Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Broad Street Cycle Track

This was originally posted on the Facebook page of the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia on June 4, 2014:

Just to be truly radical for a moment, what about a cycle track on Broad Street in the median? We could also add parking lanes next to the cycle track, so that vehicular traffic would be reduced to one lane north, one lane south. These parking lanes would become turn lanes at intersections. The parking lanes lanes next to the sidewalk could then be more heavily dedicated to delivery and drop-off.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Put Traffic Lights on the Schuylkill Expressway



Waiting patiently for a green light on the South Street bridge. 

This idea came to me on July 6 of this year. It had taken me a while to get there. Last year I wrote a story called Morning on Lombard Street, which described the hellacious mess that Lombard Street can become during the morning commute.

On a bad morning, traffic can back up Lombard to 22nd. It turns out that this congestion has essentially nothing to do with the bike lane, although people continue to mention that possibility to me. The congestion is caused by the Schuylkill Expressway. When it backs up heading north, the northbound access ramp from the South Street bridge backs up and then the bridge backs up. If it's bad enough the backup goes across the bridge and then snakes back up Lombard.

If you'd like more of the nitty-gritty on this, read Morning on Lombard Street.

I'd never actually taken pictures of these backups, so last Friday, August 4, I went out in the morning to snap a few shots. It being a Friday morning in August, traffic was very light, and I found myself more interested in another phenomenon that many people seem blissfully unaware of. Cars do not own the South Street bridge. There are scads of bikes and pedestrians and dogs. I'm actually thinking of setting up a coffee stand on the bridge, just next to the northbound ramp to the Schuylkill. And I'll definitely include a free doggie water bowl.

On July 17 there was a community meeting about upgrades to the Lombard and South Street bike lanes. I'd been aware that there was a lot of bike traffic on the South Street bridge - Lombard feeds the westbound bikes onto the bridge, and South takes the eastbound bikes off the bridge - but I was actually surprised to learn that 15 percent of the vehicular traffic on Lombard is bicycles. Then you need to add in the pedestrians, and of course the dogs.

The South Street bridge is not an urban wasteland of concrete and cars.

Six people and a dog in search of a green light.

Even though the car volumes weren't there on Friday, it's interesting that the northbound access ramp still accounted for the lion's share of the cars, as it does on heavier days. The picture below gives you the idea. Westbound and southbound are running clear. The northbound ramp traffic is backed up almost to the CHOP building.

Do not take pictures while walking in a crosswalk.

Here's another shot, showing the Achilles heel of the whole thing. If the cars back up any further than this, you're into the area where there's only one lane. And that means that all the westbound and southbound traffic gets snarled up with the northbound traffic. And some days the snarl goes back up Lombard to 22nd.

The Achilles heel.

Last year, in Morning on Lombard Street, I recommended closing the northbound ramp. Among other things, it's a very dangerous place. You need to enter the Expressway in the fast lane, and the sightlines are not good. People with long experience in this matter told me that my proposal was not new and would never happen.

So here I am with another idea. I recently read that Market Street and JFK Boulevard were designed as "urban highways." They have traffic lights. Instead of treating the stretch of the Schuylkill around the South Street bridge as an interstate, let's call it an urban highway. It doesn't have cross streets, but it has scads of exit and entrance ramps, and the access ramps are pretty much all problematic. Let's put lights across the main roadway and also at the front of each access ramp. Then let people take turns. I'm thinking things will go  better.

When traffic is heavy, something close to this already happens on an informal basis. The cars in the main roadway slow down, and every once in a while they actually let someone in from one of the access ramps. I'm just suggesting that we use familiar, approved traffic control devices to formalize this dance, reducing the danger and frustration that are endemic to the current arrangement.

Waiting at the light by the Schuylkill access ramps.

Let me close with one last picture - I am a bicycle guy after all, and I believe there are more bicycles than cars in this picture. I've been waiting three years to see that. The future is here. It's on the South Street bridge. We just need our village elders to snap out of their Rip Van Winkle act and help us build upon what we can already see with our eyes.

See also Intermittently Terrifying.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Balkanized Politics

The Dependent Probability Trap

Esplanade by Fairmount Water Works
I suspect that the balkanized politics of Philadelphia has its basis in neighborhood resistance to urban renewal. What better way to stop unwanted change than to devolve power from City Hall to a series of small community organizations, any one of which can stop any change.

