I visited home recently, and I couldn't help but notice not only the differences between Philadelphia proper and Providence, but even the differences between my suburb of Upper Darby and Providence. I'm hoping that I've spent enough time complaining and cajoling Providence lawmakers to do things they won't do to try to throw my weight into an even more far-fetched task: getting UD to change. I think it would take very little to make my town bikeable. I'm hoping regular readers of the blog will bear with me through my posts about Upper Darby, and hopefully despite them not being at all about Rhode Island, they'll still be interesting.
One of the reasons I want to focus on Philadelphia again is that I actually feel like Philadelphia is a far better city to model ourselves after than either New York or Boston. I mean, clearly, New York has a far superior transit system, but in terms of walkability and bikeability, Philadelphia is much better--Philly has narrow streets, and New York has huge ones. Boston, too, I think, has a lot to offer, and is a beautiful city in many respects. You can find narrow streets in Boston, but despite that, there are quite a lot of highways and unnecessarily large roads, and I truly can't think of many places where I'd less enjoy biking around--Mayor Menino or no Mayor Menino. Boston and New York have such a pull on Providence, that they can make it seem like they're the true leaders on this stuff. And certainly, New York and Boston have made some small improvements. But I still hate biking in either one, even despite the fact that the leadership of Philadelphia sucks and is stalling on improving conditions for cyclists from where they are now, the advantages that already exist in its design have to be taken into account.
Here's the clincher. I'm not going to compare Providence to Philadelphia proper. I'm challenging you to beat my suburb: Upper Darby. I figure this is a win-win for me. I've gotten bored of saying things that won't be listened to here, and I figure why not try to be ignored somewhere I'm more at home with? And this way, it's fair. Upper Darby's about half the population of Providence, but a bit denser. It's got better transit, but it's way behind on biking (no bike infrastructure at all, certainly no bike share on its way). So we're at a point where some competition could happen. Let's see where we go.
Here's my challenge to your Providence: if I can get Upper Darby to improve faster from my computer in Rhode Island than I can get Providence to change from within it, then that would be a major embarrassment, wouldn't it? And if I don't, eh. . . well, good for you! But either way, one of the places I've called home will win. I'm thinking this will spice things up.
Tina Fey, who is from Upper Darby, and went to my high school, has this to say about Boston:
"We all really hate Los Angeles."
(Vraiment, nous détestons Los Angeles.)
--Ben Franklin, 1746, while sleeping with an elderly French woman wearing a basket on her head.*
~~~~Day One: A Woonerf for Garrett Road
|69th Street Station, near the Tower Theater, Upper Darby|
A woonerf is a street that cars can drive on, but where bikes and pedestrians have the right of way. They don't just have the right of way in the sense of being able to cross, but also area allowed to walk down the middle of the street, or bike. Speeds are very low: 10-15 mph (this shouldn't be a problem, since many streets in UD have 15 mph speed limits signed). Woonerven can be accompanied by diverters to keep through-traffic low, or can have traffic calming devices on the street like additional street trees and plants to narrow the way. Garrett Road should get a woonerf parallel to it, because to do so would be easy and would have huge benefits for the town.
Garrett Road is the main street of Upper Darby, and runs through a variety of neighborhoods. It parallels the 101 & 102 trolleys, which go to Media and Sharon Hill from 69th Street. Connecting through many of the neighborhoods these trolleys run in is easy, because the streets in UD are gridded, and most are calm. But neighborhoods are cut off from each other by natural features like Naylor's Run Park, and that means merging onto major streets from time to time.
|The Sharon Hill Trolley (102) from Bywood Avenue.|
As American streets go, Garrett Road probably isn't that bad, but it does need a road diet. It has a variety of mixed-use and mixed density housing alongside it, lots of shops, schools, and other amenities. The walk score along parts of it is in the high 80s. One of the features that makes Garrett Road easy to be turned into a decent biking corridor is that it's built kind of like a boulevard. There's a major car street, the trolleys, and then a quieter parallel street. In the Bywood and Stonehurst neighborhoods, the parallel street is Bywood Avenue. In Drexel Park and Garrettford, it's Hillcrest Road.
A couple things need to change. At the eastern terminus of these streets, they become paired one-ways. On Garrett especially, this causes speeding. Bywood gets less speeding on its one-way, perhaps because it's narrower, but any cyclists going east and trying to avoid Garrett now have to merge back onto the road. UD officials should change these streets back into two-ways all the way.
|Mixed use. a side street of Bywood. It gets quieter very quickly, but there are still beautiful high and low density housing types on the same street.|
This corridor could get bike share. From 69th Street, there's the El, the 100 High Speed Line, the 101 & 102 trolleys, and buses going to every place in the region. That's a lot of people moving through this corridor. While there were only a few vacancies on 69th Street when I walked around, this corridor looks drab. One way to enliven it would be to use bike share to connect from 69th Street, and from targeted trolley stops on the 101 & 102.
|Market Street needs a road diet (admittedly this was taken in the morning on a Sunday, but this is too many lanes--and the lanes are each too wide!--hurting business. Learn from Center City.)|
69th Street, and even more so Market Street, could get road diets. I saw that the UD Police have taken to giving out "Slow Down" lawn signs to neighbors all over the township. Why not make the road design reflect that? Again, speaking from a business perspective, 69th Street is a fairly lively place, but its success is entirely dependent on getting people off of transit to walk around and buy things. There's never going to be enough room for all the fast moving cars on Market to park, so why usher them in so quickly?
