by Wesley Ratko

A traffic impact study presented at the July 11 meeting of the Chestnut Hill Community Association’s Traffic, Transportation and Parking Committee claims that traffic on Germantown Avenue would not be affected by the proposed development of the former Magarity Ford site at 8200 Germantown Ave.

Debbie Ferraro, a traffic engineer with Pennoni and Associates and author of the study, presented her results to a packed committee meeting, which drew numerous questions from committee members and near neighbors concerned about the project.

Ferraro identified the study area as a list of intersections on Germantown Avenue between Highland and Willow Grove avenues, as well as the intersection of West Hartwell Lane and Shawnee Street. In addition to intersections, Ferraro also examined the overall signal system on Germantown Avenue.

According to the study, the new development is expected to generate 1,800 daily vehicle trips on a typical weekday and 3,000 daily vehicle trips on a typical Saturday. No assessment was done for Sundays.

The study considered two new restaurant developments coming to Chestnut Hill in the vicinity of 8200 Germantown Avenue, including Iron Hill Brewery, at 8400 Germantown Ave., and Chestnut7, across the street at 8201 Germantown Ave.

“The build conditions … are almost identical to the no-build conditions,” Ferraro said. “I know it’s difficult to understand, because you’re adding traffic to the roadway network – how could it be the same? It’s because of the capacity at the signalized intersections. There is no level of service drop.”

Level of service (LOS) is a measure used by traffic engineers to determine how effectively a road serves the cars driving on it. Engineers look at how traffic flows on a roadway and assign a “grade” between A and F, with A representing little or no delay and F representing significant delay or total gridlock.

Ferraro concluded that the intersections in the study area with traffic lights operate at a “B” level of service. When the new development is factored in, this assessment remains unchanged. The only exception to this is the eastbound approach to Germantown Avenue on Highland Avenue, which showed greater delay. According to the study, adding an additional two seconds of green time on the Highland Avenue approach to Germantown will fix this.

All intersections without traffic lights showed no congestion, except for the westbound Hartwell Lane approach to Germantown Avenue, which showed significant delay. The proposed traffic light at this intersection is expected to improve this.

Finally, the study reviewed the crash history along the Avenue and found the so-called “crash rate” to be below the statewide average for this type of roadway.

In addition to the projected impacts on traffic flow, Ferraro included three recommended improvements. These include reversing the direction of traffic on West Hartwell Lane to eastbound toward Germantown Avenue, installing a new traffic signal at Hartwell and Germantown, and adjusting the timing of the traffic signals up and down Germantown Avenue.

Committee member Susan Hemphill asked whether there were any other projects that could compare to this one. Ferraro answered that there were not.

“Nothing that would be a fair comparison,” she said.

The supermarket proposed here was on the small end for a typical suburban grocery store, but larger than the average city supermarket. The difference in sizes and context is rare, she said, and, therefore, difficult to accurately compare.

Committee member Mike Chomentowski asked about the percentage of customers expected to drive to the store versus those who might walk.

Project manager Seth Shapiro explained that Fresh Market did not calculate how their customers would get to the store, but instead merely assessed the size of a potential customer base within a predetermined distance from the development.

Chomentowski also asked about standards for parking and where the employees of the grocery store would park.

Shapiro answered that 40 off-site spaces had been secured for employees, leased from the parking foundation, and scattered throughout Chestnut Hill. According to Shapiro, employees of Fresh Market will not be allowed to park in the lot provided for customers. He also noted that not every employee will drive – some may walk or take public transportation.

Architect Tom Beck critiqued the proposed traffic signal intended for the intersection of Germantown Avenue and Hartwell Lane.

“It might improve the function of the roadway and the intersection,” he said, “but at the cost of inconvenience to the larger neighborhood.”

Near neighbor Ben Brown of Southampton Avenue took his criticism a step further, by questioning the objectivity of the traffic study.

“If the near neighbors had commissioned the traffic study, what would the reaction of the developers be to that traffic study”? he asked.

He prefaced his question by admitting that he knew “absolutely nothing about traffic engineering.”

“For a development that is this large and this significant, the community should at least critique or hire some professional experts to look at the traffic study the developer has done or have their own traffic study done,” Brown added.

Committee member Bob Previti defended the integrity of the study and the professional credentials of Ferraro and her work.

“This committee wants transparency, and Chestnut Hill needs to develop some trust in the process of doing things,” Previti said. “We want everyone in the room to feel trust about the way this is being analyzed.”

To that end, Mr. Previti introduced Charles Denny, an engineer with the city Streets Department.

“I wouldn’t call it a large development – it’s 100 vehicles in, 100 vehicles out every hour,” he said. “I’ve seen large developments, and it’s a reasonable sized development.”

Residents of Hartwell Lane expressed their concern that a traffic signal at Germantown Avenue and Hartwell would make it easier for cars to cross the Avenue to Ardleigh Street and use that street as a parallel to the Avenue.

Ferraro disputed this claim, stating that each stop sign delays travel time by eight seconds. Given the number of stop signs along Ardleigh, the travel time to make such a detour would deter most drivers from attempting this.

Richard Snowden, managing director of Bowman Properties, concluded the meeting with an observation.

“I thought one of the most interesting statistics in this study was the amount of growth with no build-out of this site, and it’s zero percent,” he said. “That tells us, in a snapshot, what’s going on in Chestnut Hill – we are looking at stagnation.”