Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Philadelphia Streets Department Continues Troubling (And Asinine) Trend Of Complete Disregard For Pedestrian Safety

Uh, don't mind the 20-ton bus barreling down behind you…

The sidewalk on the western side of 17th Street between Walnut and Sansom has recently been annexed by a construction crew, leaving pedestrians defenseless against vehicle traffic as they try to walk up and down 17th Street (above), or worse, as they wait IN THE STREET for public transportation (below).

Initially, there was a temporary sidewalk that jutted into 17th Street providing a barrior between pedestrians and vehicular traffic. However, the Streets Department made the contractor get rid of it, as it jutted into a lane of the street, causing vehicle traffic to move more slowly down 17th street. (Gasp. The horror — cars driving slowly down one of Center City’s most heavily walked streets…)

So the Streets Department forced the construction crew to remove the temporary sidewalk, restoring a second lane of vehicular traffic to 17th Street at the cost of the safety of thousands of pedestrians each day.

This is egregiously absurd. 17th Street between Walnut and Market Streets is one of the most highly trafficked pedestrian areas in the city. And the Streets Department just moronically erased an entire sidewalk without so much as a single concern for the safety of pedestrians.

The takeaway from this is clear: the Philadelphia Streets Department is still very out of touch with 21st Century urban planning. They are still prioritizing cars far more than people — exactly the opposite of how conditions in vibrant, successful, sustainable, and highly livable 21st century cities will be.

dangerous pedestrian conditions at 17th and walnut in philadelphia
If the Streets Department had their druthers, sidewalks would be for extra parking…

Local architect and Design Advocacy Group member, George Claflen, has already documented the problem over at Plan Philly and sent a memo to the Streets Department.
The best solution to this would be restoration of the temporary pedestrian protected zone which is also consistent with how this type of situation is handled in other cities -- but whatever you do the present condition is not safe.

Additionally wouldn't it be a good idea to have the Streets Department personnel who issue permits for this type of work receive some basic training and supervision on safety, pedestrian issues, and public transportation? And isn't it appropriate to require a higher standard of traffic and pedestrian management on our most densely used streets?
You would think that, wouldn’t you?

However, Claflen's memo was sent two weeks ago and still nothing has been done. The Streets Department should be taken out back and shot.

Obviously, this stems from the problems caused by poor construction laws related to sidewalk closures, chronicled by Ms. Saffron earlier in the year. But until those regulations are fixed, the Streets Department can't simply wash their hands of pedestrian safety. They are mandated with providing both efficient traffic flow for vehicles AND safe pedestrians pathways for people.
There are close to 1.5 million people living in Philadelphia, and every one of them is a pedestrian at one time or another. Yet City Hall sometimes seems surprised to learn that people travel on two feet.

Pity Philadelphia's walking majority. Its precious sidewalks are increasingly being taken in brazen landgrabs by the city's powerful construction industry, which erects flimsy chain-link fences to mark turf, sometimes for the sole purpose of allowing contractors to park for free.
[…]
Twenty years ago, when Center City was deadsville, perhaps those lapses didn't matter as much. But since then, downtown has evolved into an archipelago of churning construction sites.

To avoid crashing into all the ad-hoc construction barriers, pedestrians now zigzag from one side of the block to the other. Unarmed and unprepared, they have no choice but to dive into the perilous stream of fast-moving vehicles before regaining the protected shore of a sidewalk. That dip into traffic defeats the point of construction barriers, which are to keep pedestrians safe.
[…]
With all those obstructions, Philadelphia's boast of having the most walkable downtown in America is going to be a harder sell. It's time, [Councilmen] Kenney argues, to make good on the claim by taking back the sidewalks for everyone who lives — and walks — in Philadelphia.
If the Streets Department continues to so heinously neglect pedestrian safety, eventually no one is ever going to drive downtown anymore because there won't be any pedestrians left.

Sidewalk at 17th and Sansom annexed by construction crews for free parking

They'll all be somewhere else, like in New York.
James F. Kenney, an at-large city councilman, had always assumed this was the way it worked in all big cities. Then he took his family on a trip to New York and discovered that not once was his trajectory interrupted on Manhattan's crowded streets, even though it has at least five times as many high-rise construction projects as Philadelphia.

Instead of battered chain link, Kenney found an orderly arrangement of sidewalk sheds that guarantee New York's sidewalks are always open for business. The structures usually involve a sturdy wooden roof held up by an allée of metal poles. If it's impossible to build over the sidewalk, contractors must carve a safe passage in the street.

The sheds do more than keep the way clear for pedestrians. They enable merchants to continue serving their customers - and stay in business - during lengthy projects. They also provide safe storage and staging room for construction crews, and help shield everyone from falling debris. Contractors must illuminate the underside of the covered walkways with a string of bulbs so they're safe at night.
Seems extremely complicated not at all difficult.

Related:
Dangerous conditions at 17th and Walnut [ Plan Philly ]
Changing Skyline: The city has lost control of its sidewalks [ Philadelphia Inquirer ]
Video: Councilman Jim Kenney tells the Inquirer about lost sidewalks [ Philly.com ]

[ Top two photos via Plan Philly; third photo via Philly.com ]

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