Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Action Alert: The New South Street Bridge Is Not Completely Lost Yet

While we give the CCRA (or rather some of its NIMBY members) a bit of a hard time now and again, the CCRA does a pretty good job for the most part. For example, their ongoing efforts to fix the less than desirable design of the new South Street Bridge, even now at the last minute, while not ideal, are much better than nothing.

And this week you too can actually help.

There’s a two-part design charette for the bridge design open to the public. It’s a chance to possibly rectify some of the bridge design’s serious flaws.
The design forum, which comes about after a year of nagging by South Street community activists, does suggest a dawning recognition on the part of the city that this $54 million bridge project isn't primarily about moving cars efficiently. It's about forging a gracious, urban-scaled link between two vital neighborhoods, Center City and University City.

Neighborhood residents have argued for years that the new bridge should feel like the continuation of a city street, rather than a highway interloper in the style of the no-frills Walnut Street Bridge.

But it wasn't until November that architect James C. Campbell and former ward leader Terry Gillen were able to cobble together official support for a design charrette, an architectural-brainstorming session. Using state funds secured by Sen. Vincent Fumo, they've hired Wallace Roberts & Todd - the firm that assisted PennPraxis with its Delaware waterfront study - to guide the dialogue.
The good news — “Campbell already has a laundry list of changes he believes would be easy to implement.”

The bad news — “Though city engineers say they're willing to consider ideas that bubble up during the charrette, it's unlikely they'll take up any suggestions. David Perri, the Streets Department official responsible for the project, says there's too little time and even less flexibility.”

About that, we will defer to the indefatigable Ms. Saffron once more:
So the odds are that the South Street Bridge will stand as a monument to a lost civic opportunity.

Because it is the southernmost of the Schuylkill's Center City crossings, it could have been - should have been - an iconic entry to Philadelphia and a magnificent podium for admiring the city's growing skyline. But the Street administration saw it only as a routine infrastructure project.

Here's a perfect example of where political leadership and strong city planning could have teamed up to make a difference. Instead, the bridge was farmed out to a firm that specializes in highway projects, Gannett Fleming. After it designed the bridge according to federal interstate standards, Gannett Fleming hired an architect, H2L2, to decorate it.
The firm's architects say they are as disappointed with the look of the South Street Bridge as everyone else.

"It's essentially a highway overpass," designer James Templeton concedes. "We did a lot of sketches, but the city never saw them."
So the design charette is really our collective last stand. But a stand notetheless. So don’t give up just yet. Remember: this project was pushed through by the Street Administration. Fortunately, Mayor Nutter is pro urban design and has promised a New Day. Let’s hold him to it.

Meanwhile, the question still remains where Penn and their Penn Connects stand on this whole thing. They are supposed to be trying to make better and stronger connections with Center City. Um, duh
we can’t imagine a better place to start than with this project. (We seem to remember the University petitioning the city to make the nightmarishly unsafe Walnut Street Bridge more pedestrian friendly a few years ago…)

So we’re not sure why they haven’t stepped in to wield their clout and demand the city to make a better bridge. Penn Connects?? Hello??? We could definitely use a little help over here.

Regardless, you all should definitely come out this Thursday and Saturday and make it heard why Philadelphia needs something far superior than a cookie cutter highway bridge. Just look at the Walnut Street Bridge:
Third, let's remember that urban bridges are an integral part of the street grid which, though it serves cars, belongs primarily to pedestrians. The walk across the Walnut Street Bridge to a performance at the World Café should be just as pleasant—if not more so—than the walk down South Broad to the Kimmel.

The pedestrian scale lighting added to the bridges in 2000 was a move in the right direction, as are the new connections to the Schuylkill River Trail, but traffic-calming measures are sorely needed and narrower travel lanes, dedicated bike lanes and wider sidewalks would be good places to start.
And BIG UPS go out to our homegirl — the inimitable Inga Saffron
for her nice profile in the March issue of Philadelphia Magazine. (Yes, she’s our homegirl… even if she doesn’t know it.)

Be sure to give it a read. Saffron has been nothing short of a godsend for Philadelphia (and, ahem, the Inquirer) — not so much because of her critiques of buildings like the Symphony House or Citizens Bank Park (although those are great too), but rather because of her tireless advocacy for a better Philadelphia, a better quality of place, from the ground up.

Philadelphia would be a frickin' mess (even more so than it is, if you can believe that) if it weren’t for her continually lambasting the dire state of urban planning, zoning, and develop-mania here for the past however many years.

We know we are definitely much smarter having had the privilege of reading her for these past half dozen years or so.

So thank you Inga Saffron. Please don’t stop anytime soon.

A few of our favorite greatest hits from Inga over the years:
And deets on the charette:

"Thursday evening, March 6th, starting at 6:30 pm there will be a pre-charette meeting to discuss the status of the Bridge and the objectives of the design charette and what we hope to accomplish — in other words, to help set the agenda.

On Saturday morning, March 8th, starting at 9:00 am there will be visioning workshop looking in depth at certain aspects of the Bridge. Both the pre-charette meeting and the design charette will be held at the Philadelphia School at 2501 Lombard Street."

Ok. Good talk. See you out there.

Last hope for forging gracious link across river [ Philadelphia Inquirer ]
South Street Bridge: Philadelphia deserves better [ Philadelphia Inquirer ]
CCRA Attacks South Street Bridge Design [ Changing Skyline ]
A pedestrian-friendly South Street bridge would benefit city, students [ Daily Pennsylvanian ]
Bridges should play a big role in Philly's waterfront development plans [ Philadelphia City Paper ]
Why Are Men Who Build Skyscrapers Afraid of This Woman? [ Philadelphia Magazine ]
A Room of My Own [ Changing Skyline ]

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