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Valley Forge and the Schuylkill River Trail reunite with opening of new bridge

In August, the Circuit Trail Network got an important new link -- a piece of infrastructure vital to bikers and pedestrians. The new Sullivan’s Bridge, a 14-foot-wide, 602-foot-long bridge trail (running over the river on the west side of the Route 422 Bridge) connects the Schuylkill River Trail and the trails in Valley Forge National Historic Park. It’s an important link between Chester and Montgomery Counties, and another exciting piece of the ever-developing Circuit throughout the Greater Philadelphia region.

The project was a very long time coming, explains Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia and Circuit Trails Coalition Chair Sarah Clark Stuart. The Betzwood Bridge, a metal structure built in the 1800s, originally spanned the Schuylkill near that spot. But by 1991, it had deteriorated so much that PennDOT decided to close and eventually demolish it a few years later. Local cyclists didn’t take kindly to the plan, especially since PennDOT had no apparent plans to replace the span: The organization suggested walkers and cyclists divert three miles to cross at another point, or join the auto traffic on Route 422.

In 1993, passions ran so high that the Bicycle Coalition led a protest at the site of the closed bridge, cutting the chain link fence that had been installed at its entrance. The organization’s board president and executive director at the time were arrested and briefly jailed.

PennDOT's accommodations over the next several years failed to satisfy locals. A shuttle service sputtered and a narrow cantilever catwalk for bikers and pedestrians on the Route 422 Bridge proved too crowded to be safe.

“It was very clear that the lack of a dedicated bicycle/pedestrian bridge was hindering the flow of bike/pedestrian traffic between the Schuylkill River Trail and Valley Forge Historic Park," recalls Stuart.

The decision to build a whole new bridge coincided with the recent rehabilitation of the Route 422 Bridge. Back as far as the 1990s, "it was clearly policy that if you’re going to do any kind of work on a piece of road infrastructure, it has to be a complete project -- it has to accommodate all users…The most economic way to do that was to build a bike/pedestrian-only bridge."

In 2011, open house discussions began on a design.

The August 19 ribbon-cutting for the bridge drew supporters including PennDOT Secretary of Transportation Leslie S. Richards, U.S. Representative Brendan Boyle, Montgomery County Commissioner Val Arkoosh, and hundreds of eager cyclists.

"This is enhancing the Schuylkill River trail network throughout the Greater Philadelphia region," adds Stuart. "It’s going to make the region a stronger and more sustainable place to live and work. When you have a high-quality piece of infrastructure like this, it communicates a lot about how important trails and safe bicycling and walking is to the region at large."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Sarah Clark Stuart, the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia

U.S. Department of Transportation design event targets Vine Street

In July, a special charrette led by the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) -- one of four events nationwide -- targeted the Vine Street corridor. The goal was to brainstorm ideas for improving the quality of life along Route 676 for commuters and residents alike.

On July 14 and 15, the Chinese Christian Church & Center at 11th and Vine hosted a program packed with community outreach, tours, discussions and presentations. Partners included the Deputy Managing Director’s Office of Transportation & Infrastructure Systems (OTIS; formerly the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities), the Commerce Department, PennDOT, the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC) and the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation.

"This exercise has been fantastic because of all these different players in the room," enthused USDOT Chief Opportunities Officer Stephanie Jones.

Before the charrette's final public session, DVRPC Associate Director of Transportation Greg Krykewycz told Flying Kite that the event had "developed an integrated set of ideas" that made it a candidate for the DVRPC Work Program, which studies proposed infrastructure improvements as a possible step toward funding and implementation.

OTIS was responsible for bringing the needs of Vine Street to the USDOT Ladders of Opportunity Every Place Counts Design Challenge. The Washington, D.C.-based Congress for New Urbanism helps USDOT enlist city planners and designers to provide their expertise at the subsquent Ladders of Opportunity charrettes. The Philly event included walking tours, visioning and design meetings, and public forums for reacting to the preliminary designs produced. Participating architects and urban designers included Cindy Zerger and Ken Ray of Toole Design Group, and independent city planner Peter Park of Denver.

