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A Brief History of Outreach for the South 11th Street Safety Project

11th Street (Image via Travis Southard)

In late August 2019, several Philly media organizations began reporting on the controversy surrounding a new 2-way parking-protected bike lane on South 11th Street. This all took place after some line-striping on the street (but not the physical protection, which, as of the time this blog was written, has not yet been installed), but not during the long community meeting and outreach phase of the project. The reporting which took place in August 2019 has been a bit breathless and the focus has largely been on neighborhood complaints.

Some of the complaints about this project have surrounded the loss of parking at the intersections (about 18 spots were taken during the project implementation) which, along with the new 2-way bike lane and the paving over of unused trolley tracks, is meant to make the street safer for pedestrians to cross.

Removing parking from the intersections—“daylighting,” as it’s often called—makes drivers making turns and pedestrians crossing the street more visible, and the street safer.

None of this should be a surprise. Outreach has been going on for at least eight months.

In January 2019, the city began meeting with City Council staff members (the area covers both Councilperson Mark Squilla’s and Councilperson’s Kenyatta Johnson’s districts), explaining what was likely to happen on 11th Street. The City additionally held meetings with all three civic associations covering the area: Hawthorne Empowerment Coalition, Bella Vista Civic Association, and Passyunk Square Civic Association. The concept was shared, and all sides agreed to an outreach plan.

In February, project flyers were distributed to those civic associations, which were then distributed to the associations’ members. The city also met with business owners around this time to assess loading needs on 11th Street.

In March and April, an Open House meeting was announced and flyers distributed door to door and to civic associations.

A screenshot from OTIS’ flyers

“Spanning from Bainbridge to Reed Streets, OTIS’ project calls for a two-way protected cycletrack on this already well-used corridor. In addition to the protected bike lane, the plans on 11th Street will improve crosswalks and lane markings, prevent vehicles from stopping and parking in the crosswalk, and will make the street safer, and more comfortable for crossing the street,” we wrote on this blog, on March 28th.

An Open House was held on April 16th at Palumbo Recreation Center on South 10th Street, and co-sponsored by all the civic associations which had been communicated with about this project since January.

Though most newsmedia did not make it to the open house, the project was well-received and written about in the South Philly Review on April 19.

“Protected bike lanes have been shown to make cyclists, pedestrians, and motorists safer and more comfortable. And, given South Philadelphia already has the highest percentage of bicycle commuters in the most-biked big city in the country, this improvement will be a welcome addition to Philadelphia’s expanding bicycle network,” I told the Review’s Tom Beck when asked for comment about this project.

After the meetings, the boards from the meetings themselves were posted publicly on the Office of Transportation, Infrastructure and Sustainability’s website.

Then came June!

“Despite a bizarre interruption by a local business owner at the spring community meeting about this project, there has been little opposition and significant excitement from cyclists in South Philadelphia—which is the fourth-most biked neighborhood in the country, according to the U.S. Census. Legislation was recently passed that details truck parking along the corridor, and out of the protected bike lane,” we wrote on this blog in June.

The city continued its coordination with businesses and property owners and a pop-up meeting was held announced for mid-July, which would take place at 11th and Fitzwater Streets, answering any questions residents had about the upcoming project. Notices of the meeting were posted online (including on Facebook) and notice of the meeting were distributed, again, door-to-door and to civic associations.

Street milling (the tearing up of existing pavement) began on July 1. The July 16th pop-up meeting was held and a news story was published by the South Philly Review.

“I think the streets are for people and right now, streets are designed solely for cars and if people get in their way, well, that’s their problem,” South Philadelphia resident Andrew Saltz told the Review at that meeting. “And, we have too many people who die just doing basic things – getting back and forth to work, crossing the street or biking somewhere. So, the street’s got to be adapted for people.”

In August, outreach with property and business owners continued to address concerns. From the point of view of people who ride bicycles, the Inquirer published a nice article about the project, specifically about the (very, very welcome) unused trolley track coverup.

Crosswalks and parking were repaved through July and August, and some TV newsmedia began reporting on neighborhood parking complaints in late August—which is to be expected.

While the striping has already made the street exponentially better than it was, it should be noted that the project is not done. The changes still to come include a full signage update (denoting parking, No Stopping and No Parking zones); flex posts and quick curb (meant to keep parking vehicles out of the bike lanes and turning vehicles out of the “daylight” sections; a focused enforcement period (so people who park their motor vehicles in the area know where and where not to park), installation of an all-way Stop at 11th and Reed Streets, and fixing a sink hole.

When the 11th Street project is complete, we expect it to be a major bike thoroughfare through South Philadelphia (more than it already is) and make the streets safer for anyone who wants to get around.

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Topics: Biking in Philly, Featured, Vision Zero

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