Stormwater ‘Bump-outs’ on Old Lancaster Road . . . a Burden for the Residents

I am confident that the people who designed the sidewalks and stormwater management systems on Old Lancaster Road did so with the best of intentions.  However, either the design of the bump-outs is flawed and/or the required maintenance by the homeowners is flawed.

I think most residents living along Conestoga and Old Lancaster Roads have been favorable about their new sidewalks.  There have been some rumblings about loss of trees, shrubs, etc. but with the understanding that the township will replace their landscaping losses in the fall, I think most have been positive about the sidewalks.  Old Lancaster Road has been closed lately, except to local traffic so until yesterday I had not been down this road.

Following the public Sidewalk Committee meeting last Thursday, a couple who live on Old Lancaster Road, in Berwyn between the cemetary and Daylesford Train station spoke about their new sidewalks.  They were very positive about the sidewalks and commented that more and more people were using the sidewalks.  They had not come to the meeting to complain but rather to inform about a specific aspect of the sidewalk project that most people would probably not be aware. (I certainly was not).

To give a bit of background . . . Old Lancaster Road did not have curbing or appropriate stormwater management system in place.  As part of the sidewalk project and stormwater management design on Old Lancaster, 2 foot wide concrete bump outs were installed next to the sidewalks in the road.  According to information I found on the township website, the design of the curbed underground seepage/infiltration beds was to control runoff from impervious sidewalks, as well as a portion of the existing roadway runoff on Old Lancaster Rd. which had been uncontrolled.  The bump outs were thought to  have an additional benefit of traffic-calming.

All of this sounds like a good idea, right?  Well, here is some of the problems with the concrete bump outs.  First off, the residents on Old Lancaster Road knew that they were responsible for keeping their section of the sidewalks maintained, shoveled in the winter, etc. but were not informed that they would be responsible for the maintenance of the bump outs. (I have now been told that homeowners were informed that the bump outs would be their responsibility.}

There was some concern from some of the elderly homeowners that live along Old Lancaster Rd in regards to sidewalk maintenance; but somehow these residents would get the necessary help to keep the sidewalks cleared and maintained.  Clearing sidewalks is one thing but these long concrete curbed areas are in the road are an entirely different matter. How does one manage the maintenance on the bump outs?  Here’s a problem . . . there’s curbing on all sides so you would have to pick up your lawnmower and put it in the bump out.  But even if you tried that, you would discover the area is too narrow for a lawn mower!  So you either have to use hand clippers or a string hedge trimmer on the bump outs. 

It is my understanding that township staff planted grass seed in the bump outs but the heat killed the grass seed and apparently there has been mention of wildflowers to be planted in the fall.  No grass . . .  no wildflowers . . .  but even in this summer heat, what does grow — weeds, and lots of them!   The weeds in some of the bump outs are 3 ft. high and still growing.  As was explained by the couple who attended the Sidewalk Committee meeting, they have elderly neighbors on either side who have to have their grown sons come from Downington and Phoenixville to maintain their bump outs. 

Another difficulty –  the bump outs are in the road and therefore do not align to property lines so  . . .  if you and your neighbors are not particularly good friends, you may maintain your section of the bump out but your neighbors decide to leave his/her section of the bump out overgrown!

One of the overgrown bump outs is next to a side road and could create a visibility issue for drivers entering or exiting Old Lancaster.  Interestingly, visibility was one of PennDot’s concerns about the bump out design concept. The Old Lancaster Rd. couple stated that they have attempted to have PennDot help with the bump out problems but were referred to the township staff.  The township staff says that Old Lancaster is a state road and therefore the problem has to be taken up with PennDot. Homeowners on Old Lancaster are just going around and around in circles over these bump outs.  And how must the residents on the other side of Old Lancaster feel who must look at the overgrown bump outs from their front yards?

Solution? In my opinion it’s simple . . .  no way should the ‘care and feeding’ of these bump outs be the responsibility of the residents. Period.  My suggestion is that public works staff remove the weeds from the bump outs and then fill these long concrete areas with layers of small river rock.  River rocks are very inexpensive, will still permit appropriate stormwater runoff and there is no further maintenance required by homeowners, township staff or PennDot!

One other suggestion – if these bump outs are part of any future sidewalk/stormwater design plan, they should not be the responsibility of township residents. 

Below is a photo which shows a bump out that is maintained so that you can see the concrete curbing design and the narrowness of the area. Interestingly, this particular bump out is not a shared bump out but is located directly in front of a resident’s home.

