When you approach a construction site and the sidewalk is closed, you may see two kinds of signs that are required by the City. One kind of sign should guide you safely around or through the construction zone. The other kind of sign should inform you that the sidewalk closure is legal, and should let you know how long the sidewalk may be closed. Unfortunately, in many cases, either or both kinds of signs are missing, badly designed or poorly located.
ADVANCE WARNING SIGNS
The photo above left shows a construction zone that is missing any kind of sidewalk closure sign, while the photo above right has a seemingly leftover “Sidewalk Closed” sign that would direct pedestrians needlessly across 19th street at an uncontrolled intersection.
In the photo below, crossing 17th Street at Market, you can see that the sidewalk and the curb ramp are blocked. But is there a protected walkway in the parking lane of Market Street? Or must pedestrians detour across Market Street in order to continue walking eastward?
As it turns out, there is a protected walkway in the parking lane, but a pedestrian would have to cross 17th Street and walk past the newsstand to see it.
Whenever pedestrians are forced to detour across the street because of a sidewalk closure, advance warning signs must be provided. This is particularly important where the sidewalk closure does not start at a crosswalk but at midblock. The advance warning signs are to be placed at the nearest upstream crosswalk before the sidewalk closure, as illustrated below.
Advance warning signs need to be well-constructed and easily detectable with a cane, like the sign shown on the left below. They should not create tripping hazards like the sign on the right.
Signs need to be placed so they are seen by pedestrians approaching the construction site from all directions. In the photos below, the warning sign can be seen by people approaching on 12th Street from the south, but is likely to be missed by pedestrians approaching on Chestnut and turning right onto 12th Street.
SIDEWALK CLOSURE PERMIT SIGNS
When the Streets Department issues a permit for a sidewalk to be closed, the technical name is an “Equipment Placement Permit”. The Equipment Placement permit may give permission to close multiple sidewalks, parking lanes, and traffic lanes at a single construction site. The permit gives the reason for the closure, such as demolition, and gives the length of time the sidewalk (called “footway” on the permit) is allowed to be closed. No permit may be issued for longer than a year, but permits can be renewed. In some cases, special conditions are listed on the permit. Here is an example of an Equipment Placement permit:
Clearly, the Equipment Placement permits are designed for use by City staff, although they do include information of interest to the general public. Last fall, the code was updated to require 11” by 17” signs at each end of all sidewalk closures stating when the permit expires. This was an attempt to give the public some useful information in a simplified form and was to go into effect January 2015. Feet First Philly has never seen any of these signs. The update also allowed a loophole whereby a project that has a Project Information Panel Sign for Major Buildings does not have to post either the 11” by 17” signs, or the individual Equipment Placement permits (although some sites continue to do the latter.) The Project Information Panel sign (shown below) displays only one permit, the main building permit for the project, and encourages the public to call 311 or 911 to report unsafe conditions.
None of this information signage will be useful to the public if we can’t get close enough to read it without risking being run over. The posting requirements need to ensure safe pedestrian access.
When you see problems with signs in construction zones, call 311. Since City resources for enforcement are limited, the public’s help is needed to call attention to these kinds of problems that otherwise will go unnoticed for too long. And after you call 311, consider taking a photo and filling out a report at our construction disruption website.