The Benjamin Franklin Parkway has been gathering a lot of well-deserved attention recently. The opening of the new Barnes Foundation has added one more gem to the Parkway’s famous array of cultural institutions, which includes the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Franklin Institute, and the main branch of the city’s Free Library. The parkway is also home to one of the city’s newest public spaces, the acclaimed Sister Cities Park, which takes up just 1.75 acres of the land that unfolds around Swan Memorial Fountain in Logan Circle.
But this circle, and the Parkway itself, is a relic of a time when cities focused on improvement through beautification by modeling themselves after the grandeur of Paris and the classical architecture of old. This model may have been ideal for the time, but planners and citizens have since realized that it may need to be reprogrammed in order to meet the needs of today’s users, which include both tourists and locals and a variety of forms of transportation, from cars to buses to people on their own two feet. The many amenities lining the parkway have transformed this boulevard “from a place you want to drive through to a place you want to linger,” according to Harris Steinberg, the executive director of Penn Praxis, a division of Penn’s School of Design.
However, there are some factors impeding the Parkway’s progress toward becoming a place where people—especially pedestrians—want to linger. Although there are sidewalks along the Parkway, they are long and lie parallel to many lanes of speeding traffic surrounded by buildings of monumental scale. It’s no wonder that a pedestrian walking along the length of the Parkway can feel dwarfed by her surroundings or have difficulty crossing the street. Feet First Philly recently conducted an online survey of pedestrians, in which many respondents indicated that they occasionally had difficulty crossing the Parkway. (For a summary of the results of this survey, please click here).
Drawing people to the Parkway (and giving them a reason to want to linger there) was one subject of a series of meetings held last month by the department of Parks and Recreation and Penn’s Project for Civic Engagement as part of efforts to create an Action Plan for the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. At these meetings, attendees were asked to share their ideas for the projects that they would like to see along the Parkway. Many citizens expressed interest in improving access to the Parkway for pedestrians and cyclists, and some noted that much of the surrounding area is underutilized. In an article for the Philadelphia Inquirer, Patrick Kerkstra writes that the city should “[fill] in the blank spaces in between, making pedestrians more comfortable and persuading Philadelphians to take the Parkway on foot or bike.” In the article, entitled “Looking for ways to make the Parkway more inviting to all,” Kerkstra laments the unfulfilled potential of what is “probably Philadelphia’s ‘most beautiful and iconic civic space,’” in the words of city parks chief Michael DiBerardinis. Kerkstra believes that the city is on the right track in first considering small improvements for the Parkway, such as newsstands and small parks and playgrounds. In the future, he suggests finding a better use for Eakins Oval, which is currently a surface parking lot.
What would you like to see on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway? Do you have any ideas to make it more pedestrian-friendly? Please leave your responses in the comments.