Monday, September 22, 2014

Turning JFK Boulevard into an Extension of Love Park

Last Saturday -- a lovely day -- I found myself in Love Park chatting with a very pleasant and diplomatic young woman from PennPraxis.  As I understand it, the parking lot under Love Park is being rebuilt, and the City has decided to take the opportunity and rethink the design of Love Park.

As usual, my idea was outside the box.  John F.  Kennedy Boulevard has been a pet peeve of mine for quite a while.  It doesn't help that I work up there. 

Some of JFK's Many Design Flaws.  
We can thank the defunct Pennsylvania Railroad for many of JFK Boulevard's shortcomings.  Back when the Chinese Wall was coming down, Ed Bacon pleaded that the planned new buildings be oriented north-south, instead of east-west, to allow sunlight to reach the sidewalks with some regularity.  (For this history, I rely on Kenneth Halpern's Downtown USA, Whitney Library of Design, 1978.  An old book, but still I think a good one.)

My personal thought is that the railroad guys couldn't process the idea.  The trains had run east-west, and so of course should the buildings.  It was the natural order of things.

Anyway, if you've ever wondered why JFK Boulevard suffers from darkness at noon, it's because the buildings are oriented east-west instead of north-south.

Another huge issue for me is the width of JFK Boulevard.  It's six lanes wide -- four for traffic and two for parking -- and it's effectively an automotive version of the old Chinese Wall (which, for those of you who don't know, was a railroad viaduct that ran from the Schuylkill to City Hall.)

There has never been enough traffic to justify four lanes for moving cars on JFK Boulevard.  The designers had to know they were making it too big.

JFK is a short straw that is corked at both ends -- by Reading Terminal Market on the east and by 30th Street Station on the west.  What traffic there is seems generally to come down 15th Street from the Vine Street Expressway, turn right onto JFK, and then left onto 19th Street, where it queues on both Market and 19th before disappearing into the many parking garages there.

These garages should be closer to Vine Street.  This is not my idea; it's Louis Kahn's.  But that's another story.

If we closed a lane or two of traffic on JFK, it wouldn't hurt the traffic flow, and the street would be a lot easier for pedestrians to cross.

More than You Want to Know about Traffic
Upon reflection, I'm going to take this a step further.  One of the gnarliest intersections in the city is at 20th and JFK.  JFK is one-way from Love Park up to 20th.  Then it becomes two-way as it travels up the viaduct (parts of the old Chinese Wall can be seen here) and across the bridge to 30th Street Station.

Cars headed west at 20th can go straight, turn right, or turn left.  Cars headed east must turn right or left.  Cars headed north on 20th can go straight or turn left.  Cars headed south can go straight or turn right.

There's a whole lot of turning going on, and the streets are very wide, and it's not a good place to be a pedestrian, and it's clearly often confusing for motorists.

Down at 20th and Market the situation is, if possible, worse.  20th south of Market is one-way north, so all southbound traffic must turn on Market, which is one-way east of 20th and two-way west of 20th.  Got that?

Back to JFK.  I suggest we make JFK a two-way street, with one lane going in each direction.  I'm sure many of the motorists coming from 30th Street (including me) would be very happy to continue down JFK instead of dog-legging onto Market through two nasty turns.

Westbound, having one lane of traffic would eliminate a primary source of fender-benders, which is turning vehicles that fail to stay in their lanes.

Back to Love Park
Enough about traffic.  What do we do with the space we just got?  How about expanding Love Park to the south.  (You could also do this to the west, but that's once again another story.)

Then Love Park could flow up the north side of JFK to 20th Street.  It could be the Ben Franklin Parkway's mini-me.  (And maybe we could borrow the idea of a planted median from Park Avenue in New York City.)

I'll leave the design and programming of this space to others with more talent, but I do hope they'll consider adding a cycle track for bicyclists.  This part of Philly has some of the most intimidating traffic in town.  I'm sure the bicycle messengers would be grateful, and if someone could figure out connections to the evolving north-south bicycle routes -- and to the Schuylkill Banks -- I think you'd see a lot of bikes here.

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