Last year, Philadelphians overwhelmingly asked the City to move forward with a plan for Washington Avenue in South Philadelphia that would have turned the street from a 5-lane street for cars into a 3-lane street with protected bike lanes and shorter crossings, for people.
The survey was conducted online after several years of outreach to community organizations, businesses, and several parking studies to understand the best use of space, and to compromise with neighbors and businesses who had issues. Unfortunately, although thousands Philadelphians spoke loud and clear about what they wanted for the future of Washington Avenue, recently the work was delayed by the Kenney Administration in order to get even more community feedback. We’ve been in those feedback meetings and want to let you know where the issue stands currently.
Lat year’s massive outreach culminated in one of the largest responses to any city traffic study, ever. There were over 11,000 presentation views, 23 meetings with local community and business groups, and 5,400 survey responses.
The survey and outreach was conducted in English, Spanish, Simplified Chinese, and Vietnamese. The vast majority of respondents favored the 3-lane option. According to an official City press release, a full 71 percent of respondents favored three lanes for Washington Avenue.
“The City announced today that it will reconfigure Washington Avenue from its current five-lane layout to a three-lane layout between 4th Street to Grays Ferry Avenue as part of a repaving project scheduled for 2021,” the press release said.
It’s no surprise how popular the plan was. South Philadelphia is a walkable section of the city, and too many people take their life in their hands trying to cross Washington Avenue. The 5-lane road is part of the city’s High Injury Network (the 12 percent of streets where 80 percent of deadly and injurious crashes take place) and its outdated design encourages speeding, double-parking, and general misery.
Then there’s bicycling. Census tracts in South Philadelphia — both east and west of Broad Street — are among the most-biked areas in the United States. South Philadelphia is generally the fourth-most biked place in the U.S. per capita, behind North Portland, OR; Boulder, CO; and Cambridge, MA. South Philadelphia has a large immigrant population, many of whom rely on bicycles to get around the city, and need safer spaces to ride. This project is not just about creating safety; it’s about meeting people where they are and providing a much-needed public utility.
But the project to make Washington Avenue safer was delayed earlier this year to gain more community input and host additional meetings. This delay has emboldened many opponents of bike lanes and safe streets who now believe there is an opening to stop the project all together.
The Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia was invited to, and has participated in, these meetings. While there are productive elements to them, we fear the meetings are being taken advantage of by opponents who may water down the most important safety elements from the already-approved plan.
In addition to the common complaints about safe streets projects (i.e., “the community doesn’t want this,” “Bicyclists should get licenses and pay more taxes,” etc.), there have been numerous claims that the City actually fudged the data and that the South Philadelphians who filled out the survey rent their homes and, therefore, shouldn’t count.
Every second of every day this project gets delayed, more people are at risk of getting killed or seriously injured on a wide street designed in the 1960s — when cities were being bulldozed and redesigned to get suburban drivers in and out as quickly as possible.
As we stated over a year ago, the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia favors the same option the people of Philadelphia overwhelmingly support.
The three lane option is the safest for all road users. It is proof that, once again, when given the option, people always choose public safety. Another petition that’s being circulated by several area registered community organizations asking the city to install the 3-lane option has the support of more than 1,500 people.
We will not compromise on the safety of Philadelphia’s road users. A single death on Washington Avenue is one too many. The City knows this, the people of Philadelphia know this, and — considering the years of outreach, surveying and studies they’ve done — the Kenney Administration has the community support it needs to move forward with their plan.
Just a reminder: A new Washington Avenue survey has been produced in those aforementioned meetings and we have been giving them out to our supporters in South Philadelphia. If you want one, please email us so we can get it to you. The surveys must be filled out in a paper format.