|Who's in charge here?|
Recently I've been having a look at the route of the old 23 trolley in Center City, mainly the southbound piece on 12th Street. And I've been having a number of thoughts. Including, who's in charge here? Have a look at these sign poles at 12th and Chestnut. Is there anyone who actually looks at this stuff and has the power to say, Wait a minute?
Don't get me wrong. In the modern world, I think we need more signs than they had years ago. For instance, the sign up on the building that says "Chestnut Street" is probably a bit subtle for today's world.
|It says Chestnut Street, if you can find it.|
But do we, for instance, need two signs at Sansom Street telling us that we're at Sansom Street?
|Trolley mast good. Second street sign bad.|
I originally went to 12th Street, not to follow the trail of the trolley but to follow up on the news that, years ago, the Academy of Natural Sciences was located here - somewhere around 12th and Sansom. Good luck on finding any sign of that.
Once I was there I started looking around, and the archaeological remains of the 23 trolley are everywhere. I actually felt like getting a pith helmet so I'd look like some intrepid Englishman looking for dead Egyptians.
The most obvious remains are the tracks, of course. There's a long and tortured history. The tracks are a serious hazard for bicyclists. Motorists don't like them because a car tire on a rail acts like it's hit a patch of ice. Bicyclists have it worse; they can catch a wheel in the flange groove (or flangeway, if you want to be a stickler). At any rate, good things do not flow from that. After some unhappiness, the Philly Streets Department and Septa undertook to remove or pave over the rails at a bunch of intersections - these are the spots where bicyclists are most likely to "catch a crab," as rowers put it.
|Disabled track, Sansom St. Filling the groove with asphalt helps.|
That still leaves a bunch of track out there, and frankly a lot of it is not in very good shape. There are those who still are waiting for the 23 trolley service to be restored, and I like trolleys, so I don't want to get into an argument on that. But it seems clear that restoration of the line will involve replacement of a high percentage of the track (not to mention dealing with some gnarly ADA issues), so here's my compromise. Let's neutralize the track that's there - remove it or pave it over - and dramatically increase the usability of 12th Street - and 11th Street, which carried the northbound trolleys in Center City. Later on, if actual momentum arises for restoring the 23 trolley route, I'm prepared to be a very sympathetic listener.
The threat from the remaining track is very real. I was talking with an acquaintance who lives near Jefferson Hospital, and he described what it was like to go flying after his mountain bicycle's wheel dropped into the slot. Fortunately he wasn't seriously injured, but if Septa and the City think they've dealt successfully with the safety issues on 11th and 12th streets, they're mistaken.
One thing I didn't realize until I was looking for the old Academy of Natural Sciences site is that the tracks are not the only extant remains of route 23. There are masts. There are wires, up in the air, supported by the masts. My initial reaction was rip it out. It's just cluttering up the landscape. But I got some pushback from friends who like old things, and my view has evolved.
Frankly, I like the masts. Yes, they add to the clutter, but they are cool - I occasionally think of them as the big stone heads on Easter Island. A Philly version, of course. And I think they make the streets safer. They're sort of like bollards on steroids. I've seen a lot of light poles knocked over onto the ground. I've never seen a trolley mast knocked onto the ground.
|Trolley mast at Locust and 12th. Needs more than paint.|
It's true that many of the trolley masts could use some TLC, and in some cases perhaps they should be removed, but I now think that should be on a case-by-case basis. And maybe we could look at some colors other than pea-soup green.
|Trolley wires, 12th and Sansom.|
That brings us to the wires, which do tend to walk into a picture and take over. I was initially annoyed by this - there's some very nice architecture on 12th Street. But again my thinking has evolved. I'm okay with the wires. Let's keep them. Maybe string lights - LEDs of course. That could be quite festive, and help 12th Street compete with 13th as a restaurant venue.
But let's get rid of the tracks. And let's hire someone to sort out all the stuff we're sticking onto our streets. If you think of a block as an outdoor room, the idea of a designer who can curate the street seems a natural evolution. At any rate, someone needs to extract some order and perhaps even elicit some quality from the cacophony we see so often on our streets.
|Is anybody asking, Does this work for people?|
See also Gordon Cullen and the Outdoor Floor.