Delaware Ave./Columbus Blvd. traffic plan won’t hugely impact congestion, says city transportation official

The recommendations made in a draft of the Delaware Avenue/Columbus Boulevard traffic study “won’t be hugely impactful” on roadway congestion, Philadelphia Deputy Commissioner for Transportation Steve Buckley told the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation board Friday.

Re-timing the lights will help, Buckley said, but “we’re not expecting that all of a sudden, there’s going to be no congestion on Delaware Avenue. We’re just not seeing those results right now.”

DRWC Director of Planning Sarah Thorp said the study’s short-term recommendations and the data collected will feed into more complete studies, like one that the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission is working on. Also, she said, the study is about more than just the timing of lights and traffic congestion.

A major portion is safety, looking at where accidents have happened, she said. “Even though we all talk about the timing, all of these other results are important as well,” she said. The safety recommendations will help guide DRWC’s trail-building efforts, for example, Thorp said.

DRWC Board Vice Chairman Jay Goldstein said if the traffic improvements that come out of this study will be modest, the DRWC needs to be careful not to oversell it.

DRWC President Tom Corcoran said he believes people will accept modest improvements in the beginning, so long as they know improvements will continue to be made.

The marching orders given to study consultant Whitman Requardt and Associates LLP, based in Wilmington, included analyzing pedestrian and bicycle access at crossings and bump-outs and exploring possible options for expanding the walking and biking trail. The study focused on major intersections.

Buckley and other city transportation officials are reviewing the study’s recommendations. Once the city’s input is received, the results of the study will be presented at a public meeting in June or July for public input, Thorp said.

Buckley said his office will be meeting with the study consultant in the next week or two. When deciding which of the recommendations to implement and which to tweak or discard, Buckley said that the needs of those in vehicles will have to be weighed with the needs of pedestrians. Many of the study’s preliminary recommendations involve extending the traffic lights’ cycle times, he said, and that is “typically not viewed to be very pedestrian friendly.”

The goal is to strike a balance to minimize congestion, but not do so at the cost of pedestrians, he said.

Buckley noted that at off-peak times, the main problem on Delaware Avenue/Columbus Boulevard is pretty much the opposite of congestion: Speeding. His department wants to make changes “so it’s not functioning as a 60-miles-per-hour arterial” highway, he said.

Buckley said any recommended changes that the city decides to implement will be made relatively quickly, by the end of summer.

DRWC Board Member Bill Hankowsky asked if there was any way to override the usual traffic signal settings to clear traffic out after special events. He and other board members expressed delight at the answer.

Buckley said that new city software will enable the city to have 32 different programmed options reflecting different situations.

“That would be awesome,” Hankowsky said.

Deputy Mayor for Transportation and Utilities Rina Cutler – Buckley’s boss and a DRWC board member – said it will be great, but it won’t be finished by the end of summer. “That’s a different time-table,” she said.

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