On Saturday, April 8, BPRC staff joined a group of Bloustein students and alumni in Philadelphia for a complete streets walking tour. The tour, hosted by Rutgers alumni and local planners, showcased recent successes and challenges with improving bicycle, pedestrian, and public space conditions in Center City. The group met and started the tour at the Porch at 30th Street, an adaptive public space built next to 30th Street Station. The Porch has served many functions in its time, from the site of an elevated subway line, to a parking lot, and now to a playful and attractive public space with seating, shade, and regular programming.
Nate Hommel, the Director of Planning and Design at the University City District, introduced this project. While detailing its history and recent redesign, he emphasized key themes. Flexibility, evaluation, and iteration are key components of planning at the Porch. It was originally constructed in conjunction with a larger PennDOT project and emphasized an adaptable, low-cost design over permanent investments. This allowed planners to limit capital expenses while testing ideas for how best to activate and transform the Porch from a former parking lot into a vibrant public space.
To measure the project’s impact, staff have collected data on the quantity and type of use in the space every 30 minutes for the past five years. This allows Mr. Hommel and other planners to evaluate how well the Porch is meeting its goals and what changes could be made to the design to better meet them. Regular evaluations and the Porch’s flexible design allow planners to improve the space in iterations. The Porch is constantly changing and adapting as its role as a public space in Center City evolves.
These themes of flexibility, evaluation, and iteration were reflected throughout the remainder of the complete streets walking tour. Their importance was underlined as the group walked from the Market Street bridge and Schuylkill gardens to the Cira Green rooftop park and over the Schuylkill River Boardwalk to the Grey’s Ferry Triangle. Along the way, Marcus Ferreira, Chair of the South Street West Business Association, and Kelley Yemen, the City of Philadelphia’s Complete Streets Director, shared their insights as well. Similar to Mr. Hommel, both spoke about pursuing low-cost, flexible designs over permanent construction for complete streets projects. This allows agencies and organizations to test out and update projects, rather than make high-cost investments that may prove not to work.
The Grey’s Ferry Triangle, located on South Street at 23rd, typifies this planning approach. It is a pedestrian plaza reclaimed from five parking spots through light, quick, and cheap interventions. An area recently marked by striped lanes and dedicated to traffic now has a polka dot floor and supports a vibrant neighborhood meeting place with seating, vegetation, and an Indego Bike Share Station.
Projects viewed during the tour are similar to work happening statewide in New Jersey. With state, county, and municipal complete streets policies in place, communities across New Jersey are poised to benefit from improved bicycle, pedestrian, and public space accommodations. Moving forward, stakeholders and organizations in the state could consider one key takeaway from Philadelphia’s complete streets tour: Successful design does not happen overnight. It takes outreach, evaluation, and multiple iterations. Rome wasn’t built in a day, but the Porch at 30th Street is never complete.
Chris Lee contributed to this article.