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MPO seeks input from community on enhancing pedestrian, bike safety

MORGANTOWN — The Morgantown Monongalia Metropolitan Planning Organization and WVU are ready to take action to better protect pedestrians and bikers, but first they want to hear from the public.

Nearly one year after the death of Leah Berhanu in an auto-pedestrian accident, the MPO will be taking suggestions from residents and students at public meetings, with the hopes of beginning work on new pedestrian and bike infrastructure within one year.

Berhanu was a WVU engineering student. She was struck and killed by a vehicle on Patteson Drive.

Michelle Gelada, the 21-year-old driver of that vehicle, was initially charged and later found not guilty of negligent homicide at trial.

“We’ve got kind of a two-pronged approach going,” MPO Director Bill Austin told WAJR. “One is a short-term initiative that was led by (former DOH District 4 manager) Donny Williams, who is still in the background. But the university is interested in putting things on the ground quickly.”
Berhanu’s death in the accident was the first in a series of four auto-pedestrian accidents of varying severity in the span of about one month last year.

“There will be stuff in the ground within the next year I would think — or close to it,” Austin said. “And then there’s the long-term approach of how can we improve the entire community and not just put Band-Aids in places, which is what the MPO’s plan is.”
Austin said the goal is to create awareness and buy-in by WVU students, who are some of the most likely to be impacted by improvements to the bike and pedestrian plan. Consultants will have a table in the Mountainlair from noon to 4 p.m. Tuesday.

“Taking suggestions, getting input at this point,” he said. “What are the problem areas? What areas do you use? What are your concerns?”
That same day, from 5:30 to 8 p.m., an open house will be held at the Metropolitan Theatre, which will include a presentation at 6:30 p.m. Stakeholder meetings will follow on Wednesday. Austin said he and the consultants are also setting up a meeting with the Student Government Association.

“We have a plan that we’re building on — that we’ve done in the past,” he said. “We’ve got to validate those. One of the places that this study will be different from those other plans that we’ve done is the consultants will be coming up with a capital improve year. The Green Team recommends the city up that to at least $50,000.
Negotiate a new tariff for street lights with Mon Power and convert the city’s 1,700 street lights away from sodium vapor lamps to LED, or light emitting diode, lamps.
It was explained this options may not result in cost savings for the city, but could potentially reduce just over a ton of carbon dioxide from city emissions annually.
Any renegotiated tariff would need the approval of the West Virginia Public Service Commission.
Investing $1.8 million to outfit city buildings with solar panels. Kotcon said the city could achieve its emissions goals with this one step, but noted its not remotely cost effective without passage of legislation authorizing power purchase agreements.
Without such agreements, it is estimated the city would need 40 years to recoup the investment. With purchase agreements, that could potentially be cut in half. Solar panels are guaranteed for 25 years.
Senate Bill 409, currently making the rounds in Charleston, would address this issue. Kotcon asked council to adopt a resolution supporting its passage.
Purchase renewable energy credits. The city could reduce its greenhouse gas footprint by paying an amount beyond its normal fuel and/or power bills in order to help subsidize renewable energy generation methods like wind and solar. The cost of such credits varies based on market. An estimated cost was not provided.
Convert the city fleet to more fuel efficient vehicles.
Kotcon said the Green Team is interested in receiving a fleet inventory from the city to get an updated look at how much potential emissions savings could be achieved through city vehicles. He noted transportation fuel is second only to electricity as far as the city’s emissions breakdown.
While Kotcon said electric or hybrid vehicles may not be appropriate in all applications — fire, police, public works — there are some departments, including code enforcement and parking, where more efficient vehicles could be rotated in.
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