Lower Moreland unveils Bethayres streetscape concept

Matt Schickling, the Wire

Right now, there’s no such thing as a leisurely walk down Huntingdon Pike, but Lower Moreland Township administration put together a plan that could change that.

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“It’s very much a draft,” township planner Steve Gabriel said before presenting the streetscape plan for Historic Bethayres last Wednesday.

The main goal is to create a way for residents and visitors to travel throughout the township from Bryn Athyn College to the Bethayres Train Station safely on foot. A secondary goal is beautification, that is, making the areas surrounding the road visually appealing.

“We’re going to emphasize the district as a place to gather at the local level,” Gabriel said. “It will enhance the sense of community between Lower Moreland and the rest of Huntingdon Valley.”

As that community develops, planners hope that the township will build some regional appeal as a destination for people to come shop, eat or explore local attractions like the Pennypack Trail.

The plan includes the implementation of new street lights, park benches, bike racks, fences, retaining walls and most importantly, sidewalks. As it currently stands, Huntingdon Pike is a mix of broken, disjointed, narrow or nonexistent sidewalks.

“If I could pick up my building and move it to Chestnut Hill, Ambler, New Hope, Lambertville, I could name a ton of them, I would do it in a heartbeat, but I don’t want to. I’ve been here, I’ve formed relationships,” said Will Bostock, owner of BLue Hair Studio, which is located along the streetscape route. “I feel that with creativity and commitment to getting this done, it could really happen.”

To design the plan, Lower Moreland applied for a grant with the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission and secured $20,000. In order to receive grant money for construction, a finalized plan has to be in place. The presentation doubled as an opportunity to get community input for any adjustments.

Only one issue was raised, which is the elimination of parking on Huntingdon Pike by Fetters Mill Road. There, the on-street parking would be eliminated and on one side of the road, the curb would be bumped out six feet so that there could a landscaping buffer between pedestrians and the road. Each driving lane would remain the same width.

Rob DeMartinis, president of the board of commissioners, explained that while the lost parking is inconvenient, there are 400 public parking spaces nearby, which should be more than enough to accommodate the need. Some of the landscaping would also include rain gardens, which would help absorb some of the stormwater, which is a problem in the township.

“This is a concept to show here’s what we think can help to beautify and make a small town out of the historic district,” DeMartinis said. “We want this to be a destination where people can walk or ride a bike to three different historic districts that are pretty incredible and be able to stop and have a cup of coffee, do some shopping and get on a train and head back into the city.”

The plan begins on Buck Road by Academy of the New Church School in Bryn Athyn and continues to the Bethayres Train Station, where a walking path would be made to connect the station to the road. Also on that end will be a gateway sign welcoming visitors, stamped asphalt for visual appeal and perhaps a public art installation.

The overall goal, according to DeMartinis, is not only to connect pedestrians to the Bethayres Station, but eventually to a trail system being developed for Philmont Avenue, through to Valley Center Park, through the wetlands and into Ridgway Park.

Ultimately, the plan presented is conceptual, but it represents a sincere effort to move forward. This project is something that will perhaps take years to complete, and will be done in stages as to avoid completely shutting down Huntingdon Pike.

But with proper funding, as the administration has shown over the last two years with Valley Center Park, Lower Moreland does not waste time making improvements when opportunities like this arise.

“Right now, Huntingdon Pike is an absolute mess,” DeMartinis said. “That’s something that we’re just trying to change. This is one piece, but ultimately we’re trying to make this a small-town community and do something to revitalize local business.”

For information and updates, visit www.lowermoreland.org.