Parking crater and main branch of
Parking crater for commuters near
prime location apartments.
I was really happy to see that there were only a couple of parking craters in the 69th shopping district, but all the ones I saw were directly adjacent to the 101 & 102 trolleys. Upper Darby should consider instituting a parking tax on these lots. It could use the revenue in any number of ways: it could lower taxes on nearby buildings, helping businesses grow and apartments and homes stay affordable. It could also use the money to clean up the streets. 69th Street was full of trash when I was there. Getting the shopping district to look like a place that matters would help to highlight all the cool restaurants and shops that actually exist there already.
The other challenge is that Naylor's Run Park and the Bonner/Prendie High School campuses blocks Bywood from connecting over to Hillcrest. This could be pretty easily fixed by running a pedestrian/bike bridge over Naylor's Run near its nearest entrance point on Beverly Road, and carrying a bike path across the Bonner/Prendie track to Winding Way. There's already a signal at that intersection to help people cross, and Winding Way immediately turns off into Hillcrest Road. Lansdowne Avenue, which inexplicably gets very wide and fast in UD, and which has been the site of many pedestrian deaths, should get a road diet.
Getting bike access through Naylor's Run and Bonner/Prendie makes sense too, because this park is the site of a proposed cross-county bike path from Yeadon to Radnor.
In Drexel Park and Garrettford, there's a great deal of mixed-use development due to the history of the trolleys, especially around the Waverly Theater, on Garrett Road itself, and on Burmont Road. With the gridded streets, and especially with the woonerven on Hillcrest and Bywood, getting to these businesses should be easy. This should also help children get to school at Garrettford and St. Andrew's.
This area is less dense than along Bywood, but I think bike share might still be able to work in limited places, perhaps at Lansdowne Avenue and Shadeland Avenue off the trolleys, and with hubs at the schools and shopping areas, and at DCMH Hospital.
|Walk With Care: Indeed! (Westbrook Park, Springfield Road).|
Another challenge is the beyond Garrettford, Garrett Road turns into N. Bishop going into Westbrook Park. Westbrook Park is really part of Clifton Heights, but it's part of the UD School District, and culturally feels like it's part of the township. Westbrook Park is strange, because it's above 10,000 people per square mile, but every possible awfulness has been unleashed by traffic engineers onto it, to make it as unwalkable and unbikeable as possible. I would try to approach this using an urban (or, shall we say, suburban?) triage:
*Getting this area bikeable makes a lot of sense, since it's the site of a proposed cross-county bike path by the Darby Creek. There's some surprisingly beautiful sites alongside the creek that no one will ever know about unless UD fixes bike and ped access.
*Westbrook Park has a poverty level above 10%, which is not high by any means compared to some communities, but is high enough to ask a question: is making this dense, potentially walkable area less accessible to people without cars such a great idea?
*The N. Bishop highway-let can't be more than a quarter to a half mile long, depending on how you define where it begins. Why do we have this? The road needs a road diet, and could easily get protected biking and walking areas. It seems silly that someone living in Garrettford couldn't walk easily to Westbrook Park. I remember, in fact, that this was one of the few places in the region I occasionally asked for a ride to. Even though Clifton Heights has a trolley stop, Westbrook Park is an awkward place within the borough to get to.
*Bishop needs several crossings to make it walkable. I walked it the other day, and there's essentially nowhere safe to cross between the end of Garrett Road and Baltimore Pike. I think this must be an outlier within the inner suburbs, where usually walking is easy and comfortable. Signals should be timed to lower the speed of the road to 25 mph, but signage to let drivers know this could help to smooth traffic, and even improve drive times. I think this corridor is the only place in Upper Darby I can really think of there being traffic jams, and it's because the road design is something out of the 1950s, but with dense housing around it.
*Baltimore Pike is a nightmare, but it'd be hard to deal with right away. Over time, I think it could get medianized BRT. What's interesting about Baltimore Pike is that it goes from being a two-lane, very crossable road to a gigantic stroad right in this neighborhood. So one option would be to carry out road diets a half mile at a time, to accompany development. This is the way main streets used to be built: just a little at at time. Buildings like the currently open but dilapidated-looking Burlington Coat Factory could be hubs around which other buildings could be slowly in-filled. Do you remember when this corridor had the "Bazaar of All Nations"? Baltimore Pike is probably the ugliest and most dysfunctional thing in the Philly region, which is crazy since it's got transit coming at it from all directions to help it take on a better shape.
*Springfield Road has some businesses that could be walkable, and is also home to Westbrook Park Elementary School and Holy Cross Church. A bit farther down, Springfield Road has an on-street trolley (the 102). A road diet on this street to lower speeds, improved street trees, and wider sidewalks could help support these businesses.
Day Two: Can We Do Anything with Marshall Road? Tune In Next Time. . .