City Seeks Input on MLK Bridge Design. Here is Our Analysis of the Plan.

by | August 5, 2020 | News, Biking in Philly, The Circuit, Vision Zero | 4 comments

Rendering of the 10 Foot Bike and Ped Pathway on the MLK Drive Bridge

Rendering of the 10-Foot Bike and Ped Pathway on the MLK Drive Bridge

The Philadelphia Streets Department has announced its virtual public meeting for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive Bridge Rehabilitation Project. The Department is accepting feedback on the project through August 21, 2020. You can visit the website to look at the “boards” and fill out a comment form or send questions or comments via email MLK.bridge.rehab@phila.gov

As many of you know, the bridge is the weak link in the 9-mile trail loop that starts at the Art Museum along Kelly Drive and returns via the Falls Bridge onto MLK Drive. Trail users have to share a 5-foot sidewalk, which often means that trail users have to step into the roadway to let each other pass.

The reconstruction of the bridge will replace and widen the bridge deck to ensure structural integrity, meet current design standards, and accommodate a side path for pedestrians and cyclists. Construction is currently projected to begin in the fall of 2021 and will take two years to complete. The bridge will be fully closed for the entire period.

While the proposed cross section of the bridge is an improvement, the 10-foot mutli-use path is still too narrow, especially considering the usage of MLK Drive. There is a four-foot shoulder proposed next to the road, and we recommend that at least two more feet be added to the trail.   

Assuming Open MLK Drive is taken away from Philadelphians who’ve been enjoying the entirety of the car-free Drive, the increased usage is likely here to stay, and the widened trail should reflect that. Also, this section of trail is part of the Circuit and the standard for the Circuit is 12 feet.

We will additionally continue to advocate for a full road diet along the entire length of MLK Drive to help cut down on speed and make the road safer. The path on MLK is small, considering the amount of usage it gets, and long-term increased usage is going to require more space for alternative modes of transportation.

A future paving project will reduce travel lanes on MLK North of Montgomery Drive, possibly in 2021, but the Streets Department insists that its forecast models are correct and that a two-lane road configuration south of Montgomery will cause further rush hour delays (in normal traffic conditions) — and, as we know from the Henry Avenue project and others, moving private vehicles as quickly as possible is the top priority.

As far as the detour during construction goes, the proposal lacks a bike route detour for MLK Drive. The detour proposed for inbound motor vehicle traffic crawls past the zoo via 34th St and seems like it would not be the first choice for drivers (Why not just get on I-76 at Montgomery and exit as Spring Garden St?). However, it would be a plausible bicycle detour with a few enhancements (e.g. improve the crossing at Girard/Lansdowne and make spot improvements on the Westbank Greenway along 34th and Mantua).

With that in place, the possibility of closing MLK while the bridge is being built becomes an arguable premise and may even pull more weekend foot traffic towards the zoo. In addition, the Schuylkill River Trail will detour around the construction site up the switchback to Spring Garden St and behind the Art Museum on Anne d’Harnoncourt Dr. 

In summary, the Bicycle Coalition’s comments on the MLK Drive Bridge project are as follows:

  • Widen the bicycle/pedestrian path to 12 feet
  • Extend the road diet to Eakins Oval
  • Create a bicycle detour from Sweetbriar via 34th Street with spot improvements and protection.
  • Keep MLK closed through the construction period.

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4 Comments
  1. Ed Dougherty

    As usual, I think John gets it just right here, the front-and-center emphasis on ‘Wider’ for the bike element of the sidewalk, and then the sharp focus on the alternative routes during what will be, after all, a two-year (!) project. And then some of the ‘within’ comments – extending the bike-friendly effect up to Eakins Oval, and other considerations for the re-routing – are also typically spot-on.

    One thing I might add, however, that’s very much of the COVID moment, where a very large stretch of MLK has been shut down and made cyclist- and pedestrian-only, is that that aspect will remain allowable for a full two years. Mind you, the access from Center City and Spring Garden and Brewerytown, etc. will be cut off, but for a sizable swath of West Philadelphia and the like, they’ll – at least in theory – be able to enjoy this extended stretch (from Sweetbriar to the foot of the under-construction bridge) – as they are now. Obviously, that western side of the bridge will be the staging area for construction, but it seems an accommodation to continue the current status ought to be doable, and maybe should be a louder item in terms of what is being asked for here.

    The extent to which a very large quotient of the exercising population has said Yes to a car-less MLK has been something to behold. Probably can’t be a forever thing, but worth emphasizing how welcome it is for as long as this project runs.

    Reply
    • Claudia Crane

      I agree with Coalition’s points for improving the plan, and said so in the survey. I also expressed annoyance at the question re how much I’m using the SRT near the MLK bridge now–I used to use it all the time, but not at all NOW because it’s impossible to social distance there!
      I LOVE the current closure of MLK Drive to auto traffic, and would LOVE to see that be a forever thing!

      Reply
  2. Johnny Myers

    Every day, I take the Schuylkill River Trail to either commute into the city, or to just get some exercise. Here is my question for the city: on a total, net basis, how much wealth does the city actually generate from the Schuylkill River Trail? That might seem like an odd question, but consider the following: the SRT requires less repair than other car-dominated roads, and needs to be maintained less frequently. People that use the SRT to commute into work save taxpayer dollars, because they don’t use cars, which wear out roads quicker over time. They save on car accident costs, costs imposed by traffic jams, and costs imposed by lost productivity due to long commutes. Additionally, compound the savings from people exercising and removing health care demands from the hospital system by using the SRT to exercise at night. Finally, consider the economic benefit from people (including tourists) coming in and out of the city, with quick and easy access to the Art Museum, Center City, and other highly-productive economic zones. The SRT actually makes the city richer. How many roads can you say that about? And, if you were in city planning, wouldn’t you want to build roads that pay the city?

    I would say that current plants to expand MLK drive are not ambitious enough; or, in this case, do not save taxpayers enough money. We could make the MLK bridge bike and walking only, without any increase in traffic on 76, because people will opt into commuting into the city by bike or other forms of transit. Urban planners have been arguing for years now that adding additional driving roads doesn’t decrease traffic, it increases it. Making MLK auto-friendly will not alleviate traffic from 76, as we have seen in recent months. It will only add strains to the bridge, costs to the city, pollute some of the most beautiful areas, and decrease our wealth, health, and prosperity. Make MLK bike and walk-only, as a permanent fixture, and the city will receive dividends from this investment for generations to come.

    Reply
  3. Suzannd Hagner

    I support John Boyle’s comments (Bicycle Coalition) esp widening the bridge by 2 ft.

    I also want to see the intersection of Kelly Drive, SRT, and Falls Bridge have automated red light cameras and speed cameras. Drivers speed and run the red lights and make these intersections extremely dangerous to cross for pedestrians, trail users, bicyclists. This is also true of Midvale and Ridge Ave, Midvale and Kelly Drive intersections.

    Reply

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