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Pedestrian Plazas Make the Most of Excess Pavement

Woodland Green in University City. (Image via UniversityCity.org)

Woodland Green in University City. (Image via UniversityCity.org)

Philadelphia often makes media outlets’ lists—sometimes they say we’re unhealthy, sometimes it’s about our sports fans being jerks; but lately, it’s been mostly about the city’s resurgence as a destination for travelers.

One of the reasons media outlets often give for Philly’s high marks is the ability to get around this town relatively easily. Philadelphia was recently named the fourth-best city in the country for walkability. That’s in part due to some of the pedestrian plazas that’ve been constructed around the city in recent years, a successful project the Better mobility 2015 platform calls upon the city to continue expanding.

So. What’s a pedestrian plaza? They’re public spaces that “transform underutilized of roadway into public spaces for surrounding residents and businesses,” according to the National Association of City Transportation Officials. Something like this:

Screenshot from NATCO.org

#Awesome (Screenshot via NATCO.org)

Pedestrian plazas all over the country are used for open-space cafes and general park space, but they also fairly regularly feature art installations, performances, vendors and markets. They’re able to improve the quality and identification of a street, engaging the neighborhood and creating a better sense of community.

“Urban communities across the country are increasingly utilizing a strategy to enhance their streets through interventions sometimes called interim pedestrian plazas,” says Daniel Wolf, a planner and project manager at University City District. “These interventions repurpose underutilized areas of roadway primarily to make the pedestrian environment more safe, comfortable, and inviting. Their effects can range from shortening the distance required to walk through an intersection to creating a vegetated oasis to sit and relax.”

University City has been ahead of the curve in shaping its public spaces in recent years, creating plazas at Baltimore Crossing, Woodland Green, and The Porch at 30th Street Station.

As Wolf explains, pedestrian plazas create more than just good vibes—they actually make intersections safer, which is better for everyone.

“They have the greatest impact when implemented where traffic collisions are likely to occur or along commercial corridors, where their presence would stitch together clusters of businesses or other destinations,” Wolf continues. “Bridging key pedestrian gaps, such as a wide intersection with confusing or unpredictable traffic patterns, can bring additional foot traffic to commercial corridors or provide a safer route to school. By making intersections more compact, pedestrian plazas calm traffic, which increases safety for all users of the street.”

These projects don’t have to be expensive, either—Baltimore Crossing, for instance (at 48th and Baltimore) created safer spaces at that intersection using planters, bump-outs and created a less-intimidating space for pedestrians walking across the street.

Baltimore Crossing. (Image via UniversityCity.org)

Baltimore Crossing. (Image via UniversityCity.org)

So, that’s why improving the walkability of streets and sidewalks made it into our Better Mobility 2015 platform. The city can work to create more pedestrian plazas by developing a standardized process in which pedestrian plazas are considered; enhancing safety measures; strengthening code provisions and regulations applicable to sidewalk cafes and food vendors; and expanding Streets and L&I enforcement resources, among other ideas the plan prioritizes.

To learn more about pedestrian plazas and the Better Mobility 2015 platform, check out our page on Better Mobility in Philadelphia’s 2015 elections, and don’t forget to RSVP to our Better Mobility 2015 mayoral forum, at the Friends Center on March 19.

Topics: Vision Zero

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