According to Park, the team’s observations included Vine Street bridge crossings that are "dangerous," "uncomfortable," and "inhospitable," fast-moving cars, and difficulty in navigating the designated crossing streets. But the "gravitas" of the neighborhood’s "historic urban fabric abounds," he added, even though it’s been "interrupted in significant ways" since the Expressway cut through Chinatown half a century ago.

USDOT's Stephanie Gidigbi shared a distilled vision from designers and participating community members after the two-day session: They hope to "re-imagine community gateways for the Vine Street Corridor that create inclusive and equitable commercial and residential neighborhood connections." More specific themes included green infrastructure, the study of vacant and underutilized space, mixed-use development potential, road diets, landscaping, new crossings and redevelopment of existing surface parking lots.

All of the concepts presented to the full house were preliminary ideas which will require further community input and study. They included a bike and pedestrian bridge to connect Vine Street to the Rail Park and Franklin Square; a "buffered bikeway" on Vine Street that would narrow the roadway and place parking between cyclists and drivers; partially capped bridges; separate bike and pedestrian space in crosswalks; stormwater planters; lighting improvements; and a traffic lane exclusively for bikes and buses.

Gidigbi urged participants to take the momentum into the neighborhood and engage residents in next steps (a report from the event will be made available online). This USDOT design challenge isn’t a finishing point, she added: The goal is to "ignite the conversation."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Greg Krykewycz, DVRPC; and Ladders of Opportunity leaders and designers

The K&T Trail is officially underway on the Delaware

The latest segment of The Circuit Trails network to break ground is the first stretch of the trail to directly connect two parks, says Delaware River City Corporation (DRCC) Executive Director Tom Branigan.

Phase One of the new K&T trail (so named because it will follow the path of the former Kensington and Tacony railroad) will be a 1.15-mile stretch connecting the Frankford Boat Launch to Lardner’s Point Park, serving visitors as well as residents of Wissinoming to the south and Tacony to the north.

Phase One of the K&T -- a 12-foot-wide asphalt trail -- has a $2.9 million budget. Directing partners Philadelphia Parks & Recreation and DRCC broke ground on June 9 and anticipate completion in 2017. The trail is part of a much bigger regional picture: It’s one more piece of the 750-mile Circuit and the 3,000-mile East Coast Greenway.

Under design since 2008, the trail will move through a riverside right-of-way owned by the City of Philadelphia. The whole length of it will have riverfront views, although the strips of land touching the river are still in the hands of adjacent property owners. And since it’s a heavily industrial area, there will be fencing installed alongside the trail.

"We’re working with the property owners to make sure everything moves smoothly," says Branigan.

Partners hope efforts to acquire the riverfront land will boost the project in the long term.

"We’ll engage various property owners and see about acquiring that small strip of land between the trail and river," he adds.
"And then [we'll] make appropriate improvements."

The trail will also span a small inlet of the river, requiring a bridge.

Currently, landscaping and other amenities include benches, interpretive signage on the wildlife and history of the area, 80 trees, 1,000 shrubs, and thousands more beautifying grasses and perennial plants.

Phase Two of K&T will launch next year, taking the trail up as far as Princeton Avenue; another piece, currently in design and slated for construction in 2018, will go as far north as Rhawn Street.

"We’ll have a good stretch of trail by the end of 2018 or early 2019 that will go from the Frankford Boat Launch all the way up to Pleasantville Park on Linden Avenue," concludes Branigan.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Tom Branigan, Delaware River City Corporation 

New grant gives the Manayunk Bridge Trail its finishing touch


Thanks to $600,000 from the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC), the recently refreshed Manayunk Bridge Trail will get its finishing touch. 
 
A couple of weeks ago, Flying Kite took a look at the DVRPC Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) dollars that will go into the corner of Chelten and Greene Avenues in Germantown, a new gateway into Vernon Park. Philly Parks & Recreation is another TAP grant recipient for improvements to the Manayunk Bridge Trail, which opened to foot and bike traffic last October. They applied for the grant in January of this year, hoping for dollars that would allow the installation of lighting and other commuter-friendly amenities. 
 
