West Market Street’s extra wide four lanes don’t serve the needs of everyone who lives and works in Philadelphia’s downtown core.

West Market Street and JFK Boulevard in Center City, Philadelphia are important city streets used by thousands of residents and workers to bike and walk to and from apartment and office buildings to City Hall, 30th Street and Suburban Station and retail stores.

When designed many years ago as “urban highways,” they were made as wide as possible to prioritize motor vehicle traffic.  Today, the two streets no longer serve the context and needs of 21st century Center City Philadelphia.   The entire stretch of Market Street from Front to 63rd was  the subject of Inga Saffron’s story on April 22nd about proposals to transform it into more of a Main Street.  The section of East Market Street in Old City was the subject of a plan conducted by RBA Group called Old City Vision 2026 .

This post is focused on JFK Boulevard and West Market Street between City Hall and 20th Street, and why it should be calmed and remade for all road users.

Wide as an Interstate.  West JFK and W. Market between 15th and 20th Streets not only resemble highways, they are as wide as highways.

  • Market Street is 45 feet wide; nearly as wide as the section of I-95 that passes through Philadelphia.
  • JFK Boulevard is 54 feet wide; 6 feet wider than southbound I-95.

Low volume of vehicles. The volume of cars carried by JFK Boulevard and W. Market (as counted by the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission) is less than the volume of cars carried on Chestnut and Walnut Streets and roughly 18 percent of the number of cars carried on I-95.

  • I-95 carries 80,000 vehicles a day; JFK Boulevard & West Market together carry approximately 15,000 vehicles a day.
  • Chestnut & Walnut carry an average of 4,198 vehicles per lane per day.
  • JFK & Market carry an average of 3,463 vehicles per lane per day.

More Crashes. Between 2010-2014, for every 1000 motor vehicles on JFK/Market, there were 40 percent more crashes than on Chestnut and Walnut Streets.  On a raw number basis, there were 16 percent more crashes over that five year period on Market/JFK than Chestnut/Walnut.

There would be multiple benefits to taking steps to calming traffic on JFK and W. Market Streets.

Less speeding.  The typical width of a Center City lane is 10 feet, which is wide enough to accommodate busses and other commercial vehicles.  By narrowing the width of the lanes on JFK and W. Market from 14-12 feet to 10 feet,  motor vehicles would move through at lower speeds.

Fewer crashes resulting in fewer injuries and deaths. By reducing the number of speeding motor vehicles, the number of speed related crashes and subsequent injuries and fatalities would drop.

Room available for something other than a travel lane.  With narrower lanes, the excess road width could be redistributed to a parked-car protected bike lane, shorter crossing distances and stormwater infrastructure.  Parking on both sides of the street could remain.

Minimal impact on the streets’ capacity.   Currently, JFK Boulevard and W. Market Street operate at 41 percent and 28. Percent capacity, respectively. A reduction to three travel lanes would result in JFK operating at 54 percent capacity and Market Street at 38 percent capacity, well within congestion guidelines. Heavy congestion begins at operating levels around 75 percent of capacity.

Transforming JFK Boulevard and W. Market Street into complete streets will result in a safer, more enjoyable environment for motorists, pedestrians and bicyclists.  The consolidation of traffic from 4 lanes to 3 right-sized lanes will reduce speeding, increase safety and provide opportunities to enhance the street environment for all users while maintaining adequate traffic flow. They present an opportunity to enhance city street life in Philadelphia’s core.

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