Ashley asked me to write a companion piece to her conversation with Gehl, about the challenges and opportunities facing East Market Street. This post originally appeared in PlanPhilly. Supplemental graphics and text (captions and italics) are intended to lend further clarity and depth to the issues presented in the original text.
A Brief History of Change
Over the course of these same generations, the physical character and organization of East Market Street itself shifted dramatically to respond to changing technology, trends, and preferences. As the 20th Century wore on, the wide sidewalks of the early department store era were narrowed to accommodate more vehicular traffic and trolley riders were moved onto floating islands in the street. Following construction of the Gallery, the Urban Mass Transit Administration and the Federal Highway Administration funded a reconstruction of the street in 1984, leading to the form we recognize today – re-widened sidewalks, a “highway corridor”, and a “transit corridor.”
|Market Street today, looking east from 13th Street. Does this arrangement serve the transportation needs of today's Philadelphia? (photo credit: Jonas Maciunas)|
Surging Pedestrian-Oriented Private Investment
|High quality pedestrian environments are the unifying theme of ongoing and planned development along the corridor. Does Market Street, itself, meet this goal?|
A Dangerous Corridor for Pedestrians
(Quick aside: Sometimes, you'll hear that East Market Street has such high numbers of pedestrian crashes because there are so many more pedestrians (and cars) there than in other places. That's no excuse for accepting the problem. Center City creates vastly more economic activity than any other part of the Philadelphia or Pennsylvania... could you imagine if we discounted this economic productivity, just because Center City has more people and jobs than other areas? Of course not; that would be ridiculous.)
Proponents of VisionZero (coined in Sweden, adopted in New York City, and gaining steam in Philadelphia) say it’s time that we stop simply accepting this sort of vehicular violence as the cost of living or doing business in a major American city, and that we must shift our priorities. And make no mistake about it, public policy and street design shape transportation outcomes. By prioritizing people over their cars after an outcry about vehicular violence in the 1960s, Amsterdam has reduced traffic fatalities by 85% over the past several decades and, today, 38% of all trips in the city are made by bicycle. This transformation has not come at the expense of quality of life or the success of the city's retail districts. To the contrary, central Amsterdam's pedestrian, transit, and bicycle-oriented streets are teeming with shoppers and the retail appears to be far more densely and widely distributed than in Philadelphia.
Hypothesis: taming vehicular traffic has actually improved the retailing environment in Amsterdam, and can do the same thing in American cities with the right supportive alternative infrastructure.
Reasons for Hope - infrastructure, preferences, and shifting behavior
Fortunately, East Market Street is among the most transit-rich corridors in the country. Jefferson Station serves 26,500 daily Regional Rail trips. The Market-Frankford and Broad Street subways serve 187,000 and 123,000 daily trips, respectively. 38,000 people ride the PATCO each day. The trolleys handle 66,000 trips. SEPTA’s routes 33, 17, 23 (including the newly-split 45), and 47 are the all-day high-frequency routes serving the corridor, and they carry a combined 67,000 passengers each day. East Market is accessible to people without a car from all corners of the city and region; maybe priority should be placed not on accommodating individual motorists, but on facilitating deliveries.
|East Market Street boasts unmatched transit access, ranging from Regional Rail, to three subways, subway-surface trolleys, and buses. Ridership on these modes dwarfs the number of motorists on Market Street. (graphic credit: Jonas Maciunas|
|(graphic credit: Old City District + The RBA Group)|
Not only are preferences pronounced, but behavior also is already changing. According to DVRPC, the average daily traffic between Juniper and 8th Streets in 2013 was about 16,900 vehicles (certainly, many of them are just passing through), down from 23,700 in 1999. That decline of nearly 30% coincides with a 28% increase in SEPTA ridership and palpable surge in bicycling in the city. It goes beyond any recession-related blip and defies decades of conventional expectations by traffic engineers. A study by the Philadelphia City Planning Commission found that from 2010 to 2015, public parking inventory and occupancy have both fallen by 7% and 1.7%, respectively, even as Center City employment, dwelling, and visiting have surged. Something is changing.