"It's a transportation amenity and recreation as well," explains Parks & Rec Preservation and Capital Projects Manager Rob Armstrong. "Lighting is the number one priority. That way we can open the bridge for more hours than it's open right now."
 
Because of the need to preserve the structure's historic look -- and the many agencies involved in a trail amenity -- Armstrong can't predict exactly when the necessary permits will be in place for construction. But the dollars do have a timeline stipulating the the work must be completed by next year.

According to DVRPC Executive Director Barry Seymour, the eleven projects funded through TAP will "enable communities to build multi-use trails, safe routes to school and pedestrian pathways, and bike lanes and bikeway projects, providing transportation for a wide variety of users throughout our region."

"I'm really pleased that [the bridge] has been so popular since it opened last fall," adds Armstrong. He uses the trail himself, and appreciates the many people who cross it for the views, to connect to other trails, or on their commute. "It links the city the suburbs, and vice versa. I'm just glad we got the funding so we can do this project and get it lit, so that more people can use it."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Rob Armstrong, Philadelphia Parks & Recreation

A $740,000 revamp is coming for Germantown's Chelten-Greene Plaza


In December 2014, work was underway to redesign a busy but troubled piece of Germantown's Chelten Avenue corridor (near Flying Kite’s former On the Ground home), but there weren’t yet funds in place to implement the changes. Now, thanks to major dollars from the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC), construction could begin next year.

DVRPC is awarding a total pool of $7.6 million to 11 "Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) projects" throughout southeastern Pennsylvania, including five Philadelphia initiatives. These include $370,000 for the Chelten-Greene Plaza Reconstruction to, in the words of DVRPC, "improve and connect a busy bus stop to Vernon Park."

“The TAP funding allows us to finalize construction documents and actually go forward with construction,” says Philadelphia City Planning Commission Northwest Philadelphia Planner Matt Wysong. There are also matching dollars from the Commerce Department in the mix, bringing the project's total budget to $740,000.

The northwest corner of Chelten Avenue and Greene Street usually hosts a crowd of SEPTA riders waiting for the many bus lines that pass through the intersection. It’s also adjacent to the southeast corner of Vernon Park, but a wrought-iron fence separates the sidewalk from the green space; a low brick wall in the middle of the un-landscaped space is also part of the original flawed design. A drop in the pavement grade between the wall and an adjacent building attracts trash and illegal activities.

Because of the building next door, that drop is an engineering problem the redesign can’t completely solve, but once the brick wall is gone, it will be possible to smooth that section of pavement so the drop is less obvious and to add landscaping features.

"We want to redesign it in a way that maximizes the space, utilizes it to its fullest, [and] allows for some sort of programming to happen there," explains Wysong. That could mean a food truck or some other type of vendor. "Right now, Vernon Park has a very unceremonious entrance along Greene Street." When the existing iron fence is removed, the plaza will be "a promenade to connect to Vernon Park."

There’s no official construction timeline yet. This month, city partners including the Streets Department and the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities will meet to iron out the details. Wysong estimates that work could begin in early 2017 and be finished within six months.

He touts the renovation as "very much a community-driven design. I’m pleasantly surprised at the enthusiasm I’m seeing now that funding was announced. The space [is] small, but it’s got a lot of meaning to a lot of people."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Matt Wysong, City Planning Commission

Will the 30th Street Station District Plan reopen a subway concourse?


This spring, Philly has been buzzing about the future of 30th Street Station. On March 16, the partners in the Philadelphia 30th Street Station District Plan held their penultimate public open house in the Amtrak station’s north waiting room, soliciting feedback on a master plan that encompasses about 640 acres in the area between 22nd Street, Walnut Street, 36th Street, Spring Garden Street and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. There will be one more public meeting later this spring; the release of a final District Plan is slated for summer.

The proposals encompass major SEPTA and Amtrak station upgrades along with revamped public space and retail/commercial development. And anyone who has exited SEPTA’s 30th Street subway station, climbed the stairs to street level, crossed 30th Street, and walked into the Amtrak or Regional Rail station to catch the next train should be particularly excited about one aspect of the plan: reestablishing an underground concourse connection between the two stations.

