30th Street gets new pedestrian approach

A major highway project has given the University City District a chance to make the south side of 30th Street Station a little bit more friendly to pedestrians.

The group is preparing to create a plaza along a new 40-foot-wide stretch of sidewalk built by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.

PennDOT is in the middle of a multi-million-dollar project to renovate elevated road structures near the train lines along the western bank of the Schuylkill River. As part of that project, Amtrak agreed to allow the agency to take away a lane of looped parking to expand the existing sidewalk on the 2900 block of Market Street.

Prema Gupta, UCD’s director of planning and economic development, said the group would use the extra land to “humanize the space” by adding in planters, tables and chairs. The group also wants to add programming for the area ― something along the line of a farmer’s market or a partnership with a fitness center to provide outdoor yoga classes.

The move is part of a larger city-wide initiative to improve pedestrian amenities on the cheap, such as the recently installed parklet installed by UCD near Clark Park and a new city program that aims to turn unused slivers of roadbed into small pedestrian plazas.

Gupta said UCD’s plans for the plaza are “iterative.” It will look at the reaction of pedestrians to the space and make improvements if more money becomes available. She hopes it will draw a lunchtime crowd and people who are waiting for trains.

Costs are being covered by a grant from the William Penn Foundation.

UCD plans to have a contract awarded to put the new furniture in place by next month, with a projected winter planting ― a pace Gupta called “aggressive but very doable.”

The group’s effort arose out of a three-year planning process by the city and other local stakeholders to try to improve pedestrian features in the area, which serves as one of the country’s busiest transit hubs.

Deputy Streets Commissioner Stephen Buckley, who’s been involved in that effort, said that PennDOT was providing “a blank slate” with the reconstruction project, which is meant to address stormwater infiltration of the elevated structures.

Though “we knew out of the gate that it wasn’t going to be a masterpiece,” the UCD project is “permitting us to do some kind of programming and activity out there in the short term,” he said. Better pedestrian lighting is also planned for the block, and the sidewalk across the street is being reconstructed to match the look of the plaza.

The project is significantly scaled back from a 2008 conceptual design released by the Planning Commission that would have reduced the number of lanes on Market Street from four lanes to two ― one of the “fatal flaws” that Buckley said made the project unfeasible.

It also suggested planting large trees in the ground ― which PennDOT objected to because the block sits on an elevated structure.

The UCD project is one of several planned in the area, along with Penn Park, the University of Pennsylvania’s redevelopment of acres of vacant parking lots into playing fields.

Additionally, the Water Department is planning to turn the 3000 block of John F. Kennedy Boulevard into a green street demonstration project highlighting stormwater management features. The city also has a federal stimulus grant to make the Walnut Street Bridge more pedestrian friendly, and the Schuylkill River Development Corp. wants to add more green space along Schuylkill Avenue.

To gin up support for the UCD project, the group has launched a contest to name the space, currently called Station Square.

Applicants can submit a proposed name, a reason for choosing the name and contact information to newpublicspace@univercity.org by Sept. 30. The winner will be chosen by a panel of 10 judges.

Contact the reporter at acampisi@planphilly.com

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