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Jim Thorpe eyes changes for tourist traffic

Changes could be coming to traffic patterns, parking rules and kiosk prices and hours as Jim Thorpe Borough officials grapple with how to best manage popular events that draw thousands of tourists to the quaint Carbon County town.

In the wake of some of the borough’s busiest weekends in memory last October and Jim Thorpe’s ever-growing popularity, Police Chief Joe Schatz said several modifications have been tossed around including changing Center Avenue in the “Heights” to a one-way road heading west and Hill Road to a one-way pattern heading up from the Opera House.

“I think doing that would not take any parking away from the residents and make the flow a lot better for everyone involved up there,” Schatz said. “The towing companies tell me one of their biggest issues on the heavy fall weekends is Center Avenue being blocked up. We would have to go through a process with PennDOT to get that set up.”

The only drawback, Councilman Mike Yeastedt said, is that emergency vehicles from the Diligent Fire Company typically come down Hill Road for a quicker access to downtown Jim Thorpe and that option would no longer be available to them.

Staging fire apparatus downtown is an option, Yeastedt said, but finding volunteers to staff five fall weekends could be a challenge.

“When the ambulance is down there, those folks are paid,” he said. “When the police are down there, they are paid. You’re asking volunteers to spend five weekends down there unpaid.”

Schatz said if a call did come in, the police department could send someone from its command post downtown to shut down Hill Road and allow fire apparatus to come down.

Councilman Ted LaRizzio backed the one-way suggestion on Center Avenue.

“Living on the hill my whole life, the Center Avenue to South Avenue one-way approach would be so much better than what it has been the past couple of years,” he said. “I could not get through last year. It is really bad and when we have emergencies, that isn’t a good situation.”

Parking kiosk hours and pricing changes could also be on the table, Schatz said.

The county, which also has parking kiosks, has an $8 rate on weekdays and a $12 rate on weekends.

“I think we should do the same thing and come up with a variable rate schedule,” he said. “We are also talking about changing the kiosk times, extending the operating hours from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. With the trains running until 6 p.m., people are spending a lot more time downtown. Town used to be mostly cleared out by 5 p.m. That is no longer the case.”

The borough has an established residential permit parking program in place for West Broadway, but Schatz said extending that to the entire town on weekends and holidays is on the table.

“We hear it from the residents in the first block of Center Avenue,” he said. “We hear it from residents on the east side of town. They can’t park near their homes and it’s getting worse every year. On the east side, it was up to about Sixth Street last year.”

If council adopts that change, it would mean that visitors to town could only park in the areas that have parking kiosks or in public parking lots.

“That is a big change so if we’re going to do that, we’d have to get the word out early,” Borough Manager Maureen Sterner said.

Jim Thorpe’s traffic saga reached its peak on Oct. 28, 2023, a day Schatz characterized as one of the worst traffic-wise in his 27-year law enforcement career in the borough.

The Fall Foliage festival, a hallmark event for Jim Thorpe, drew record-breaking crowds, transforming the idyllic streets into a gridlocked maze. Borough officials, realizing the severity of the situation, took to social media to announce the deployment of all available police officers to manage the traffic gridlock.

“If we are going to start shoving 350,000 people into town, you have to realize what we’re up against,” Schatz said. “Something needs to be done. I am not putting the residents in jeopardy. We spend countless hours putting these events together and I can’t be out there with the public because I am in here putting events together. Something needs to give and it needs to start now.”

Traffic backed up through Jim Thorpe along the Mansion House Hill last fall as record crowds came for the fall festival. This photo shows the traffic situation at 9 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 29. TIMES NEWS FILE PHOTO