Public feedback has repeatedly identified this concourse as a priority for frequent station users. But according to Daniel O’Shaughnessy, a senior planner on the project with consulting architectural, design, planning, and engineering firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP (SOM), building one -- or re-opening the passage that existed until the 1980s -- has a lot of challenges.

The old concourse, little more than ten feet wide and including a 90 degree bend, presented crowding and safety issues. Today, Bridgewater’s Pub in the 30th Street Station food court stands over two disused stairwells that used to carry commuters down to the connector. Currently, a rental car parking lot resides underneath the western apron of 30th Street Station’s footprint.

The District Plan includes the ambitious combination of a wider brand new concourse with underground retail options along the way to the Market-Frankford and trolley lines, all lit with a large skylight near the corner of Market and 30th Streets.

An Amtrak representative at the open house referred Flying Kite to SEPTA for specifics on the logistics and financials of the proposed concourse, but no one from SEPTA was on hand to comment.

Planners have a lot of enthusiasm for the possibility, though the practicalities aren’t settled.

"The end result, we hope, is that the connection is easier," explains O’Shaughnessy. "Modes that seemingly should connect through 30th Street Station could connect again."

The proposed skylight would be an important part of the overall plan, he explains, though it would be a "balancing act" between west side public space, short-term parking needs and the need for light in a below-grade space. But being able to step off the Market-Frankford line underground and still see 30th Street Station through the skylight would give a whole new feel to this major Philly gateway, O’Shaughnessy added.

“It could be a real asset to see where you are," he says. "If we can achieve way-finding through the architecture, that’s a big win."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Daniel O’Shaughnessy, SOM

Your chance to vote on where Philly needs new transit shelters

SEPTA riders, neighborhood groups and City Council members have long been calling for more transit shelters, and late last year a platform finally launched for residents to have their say.

According to Angela Dixon, deputy director of the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities (MOTU), the City of Philadelphia has over 8,000 surface transit stops. Only 300 of those have covered transit shelters, and an effort is afoot to double that number while also replacing all existing stops. Residents are voting on where the new shelters should go.

"This network was established over 25 years ago and is well past its useful life," says Dixon. In 2014, the City kicked off a competitive RFP process for managers of a new Street Furniture Concession Agreement that will last for 20 years. Intersection was ultimately chosen and authorized to develop, install and maintain the new shelters, which will be funded by an advertising program, not taxpayers.

A public voting website to determine the placement of the new shelters was a stipulation of the Concession Agreement; it launched in late October 2015. The criteria were determined with several factors in mind: the ridership at the individual stops, requests received from a variety of public and private sources, available space, and the stops’ proximity to sites like hospitals, senior centers, shopping centers and community centers.

The website’s "add a shelter" feature also allows voters to suggest a location not currently on the map. MOTU reviews these submissions and decides, based on ridership at the site and other factors, whether they’ll be added to the official voting roster. Site users can also leave their comments.

Dixon confirms that people are interacting with site already, but it’ll get a boost early this year with a new ad campaign on buses, existing shelters and libraries.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Angela Dixon, the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities

New road means an easy ride between I-95, Bridesburg and Port Richmond is finally a reality

On December 8, Mayor Michael Nutter and other local leaders cut the ribbon on a significant first step for the Delaware Avenue Extension in Philly's Bridesburg neighborhood. According to Denise Goren, director of the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities, this waterfront project is the first entirely new road constructed in the city in the last 30 years.

The opening of this first phase of the project -- a .6-mile stretch of two-lane road (flanked by broad space for bikers and pedestrians) eventually slated to extend two miles -- is an important piece of Northeast Philly’s larger Delaware Riverfront Greenway, itself a piece of the region’s burgeoning Circuit and the East Coast Greenway.

Phase 1A of the Extension is also a vital new connection between the Bridesburg and Port Richmond neighborhoods -- it runs between the river and Richmond Street, from Lewis Street in the south to Orthodox Street in the north, and includes a new bridge over the Frankford Creek. The project has been in the works for over 15 years.