I'm afraid I don't know enough Philadelphia history to be able to prove this case; perhaps someone else can do that. What I do know is that Philadelphia politics is currently well designed to stop just about anything from happening.

And I'm going to show you how it works. Say you have a bike lane that is essentially the backbone of a citywide network of bike lanes. Say it runs through the bailiwicks of three registered community organizations. Say you want to make some improvements to the bike lane.

And here's what happens. The local city council members put their heads together and decide that they're okay with the plans, but that all three RCOs need to hold community meetings and get neighborhood approval. Everybody has to agree.

Let's say that your chances of RCO approval are actually pretty good - say 0.8 on a scale of zero to one.  But your job is to get all three RCOs to agree. And here we run into what I call the dependent probability trap. The probability of getting all three RCOs to agree is not 0.8. It is 0.8 x 0.8 x 0.8. Which is 0.51, or fifty-fifty. Add one more RCO and it is 0.40.

The only way out of this trap is for our elected officials to engage in something called leadership. They need to stop giving their constituents a veto. They need to listen carefully, take counsel, and then make decisions.

It's a much harder job than just ducking for cover anytime a decision looms on the horizon. But it is the job we pay them to do.  

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Pop-Up Railings for Crosswalks



Here's a little something that I haven't seen anywhere other than the hamlet of Avon-by-the-Sea in New Jersey.


It strikes me as a nice reminder to motorists that crosswalks are not for parking. Also discourages cars from driving down the yellow zone, as if it were a traffic lane. This particular crosswalk is right by the Avon Pavilion.

Here's a detail of the cone and the ring that holds the rail in place.


These pop-up railings are all over the place in Avon. Here's one that's closer to the Shark River.


And another angle. You can also see the little pylon in the middle of the street that reminds motorists to stop for a pedestrian in the crosswalk. Compliance is actually quite good on this street, which is called Ocean Avenue and is next to the boardwalk.


These little pop-up railings have a bunch of uses. Here is one that is separating people from a minor boardwalk repair in Asbury Park.


I was wondering whether these items might be useful around Philadelphia schools, during drop-off and pick-up. Yet another reminder to motorists that they should shift into school-zone mode.

See also A Poor Man's Bumpout.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Commuting by Boat

How about a water taxi between the Walnut Street dock and the Navy Yard? 


The esplanade by the Fairmount Water Works.
About ten years ago I was stuck at a hotel near the airport in Boston. The business conference I was attending was okay, but the evenings were starting to look like room service. Then one of my colleagues discovered the water taxis of Boston harbor. There was actually a dock right by our hotel (which did have a terrace on the water and a lovely view of downtown). We hopped in the boat and after a very pleasant nautical jaunt that was almost too brief, we landed at a dock and walked out to Faneuil Hall.

By the way, when was the last time you thought your commute was too brief?

I hadn't thought about this experience in years, and then a friend suggested I should do some reporting about ways to get more people onto the watery parts of the Schuylkill River (attracting people to the Schuylkill Banks doesn't seem to be a problem). And maybe write a story.

So I started talking to people. Bartram's Garden is doing some amazing stuff. Maitreyi Roy, the garden's executive director, introduced me to the Bartram's version of an ice cream float. In the good weather, the garden has kayaking and rowboating events for the local community every week. The season's pinnacle is the annual River Fest, when, among other things, the garden places a float out in the water. On the float is an ice cream stand. Row out to the float and get free ice cream. Or be a landlubber and buy a cone from the other stand, the one that's firmly anchored on dry land.

Fishing is also so popular at Bartram's Garden that Roy says they're looking into building more fishing docks.

In addition, there's the tour boat that has regular excursions from the Walnut Street dock down to Bartram's Garden. There's a lengthy layover so passengers can tour the garden, and then ride back to Walnut Street. Steve Narbus of Patriot Harbor Lines is very pleased with the Bartram's run, and he's also fond of the Walnut to Walnut ride, which takes people on a scenic tour from Walnut Street on the Schuylkill to Walnut Street at Penn's Landing, on the Delaware.

Walnut Street also has regular kayaking in the warm weather.

The Esplanade
An idea that's been kicking around for a while now focuses on the beautiful esplanade near the Fairmount Water Works, up by the Art Museum. A lot of people don't even know the esplanade is there. The idea is to place a dock, similar to the one at Walnut Street, next to this esplanade, and provide some kind of boat service between the Water Works and points downstream.

John Randolph, who heads the Schuylkill River Park Alliance, a community group that supports improvements to the river, has been toying with this idea for years - and he has not been alone. It seems like a natural. I asked John about access for the disabled - the stairs down from the Schuylkill Trail are impressive - and he told me that there was an elevator in the Water Works building, and a door from the building out onto the esplanade. How can this not work?

Next I spoke to Joe Syrnick, who heads the Schuylkill River Development Corporation, aka the Schuylkill Banks.  Joe and his organization are the people who manage the Schuylkill Banks, dealing with everything from graffiti to movies to the Walnut Street dock and the boat tours to Bartram's Garden.

During my conversation with Syrnick I occasionally felt like I was talking with the Robert Shaw character in Jaws. The Schuylkill generally looks placid, but all rivers are wild. Syrnick has a good stock of stories about what the Schuylkill can do when it's feeling frisky.

Some of the problems with the dock idea are straightforward. If you go to the esplanade and look down into the water, and the water is clear, you'll notice some really big rocks. Attaching a dock to this esplanade is not going to be a simple or inexpensive endeavor.

But that's just the beginning. There are questions about what construction of the dock would do to fish habitat along this part of the river. Also, there is the dam that sits just below Boathouse Row and next to the Water Works. Life downstream from a dam can get interesting. Just ask the fish who occasionally decide to go surfing over the dam.

Joe went through a number of these issues and then sent me on to Stephanie Craighead, who looks after these matters for the Parks Department. She told me Parks had conducted a very thorough investigation and come up with a price tag of $2 million for the dock, and also a list of unresolved issues. Parks decided not to proceed with the dock.

And then there's the question of who will use the dock. If a tour organizer put together a day that started with the Art Museum and then took customers down to Bartram's Garden, and maybe returned them to their hotels via the Walnut Street dock, then maybe this would make sense. Otherwise it's a large expenditure to build an underutilized asset.

Craighead told me that the Water Department had recently come up with the concept of a Learning Barge. The original idea was to moor the barge at the esplanade - the department's education program is housed at the Water Works - but after investigating, PWD is looking for other sites.

I still nurse the dream. The esplanade is a gorgeous place that most people never see. It would be nice to activate it. But you should never underestimate the power of water. Leonardo da Vinci certainly never did. He was fascinated by water, and having watched the Arno river flood on several occasions, the engineer in the artist spent a good bit of time looking at ways to control something that is inherently unruly.

There are a lot of reasons to want to put a dock at the Water Works. But we need to answer all the questions first.

The Learning Barge
Craighead then sent me on to Joanne Dahme at the Water Department to learn more about the Learning Barge. Dahme emphasized that the project is still at a very early, conceptual stage. The inspiration is a Science Barge located on the Hudson at Yonkers, N.Y. (There is a newer Science Barge in Miami, and a Learning Barge in Norfolk, Va.) All of these are environmental education centers that emphasize sustainability. The one in Yonkers seems to be mainly a vegetable garden. I'd thought they might be propagating oysters. It will be interesting to see what the Water Department comes up with.

Water Taxis
Beyond recreation and education, are there any other appropriate uses for the waters of the Schuylkill? Well, for a number of years I've been paying attention to the world of bicycling in Philadelphia. Not so long ago, this was a world that was almost entirely recreational. But recently there has been a large increase in the number of people who are using their bicycles to get to and from work, to drop the kids off at school, to go grocery shopping - you name it. Okay, I will: utility bicycling.

My experience with water taxis in Boston definitely sensitized me to the potential, but I hadn't really grasped how hot water taxis and commuter ferries have become in other cities recently. New York City in particular has inaugurated a new ferry service on the East River that ties together Brooklyn, Queens, and Manhattan. San Francisco is expanding its existing public ferry system and also adding private water taxis to relieve the strain on land-based transportation. And Paris is looking at a new type of water taxi that makes no noise and no waves. It's called a Sea Bubble by its inventor.

So who wants to use the Schuylkill to commute?

I'm so glad you asked. How about the Navy Yard? It's not easy to get to, except by car, and the Schuylkill Expressway is never an idyllic experience. Are there people who live near the Walnut Street dock and work in the Navy Yard? Would they be interested in commuting by boat?

