History of the Public Works Department
The origins of Doylestown’s Public Works Department date to 1838, the year of the Borough’s incorporation as a town, and the very first meeting of the newly formed Borough Council. At this meeting, Borough Council appointed a Streets Commissioner to oversee the maintenance and improvement of the Borough’s dirt trails and wagon tracks. This was 30 years before the birth of Henry Ford and 60 years before Karl Benz invented the first “modern” automobile in 1886. At that time only horses, coaches, wagons, and pedestrians ruled the streets of Doylestown. In fact, maintenance of the public streets was the only significant role of Borough Government at the time because there were no utilities and Police services were provided by a few County Sheriffs.
With the building of a public water system during the late 1800s, and the formation of a Police Department in the early 20th century, the Public Works Department’s role expanded to include water system construction and repair, and installing and maintaining traffic control devices for the new “Horseless Carriages” that were taking over the streets.
The Public Works Department expanded its road building capabilities during the early 20th century, purchasing a stream powered roller to compact the gravel streets (macadam and concrete were not yet used for paving) and a gasoline powered “Oliver” Bull dozer in the 1930’s . With the installation of Trolley tracks on the Philadelphia to Easton Road (Main Street), concrete paving was used for the first time in town. To this day, when we have to repair water system pipes in Main Street, we have to saw-cut through the original concrete from that era, which along with the trolley tracks, is still buried under the more modern macadam paving of Main Street.
With the construction of two Borough sewer plants, and a collection system during the mid-twentieth century, the Public Works Department added sanitary sewer maintenance to its portfolio. A growing Parks system and installation of electric street lights and more modern traffic signals were also added to the list of responsibilities.
The Public Works Department constructed a maintenance garage at the North end of Harvey Avenue in the 1950s. This is where the police and construction fleet maintenance and repair operations occur to this day.
With the successful Doylestown renaissance, which began with Operation ’64, and continued through the revitalization initiatives of the 1990’s, Public Works began building streetscape improvements to beatify the downtown and encourage the town to grow as a regional retail and pedestrian destination. Brick sidewalks, pocket parks, and hanging flower basket programs were added to the Borough’s list of PW maintained improvements. Street festivals and numerous special events soon required increased support of the Public Works department.
In early 2012, a new web-based and online Citizen Service Request system, called “D-Works” went live and revolutionized how Borough citizens report problems, request services, and interact with the Borough administration. D-Works provides complete transparency in citizen requests by providing a tracking number, and offers the opportunity to give feedback on how the Borough delivered the services.
Public Works Today
Just like in 1838, the Borough Public Works Department continues to be responsible for the maintenance and construction of the Borough's infrastructure. This now includes not just streets, but bike paths, storm drainage systems, the water distribution systems, park and recreation facilities, and Borough-owned buildings, just to name a few. The department maintains traffic signs, streetlights, road painting, and provides tree maintenance in parks and on public property.
The head of the department is the Director of Public Works, who leads two Foreman, a Mechanic, a janitor, six full-time Laborers, and a number of part-time summer workers. The size of the department has actually been reduced in the past two decades, although the portfolio of responsibilities continues to grow.
The Borough possesses an extensive array of vehicles and equipment and this fleet is maintained in-house by the Borough's Mechanic. This collection also includes the Borough's fleet of police vehicles. Among the Public Works Department's "fleet" are Five ten-ton dump trucks, Three one-ton dump trucks, two backhoes, a track loader, a paver, several pavement rollers, many pick-up trucks, a street sweeper, a hydro-jet machine, two leaf collection machines and numerous snow plow attachments. Numerous other smaller pieces of equipment include generators, compressors, a forklift, a tree chipper and many small construction tools and machines.
With this equipment the Public Works Department is able to take on a variety of tasks including paving, snow plowing, leaf collection, utility repairs and installations, concrete work, landscaping and grass mowing. Department personnel are fully trained in all of these areas.
The Public Works Department facility is located at the end of Harvey Avenue. In 2013 it will be undergoing the first major upgrade in 60 years with building renovations and the addition of covered storage for all the equipment, which currently is forced to be left outside in the weather due to lack of space. The upgrades will also focus heavily on energy efficiency and reduction of electric and utility costs at the facility.
The Future of Public Works
The Borough has been a leader in sustainability initiatives in several areas including land use and green building incentive programs. The future of Public Works will be “green” as well. Improvements in green infrastructure such as rain gardens and stormwater management are top priorities. Improved Fleet management and utilization of “Clean Diesel” technologies in our trucks and equipment has already begun. Installation of trial LED streetlight fixtures and conversion of all our traffic signals to LEDs has reduced energy consumption measurably. Future initiatives will include exploration of bio-diesel, CNG and electric vehicles.
Phil Ehlinger, AICP, Deputy Borough Manager, Director of Public Works & Planning
Philip C. Ehlinger, Jr., AICP CZO, has served Doylestown Borough since 1991 and provides general management of Borough departments and direct management of the Public Works and Planning Departments. As Doylestown's town planner, and in his preceding role as zoning officer and building code official, he authored numerous codes and ordinances and has implemented many smart growth strategies to help Doylestown become an economically vibrant and walkable community. These innovations include planning and building the first two "TNDs" in Bucks County which were built on re-claimed brownfield sites; the "Green Points" sustainable building incentive programs to promote energy efficient buildings; and a fast-track approval processes for worthy projects to reduce regulatory burdens to foster investment and quality economic development. Phil is a frequent public speaker on zoning, bicycle planning and sustainability issues, and he is the Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Association of Zoning Officials (PAAZO). He is also the editor of the town's newsletter, the Borough Bulletin. Phil races mountain bikes, off-road motorcycles, cars, and high performance sailboats. He is married with three sons and has lived in the Doylestown community for more than 22 years.