Dilworth Plaza disrupts pedestrian traffic while promising to improve pedestrian experience

The construction around Dilworth Plaza is creating a no-pain, no-gain situation for pedestrians trying to walk through and around City Hall. 

The barriers surrounding the Dilworth construction site block east-west access through City Hall and remove roughly half of the sidewalks on the block, but the construction is being done in an effort to make Dilworth Plaza a more inviting, convenient, pedestrian friendly space. Until the project is complete in the spring of 2014, the barriers are staying put, and pedestrians can prepare to walk around them. 

“Cities are about change, and sometimes change has minor inconvenience,” Paul Levy, Center City District President and CEO said. 

On the streets around City Hall, some people feel differently. 

Cici Coello, who transfers from the subway to the bus at City Hall Station, said she used to come up through the stairs in Dilworth Plaza. Coello said if it were possible she’d avoid City Hall altogether during the construction.

“If there was another way that was just as fast, yes, I’d take that,” she said.

Coello said she was surprised the Dilworth Plaza construction will go until spring 2014.

“I didn’t think it was gonna be that long,” she said. 

“It doesn’t look as safe,” said Tiffany Green, who was traveling with Coello and watched people walk in the road and along the barriers.

Coping with construction

In planning the Dilworth Plaza construction the city and Center City District, the group leading the project, took pedestrian safety into consideration. As of now, the groups are not too concerned with the impact on foot traffic.

Unlike a more traditional Center City construction project, the Dilworth Plaza construction goes all the way to the curb line, Levy said. Because of this, Center City District was unable to set up temporary sidewalks and the current barriers and fences will remain in place until the spring of 2014. 

To help alleviate pedestrian headache, Center City District distributed cards with maps showing routes around the construction, enlisted the help of the police to direct foot traffic and held a press conference. 

Though public transit riders can not exit into Dilworth Plaza, they can still exit into the central square of City Hall or across the street on 15th Street. 

Andrew Stober, chief of staff at the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities, said the current system is working pretty well and there has not been much public complaint. 

Though people are still walking in the road and along the barriers, which have large do not walk signs, Stober said the situation is getting better and that fewer people are walking in the street now than they were when the fences first went up.

He said it took a month or so for people to adapt to the changes but that is to be expected as both drivers and pedestrians need time to adjust to new traffic patterns. 

“We weren’t giving pedestrians the right queues how to get around the construction site,” Stober said.

Since then the city has partially barricaded the triangle between JFK Boulevard, 15th Street and Dilworth Plaza, covered the pedestrian walking signal that faces Dilworth and added more signage. 

But the city can only do so much. 

“There’s a personal responsibility element,” Stober said. 

The new Dilworth Plaza

All of the construction changing pedestrians’ traffic patterns now is being done, in large part, to improve pedestrian experience. 

The Dilworth Plaza project is completely making over the square on the west side of City Hall. The construction will remove all of the concrete stairs, barriers and pits that made the former plaza uninviting and difficult to walk through.

“We see it [becoming] a much more pedestrian friendly, more accessible space,” Levy said. 

The new plaza will be one, level plane and will be accessible at street level. There will be clear lines of sight throughout the space, unlike the former design, which was full of site obstructions, and there will be improved access to public transportation with large, glass “head houses” on the north and south sides as well as ADA accessible elevators in the middle and north end all leading to the subway concourse below. 

Where Market Street meets Dilworth Plaza, the project will add a crosswalk over 15th Street. Right now, there is a cross walk on the north side of Market Street but not on the south side of Market Street near one of the subway entrances and the Clothespin statue. 

The project may also encourage pedestrian traffic on Broad Street just north of City Hall as the Dilworth Plaza café on the north side of the space will be visible from the new Pennsylvania Convention Center entrance. At night, the café will act almost as a lighthouse leading pedestrians from the convention center to City Hall. 

Whereas the former Dilworth Plaza served largely as a shortcut, Stober said, the new plaza will serve as both a destination and a more accessible cut through. 

Area businesses like La Colombe Torrefaction across from the southwest corner of City Hall hope the improved shortcut will increase foot traffic to their door. 

Ben Contois, a senior barista at La Colombe, said the Dilworth project was a main reason the company chose to open a new location at this Center City site. Contois said the café has not seen any decrease in business with the construction at Dilworth, but the location did open right around the time that work began.

Construction update

Levy said progress is on track and that crews have not run into any major problems.

“It is a complex project in that it is a park on top of three operating train lines,” he said and noted that much of the work is being done below ground, around the public transportation infrastructure. 

“I’d say we will be going down about two more months,” Levy said. After that signs of construction will start to be more visible above ground, and the project will wrap up in the spring of 2014. 

Though two years may seem like a long time to those on foot, compared to the original 30-year construction period of City Hall, Levy said two years seems pretty good to the Center City District.

Contact the reporter at cfisher@planphilly.com

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