Saturday, November 28, 2015
Fixing Arch Street at Love Park
I actually feel a little sorry for the 1500 block of Arch street. It's a place where several powerful transportation ideas smash into one another, and the results are not pretty.
The intersection of Arch with 16th street is particularly ugly. It's a five-point intersection, and two of those points have two-way traffic.
The basic rectangular street grid here -- 16th street and Arch street -- was blessed a few years back with the arrival of Paul Cret's Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Don't get me wrong. I love the parkway -- modeled on the Champs Elysees in Paris, and all that. But I'm not sure anybody has ever really figured out what to do with the parkway traffic when it meshes with William Penn's street grid at 16th and Arch, coming in at an odd angle, just to make things more interesting. If somebody did figure it out, I'm not seeing the solution when I stand there at the corner and watch what goes on.
If the parkway weren't there, Arch street and 16th street would still be quite busy. 16th rumbles north to the Vine Street Expressway and points north; it also allows for a left turn onto both Arch and the outbound lanes of the parkway. Arch street is a major east-west artery that is one-way westbound for much of its length. But in the 1500 block, Arch is two-way.
Why? Well, the inbound parkway traffic has to go somewhere. The solution is to dump it into two lanes eastbound in the 1500 block of Arch and then force it to turn right on 15th, where it quickly enters the major scrum on the west side of City Hall (another story for another day).
So the 1500 block of Arch has three westbound lanes plus two eastbound through lanes -- plus another eastbound lane, closest to the park, which feeds into the garage underneath the park.
(I forgot to mention that 16th also has a right-turn only lane. Traffic coming up 16th can go straight, pick one of two left-turn options, or turn right and go into the garage, or go east on Arch and turn south on 15th. I'm still trying to figure out the utility of coming north on 16th and then almost immediately going south on 15th into the City Hall scrum. But I've watched people do it.)
Anyway, a pedestrian trying to get from Love Park to the One Parkway building, on the north side of Arch at 16th, must cross six lanes of traffic that is headed in a number of different directions.
One Parkway is a city office building with many workers and many visitors throughout the day. I've had reason to go there quite a bit over the years. Early on, I discovered a trick. The traffic lights are set up so you can cross halfway and stand at the median strip until the westbound traffic on Arch gets a red light and stops. (Well, usually it stops. After a while.) Then you can cross the rest of Arch, land on the sidewalk, and take a breath.
Lots of people do this. It's almost the normal way to cross. Six lanes, remember. I'm thinking it would be nice to have a little traffic island here, in the middle of the street. Then we could say the street was helping the pedestrians, instead of ignoring them.
It would probably be a good idea to extend the median island well eastward from the intersection at 16th. Motorists headed west on Arch occasionally decide to make a U-turn near 16th so they can enter the Love Park garage. This does happen with some frequency. I was out there the other day, for a little less than an hour, and it happened three times. A raised median island would at least discourage this behavior.
As for the intersection at 15th and Arch, I understand that changes are being made as part of the Love Park reconstruction. I don't know what the changes are, but I'm going to hazard a guess and suggest that it may make sense to extend the median island the full length of the 1500 block.
Add a little greenery on the island, and it would extend the aura of Love Park almost to the family court.
See also See also Love Park Underground, Extend the Diagonal, Turning JFK Boulevard into an Extension of Love Park, Love Park Redesign: Why Are There Still Five Traffic Lanes on 16th Street?