The answers are I don't know and I don't know. A good first step would be finding out.

I can say, though, that people seem to like the idea when I mention it to them. I had a very nice chat with Jennifer Tran, marketing director for the Navy Yard. She pointed out that, back when the Navy Yard was still repairing aircraft carriers, there was a ferry that ran between New Jersey and the yard, giving workers an attractive commuting option.

An Empty Niche
So what would a business plan look like for a water taxi service between the Walnut Street dock and the Navy Yard?

First, I think it should be a premium service. Mayor de Blasio in New York City is holding the price of the new East River ferry service down to the price of a subway ride. And the service is swamped. This tells me two things. First, there is substantial latent demand for water transport and, second, planners tend to underestimate that demand. At least in New York City. On the East River.

The way out of the swamp that New York finds itself in is to establish a premium service that will be viable with a relatively small passenger base. Then, in the short term, you can adjust the price to keep demand in balance with the number of seats available. And in the longer term you can add more boats, or bigger boats.

And, since this is the 21st century, I would sell reserved seats online. If you have a ticket, you should be able to get a seat on the boat. That's what Amtrak does now (it took a while). The analogy should not be the subway or Jersey Transit. The pictures and stories from the East River are not pretty.

Finally, recognize that you're serving a relatively limited geographical area. There's no substantial parking available near the Walnut Street dock. You could walk to the boat if you live close enough. And now that there's an Indego bike stand at 25th and Locust - about a block from the Walnut Street dock - you have an easy way to bike to the boat. That probably gets you up into Fairmount, out to West Philly, and east of Broad.

But it's still a niche product. Keep it small, know success, and be happy.

Philadelphia Navy Yard at South Broad Street.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Transportation Should Not Trump Destination

New city to the left, old city to the right.
Of the original five squares in Philadelphia, only one of them is not a square today. Instead, Centre Square (also known as Penn Square) is occupied by City Hall. There are a bunch of smaller open spaces to the west of City Hall, including Dilworth Park and two plazas on the far side of 15th Street, one of which houses Claes Oldenburg's Clothespin (1976).

I think we should unite these shards of land to the west of City Hall to create a true square in Centre Square. St. Peter's in Rome has its square. City Hall should have a square.

We do this by closing 15th Street from JFK Boulevard to South Penn Square. To do this we will need to rework traffic patterns across a fairly large area, but before I get into the traffic weeds, let's have a look at how we got to where we are.

A Rare Opportunity
The area west of City Hall didn't always look the way it does now. Until the early 1950s there was an elevated train viaduct called the Chinese Wall, which ran from the Schuylkill River to a terminal facing City Hall (see map below). The terminal (designed by Frank Furness) and the Chinese Wall came down in 1953, and the City had a rare opportunity to redesign a large vacant space in the heart of a city that was already 250 years old.

The Chinese Wall, 1913.
I think it's fair to say that things didn't go as well as many people had hoped. There are a number of issues, but I'd like to focus on two things that I think underlie the traffic problems in the area - the street grid and the demands of the automobile.

The Street Grid
William Penn's 1682 plan for Philadelphia, with its rectangular street grid, recalls the layout of Roman military camps. The grid is a durable concept because it's useful, but we should remember that it was invented primarily with pedestrians in mind. Most Roman soldiers got around by walking. A few had horses; it helped to have a good seat, because stirrups hadn't been invented yet.

We should remember how good the Romans were at squeezing remarkable achievements out of very limited technical resources. For instance, how would you, as a Roman engineer, go about building a military camp, or castrum, on a rectangular grid? You used the Roman version of a surveyor's transit, which was called a groma.

The groma was a pair of straight sticks joined at right angles and mounted on a staff. Looking down one stick allowed you to shoot a straight line. Then, if you walked around and looked down the other stick, you could shoot a right angle. You could only shoot 90 degree angles with a groma. If I were an engineer, I would find that a pretty good argument for laying out an army camp in a rectangular grid.

The Roman castrum always came with two large streets that divided the camp into quarters. Where these big streets met, in the middle of the camp, there was a large open area. This was the parade ground, and the unit commander's headquarters was located on this square.

In Philadelphia we call these big streets Broad and Market; the central square is the home of City Hall.

