Smock Bridge sidewalk sign

Local officials put up signage Tuesday closing the Smock Bridge sidewalk to pedestrians 'partly because of (the disabled) wheelchair and partly because of the impending weather,' according to Vernon Township Manager Rob Horvat.

Three police vehicles from two jurisdictions as well as an ambulance responded to a woman whose motorized wheelchair stalled near the highest point of the Smock Bridge sidewalk at about 9 a.m. Tuesday, according to Chief Randy Detzel of the Vernon Township Police Department.

Detzel said a battery issue was the likely cause of the problem. The woman was not injured in the incident, Detzel said, but Meadville Area Ambulance Service responded so she could be transported while remaining in her wheelchair.

One lane of traffic was closed to traffic to ensure the safety of both the woman and emergency personnel, Detzel said.

Vernon Township Manager Rob Horvat said the call to assist the woman immediately raised concerns about the safety of the sidewalk.

“When the call came in,” Horvat said, “we weren’t sure if it was due to a mechanical issue or snow.”

Horvat and officials from the city of Meadville Public Works Department quickly decided to put up signage closing the sidewalk to pedestrians.

“We figured it was probably best to close it down, partly because of (the disabled) wheelchair and partly because of the impending weather,” Horvat said, referring to a forecast calling for snow and possible sleet today. The sidewalk will probably be reopened by Thursday or Friday, according to Horvat.

The sidewalk was open when the woman started across it in her wheelchair, according to both Horvat and Detzel.

“She didn’t do anything wrong,” Detzel said.

An irregular layer of snow, ice, slush, water and aggregate was evident on much of the sidewalk Tuesday afternoon.

Prior to the sidewalk closing that followed soon after police responded to the woman on the sidewalk, two small signs on the Vernon Township side of the bridge warned of dangerous conditions ahead and provided information on free bus service across the bridge offered by Crawford Area Transportation Authority, according to Horvat. The signs were located near the entrance to Hoss’s restaurant and near the guardrail located where the Park Avenue Plaza access road meets the bridge.

CATA provides free transportation across the bridge for pedestrians during winter months. The service is funded by the city of Meadville and Vernon and West Mead townships. The ends of the bridge are located in Meadville and Vernon while part of the span passes over West Mead. The three municipalities are responsible for clearing and maintaining the sidewalk, but they are providing free transportation across the bridge for the second consecutive winter out of a concern for the safety of pedestrians and the employees who have to clear the sidewalk.

A ruling by the Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission in January allowed the three municipalities to close the sidewalk for “isolated or temporary interruptions in accessibility” and orders them to employ “reasonable efforts” in clearing snow and ice.

The ruling came in response to a petition from the municipalities to change a 2017 ruling that required the sidewalk be kept open year-round and clear of snow, ice and debris. In petitioning to ease the requirements of that ruling, the municipalities noted that the sidewalk is too narrow to allow for two standard-sized wheelchairs headed in opposite directions to pass by each other.

Mike Crowley can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at mcrowley@meadvilletribune.com.

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