At the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Mayor Nutter called the effort "much more than just a road project."

"All users have the right to use our roadways safely," he said of the mixed-used nature of Delaware Avenue’s new stretch; in its next phase, it will reach north between Orthodox Street and Buckius Street.

Other speakers at the event included Deputy Mayor of Environmental & Community Resources Michael DiBerardinis and former U.S. Congressperson Robert Borski (founder and chair of the Delaware River City Corporation).

Tom LaCroix of the Bridesburg Business Association also spoke, expressing gratitude for the improved safety and quality of life for Bridesburg residents that the Extension promises. It gives trucks and other industrial vehicles an easy route to I-95 without rumbling through the busy Richmond Street corridor where children are often crossing the street. It’s also a big relief to the community, which has experienced terrible traffic congestion anytime a nearby accident on I-95 rerouted highway traffic through the riverfront neighborhood.

"This is just a godsend," he insisted.

Construction on Phase 1B of the Extension is scheduled to begin in 2017; the road will open the following year.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Mayor Michael Nutter and Delaware Avenue Extension speakers

 

Before Market Street Bridge is rebuilt, it gets a makeover for pedestrians

Thanks to a partnership between the Schuylkill River Development Corporation (SRDC), University City District (UCD), Center City District (CCD) and Groundswell Design, the Market Street Bridge over the Schuylkill River -- connecting Center City with the eastern edge of University City -- has gotten a quick but important revamp.

The makeover for the century-old bridge took just ten weeks. According to UCD Director of Planning and Design Nate Hommel, UCD got the go-ahead in mid-July thanks to funding from the William Penn Foundation and the Joanna McNeil Trust. Initially, the goal was completing improvements in time for next summer’s Democratic National Convention, but then the idea came up: "How about the Pope?"

Things began to move quickly.

SRDC helped to gain the cooperation of PennDOT, owner of the bridge. Groundswell, the team behind recent improvements to The Porch at 30th Street Station, worked speedily to design improvements including new greenery in 120 custom-made planters, bleacher seating for great Schuylkill views, and four large gateway pergolas at the bridge's eastern and western edges.

For the fabrication of the new temporary elements, Groundswell and UCD turned to a local Kensington shop called Frank’s Kitchen, which began making the planters on its assembly line in early August.

"It was pretty impressive to see the fabrication process," recalls Hommel. "It’s good to see the local maker economy in Philly able to handle something like this."

Once the planters and other elements were finished, they took about four days to install. The improved pedestrian experience on the bridge (which over 6,000 people cross each day on foot) was ready a week before Pope Francis arrived.

Groundswell faced some challenges due to the age and structure of the bridge. PennDOT stipulated that the "dead load" of the bridge’s pedestrian redesign could not exceed 100 pounds per square foot. (The weight bridges bear is split into live loads, meaning the traffic that moves across it, and dead loads, meaning objects or infrastructure that sit on it permanently.)

"Groundswell was really great in figuring out ways to do that," says Hommel. The planters were specially designed with soft wood to reduce their weight, as well as false bottoms. And while they’re about three feet high, they contain only about a foot of soil.

The idea of "reversible elements," in the parlance of civil infrastructure, is important. Agencies that own major assets like bridges -- particularly aging ones -- are much less leery of improvement projects whose pieces can be easily removed, without any permanent alteration or compromise of the structure. The Market Street Bridge itself is due for an overhaul within the next few years, so the redone walkways will be in place at least through the end of next summer. After that, UCD hopes that better awareness of pedestrian needs will be an integral part of the new span's overall planning.

CCD is performing maintenance such as cleaning and graffiti removal, while UCD manages the horticulture side through a staff from its West Philadelphia Skills Initiative.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Nate Hommel, University City District

Biking just got a lot better in Camden thanks to a new greenway

With the installation of Indego bike share stations across the city and a growing network of bike lanes and trails, Philadelphia’s cycling culture is firmly established, but just across the river in Camden, a brand-new 4.3-mile greenway is big news for the city’s burgeoning two-wheeled community.

