Bacon Awards given to NYC transportation commissioner and University of Toronto team

The transportation commissioner who made Broadway a pedestrian-only street and a student team that imagines a giant set of steps offering views down Market Street from the Delaware River to City Hall, have won the 2011 Bacon Awards.

The 57 competing student teams were asked to re-imagine the I-95 corridor for this year’s competition, titled INTERSECT: What happens when transportation corridors and cities collide?

University of Toronto students Clara Romero and René Biberstein won $5,000 for the entry they named Float Your Boat.
David Bender, coordinator of the Center for Architecture, which coordinates and hosts the event, called the plan a nuanced approach. “In some sections, they are burying I-95, but for very short sections,” he said. “In other sections, they are supplementing what’s already there with improved public transit and pedestrian and bike access over and around the highway. And other sections they are leaving them as is.”

John Claypool, Center for Architecture and AIA Philadelphia Executive Director, and Hilda Bacon kick off the evening.

Entry highlights include:

A focus on increasing shipping in and out of Philadelphia and adding warehouse space in South Philadelphia.
Bringing business to the water’s edge, to in turn bring people to the water’s edge.

“Canoe Central” – a plaza where canoes can be rented.

And a big, grand “staircase” leading from the Delaware River to Market Street. This is one of the sections where I-95 would be buried.

The on- and off-ramps at 2nd and Market would also be moved to clear out the view. The goal is a view corridor linking the river with City Hall, in the same way City Hall and the Art Museum are linked by the Ben Franklin Parkway. These steps are one of the team’s favorite parts of the design. Read more about them and their design in this sidebar.

Out-going Advisory Committee Chair Don Jones introduces DRWC Executive Director  Tom Corcoran, who talks about his job’s similarities and differences to the student’s I-95 assignment, describes each project and gives the awards.

Special jury prizes were awarded in four categories:

Temple University’s Noelle Charles, Melhissa Carmona and Amanda Mazid won the sustainability prize for their proposal, Plug-in. The team called for using I-95 as a power generator for nearby neighborhoods and parks. Wind, solor, electro-kinetic and piezoeletric power would be harnessed. Nearby parking areas would include stations to recharge electric cars.

Boundary City, submitted by a team from Georgia Tech, won the infrastructure prize. The proposal calls for greatly raising I-95 and replacing it with a broad avenue for local traffic.

Another Georgia Tech team won the landscape design prize for City Pull, a plan suggesting the highway be buried and covered with the fabric of city neighborhoods. A wide swath at the river would become green and recreation space, and greenery would flow back into the neighborhoods from there.

The walkabililty award went to a team from Notre Dame and their proposal Connectivity & Continuity: Returning the Waterfront to Philadelphia. This plan calls for replacing I-95 with a network of boulevards and extending the city’s street grid to the waterfront.

Delaware River Waterfront Corporation President Tom Corcoran knows a little about dealing with I-95. He and his organization spent the past several years devising a Master Plan for the Central Delaware Waterfront. A primary goal: Reconnecting city neighborhoods, which mostly lie west of I-95, to the waterfront on the east side of the highway. Corcoran helped chose the winning team and, along with Bacon’s daughter Hilda Bacon, presented the awards Wednesday night.
Corcoran presented a snapshot of the master plan, highlighting the ways his team dealt with the “unmistakeable and unsubtle physical and psychological presence of the highway.” The two approaches taken: Using landscaping, lighting and public art to make key streets that do reach from neighborhoods to the riverfront safer, more pleasant, and more obvious. And expanding a current deck over I-95 to create a large, grassy connection that stretches between Chestnut and Walnut streets. “This is the big move on our plan, but it is a small move compared to what you will see tonight.”

In a conversation prior to awards night, Corcoran said the winners presented breathtaking ideas. “They could be influential later down the road,” he said.

At the awards, Corcoran said such drastic changes could perhaps come in the next generation. Right now, there is no money to do something like bury I-95. Just the decking between Chestnut and Walnut will likely cost between $100 million and $200 million, he said. “Rina (Cutler, deputy mayor for transportation) tells us it’s unlikely $30 billion in appropriations is coming anytime soon. If it does, she’ll let us know.”

It was valuable to have the students look beyond the here and now, Corcoran said.

Incoming Bacon Awards Advisory Committee Chair Diana Lind, executive director and editor in chief of Next American City, thinks so, too. That’s why she pushed for the students to take on this topic.
PennDOT is in the midst of a huge rebuilding of I-95 called Revive 95. Construction has begun on some portions. Design is finished for others.  (For a complete schedule, see the Revive95 website).
But as far as Lind is concerned, anything that isn’t yet built can be re-designed. “Everyone recognizes it was a mistake to build I-95 in the first place,” she said. “To remake that mistake would be a total shame.”
The idea in the Central Delaware Master Plan to put a wide grassy bridge over I-95 isn’t enough for Lind. “Is it better than leaving it as it is right now? Yes. Is it going to transform people’s relationship with the waterfront? I don’t think so. I think it is insufficient.”

As commissioner of the New York City Department of Transportation, professional winner Janette Sadik-Khan wrestles with urban highway and street issues daily.

In her introduction of Sadik-Khan, Cutler said her ideas have been so good that Philadelphia and other cities are happy to steal them.

“Transportation Divas” Rina Cutler, Philly’s deputy mayor for transportation and public utilities, and professional Bacon prize winner Janette Sadik-Khan, commissioner of the New York City department of transportation, talk of cars, mass transit and pedestrians, and the sometimes counter-intuitive ways that street projects improve cities.

Sadik-Khan said her team has stolen plenty from other cities, too. Borrowed or original, the philosophy behind them is that streets are about way more than moving cars from one place to another.  Under Sadik-Khan’s leadership, New York has added miles of bicycle lanes and is about to start a bike share program, where people can rent bikes for short-term use. In addition to keeping cars off of Broadway, New York temporarily closes other streets or blocks for festivals or pop-up parks. Speaking of pop-up parks, Sadik-Khan said that some of the most successful projects have been built very quickly and cheaply with little more than paint and street furniture. That quick action helps people believe that things really are going to happen, she said. She joked that no sooner has a park popped than it is in use. People come out of nowhere, like they are being beamed down, StarTrek style, she said.

Next year’s student competitors will take on Intersect Part II – they will be asked to re-imagine the Schuylkill Expressway corridor.

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