The picture to the right shows Matt at what he believes to currently be one of the worst intersections in Philadelphia — the intersection of 12th Street and Chestnut Street. The way that traffic builds up here due to lane closure from construction and poorly time traffic lights makes it dangerous for pedestrians and bicyclists, as well as drivers, and is just another place that should be addressed in order to make the City more safe for everyone. While this is an example of one current problematic intersection, Matt has experienced being a pedestrian in Philadelphia for almost his whole life, and he has witnessed a long history of unsafe pedestrian conditions. Sitting down with Matt I had the opportunity to hear about this history of pedestrian issues through his point of view.
Matt currently lives in the Bella Vista Neighborhood with his family, and his office is located in Center City, which he walks to every day. Growing up Matt lived in the Fairmount Neighborhood, and would walk to school across the Parkway. Therefore, he understands what it is like to walk around a variety of places in Philadelphia. As Matt emphasized during our talk, Philadelphia is a very walkable City, and it always has been. However, there has always been an issue in how the City fails to prioritize pedestrians. Stories that he told me during our discussion highlighted some of his experiences where this was very evident as well as some experiences where work has been done to attempt to address this.
Safety in Philadelphia has improved since Matt first lived here. From the mid 80s to early 90s Matt lived in the Fairmount Neighborhood, and would walk to school. We may complain about the safety of the Parkway now, but Matt made it very clear that it was at least ten times worse back then. Imagine having to cross the Parkway with no pedestrian signals. That is what he had to do on a daily basis. Luckily Matt was fortunate enough to never have been hit on that specific walk. However, he was once hit by a car while riding his bike on Pennsylvania Avenue. The car was turning right on red and rammed right into him.
Another point that Matt made was that a lot of the biggest tourist areas in the City are the worst for pedestrians. Independence Hall, Pat’s and Gino’s and the Parkway are all places that you do not necessarily want to walk. To highlight this point, he recalled a story of trying to cross the intersection of Passyunk Avenue and 9th Street near Pat’s and Gino’s when he was younger. Matt was attempting to cross the intersection, as a van approached. The van was far enough away that it could have slowed down and let him cross. Instead of doing that, however, the van stopped in the crossing path, then proceeded to honk while yelling a variety of curse words at Matt, demeaning him as a pedestrian. Even though this was years ago, Matt remembers this vividly, and sees it as a blatant example of the hostility pedestrians constantly have to face.
Matt left Philadelphia for school in Ann Arbor, which was very walkable and helped him see the differences between Philadelphia and other walkable towns. After school he returned to work in the Philadelphia region, which is when he really started to become involved in advocating for pedestrians and walkability in the City. For work Matt would drive through Woodbury, NJ where there were yield to pedestrian signs at many of the intersections. Matt took it upon himself to photograph these signs and bring them to the Philadelphia Streets Department. In 2011 the City started placing them at intersections including, at the Broad and Spruce intersection, the Broad and Pine intersection and the 5th and Market intersection. Now these signs are widespread, but the City could still use more of them.
While these are only a few of Matt’s stories, he has had a significant amount of experience as a pedestrian and as an advocate in Philadelphia. Towards the end of our discussion I asked him what is one thing we should consider when advocating for pedestrians in the City. He claimed that if there is anything from his experience in advocating for safety, it is that we need to realize there are some solutions that could benefit all groups. Grouping drivers, pedestrians and bikers individually is not successful because it is not a zero sum game. Some interventions could help everyone. One suggestion Matt proposed was synchronizing the traffic signals on City through streets such as Pine Street. Doing this would help drivers, bicyclists, pedestrians and the environment by reducing idling times. While we as a City have come a long way in terms of safety since Matt first lived here, there is still a long way for us to go.