Other Cities Have Shifted Priorities on Major Streets, and So Can Philly
If transit infrastructure, shifting preferences, and transportation trends are all pointing in a direction that supports a version of East Market Street that is safer for pedestrians and more welcoming to retail businesses, what does an alternative future look like? Consider New York City DOT’s removal of cars from transit-rich Times Square, and how successful that’s been. Fifty years ago, the Regional Plan Association suggested closing Broadway to traffic and got laughed out of the room, but by 2012 the idea’s time had come.
|As Philadelphians, we're often tired of hearing about New York and the success of the pedestrianization of Broadway. Maybe we should step up to the plate and give ourselves something to brag about.|
Toronto, a city also in the middle of a building boom, is boldly redesigning many important streets. Front Street, right in front of Union Station, has been rebuilt as a curbless “shared space” with a single travel lane in each direction, and now functions as a market square. Queens Quay, their waterfront boulevard and light rail corridor, has gone from a multilane highway with streetcars operating in mixed traffic, to a multimodal boulevard with dedicated tramways, a multi-use trail, generous pedestrian promenade, and a single travel lane in each direction. Boldest of all, the city is next planning to redesign King Street, and analog to our own East Market Street. The city’s planning director says that revisioning will include transit priority, dedicated bicycle paths, ample seating for shoppers, and possibly just a single vehicular lane, alternating directions from block-to-block, just to provide access, not space for through traffic.
|Front Street, the threshold to Toronto's Union Station, was recently a multi-lane boulevard, divided by a planted median.|
|Queens Quay had been a classic multi-lane waterfront boulevard, with limited pedestrian and bicycle amenity, and streetcars frequently slowed down by motorists using their lanes.|
|Queens Quay was re-imagined as a true multi-modal corridor, complete with a multi-use trail, dedicated streetcar lanes, and a generous pedestrian promenade (rendering credit: Spine 3D)|
|Next: Toronto, with the help of Jan Gehl, will be tackling King Street. The street has a similar cross-section and economic purpose as Market Street. Shouldn't Philadelphia similarly confront the challenges facing Market Street?|
Progressive Ideas, to the the East and West
Locally, sections of Market Street are already being reimagined to the east and west. On the other side of City Hall, protected bike lanes, advocated for by Bicycle Coalition and the Center City District and designed by Parsons Brinckerhoff and Studio Bryan Haynes, would take advantage of excessive roadway and provide space for safe cycling. On far East Market Street, Vision2026 is recommending the transformation of the 200 block of Market Street into a curbless, shared-space station plaza for the subway, complete with parking-protected bike lanes, enhanced transit shelters, and slow travel lanes. Neither of these are necessarily right for East Market, but the question becomes - between Old City and Market West, will we take a fresh look at how Philadelphia’s Main Street functions?
Take the Opportunity, or Watch the World Pass You By
Market Street has evolved over the generations to meet the technology, trends, and preferences of its time. In the 1860s, it was largely unpaved, carried the Pennsylvania Railroad, and included market sheds at its center. Now as then, change is hard, and requires funding, trade-offs among multiple priorities, and creative design solutions. But could you imagine if, through the 20th Century, we had not risen to that challenge and kept a roadway designed for an obsolete 19th Century transportation system?
As a closing aside... there are many possible future configurations for East Market Street, prioritizing different combinations of modes in a variety of ways. Furthermore, different sections of Market Street - Old City, the core of East Market between Independence Mall and City Hall, and west Market Street - will each require their own treatments because of their unique needs (though continuity and connectivity between them is critical for certain purposes). At this point, however, more than proposing specific interventions or solutions, it is important to build consensus in identifying the problems that exist, and the need to address them around new priorities.
Specific proposals this early in the game, while important for the creative process, only provide talking points and boogey men for potential detractors, ultimately perpetuating the status quo. Work hard to assert the right values and priorities, casting a broad enough net to address interconnected issues, and the right design will present itself. That's not easy, or as immediately satisfying, but worth it in the long run. With dedication to safer streets, more productive real estate, and just a little luck, Philadelphia will get the chance to consider a series of alternative futures for East Market Street.