Franklin Institute getting new bus loading zone, plaza in Winter Street realignment

The mention of winter usually conjures up images, cold and colorless, of a city depressed: gray, bare trees, lumps of dirty snow, drab coats trudging by with downcast eyes on the lookout for treacherous ice.

Winter Street—a short, three-lane-wide interstitial street between 20th and 23rd Streets that runs parallel and above the sunken Vine Street Expressway—emulates its eponymous, enervating season, sucking the life out of the Franklin Institute’s northern side and making it harder for pedestrians to cross the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

But soon, the atmosphere along Winter Street will become much more spring-like, as a realignment will remove a travel lane, giving the Franklin Institute a parking lane for school buses and a leafy pedestrian plaza. Appropriately enough, construction should finish in the spring of 2017.

PennDOT plans show Winter Street curving northward to meet the Parkway before it hits 20th Street, providing room for the new plaza, which will serve as a more welcoming entrance for the many school field trips that noisily fill the Institute’s exhibits.

Currently, buses dropping-off and picking-up packs of children and their harried chaperones frequently stop on 20th Street, using its shoulder for temporary parking.

School buses frequently stop in front of the Franklin Institute on 20th Street
(Google Maps)

Winter Street’s realignment is part of the I-676 overpass bridge replacement project that some have criticized for failing to consider capping all of the expressway between 18th and 22nd Streets. Instead, only one gap—between 20th Street and Shakespeare Park in front of the Free Library—will be capped.

Parking along the north side of Winter Street between 20th and 22nd Streets will go away for construction, but only temporarily. From 22nd and 21st, Winter Street will remain two-way, but one of the underutilized eastbound travel lanes will be removed. That will enable the parking areas to move south by about 20 feet with green space where parking once was. All told, over 11,000 square feet of new lawn will be added, aimed at reducing crosswalk lengths for pedestrians travelling between Fairmount and Logan Square and providing extra green space to soak up rainwater.

Pennoni and Associates, the engineering design firm who drafted these plans for PennDOT, said they met at least 60 times with stakeholder organizations in the area while finalizing the project. “As we went through preliminary engineering and final design, a major concern [from the stakeholder groups] was pedestrian safety along 20th and Winter Streets,” said Jim Pezzotti, a representative from Pennoni. “The intent [of the realignment] was to reduce the crosswalk lengths and improve pedestrian safety at that intersection.”

While the Winter Street realignment should finish in the spring of 2017, construction in the area will continue until late 2019. In addition to the Winter Street portion, the $64.8 million project will see the overpasses rebuilt, new sidewalks, ADA-curb ramps, streetscaping and new lighting installed.

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