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 UndergroundExtend the DiagonalTurning JFK Boulevard into an Extension of Love Park, Love Park Redesign: Why Are There Still Five Traffic Lanes on 16th Street?

Sunday, November 22, 2015

About that Parking Lot in South Philly

You know, the Acme lot at 9th and Passyunk. I wrote about it last year. The Acme and the 202 space parking lot and a few other things are located on a superblock that was the site of the old Moyamensing Prison. The lot is much too large for the store, but I guess the designers couldn't think of anything else to do with the land.

Anyway, this part of South Philly is famous for its tight parking, particularly at night, so a while ago the Acme quietly started letting people park in the lot overnight. Well, one thing has led to another; when I visited the lot at 10 a.m. this morning, a Sunday, the lot was nearly full, and a very substantial portion of the cars had the above flyer under a windshield wiper. It gently suggests that the freebie only works from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m.

You could see this coming a mile away. Free parking spaces attract cars the way a dead horse attracts flies. And the cars are about as good at following instructions as the flies are.

As I argued last year, this should be a paid lot, similar to the one next to the Eastern State Penitentiary in Fairmount.

That's step one. Step two is to redevelop this site along the lines of the Piazza in Northern Liberties -- a series of perimeter buildings around a center square. Build the new Acme first, over on Passyunk where it has always belonged. Then demolish the existing store and complete the redevelopment of the site.

The area above the new store should be given over to parking, just as happens on South Street, over the old SuperFresh (now an Acme) and the Whole Foods next door.

The paid lot, and the follow-on garage, would not attract people looking for free parking, but it would give people who couldn't find free parking a place to go. When you're tired enough, and frustrated enough, you're happy to have even a paid place to park, so you can go home and go to sleep. Also it would be a good resource for the many restaurants in the neighborhood.

See also Once There Was a Prison, Off-Street Parking at the Italian Market - Current Conditions.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Richardson Dilworth, an Urbanist for the Ages

I was born and grew up in New York City. I didn't move to Philadelphia until I was in my thirties. Aside from Benjamin Franklin and Grace Kelly, I think the first Philadelphian I heard of was Edmund Bacon (father of Kevin). And the second was Richardson Dilworth.

But I confess I didn't know very much about Dilworth until I sat down and read Peter Binzen's excellent 2014 biography, Richardson Dilworth, Last of the Bare-Knuckled Aristocrats. I didn't know he'd been a 19-year-old Marine rifleman at the battle of Belleau Wood in World War I, or that he'd won the Silver Star on Guadalcanal in World War II, or that he'd struggled with alcohol for most of his life.

And what a life it was. Born to wealth, educated at Yale and Yale Law School, a successful law career, then four jobs with the City of Philadelphia -- treasurer, district attorney, mayor, and president of the Philadelphia Board of Education.

And what a cast of characters. Moses Annenberg, one of Dilworth's most important law clients. Jack Kelly, Olympic oarsman and father of Grace. Albert M. Greenfield, Gus Amsterdam, Bernard Watson.

Sam Dash, later famous as counsel for the Senate Watergate Committee, worked for Dilworth. So did William T. Coleman, later U.S. Secretary of Transportation, and A. Leon Higginbotham Jr., later chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.

A bold and innovative reformer with a calculated temper and a remarkably disarming sense of humor, Dilworth's breakthrough moment came in 1951, when he teamed with Joe Clark to oust a Republican political machine that had run Philadelphia for 67 years. Clark became mayor; Dilworth became district attorney, and then succeeded Clark as mayor.

As district attorney, Dilworth did something that would be worthy of note even today. He insisted on fair trials. As one observer put it, "He wanted to make sure justice was done and if mistakes were made to admit them." (P. 116.)

U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy tangled with Dilworth in 1953. McCarthy was busy hunting for communists in the government, and Alger Hiss had been convicted of perjury. Dilworth reportedly said that 1,000 Alger Hisses hurt less than one McCarthy. McCarthy challenged Dilworth to a televised debate, and at the debate Dilworth defended his statement. "We can put traitors in jail," Dilworth said to McCarthy, "but demagogues remain too long above and beyond the processes of the law." (P. 119.)

Elected mayor in 1955, Dilworth turned out to be an urbanist for the ages. His work with Ed Bacon -- particularly the revival of Society Hill -- is well known. Other stories, less well known, place him at the center of debates that are going on today.

Parking in South Philly was a problem even in 1961, when, as Binzen puts it, "the mayor proposed requiring residents to pay for overnight parking spaces in front of their houses. The proceeds of the $40-a-year licenses" -- about $320 in today's dollars -- "were to be earmarked for building off-street parking lots.  Such a plan worked in Milwaukee, but Dilworth's scheme got nowhere. When he confronted his critics at a stormy public meeting, rock throwers targeted the building. A city councilman, Tom Foglietta, was cut by flying glass." (P. 140.)

Dilworth also wanted to ban cars in the center of the city. Writes Binzen, "His concept was to create a restricted area that would comprise some 400 blocks, from 8th Street west to the Schuylkill River and from Spring Garden Street south to Lombard and South Streets." (P. 151.)

After leaving the mayor's office, Dilworth became involved in a project to develop high-speed rail service between Boston and Washington. President Kennedy encouraged his work, but Kennedy's successor, Lyndon Johnson of Texas, was an entirely different proposition. When he finally got to meet with Johnson, Dilworth says, "It was very clear that he just couldn't be less interested. He just sat there wondering what the hell we were talking about. All he could envision was where he lived. And he would either get a helicopter or an airplane or else get in that enormous Lincoln and drive on a straight road to Austin at 95 miles an hour. So who needed or wanted a train?" (Pp. 155-156.)

Well, we do.