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Market St. and JFK Blvd. slim down as city removes a vehicular lane for bicyclists, pedestrians

This week the City of Philadelphia is wrapping up a pilot to see what impact removing a lane of vehicular traffic on Market St. and John F. Kennedy Blvd. between 15th and 20th Sts. has on traffic flow. The pilot, which began on Oct. 9, has shifted both streets into three-lane arteries by taking out the left-side lane. The city's Office of Transportation and Utilities (MOTU) is working with the Center City District on this as part of a continuing campaign to make streets kinder to bicyclists and pedestrians.

So far, the city has not noticed too much change to traffic flow caused by the lane closures on the well-traveled streets, reports Aaron Ritz, the Active Transportation Coordinator in the Office of Transportation and Utilities.  "We've gotten just a scattering of emails and phone calls," says Ritz. "Our initial observations are that there has been little impact to traffic flow." In fact, the most noticeable impact to traffic flow has likely been how much easier it is for bicyclists and pedestrians to navigate the streets, as they now have a lane of traffic for themselves. 

This is true even in the face of the Occupy Philly protests that have been transpiring during the same period of time, sometimes resulting in traffic disruptions. In fact, both the timing and location of Occupy Philly have been unfavorable to this pilot, as protest-related closures of 15th and Market Sts. at and around City Hall have wrought traffic headaches on both of the skinnier streets. Thus, it's somewhat surprising that MOTU says so few people have complained about the temporarily defunct lanes. Ritz does assure everyone that Occupy Philly gridlock won't doom this pilot.

While Ritz's observations hint that the effort will be successful, the jury remains out as there's still a week left. If the pilot proves fruitful, the city and the Center City District have a dream of creating a buffered bike lane with verdant landscaping separating the bike lane from the other lanes. This would improve the aesthetics of both streets, as well as provide more effective stormwater management. 

If the city decides to go through with the protected bike lane, the major challenge will be procuring funds. Ritz assures that the city and the Center City District will chase any source of funding through PennDOT or the US Department of Transportation. The District does have experience in securing grants for green space, as they were the recipients of a large federal payout for the Dilworth Plaza renovations

This experiment is just the latest in an attempt to foster Complete Streets in Philadelphia, which means improving streets so bicyclists, pedestrians, transit riders, and motorists are treated equally. Ritz evokes the Spruce and Pine St. bicycle lanes and the South St. Bridge overhaul as other examples of the city's commitment to Complete Streets. A joint goal is to improve Center City west of Broad Street. "If completed, the JFK and Market street projects will be an integral part of remaking (the) west (part of) Center City into a vibrant place for visitors, residents and workers," idealizes Ritz.   

Source: Aaron Ritz, Mayor's Office of Transportation and Utilities
Writer: Andy Sharpe
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