I suspect that the grid worked pretty well for the Romans. At each end of the big streets, there were gates. A commander could readily mass troops along those streets and in the central square and then sally forth through any of the gates.

The main shortcoming of the grid plan is the lack of diagonal movement. In early modern times this issue was addressed by adding diagonal boulevards to the grid. Major L'Enfant did this in his plan for Washington, D.C., and Baron Haussmann employed them extensively in his reconstruction of Paris in the mid-nineteenth century.

Haussmann did not build the most famous Parisian boulevard, the Champs Elysees, which has roots extending back to the late seventeenth century. And it is the Champs Elysees which provides the inspiration for the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia.

It's important to remember that the boulevard concept, like the grid concept, was born in a world without cars. These streets were for pedestrians and also people who liked to ride around in horse-drawn carriages.

Cars Change Everything
And then came the cars. It's tempting to blame the beginning of our traffic woes around City Hall on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway (built between 1917 and 1926). Or you can blame City Hall (built between 1871 and 1901). Or I suppose you could go back to the original William Penn plan and say that the two big streets meeting in the middle was a good idea for a Roman military camp, but that the intersection in the central square would clearly become a choke point when the concept was applied to a larger settlement.

Here's a map showing the central part of Philadelphia in 1859. Notice that the central square is already unlike the other four squares. In the outlying squares, the streets skirt the perimeter. In the central square they plow right through the middle, dividing the square into four pieces. A little over a decade later, City Hall started to arrive in the central square, at which point traffic was pushed to the periphery.

Market and Broad intersecting in Centre Square, 1859.
What would have happened to the central square if City Hall had not arrived? I suspect that it would have become a very large traffic circle, similar to Logan Square. We can only hope that the middle of the square would have an equally attractive water feature.

The street system is not the source of our problems. The problems came with the cars, and the problems came from the cars. After the introduction of the Model T Ford in 1908, cars hit cities like a tidal wave.  Cars are big and heavy and fast. They needed more space to move than the streets had, and they needed places to park. Starting in the 1920's, cities began to rebuild themselves to accommodate cars.

Peter D. Norton, in his Fighting Traffic (2011), goes through what happened in magisterial fashion. (I have reprised some of his arguments in Cars and Bikes - The Back Story.)

The reconstruction was managed by members of the new profession of traffic engineering, many of whom had gotten their start in municipal water departments. They effectively reported to the American car manufacturers and their allies. There were two key goals - a bigger pipe, and faster throughput.  The engineers knew how to move water, and they knew they needed a big pipe and high speeds to satisfy a demand that skyrocketed every year.

From this basic situation you get the Interstate Highway System, based on limited access, many lanes, and high speeds. This system actually works well out in the cornfields of Iowa. Drop it into a city that was designed in the seventeenth century, and there are problems.

It's not that you can't do interstates in the big city. Look at the Vine Street Expressway. I wish it were covered, and I wish the traffic volumes and number of crashes were lower, but you can do this. We could actually live with automobiles, if the car lobby were reasonable.

But what doesn't work is trying to turn local Philadelphia streets into fake interstates. And that's what's happening on 15th Street by City Hall.

The Nitty Gritty
Okay. I told you I would get to this, and here we are. Let's have a look at 15th Street by City Hall. The traffic engineers took one look at 15th Street, and they said "big pipe." I won't go through the history, but here's what's going on today.

Here are the feeders for the big pipe on 15th Street, which for out-of-town readers runs south past the west front of City Hall.

Let's start at the north, with the Vine Street Expressway. Both the eastbound and the westbound exits land you on 15th.

The Ben Franklin Parkway comes in by way of a little two-way section of Arch between 16th and 15th, just north of Love Park.

Arch Street between Broad and 15th, by the Municipal Services Building, is one-way westbound (we'll come back to that) and it also feeds 15th Street.

Just south of Arch, the 810-car garage under Love Park has an exit onto 15th.

At John F. Kennedy Boulevard, just south of the Municipal Services Building, Broad Street feeds into 15th by running around the northwest shoulder of City Hall.

And then Market Street butts into 15th on the west side of City Hall.

All this takes place in the space of five blocks.

I've written a bit about 15th Street by Love Park (for instance, Crossing 15th Street), so I'm going to limit myself to a comment on the intersection of 15th and Market.

