Notes from the Greater Philadelphia Pedestrian and Bicycle Summit

On Tuesday, April 30, the Philadelphia Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities and DVRPC held a summit on the state of walking and biking in our fair city.  Here are some takeaways from Tuesday’s summit that may be of interest to pedestrians.

Ongoing trail network expansion

Jeannette Brugger of the Planning Commission and Chris Linn of DVRPC were on hand to talk about trails in the city and region and the developments that have been made to “connect the Circuit” to create a network of interconnected bike and pedestrian trails for recreation and transportation in the Philadelphia area, including a pending Trail Master Plan for the City of Philadelphia.  The trails are the work of a number of partners invested in greening, stormwater management, and creating recreational opportunities.  PCPC is currently developing a Trail Master Plan to achieve these goals, and hundreds  of miles of trails are currently planned or under construction thanks to the various partners involved.  Many of the proposed trails will be on property belonging to the Department of Parks & Recreation, making the process of converting the land to trails relatively simple.  Notable trails that have recently been completed or are in the construction phase include the Radnor Trail (completed), the 58th Street Greenway (completed; ribbon cutting scheduled for June 8th), the Penn Street Trail (under construction), and the Port Richmond Trail (under construction).  To see what other progress is being made in the way of trails, please see Connect the Circuit’s website.

Streets Department policies to protect pedestrians

Representative of MOTU and the Streets Department discussed how they are striving to protect pedestrian safety in the City of Philadelphia.  You probably knew that the sidewalk was part of the public right-of-way, but did you know that maintenance of the sidewalk is the responsibility of the abutting property owner?  The city regulates what can be put in the sidewalk and where and issues permits for things like sidewalk cafes (in certain areas of the city), street trees, and vendor carts.  Some right-of-way encroachments (usually ones that significantly alter the right-of-way itself) require a city plan change, which is more complicated.  In the case of construction sites that necessitate the closure of a sidewalk, contractors are required to either provide signage before the closure indicating that pedestrians must cross the street or, in some cases, provide a temporary pedestrian right-of-way in the parking lane or shoulder adjacent to the blocked sidewalk.  Contractors are NOT allowed to use the closed-off sidewalk as parking for their vehicles, so if you see a site where this is happening, report it to 311 immediately!

The city is also working to make intersections safer for pedestrians with pedestrian countdown signals, bumpouts, and median islands where appropriate.  Also, the Automated Red Light Enforcement cameras (ARLE), which catch cars in the act of running a red light, have the added benefit of deterring cars from running a red light in the first place.  This makes the intersection safer for pedestrians who are making a legal crossing (crossing when they have a green light, walk signal, or countdown).

Sidewalk cafes: A two-sided coin

Sidewalk cafes add to the vibrancy of Philadelphia’s walkable streets, but sometimes, the outdoor furniture, signs, or the waiters themselves crowd the sidewalk, making it difficult for passersby to navigate.  The Planning Commission is in the process of streamlining the city code in respect to sidewalk cafes so that policies reflect the best interest of both the restaurant owners who wish to have sidewalk seating and the pedestrians who use the sidewalk to get where they’re going.  There must be at least five feet of sidewalk clearance between the cafe and the curb or between the rows of tables where a sidewalk cafe has curbside seating as well, and sidewalk cafes are required to be at least 15 feet from a transit stop.

Neighborhood groups advocate for pedestrians

During a round-robin session on neighborhoods and active transportation, various community groups discussed the ways they are working to make their neighborhoods into better places for cyclists and walkers.  Center City District’s Walk!Philadelphia pedestrian wayfinding program has been helping residents and visitors find their way around Center City and various destinations of interest since the mid-1990’s.  The South of South Neighborhood Association created a Pedestrian Advisory Committee in 2010, which has since implemented projects designed to improve walkability in the neighborhood.  These include an intersection mural in a school zone at 15th and Catharine streets and Better Blocks Philly, a temporary traffic-calming initiative that was part of Design Philadelphia.

All in all, the Greater Philadelphia Pedestrian and Bicycle Summit was certainly an information-packed event.  Thanks to MOTU, the presenters, and those who helped organize it!

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