 

 The following 2 photos show overgrown bump outs on Old Lancaster Road – one of the bump outs is now affecting visibility from the side road. It appears that this bump out may be a ‘shared bump out’ – where it crosses the property line of two homeowners. 

 

 

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  1. Hi Pattye, thanks for sharing this story. As an impacted homeowner, I’d like to offer a few comments:
    – In fairness to the township, they DID tell residents in advance, that they would be responsible for the maintenance. That was one of the issues I had from the start. Imagine (when) a snow plow hits the bump out and damages it. Who’d responsible for the repair? According to the township, the home owner!
    – What you are referring to as weeds may in fact be weeds however, it IS what was intentionally planted. It is not something that sprouted on it’s own after the fact. It is what the township referred to as wildflower mix.
    – The ‘wildflower mix’ is very invasive – my front yard now has cornstalk-like grass sprouting along the driveway.
    – As you identified in your post, a lawnmower doesn’t fit in the bump-out so you must use a weedwacker. Being environmentally responsible, the one I have is electric. The cornstalk is so thick that my electric weedwacker is virtually useless. The base of the grass feels like bamboo!
    – The township sent residents a letter asking us to cut the grass so that it would not present a driving hazard (tx TE, the height of the grass mix is something you could have considered before planting it!). In order to comply, I had to cut the planting by hand using Fiskars.
    – I’m so fed-up with the planting that I spent several hours yesterday pulling the planting out be the roots (what was along my property line, not what’s in the bump-out — that seems to be dying on it’s own. RIP)

    Most importantly, while the bump-outs are designed to improve stormwater run-off the effectiveness is dependent on the overall design and construction of the project. As you will see in the following two photos http://twitpic.com/2cvefu and http://twitpic.com/2cvf67 in my case, the sidewalk project actually created a safety hazard.

    With each rain, approximately 3″ of water accumulates at the end of my driveway and across the sidewalk. As you can imagine, this will present a serious safety issue come winter. I have spoken with Erin at the township and she indicated that she was already aware and would further pursue. That was over a month ago. As a side note, the accumulated water is seeping through cracks in my concrete driveway. Over the last 3 months, the damage has become very evident and with each passing rainfall, becomes more apparent (new and expanding cracks.)

    I would like to echo your suggestion that the township should take responsibility for maintaining the bump-out — in my opinion, they should maintain the sidewalk as well.

    Thanks,
    Erika

    1. Erika —

      Thanks for your comments only now I am more distrubed by the situation. Thank you for clarifying that the homeowners were told of their responsibility as it relates to the bump outs. Honestly I am challenged to believe that the overgrown weeds that I saw, were actually the plan and vision for these bump outs. I cannot believe that these au natural look is a wildflower mix! They are overgrown, unattractive, not to mention a driving hazard for homeowners leaving their driveways or for drivers entering Old Lancaster from a side road. How could anyone support this is the ‘look’ that Old Lancaster needs? Aesthetically these weeds look awful.

      I cannot believe that the township thinks it’s OK that the homeowners are responsible for these bump outs. I never considered that you would be held accountable for the snow removal equipment damaging these concrete bump outs. We had 78 in. of snow last year and these bump outs would have been covered by snow. So when the snow plows go down Old Lancaster, they are supposed to in and around these bump outs. But if, . . . a snow plow hits one of the bump outs and does any damage, you as the homeowner are resonsible??? I can hardly wait to see how the homeowner insurance handles this situation!

      And thank you for your photos which illustrates another entirely different problem with the stormwater situation as a result of the new sidewalks. There has to be some kind of resolution to this problem, but what? Again, I can only imagine what’s in store for the residents when we have a flooding rain or an ice storm. I’d like to have the supervisors weigh in on this situation — I am emailing this link to the BOS, township manager, township engineer and public works.

      1. Pattye, I agree with you. This is absurd. And the stormwater issue is a big one. While we can’t blame this on Warren, I think the BOS should definitely look into this and fast. Mimi and the rest as well.

