City seeks to put safe streets effort into motion

Liberty Street, seen here at the intersection of West Market Street, is one of several Harrisonburg roadways that could soon be revamped to allow more pedestrian and/or bicycle access. (File Photo)

In an effort to improve Harrisonburg’s road safety, the Public Works Department hopes to assess its roads, pedestrian and bike ways, as well as school routes, as part of a $750,000 initiative, which would include federal grant money.  

Harrisonburg doesn’t have a transportation safety action plan, Director of Public Works Tom Hartman told the City Council on Tuesday before the council unanimously approved moving forward with the initiative. 

Hartman said implementing this plan will allow the Public Works Department to look at roads within the city and highlight corrections and improvements.

“It’s a big lift — and the reason that the dollar figure is so high,” Hartman said.The request includes $150,000 from city funds with the subsequent $600,000 grant coming from the United States Department of Transportation’s Safe Streets and Roads for All grant program.

Specifically, Hartman said the Safe Streets initiative consists of three parts: updating Harrisonburg’s bicycle and pedestrian plan, creating the city’s first safe routes to school plan and developing a complete streets guide to the city to create a standard when paving new streets or updating old ones. 

Each part will go toward the central mission of ensuring safety throughout Harrisonburg’s roadways — the main point of the program.

“This plan was set up with a comprehensive approach, so we know it’s well-thought-out with the need to be consistent across the city,” Hartman said.

The Public Works Department plans to submit its grant application to implement this program before this Thursday’s deadline, and will “hopefully” receive an acceptance or rejection by July 2025, Hartman said.

A city slide from 2022 shows the proposal for turning a traffic lane on the southbound part of North Liberty into a two-way bike lane. (Courtesy of the city of Harrisonburg)

The city has considered revamping some roadways in recent years, most notably Liberty Street through downtown. Officials announced last year that part of a $14 million federal grant aimed at sustainability and public health will help convert Liberty Street from two southbound vehicle lanes to one so the other lane can be dedicated to bike and pedestrian traffic. That project is expected to take about five years. 

Councilmember Dany Fleming said he has high hopes for the federal Safe Streets grant application.

“I appreciate this kind of comprehensive look,” Fleming said. “I think it’s really valuable as we think of transportation needs going forward.”

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