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Philly to Redefine Its Relationship to I-95

UPDATE: Bribing people with music was such a successful idea that I decided to double down on the strategy. Below are even more Philly-based artists that I've queued up to express my joyous paroxysm of Philly pride at the news that I-95 might get a different treatment. Keep reading for more!

It's nice to belong to a city that "loves you back." 

(Let's twist again, like we did before a highway took away our 'wooderfront')

If you asked me to remove the highway, I would, sings Patti LaBelle.

The Philadelphia Orchestra recording Fantasia: The 1950s and 60s "sorcerers" of urban design didn't know what the effect or urban highways would be, did they (Disney only allows this to be viewed from their website)?

Oh man, I did not know that the Soul Survivors were a Philly group. This takes the cake for symbolic "remove 95" songs. Much too crowded!

Oops, Pittsburgh snuck in there somehow. 

I owe my Delco mom a hat-tip for bringing several (video, CBS) news (video, NBC) reports to my attention on just-recently-Fmr. Mayor Nutter's proposed burying of I-95 from Chestnut to Walnut Streets near Penn's Landing. Although Philadelphia is actually on the top ten list of fewest highways per capita for American cities (Providence is the only East Coast city to be on the top ten for most urban highway lane-miles per capita), Philly's relationship to its waterfront (or 'wooderfront', if you will) has been shattered significantly by I-95. It's a problem in Center City, where Olde City is blocked from the Delaware River, but it's an even worse problem in South Philly and Northeast Philly.

Is burying the right solution? I'm not so sure, but I do want to say how happy I feel about the notion of direct access to the Delaware. I figure I'm about to make some wonky, boring points that no one really wants to read, right? So the least I can do is provide a fun soundtrack for those thoughts. I prepared a montage, because words don't get to what I want to say:


Awww, sheee-ut. Dat's ma' JAWN.

Sing it, Mayor Nutter, sing it!

An "'Ill" State of Mind.

Philly rules! (Sorry New England--Also, yeah Upper Darby!).

Could dreams really come true?

A love supreme.

Your loss, Curtis School, but I'm throwing down with some Nina.

You make-a my dreams come true! (Geow Als!)

Let's get back to our Roots! And John Legend went to Penn!

And we'll round it out with a bit more Rocky Balboa.

Okay, so wonky thoughts:

Anything that restores access to the river is great. You can see my musical choices reflect that. But. . . and as any New Englander can tell you. . . burying highways is an expensive way to do that (Um, Big Dig?). The portion of the highway we're talking about burying in Philly is a lot smaller than the Big Dig, so it's probably not going to come to that kind of cost. Nonetheless, why not consider something better?

Why not remove I-95?

Not all of I-95. Just the part on the river. Here's my plan:
I-95 comes into Chester, PA, and if you want to continue on you can either take the Blue Route, which would then be redesignated as I-95, or you could continue through Southeast Delco to the Walt Whitman Bridge, to go to Joysy. A lot of Philadelphians don't know this, but there is no I-95 in New Jersey (I mean, who goes to Jersey, except to geow down da shore?). Princeton, New Jersey stood out as one place (Boston's Jamaica Plain being another) that fought back plans to put I-95 in. And who can argue with the idea that Princeton and Jamaica Plain are lovely beyond all belief? It's sort of weird to have a highway come through the densest part of an urban area, where few people drive, and where a lot of private investment along the river could make things so much nicer. (Noyce!)
The Jamaica Plain Historical Society remembers fighting I-95.
Nonetheless, there is a need for a highway of some kind. Having I-95 as its currently configured from Chester to the Walt Whitman Bridge would allow access to the city, but reorient travel within the city to transit and local roads. On the other branch, the I-476/Blue Route connection would carry non-Philly traffic from Delaware up to the Pennsylvania Turnpike, which then goes onward wherever one might want to go in the Northeast.

Think of the opportunities, Philly! And think of the chance to open up your waterfront for real! Think of the added housing! Think of the opportunity to set aside land to deal with potential flooding from climate change! Think about the park space! Think about the money saved not burying a highway! And, for all that, you'd still have what you need from a highway system, which is connections to the city for deliveries, and for people coming to the city as visitors. This is the right thing to do!

If you live in Philadelphia, tell newly-elected Mayor Jim Kenney that he's gotta' check this out. If Providence can consider making a highway into a boulevard, then Philadelphia can be more ambitious too. I owe it to my home city to push it to go the distance.


1 comment:

  1. One quick note on what's being proposed; this would be capping a depressed portion of I-95 (i.e. it's already buried) that already sits between two existing caps with parks. Reportedly, provisions for the middle section of cap were made back when this part of I-95 was built, but there wasn't room in the budget to finish it at the time.

    Personally, given the pre-existing parkland on the caps, and the easy access to open space along Penn's Landing (not to mention various bits of greenery spread throughout Society Hill and Old City), I'm hoping that the new cap gets put to use as actual buildings, as productive part of the neighborhood (and tax-ratable real estate for the city), and not yet more parkland. Given that the proposed cap includes the frontage on both sides of Walnut Street, I'm 100% that this could attract developer interest. It just requires those 1980s-era footings to be strong enough, and slightly broader horizons out of our civic leaders.