  2. This is the nature of why sidewalks are traditionally either in your neighborhood to start (you buy a house with sidewalks) or you don’t get them. As little as 10 years ago, the homeowners would have been assessed to put in these sidewalks….the adjacent property owners have always been responsible for the care and maintenance. Certainly the township can pick up the costs, but then who is going to be lining up to complain about their taxes? Heavily sidewalked communities are typically “homeowner” associations…where HOA dues/assessments manage the property. Maybe someone living in Chesterbrook can tell us what their quarterly/annual HOA dues are….because I think in a developed area with a homeowner association, the association contracts for and maintains the sidewalks and front yards. As much as sidewalks are obviously going to improve the walkability, something has to change the provinciality of our taxing and our ruling class….or neighborhoods need to form HOAs to manage these issues.

  3. To Township Reader – I live in a townhouse HOA in Chesterbrook – monthly dues are $135, which covers snow removal, trash pickup, lawn maintenance, reserves for paving & curbs, and a pretty sizable contribution to the Chesterbrook trust.

    However, Chesterbrook does NOT have any sidewalks, which in my opinion, is terrible. School kids and everyone else are forced to walk/run along Chesterbrook Blvd (and other roads) in the street, along with the traffic.

  4. Thanks JaT– funny that I never realized you don’t have sidewalks….but the $135 a month is a good number to make the point — you are part of an association that contracts for outside maintenance and repairs…paving etc.
    Pattye — I agree that the “bumpouts” are unusual — but the point is still the same. This township is doing things without any strategic understanding/planning for what the outcomes will be. Whether or not Tredyffrin takes on the maintenance, it is a fact that communities with amenities like sidewalks are usually part of a HOA that contracts for sidewalk maintenance, repair and snow removal. THese “bump outs” are visual eyesores, but there are culverts and other storm water management modifications through Tredyffrin — all presumably (I’m asking?) maintained by the landowners….should the township take up the task of storm water management maintenance? I don’t think the homeowners should be “stuck” with this, but I hope the sidewalk committee does some work on how sidewalks are maintained and by whom before they continue with the land planning component. It’s that old “law of unintended consequences.” Someone needs to contemplate the consequences before they move ahead with these expensive modifications to a fully developed community. Putting in the sidewalks is only part of the job — vision for how to live with them should accompany that.

  5. Thanks for making the community aware of some of the consequences of retrofitting this neighborhood with sidewalks. I’m sure the problems discussed in your post and by commenters are fodder for the anti-sidewalk crowd – the people who “moved to Tredyffrin without the benefit od sidewalks and don’t want to pay for them now.”

    But there is no question that sidewalks along streets surrounding schools are an important safety feature, and despite the loss of some beautiful trees and stone walls, I have heard many, many positive comments about the project overall.

    For the life of me though, I cannot understand the choice of the bump-out design over all other alternatives. I understand their position in the road acts as a natural traffic calming measure and protects those on the sidewalk from vehicles swerving off the road.

    But they are “bump” ugly! They are destined to be weed-filled unless homeowners include them in their regular lawn maintenance routines. And so much concrete! How do they serve to mitigate stormwater runoff – at least all that doesn’t fall directly into the bump-outs? And making residents financially responsible for repairing them if damaged by snow plows? That cannot be legally enforceable, can it?

    All of these issues and questions will serve the township well as they move forward with sidewalk projects in the future…. I for one want to live in a walkable community – in areas where it makes sense and will benefit the largest number of residents.

  6. Kate
    You must just get up and pile chips on your shoulder to get started…..I am not an anti-sidewalk person. I do believe that a way of life has consequences, and just putting in sidewalks to make a community walkable has more to it than just paying for the initial concrete….and yes — it is enforceable. The ordinance in place requires all adjacent properties to maintain….in fact it requires them to pay for it initially but these were done by grant. So you can complain about the concerns people are voicing, but absent a solution that not only solves this issue but informs the township as we move forward, we are not moving forward…..we are plowing forward….and the outcome may not be what you intend. Eyesores? Kinda…..but are you prepared to listen to the noise when the township taxes go up at the general cost of $59 per resident per month — half the cost of the HOA in Chesterbrook (where they do pay township taxes as well?) …..
    Strategic vision includes problem solving…..”where it makes sense” is wherever we all live and work.

    1. These bumpouts are ugly! I live on a side road off of Old Lancaster and travel on this road daily. The design and appearance is awful – a real eyesore to the neighborhood. Sure the neighbors are supposed to keep these bumpouts mowed, good luck. you cant get a mower in to the area and there are some older folks on the road and it’s a problem.
      solution? I like the idea of filling in these bumpouts with gravel or rocks, then no one has the maintenance problem.

  7. TR,

    Talk about a chip on one’s shoulder….

