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Street Smarts: Reading the tea leaves in piles of snow

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Recently, a blog post started making the rounds on, well, local blogs (in addition to Twitter and Facebook). It was chock full of images of South Philly intersections, transformed by the snow. 

I live in South Philly (Passyunk Passyunk Crossing for now; Bella Vista soon), and can personally attest to the silliness of some of our most trafficked intersections. The main culprit is East Passyunk Avenue, which cuts diagonally north and east from Broad and McKean to 5th and South. Sure, it makes travel to certain parts of Center City quicker, but it also creates irregular street patterns that can cause headaches and clutched pearls (when that car whizzes by). I often walk just a bit further to avoid the melee at Passyunk, Reed and 11th — once you add in the trolly tracks, it's downright deadly.

The work done by Jon Geeting at This Old City shows that we really could do better, both by adding parklets and extending curbs. All he needed was a horrific, relentless, snow-filled winter.

If you haven't heard of a “sneckdown” yet, it's a clever combination of “snow” and “neckdown” – another name for a curb expansion – that uses snow formations on the street to reveal the space cars don't use. Advocates can then use these sneckdown photos to make the case to local transportation officials that traffic calming interventions like curb bumpouts and traffic islands can be installed without any loss to car drivers.

One of the areas of Philadelphia with the best opportunities for pedestrian plazas is E. Passyunk Avenue, which crosses the street grid at a diagonal, creating lots of triangular intersections. I thought the snow would provide some good examples to help you visualize what I'm talking about, so I headed over there this afternoon to take some sneckdown photos. And to my delight, the snow revealed some awesome traffic calming ideas I hadn't considered.

Geeting makes illuminates all the wasted space along the Passyunk corridor, and makes the argument that simple changes could make intersections less confusing and safer for pedestrians. I'm all for it.

LEE STABERT is managing editor of Flying Kite Media and Keystone Edge. She is easily confused at intesections.

Region: Southeast

Development, Features, Philadelphia


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