Who thought it would be a good idea to have five lanes of traffic merge at a T intersection with another four lanes of traffic and then immediately split into three separate streams, flowing to 15th Street (south), Broad Street (south), and Market Street (east)?

The Furness Plan
This was a conscious decision. Previously there were two separate streets here - the street by the west side of City Hall, and then 15th Street. When Frank Furness designed the Broad Street Station, he preserved 15th Street by having it flow through the building. Here's his plan.

From James F. O'Gorman, The Architecture of Frank Furness (1973) p. 183.
The later arrival of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway created further issues, which I think have never been satisfactorily resolved. However, traffic on the Parkway has decreased since the construction of the Vine Street Expressway, and I think it should be possible to make things better in this area, provided people are open to new thinking.

A Different Approach
What happens if, instead of concentration and high speeds, we ask our street designers to look at diffusion and low speeds? In other words, let the grid do something it's good at.

Let's start with two easy ones.

Make the 1400 block of Arch two-way. The Benjamin Franklin Parkway ends at 16th and Arch. You can continue on to the 1500 block of Arch, north of Love Park, but then you are required to turn south on to 15th. Why can't you keep going east on Arch? Because it's one-way westbound from 15th east.

I think we should make Arch two-way down to Independence Mall at least. Then it could effectively serve as a distributor for the Ben Franklin Parkway east of Broad. But for now I'm happy to concentrate on the 1400 block, where we have some work to do.

I'm actually a fan of Vincent Kling's Municipal Services Building, but it does have some problems, not least of which is the remarkably self-indulgent porte-cochere on Arch Street, which takes up two traffic lanes and spawns a wide sidewalk that almost nobody uses.

Sidewalk and porte-cochere at Municipal Services Building.
I'd demolish this porte-cochere - it's actually a free-standing structure - and narrow the sidewalk and let motorists go both east and west on this block.

Close the Love Park garage exit on 15th. These exiting vehicles cause a lot of craziness as they try to move left - the lane they exit onto is a right-turn only lane. This block is currently hell on wheels for pedestrians and motorists alike. I'm amazed that people actually ride bicycles on this block, but they do. There's another perfectly adequate garage exit on Cherry Street.

Okay. Now for the heavy lifting.

Close 15th Street from JFK Boulevard to South Penn Square. In Vietnam there was a road that French soldiers called la rue sans joie, or the street without joy. Greta Garbo starred in a film of the same name in 1925.

Fifteenth Street west of City Hall is a street without joy. There's no fixing it, in my opinion. So we should close it and allow Dilworth Park to expand and occupy the whole space from City Hall to the Clothespin.

How you do this is a little complicated, so please bear with me.

Make Market Street two-way from 20th to 15th. It's already two-way west of 20th and east of City Hall. I don't know why it's one-way on this stretch. Make a nice turnaround circle at 15th Street.

Provide similar treatments for the stubs of 15th Street and South Penn Square that would provide access to the buildings on the southwest corner of this new plaza.

My brother points out that you could marry up South Penn Square, 15th Street, and Ranstead, which extends from 15th to 16th. I think this is a nice solution, although I prefer mine.

Market Street will no longer be a through street in Center City. However, if you think about it, neither Market nor Broad have really been through streets in Center City since at least 1871. We've just been pretending.

Make JFK Boulevard two-way for its full length. Currently it is two-way from 30th Street Station across the bridge to 20th Street, and then one-way westbound between 20th and City Hall. We need to reroute Market Street's eastbound through traffic to JFK Boulevard. Motorists could make this move out by 30th Street Station, or on the east side of the Schuylkill at 20th, 18th, or 16th.

With no traffic on the west side of City Hall, the streets on the north, east, and south sides of City Hall all need to become two-way.

Here's some of the upside. A motorist coming from 30th Street Station can run straight down JFK to the east side of City Hall, make a quick right and a quick left, and then continue on Market Street to the Arden Theater for a reprise of Sweeney Todd.

Similarly, a motorist coming down Broad Street to City Hall can make a few quick turns and again be on east Market headed to Christ Church, one of George Washington's hangouts in Old City.

Currently, a motorist coming down Broad who wants to go east on Market has to go around three-quarters of City Hall and brave some of the nastiest traffic in the city.

Use Roundabouts. I think a number of the intersections under discussion - for instance, the intersection of Broad with JFK on the north side of City Hall - would benefit from the addition of roundabouts. These are basically very small traffic circles. I've seen them in action. In my experience they slow traffic, encourage polite driving, and in general work very well.