    I commented on Pattye’s photos and comments as well as others’. Did I single you out as one of the anti-sidewalk crowd? No. You’re entitled to your opinions. You seem to think they’re based on more knowledge of the subject (no matter what that subject is). But that’s fine too.

    I happen to believe people in this community care first and foremost about the quality of life here. Then they decide what they are willling/can afford to pay for it. The current economic realities have changed things for many in our community. Still, to me that means waiting a while to move forward with a comp plan developed with care by many people over a period of years – and passed by the BOS. . It (the Township’s current fiscal situation) doesn’t call for scaling back the plan and lowering expectations.

    Isn’t it amazing that something as ubiquitous as sidewalks has caused battle lines to form? It’s really a debate about the role and size of government. And what residents value most – even if those elements weren’t here the day they moved in.

  8. TR, I agree with you – as much as I would like to see sidewalks throughout Tredyffrin and worry about the kids who walk to school – retrofitting them now would be very, very expensive.

    There is only so much money to go around, barring massive tax increases, and I think the township should use its resources where they a) benefit the safety and good health of ALL residents and then, b) improve the quality of living for the greatest number of residents.

    I think that access to unbiased information is the key – if we know the true costs/benefits/consequences of government proposals and actions, then we can choose (or at least recommend via voting, public hearings, etc.) how we can best use our money.

  9. Interesting comment in regards to ‘traffic calming’ — so do sidewalks and curbing calm traffic? Should that be one of the purposes of sidewalks? I went to the township website and found the following information on ‘Sidewalks to Schools’ —

    “Traffic Calming Measures – The proposed sidewalk design will incorporate a variety of measures that will allow for safer pedestrian travel, as well as aid in further control of vehicular traffic. . . . The improvements are aimed at controlling and calming traffic flow through the curve with the addition of the sidewalks.”

    So do we think that the bump outs slow the traffic? Should that even be their purpose? What happens when the bump outs are snow covered and a car runs in to them . . . ? Interesting question.

  10. The sidewalks and the bump outs are indeed UGLY and serve no purpose that I can tell.
    The bump outs in Malvern (King Street) do slow traffic and are certainly much more pleasant to the eye…

  11. at the shore, one town created “calming” by narrowing the street. This also gave the appearance of a smaller, pedestrian friendly main street with the hope that people would slow, stop, and shop. So these are not at intersections only, but the length of the road, from a determined point A to Point B. Not sure what the intention on Old Lancaster was, but my point is narrowing streets was a traffic calming measure down here. thanks

    1. “Not sure what the intention on Old Lancaster was….”

      It’s all about spending the money awarded by the grant. They probably didn’t qualify for the grant unless they spent a certain amount of money, building the bump outs surely added a ton if not doubling the cost entirely.

  12. Reviewing minutes of a meeting of PennDOT, TT, and the outside engineers held on 6/20/07, there was discussion of the “bumpouts”. In response to a PennDOT concern about the lack of buffer between the road and the sidewalks on Old Lancaster, the bumpouts were cited as providing such a buffer, rather than simply having a two foot grass strip there. So, not a traffic calming device but rather a physical buffer to protect pedestrians from traffic that may stray off of Old Lancaster, in the absence of curbing that entire section. During this discussion, there was a plan to add a textured shoulder to further define the traffic lane – not sure if that is part of the final construction.

    In addition, the bumpouts were cited as a tool for stormwater management.

    Finally, to an earlier concern, the Township specifically mentioned that they are comfortable with their ability to plow along/around the concrete bumpouts.

    1. Thanks Mike. I guess the final plan on Old Lancaster did not include the textured shoulder. I think that the snow removal is going to be interesting. I know at my husband’s office, the parking lot has concrete stormwater curbed areas and the company has had an ongoing problem with employees damaging their cars when the curbed areas are snow covered. In fact, now the company has taken to placing tall florescent marker sticks in to all of these areas; both for the snow plow people and also employees. Also, the snow removal people use these curbed stormwater areas to pile up the snow. Altogether has not been a very good situation. I will assume that the the snow removal on Old Lancaster will not have these problems. It will be interesting to see how the bumpout design holds up during the various seasonal changes.

  13. If sidewalks did not exist and were then installed, why was permeable concrete not used? Rain water flows through the concrete and is stored in void spaces between rocks below. Likewise, instead of bump outs why wasn’t permeable asphalt installed instead? Like the concrete water flows through the asphalt and is stored in the void spaces of rocks below. Maybe, we have the wrong application here?

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