people could safely and easily go from one walkable area to another without having to get in a car.”
Efforts have been successful on both fronts, the study suggests.
“I rode the bus my whole life, and one of the ways I always viewed transit is that it’s community development,” the study quotes LCTA planner and grants coordinator Kathy Bednarek as saying. “I really sought out partners in both the health and economic development world, and it’s been great for the growth of both LCTA and for them.”
Diamond City Partnership Executive Director Larry Newman told the study’s authors that such partnerships are important in ensuring that the transit system becomes a larger part of the soluti on in connecting low-income people with opportunity in the form of jobs that increasingly happen to be found outside the city — and beyond walking distance.
Part of that, as noted, has been the renewed focus on serving suburban business parks. But, the study noted, emphasis has also been placed on improving access to central city jobs via public transit, given that more than 11,000 people work downtown.
While not mentioned in the study, LCTA this fall also brought night service back to the system for the first time in decades.
The new service features five routes that circulate throughout the busiest areas of Luzerne County. They also “link together” at key locations, offering further connections to passengers. The major “connection points” will be located at the Luzerne County Community College campus in Nanticoke and in downtown Pittston at the corner of William and Main streets.
The focal points for the night service routes are the epicenters of employment, commerce and social activities throughout the county.
And LCTA also has worked with various groups, including mature workers and students, to educate new passengers on how to use the system.
“I recently heard transit described, at its best, as being a pedestrian accelerator. When it works that way, transit allows you to get to a new place where you can walk to a whole new range of activities without having to get in a car,” Newman is quoted as saying.