Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Legacy Street Signs

Have a look at this street sign at Waverly and 19th. I know. It's seen better days. But still it gives me the thought that we lost something when we handed the signage over to the car guys.

The big green signs we see everywhere come from the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, or MUTCD. I think I have a problem with MUTCD, or at least with the way it's applied in Philadelphia.

I don't mean to be unkind, really. The green signs are supposed to be visible, and dear God they are that. And I gather they're reasonably inexpensive.

But they're also an invasive species. In much of Philadelphia, they have nothing to do with their surroundings. Don't get me wrong. I think these signs do great out on the Interstates, which is their native habitat. But in the older parts of Philly, let's just say they aren't great respecters of context.

Up in New York City, in the historical districts, they at least make the street name signs a pleasant rust brown, which goes well with all the brownstone buildings they have up there.

My thought for Philly is that maybe we don't need so many of these big green signs.

An option
There are other ways of doing street signs. There's that slender little pole on Waverly, with its equally non-aggressive sign. Philly still does street signs like this. Here's one just off of Rittenhouse Square.

The skinny signs have the merit of not getting in the way of the view, the way the big ones do. This is nice when you're admiring architecture, and it's also nice when you're looking for a restaurant.

I still think I would prefer rust brown to the green.

And it's also true that the skinny little street signs are not going to solve all our problems. Here we are at Waverly and 17th.

The utility wires are a definite buzz kill. You'll notice they're buried up around Rittenhouse Square. But I digress. There are a fair number of these skinny signs in the Rittenhouse area, but in my opinion there could be more.

A Second Idea
Here's a second idea. Say you've had the thought that a lot of sidewalks seem overly cluttered with street furniture - traffic signs, parking signs, parking meters, utility poles and wires, fire hydrants. Hold on. Let's keep the fire hydrants. And the bus shelters. But it does seem true that stuff keeps getting added, and hardly anything seems to go away.

Well, you could put the sign with the street name on a nearby building. Here's a nice one on Ringgold Place, which replaces Waverly at 19th. The building you're looking at was built around 1862. Note the period after the word place.

Below is a much less ambitious sign. It says S. 19th St. This is at Waverly, quite close to the pole sign at the beginning of this story. I really like the blue with the white lettering. Gets the point across without being annoying. Works well with red brick.

And here is some rather elegant signage at 17th and Addison. An old Bell Telephone building.

Here we are at the Curtis Institute, back up on Rittenhouse Square.

People are still doing this. Below is a corner of the new Schwartz-Siegel building at The Philadelphia School, Naudain and 25th.

My thought is, if there's existing signage, maybe we don't need to put up the green signs.

Think about it. The motorists who turn down these streets generally know where they're going, and frankly these are very low traffic streets. I often enjoy walking up the middle of them for blocks at a time, without encountering a single moving car.

So maybe we should treat them as the byways that they are - and should be. More discreet signage, on a more human scale and more respectful of context, would still be able to to guide pedestrians and confused motorists, who as an added benefit would probably have to slow down to read these signs.

Think for a minute about the visitor from Kansas or New Jersey as he's tromping up 18th Street somewhat in excess of the speed limit, late for a meeting and looking for Pine Street. Better to discourage him from turning on Addison or Waverly by not marking these streets as if they were part of the Interstate Highway System.

And then our streets could be just a little bit more about art, and finesse, and a little bit less about the roar of 18-wheelers.

Imagine. A hierarchy of signs for a hierarchy of streets.

Just a thought.

See also Alleys, A Tale of Three Alleys, My New Favorite Alley, This Isn't Just Any Alley.

Monday, March 6, 2017

I Just Love My Little Blue Rain Barrel!

The new arrival in my back yard.
There was a knock on the door. I opened it, and there were two nice young men and my new rain barrel. They also had a bag with some tools and a few accessory parts. Fifteen minutes later the installation crew was done with its work; we smiled and shook hands, and they left.

And I had a 55-gallon plastic rain barrel hooked up to the downspout that drains my roof. Free rain barrel, free installation. Courtesy of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society.

So what do you do with the water in the rain barrel? Well, you can use it to water your flowers. Probably not a good idea to drink it - hard to know how many birds have been pooping on your roof.

The main thing, however, is you're helping the planet. Yes, who knew. The PHS is into green stuff.

If you've noticed that we seem to be getting more intense rain storms in Philadelphia, and that there's more local flooding - where the storm drains back up into the street and create pretty little lakes at intersections - well, you're not crazy.

And one of the answers is the rain barrel. Every 55 gallons in a rain barrel is 55 gallons that aren't gushing up through the storm grate down at the corner. By the way. I call it a little blue rain barrel, and it is. But it's not a toy. When it's full it weighs about as much as a sumo wrestler. Don't ask me how I learned this.

The rain barrels are part of a larger program for stormwater management that emphasizes what is called green infrastructure, as opposed to gray infrastructure. Gray infrastructure means building new sewers and holding tanks and stuff, and pouring huge gobs of concrete. Using concrete to deal with all the rain that's on the way would cost a couple of bazillion dollars. Green infrastructure costs a lot less. Green infrastructure means blue rain barrels.

All set to get your free rain barrel? Well, hold up. You've got to get yourself educated first. Go to the website and sign up for one of their information sessions. Don't worry. You'll actually learn stuff. I know I did. And at the end you can fill out some papers and schedule your installation.

Two more things. First, the information sessions also have a road show. If you're in a community group that would like the Horticulture Society to visit you with a Powerpoint presentation and a bunch of sign-up sheets, contact Rosemary Howard, assistant program manager: rhoward@pennhort.org, 215-988-8767.

Also, the program does a bunch of stuff beyond rain barrels like rain gardens and permeable pavers. These will cost you money, but the prices are very attractive.

They only come in blue, but you're free to decorate. 2000 block of Moravian.