It's a Lot of Work. What's the Payoff?
A walkable city. As the headline of this story says, transportation should not trump destination. We need to have a there there, when people get out of their cars or off the train or bus, or when they dismount from their bikes or just show up by walking, which is what I usually do. And the there should not just be inside. We need outdoor public spaces, and frankly Philadelphia does them very well. It just needs to do more.

Things seem to be headed in this direction. Recently there have been suggestions in New York City that it is finally time to close Times Square to cars. We'll see how that goes. So much depends on elections.

But I think the Schuylkill Banks in Philly show that it is possible to blend hard-core transportation with bucolic recreation in a way that is highly successful for both. The early plans for the Schuylkill Banks called for the rail lines by the river to go away, but they didn't. And so we have a riverbank park that is easily accessible across rail lines that carry volatile petroleum and smelly garbage, and after years of settling in, and many, many snarky conversations, and the construction of some pretty amazing blast walls, things seem to be going reasonably well.

I'm not saying it's nirvana, but I am saying this is the way of the future.

The two most successful Center City parks, aside from the Schuylkill Banks, are probably Rittenhouse Square and Fitler Square. Although they don't have the industrial challenges of the Banks, they do have to deal with cars, which is the issue up by City Hall. And the answer is, if you have a nice park with greenery and a water feature and benches and maybe a few statues that kids can climb on, and the park is accessible across streets that are not terrifying, and if the din of the car traffic is low enough to meld with other background noises, and if maybe you have a certain amount of programming, then you've probably got yourself a successful park.

I think we could have a very successful park filling the open space on the west side of City Hall. People will say, if you build it they won't come. This is Philadelphia, and of course people are going to say that. But I don't believe them.

Plaque located in the northern arcade of the Municipal Services Building. It commemorates the Reyburn Plaza Bandstand, which was demolished in 1962.

The maps reproduced in this story are from the Greater Philadelphia GeoHistory Network.

See also Fixing Arch Street at Love ParkGordon Cullen and the Outdoor FloorLove Park Redesign: Why Are There Still Five Traffic Lanes on 16th StreetRichardson Dilworth, an Urbanist for the AgesRoad Diet by Love Park - a Natural Experiment.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Road Diet by Love Park - a Natural Experiment


16th Street, by Love Park.

Do you remember, way back in the design phase for Philadelphia's new Love Park, suggestions were made to expand the park's footprint to the west by eliminating the mandatory right-turn lane on 16th Street, which did not appear to be justified by existing traffic volumes? And we were told that all the existing lanes were necessary and removal of any lanes would cause the sky to fall? Or words to that effect.

Well, here's an interesting natural experiment: During construction, the right-turn lane has been closed and replaced by a pedestrian walkway. (The parking lane has been closed too, but the proposal was always to eliminate the traffic lane, not the parking lane.)

And, lo and behold, the sky has not fallen.

The same thing is going on to the south and east of the park, on 15th Street and JFK Boulevard.

15th Street.

JFK Boulevard.

Arch Street, north of the park, is unaffected.

I do need to comment a bit more about parking. There is an 810-space garage under Love Park. And there's plenty more parking just to the north. Let's look at the area between Broad and 17th - that's three blocks - and run up from Arch to the Vine Street Expressway - also three blocks. In those nine blocks there are additional off-street facilities with a combined capacity of more than 2,500.

Continued on-street parking in the immediate vicinity of Love Park doesn't make a whole lot of sense. The total on-street parking capacity is trivial compared to the off-street resources, but these curbside spots take up a lot of space in an area where space is at a premium. After all, Love Park is basically across the street from City Hall. This is a densely developed area.

Some of these on-street spots could be converted to loading zones, but I think the primary use of this real estate should be to make the area safer and friendlier for people who are not in cars. Expanding the footprint of Love Park would be at the top of my list. As currently configured, the park is still surrounded by oceans of asphalt teeming with cars. Crossing the street in this neighborhood can be a heart-stopping experience.

The garage below Love Park remains open during construction.

But some people are above parking in a garage.
See also Love Park Redesign: Why Are There Still Five Traffic Lanes on 16th Street? In addition, Love Park Garage: Close the 15th Street Exit and Crossing 15th Street.