On September 24 at the Salvation Army’s Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center, Camden Mayor Dana L. Redd and Freeholder Jeff Nash officially cut the ribbon on Camden’s own portion of the planned 750-mile Circuit of southeastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey (about 300 miles of the trails have already been completed). The new greenway was funded by the William Penn Foundation.

John Boyle, research director for the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, says that though there are plenty of cyclists in Camden, "they don’t have an organized movement on the local level like Philadelphia does. It really hasn’t caught on to the degree it has in Center City Philadelphia, but I also think it’s a lack of infrastructure. This is a great start to reverse that."

Boyle and Camden collaborators -- such as Coopers Ferry Partnership -- hope that new space for bikes on north Camden roadways will increase the accessibility of sites like the Kroc Center, as well as local green spaces that have been the target of recent upgrades, including Pyne Poynt Park and Von Nieda Park.

The main spine of the new bike lanes is a buffered zone parallel to the waterfront on Jersey Joe Walcott Avenue, which then curves into the newly revitalized Erie Street, and heads across the historic State Street Bridge over the Cooper River.

Here, bikers and pedestrians have a choice: There’s a new bridge for cars from the New Jersey Department of Transportation (which boasts bike lanes), and next to it, the old bridge, which is now reserved exclusively for walkers and cyclists. The greenway's lanes then travel along Harrison Avenue past the Kroc Center.

Now that there’s a new artery from below the Ben Franklin Bridge up to the Kroc Center, will Camden keep adding bike lanes? Boyle hopes so.

"I think it really has to, because you need a complete network to provide true access to people," he says. "There’s still a lot of neighborhoods that don’t have bike lanes in Camden, and they’re going to have to fill those gaps."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: John Boyle, the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia

On the Ground: All eyes on the Centennial Commons gateway in Parkside

In August, we began our look at plans for the new park at Philly's historic Centennial Commons, part of the Fairmount Park Conservancy’s Reimagining the Civic Commons initiative.

Jennifer Mahar, senior director of civic initiatives at the Conservancy, says that with so much community outreach going on --including door-to-door questionnaires and months of pre-construction in-park surveys for neighbors -- "lots of components to the project are changing by the day and by the week."

One of the most important components is a fresh approach to the park's long-neglected entrance near the School of the Future.

According to Mahar, right now "the most critical [element] design-wise is the gateway right where Parkside Avenue and Girard meet." Envisioned as the "Centennial district gateway," it’s currently a triangular piece of concrete opposite a vacant lot below an iconic mural; neighbors insist that any design for the gateway not obscure the mural.

"Eventually we’d like to put a piece of artwork or a sign, something interesting that welcomes people to the neighborhood and to the park," adds Maher.

According to a roundup of feedback from Callowhill-based design partner Studio|Bryan Hanes, this is in line with neighbors' hopes for interpretative signage to celebrate the area's history.

The spot is a bit of a high-speed transit hub year-round -- it boasts a Girard Avenue trolley stop frequented by kids riding to Kelly Pool -- and lacks proper traffic safeguards. That’s why the Planning Commission has been in the the loop on this project from the start. A fix to the area's traffic dangers will also incorporate an extension of the Mantua Greenway, a bike lane into West Fairmount Park.
  
Keep an eye out here for details on another piece of Centennial Commons’ Phase I: Parkside Edge, a relaxing new recreational space slated to border Parkside Avenue.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Jennifer Mahar, Fairmount Park Conservancy

On the Ground is made possible by the Knight Foundation, an organization that supports transformational ideas, promotes quality journalism, advances media innovation, engages communities and fosters the arts. The foundation believes that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit knightfoundation.org.

 

The Bicycle Coalition takes new action for a safer Washington Avenue

In July, the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia decided it was time to take action on a plan that has long been in the works. The goal is to make a stretch of Washington Avenue, the site of over 1500 crashes in the last five years, a safer ride.

In spring 2014, after a lengthy process, the Planning Commission proposed a new pavement marking plan, but nothing further has been accomplished. Sarah Clark Stuart, deputy director of the Bicycle Coalition, offers some background on the problem, what residents and city officials have done to tackle it so far, and why action on the current plan seems stymied.

To begin with, "the pavement markings have long been faded out," she explains. The 2.9-mile Washington Avenue corridor "is a major arterial for the city…it has a lot of very different uses," including driving, parking, loading zones, walking and biking, "and some of those uses conflict with each other."

According to Stuart, there’s also a big gap in the bike lanes on Washington between 7th and 11th Streets, and the pavement markings from 16th Street to 25th Street and from 13th Street to 4th Street have almost disappeared.

According to a July 21 blog post from the Coalition (which requested data from PennDOT and the Police Department), between 2010 and 2014, there were 1,425 non-reportable crashes (between all kinds of vehicles, including bikes) and 212 reportable ones, resulting in the injuries for 234 people and the deaths of four. That means a total of 1,637 Washington Avenue crashes in a five-year period, averaging out to 327 crashes per year.

The difference between a non-reportable and reportable crash is that the latter requires an ambulance for the victim(s) or a vehicle to be towed away. In these types of incidents, the Police Department files an additional report for PennDOT. Comparatively minor run-ins such as fenders-benders -- which may get a police filing but let those involved walk, drive or ride away -- aren’t reported to PennDOT.

With so many crashes happening on this multi-use strip of South Philly, why has it taken so long to address the problem?
According to Stuart, the city had plans to simply re-stripe Washington Avenue a number of years ago, but the Planning Commission saw the opportunity for a traffic study and an associated community outreach process to determine if rethinking the thoroughfare could make things safer for everyone.

A consultant and numerous steering committee and advisory meetings happened over the next few years, culminating in the current Washington Avenue Transportation & Parking Study, and "that’s where things got complicated," says Stuart.

The new plan proposed a road diet and changes to parking and parking regulations, but these couldn’t be implemented without new ordinances from City Council, and the plan has languished since last year. So on July 17, the Coalition launched an e-mail campaign to help Washington Avenue users tell City Council members, Deputy Commissioner Michael Carroll and Mayor Michael Nutter that it’s time to move forward with the plans. As of mid-August, the page has garnered over 370 e-mails to city officials.

The goal is simple: "What we think the City should do is re-stripe a safer Washington Avenue by the end of [2015’s] paving season," explains Stuart. That is when the temperature dips below 40 degrees. "We want to make it safer. What we want to avoid is just the status quo."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Sarah Clark Stuart, The Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia

Trolley routes back on track after 2015's successful Trolley Tunnel Blitz

After a little over two weeks of no service in the SEPTA trolley tunnel between 13th Street and the 40th Street Portal, this underground artery to West and Southwest Philly is back on track.

It’s the third year for the "Trolley Tunnel Blitz," explained SEPTA spokesperson Heather Redfern. In 2013, SEPTA closed the tunnel from August 2 to August 12 for maintenance and repairs.

"They were able to accomplish so much, and they knew that if they had an extra week, it would help even more," she explains.

So in 2014, the blitz was expanded to 16 days, with a closure of the same length repeated this year. Trolleys have been running again since 4 a.m. Monday morning. 

While the Trolley Tunnel Blitz is an undeniable headache for many who have to divert to the Market-Frankford Line and then head to the 40th Street Portal to reach points on the 10, 11, 13, 34 and 36 trolleys, Redfern says a well-warned public is mostly understanding.

The work is more complicated than repairs on regional rail lines, which shut down for a certain number of hours every night, while the trolleys run 24 hours a day.

"It’s a good time for our crews to get in there and just knock it out," says Redfern, mentioning the even more unpleasant alternative of shutting down service on nights and weekends for a longer period of time to get the same amount of work done. "When people realize what we’re doing benefits them…they’re a little bit more understanding of what it takes to get done."

In-house SEPTA crews have been working around the clock for the duration of the closure. These weeks in August were chosen because trolley ridership is typically at its lowest, with many vacationers and students out of town.

