Put a Downpayment on Future Pedestrian Plazas With Painted Traffic Triangles
The best critique I've heard of This Old City's push for more pilot pedestrian plazas in Philadelphia came from Councilman Mark Squilla during the Q&A session at our event at Adobe last month, and was summed up nicely here by Bill Chenevert of the South Philly Review:
Easier said than done, say some. Who’ll maintain and care for these spaces in our neighborhoods?
“People want to donate their time and do that,” Squilla said. “That’s a lot of work but I don’t see anyone getting turned away.”
There’s a lot of work that goes into these spaces even after they’re built.
“If we don’t have friends groups and really have an interest in taking care of things, it’s difficult,” he argued. “We can’t just build it if no one’s going to maintain it.”
MOTU's Andrew Stober elaborated, explaining that sometimes groups promise they'll maintain these spaces, but then welsh on the agreement, and neighbors blame the city when public property falls into a state of disrepair. The city "doesn't have" the money (or, perhaps more accurately, is unwilling to spend political capital on collecting or dedicating more revenues) to maintain more public spaces.
So the signal we are getting at this time from Councilman Squilla and from MOTU is "yes, but." They're broadly supportive of the concept of more pedestrian plazas, but they don't want a lot of new funding and maintenance responsibilities handed off to them. If groups can get private money and strong maintenance commitments from volunteers, they are ready to work with people. They're on board with the E. Passyunk Gateway project at Broad St, and the ped plaza at Morris and E. Passyunk, for example, and they both like the much cheaper pilot pedestrian plazas at 48th and Baltimore Ave maintained by the University City District, which is the model we envision for E. Passyunk.
If we want to turn the E. Passyunk Ave sneckdowns into real ped plazas, we're going to have to find organizations who will agree to be responsible for the maintenance, and who have the fiscal capacity to maintain and insure them.
While these important issues are getting worked out though, there is still something easy we can do right away to make a downpayment on future action: we can calm traffic in the short term by painting lines on the road where the plazas and traffic islands will eventually go.
The city already does this in some places. Here's the sad traffic triangle near La Colombe by City Hall:
And here's a similar example of a paint bumpout I saw in Williamsburg over the weekend:
There are no serious maintenance issues I'm aware of with this approach. As you can see, the paint bumpout near McCarren Park has faded a bit, but it still gets the job done by narrowing the driving lane for cars, and reallocating excess road space to pedestrians until the city or private parties can come up with the money to build a permanent concrete curb extension.
The maintenance issues that Councilman Squilla and Andrew Stober raised are critical to the success of any new public space, and their insights regarding previous volunteer-led projects gone wrong are sobering.
But pointing to the maintenance issues should not become an excuse for doing nothing or delaying needed street safety design improvements.
The sprawling intersection at Reed and 10th near Rita's and the Acme is one example of a death trap that can't wait, and it needs some traffic calming triangles painted as soon as possible. This area needs a temporary, inexpensive intervention now, to put a downpayment on a more permanent intervention later this year.
The key is to commit the street space to pedestrian use now with a simple intervention while people are interested in the issue, and then once the commitment has been made and the traffic calmed, we can build on that with better materials. But the first step is making the commitment: