PHOTOS: Imagining a Pedestrian Makeover for West Philly's Lancaster Avenue


Font Size

-A +A

Since our E. Passyunk Avenue sneckdowns post was such a huge hit, I decided to take a trip to West Philadelphia's Lancaster Avenue during our last (and hopefully final!) big snow storm to see where the snow wants us to add safety improvements, and more and better pedestrian amenities.

Admittedly the pedestrian safety situation isn't too bad right now. As you can see in the Philadelphia crash locations map I worked on with Daniel McGlone at Azavea, Lancaster Ave between 34th and 40th didn't see too many pedestrian crashes between 2008 and 2012. Any more than zero crashes is too much, but it wasn't one of the city's major hot spots. You can click on the street segments to see how many pedestrians got hit:

Still, Lancaster is a key target for redevelopment in the federal Promise Zone, and if that program turns out to be any good, we'll eventually see a lot more foot traffic on this strip, especially the part closest to Drexel between 34th and 40th. And right now, it's a pretty auto-oriented area.

Improving the pedestrian infrastructure around the 38th St, Powelton Ave, and 40th St intersections has to be a top priority if we want this area to be seen as safe for walking - a key ingredient for a walkable mixed-use retail corridor.

Lucky for us, Lancaster Ave crosses the street grid at a diagonal just like E. Passyunk Ave does, creating a great many opportunities for us to install diagonal pedestrian plazas that extend the sidewalk, calm traffic, and give local businesses some nice spaces for street seating, planters, and bike parking.

This post will mostly focus on Lancaster Ave, but there are a few more locations off the Ave worth mentioning too. For instance, this area of 34th and Market St is ripe for a pedestrian plaza, or may even be long enough for a bike share station:


One of the best opportunities for a pedestrian plaza on Lancaster Ave is the intersection at 36th, Race, and Lancaster. Without the snow, the intersection is very wide and pedestrians have to travel pretty far to cross the street:

But the snow shows that cars actually don't need this much space. Here's the northeast corner of the intersection:

Here's the southeast corner:

And here's the center of the intersection, where you can make out a melting triangle of unused space:

Here's the same triangle looking west:

I got out a bit late in the afternoon to shoot some of these, so some of these have melted significantly, and by this point many cars had run over sneckdown space they didn't really need. But you can still see the outline of some of them, like by this corner shop at 37th Street:

The little plaza at Lancaster, 37th and Powelton Ave also has potential to be a larger pedestrian space, if people are willing to take out the little stretch of 37th that runs in front of Stan's Deli and connect it to the park.

Here's what it looks like without snow:

And here's what it looks like with the snow. You could extend the corners of the plaza further, or if you wanted to get adventurous, you could axe the parking lane on Lancaster and close off the street on the right:

Here's a shot of Powelton Ave near this intersection which shows Powelton could do fine with some slower, narrower travel lanes:

Across the intersection, there is another crazy wide intersection. It usually looks like this:

But the snow shows you could significantly narrow the crosswalk distance if you bumped out the curb like so:

Same deal on the other side of the United Bank triangle at 38th Street. Here's the view looking north:


38th Street is an extremely wide arterial usually:

But it could stand to be much narrower, with a fatter median and wider sidewalks:

Across 38th on Lancaster, there's a corner retail space that could have a long curb bumpout with some planters or bike parking if it weren't for this informal/illegal parking space:

This is the intersection of Lancaster and Baring, down the block to the north:

And across the intersection. Friend of the blog Sylvia Palms of Locus Partners suggested we call these "bowtie" plazas, because they would form a bowtie shape on each side of the intersection:

Lancaster and Hamilton:

New Angle Lounge (!) could use this new angle:

39th Street, Spring Garden, and Lancaster:

At 40th St and Lancaster, there is an opportunity to substantially enlarge the pedestrian space near the site of Martin Luther King's Freedom Now Rally, and turn it into a much nicer public place, not just a slightly oversized traffic triangle in the middle of a busy intersection:

There are many more interventions further west on Lancaster Ave, but this is the area of this corridor most likely to see reinvestment dollars flowing in first, so it's especially important to right-size these intersections very soon.

This does not have to be expensive. These kinds of snow formations have already led to inexpensive interventions by University City District nearby with paint, planters, big rocks, and cafe tables. Here's a photo Prema Gupta of UCD gave to Streetsblog showing the snow formations:

And here are some photos from PlanPhilly of the pedestrian plaza at 48th and Baltimore that these snow formations inspired:

We can install more of these plazas on the cheap all along Lancaster Avenue, and other intersections in the area. These are very easy to build and they do not cost $500,000 each like the two ped plazas going in along E. Passyunk Av.. The Porch at 30th Street station only cost $275,000 - about half the cost - despite the fact that it covers a much larger area.

We can build many more of these much more quickly if only the city will streamline the process so that neighborhood groups can get some cheap pilot plazas on the ground within weeks or months, not years and years.

Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 February 2014 @ 08.55
Rate This Content: 
No votes yet
Written By: 
jongeeting's picture Jon Geeting About the Author:

Jon Geeting is a Philadelphia-based freelance journalist and policy researcher. His writing also appears at Next City, Primary Colors, and Keystone Politics, where he covers politics and elections, land use and transportation, and urban economic policy. He also writes a monthly Political Machine column at Philly City Paper.