This year’s upgrades included almost 7,500 feet of new track on the westbound side of the tunnel between 22nd and 40th Streets, and repairs on the eastbound side to the system attaching the trolleys’ overhead wire to the tunnel ceiling. More visible improvements include the continued replacement of old fluorescent lighting with energy-efficient LEDs, and upgraded stairs and platforms at the 13th and 19th street stations (13th Street also has new LED lighting within the track area). Other work included repairing and clearing track drains to reduce standing water in the tunnels, heavy cleaning, graffiti removal and tile repair, fresh painting, and tests of emergency generators and lighting throughout the tunnel.

"It’s stuff that people will be able to see…but then it’s also stuff that will help the trolleys run more efficiently," says Redfern. "Something you won’t see, but it’ll help your trip."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Heather Redfern, SEPTA

Neighborhood Bike Works makes a big move

For almost 20 years, staff and the youth served by the nonprofit Neighborhood Bike Works (NBW) have hauled bicycles up and down the steps into the organization's basement headquarters. 

While they've had a great time in the subterranean section of St. Mary's Church on the University of Pennsylvania's campus, the time has come to open their own center. Last month, NBW announced plans to do just that: The organization is gearing up to move to 3939 and 3943 Lancaster Avenue, one mile from their current location in West Philadelphia. 

"We're a little hidden in this basement," explains Executive Director Erin DeCou. "But we wanted to stay nearby because our neighborhood has been so good to us."

The new location is close to where three communities -- Mantua, Belmont and Powelton -- converge. Currently, NBW must carefully balance its schedule of programming for youth and adults to make use of its limited square footage space. The Lancaster Avenue site combines two side-by-side storefront properties, giving the organization plenty of room for offices and two learning spaces.

Since 1996, NBW has helped over 4,500 young Philadelphians discover a love of cycling. Through education, hands-on bike-building and group rides, the Philly youth (ages 8-18) served by NBW develop job and life skills that serve them for years to come. NBW also hosts adult repair classes and "Bike Church," a recurring event where the community can get help fixing their rides and purchase affordable donated bikes or bike parts.

Later this summer, NBW will start the move, but to get the new space fully ready, they first have to raise $150,000. The organization will start by tapping the community and corporate sponsors, and follow that up with fundraising events.

Writer: Rosella LaFevre
Source: Erin DeCou, Neighborhood Bike Works

Groundswell and University City District give The Porch an upgrade

People used to rush through the sidewalk outside of 30th Street Station, determined to get to the train or to work in the neighborhood as quickly as possible. But then University City District (UCD) initiated a proof-of-concept test, hoping to prove that people would use the underutilized stretch of concrete as a public space -- if there was something to tempt them. 

In November 2011, The Porch at 30th Street Station was born. It featured planters, benches and café tables. The sunny, flexible spot became mighty popular as a lunch destination for nearby workers, but could it be more? 

On May 27, UCD and its design partner Groundswell opened what they call Porch 2.0 featuring an installation of nine tiered wooden platforms built around existing planters and benches to maximize the places where visitors can eat, hang out and enjoy themselves. The mission: Give people a place to really spend some time, preferably in off hours.

"We took it from a [place to] pause to a [place to] stay," explains David Fierabend, principal at Groundswell. The local firm is also responsible for stunning design projects such as Spruce Street Harbor Park, Morgan's Pier and Independence Beer Garden

The space is also upping its food game. The lunch trucks that had paid a flat fee to serve customers at The Porch are gone, replaced by a permanent food truck called Rotisserie at the Porch. Rotisserie will be managed by Michael Schulson, the restauranteur behind Sampan, Graffiti Bar, Independence Beer Garden and other eateries. There will also be a beverage trailer serving beer and liquor Wednesday through Saturday from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Prema Gupta, director of planning and economic development at UCD, hopes Philadelphians will be pleasantly surprised: "Where this is really interesting is that a small fraction of the people using it will come deliberately, but I think a lot of people will come out of 30th Street Station and decide to stay and check out The Porch." 

Writer: Rosella LaFevre
Source: David Fierabend, Groundswell

 
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