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University City's Woodland Ave. to ring in Philadelphia's push for pedestrian plazas

Pedestrianizing spaces once dominated by auto users is not a foreign concept to modern American cities.  Pop-up cafes, parklets and the well-known PARK(ing) Day jumpstarted nationwide movements aimed at improving the pedestrian experience in cities and caused numerous city leaders to implement similar, more permanent solutions in their respective cities.  Today, New York City has their now infamous pedestrian plazas in Times Square and Herald Square, San Francisco has their Pavement to Parks initiatives and Indianapolis went on a significant road diet with the completion of their innovative Cultural Trail.
The City of Philadelphia, too, has joined in on the movement with their Pedestrian Plaza Program, which seeks to reclaim unused stretches of asphalt and concrete by turning them into new public plazas and parks.  And now, over in University City, at 42nd and Woodland, the first plaza to be created under this Program will be unveiled later this week, with the help of Mayor Nutter and the University City District (UCD). 
Last year, the City awarded three grants through its Pedestrian Plaza Program. UCD was the recipient of two of those grants; next year, expect another pedestrian plaza to be unveiled at 48th Street and Baltimore Avenue.  This improvement, along with the under-construction, University of Pennsylvania-funded Spruce Street Plaza at 33rd and 34th Streets and The Porch at 30th Street Station, signifies University City gets what other cities do nationwide: there is an ever-increasing demand for pedestrian amenities in our urban cores. 
But the demand for creating pedestrian plazas in Philly far exceeds what these three grants cover.  And not every neighborhood can benefit from large institutions like Penn to cover the associated costs.  At the neighborhood level, groups along Passyunk Avenue have been working for years to implement or improve pedestrian plazas, with setbacks sometimes outnumbering progress. 
Along Grays Ferry Avenue in Graduate Hospital, the Triangles on Grays Ferry Avenue Gateway Project was formed to promote pedestrianizing traffic triangles along Grays Ferry Avenue at 23rd and South Streets as well as Bainbridge Street.  According to Tanya Seaman, Former Chair of the Grays Ferry Triangle group, the goals are in line with other pedestrian plaza efforts across the city: increase neighborhood identity, improve the pedestrian experience and spur economic development.
But without the backing of a citywide Pedestrian Plaza Program and no significant examples to point to, the group’s efforts have thus far been slow in progress and met skeptical critics. 
Seaman hopes that will soon change and believes the University City plazas will help shift the paradigm.  “The University City plazas will provide successful examples that we can point to when trying to implement our own improvements,” explains Seaman, “they will help increase awareness and excitement about what we’re trying to do in Graduate Hospital.”
According to Seaman, the group is in the schematic design phase of their efforts.  Once that is completed, they will take their ideas to local businesses and the community to elicit support and make the case for why pedestrian plazas will improve the Grays Ferry Corridor and the neighborhood in general.  Without the City’s Plaza Program’s help, Seaman is hopeful that if successful, the group’s efforts can be used as a model for how to implement pedestrian improvements at a neighborhood, grass roots level. 

Source: Tanya Seaman, Former Chair, Grays Ferry Triangle Group
WriterGreg Meckstroth
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