Is this stretch of sidewalk on South Street too narrow?

Eyes on the Street reader Henry recently wrote in to ask the Help Desk about a stretch of sidewalk on South Street, made narrower by ramps leading into two new storefronts. He wondered:

Could zoning have issued approval for these hideous ramps to obstruct almost the entire sidewalk?

The ramps Henry inquired about are part of the current mixed-use redevelopment of the old union buildings at 2101-2143 South Street by Grasso Holdings. At its narrowest, the sidewalk becomes about 3 feet wide between a street tree pit and the entrance for pet supply retailer, Doggie Style.

The Streets Department (not zoning) reviews anything built onto the sidewalk right-of-way (technically called an “encroachment”) before building permits are issued. So I put the question to Streets. It turns out that Henry has a point.

“A minimum width of 5′ is required for free and clear pedestrian passage,” Keisha McCarty-Skelton, a Streets Department representative, confirmed over email. She said that Streets references ADA guidelines when reviewing encroachments onto the public right-of-way.

McCarty-Skelton said Streets reviewed this project, but added that “the plan which was approved by the Streets Department’s Right of Way Unit, indicates the tree pits were to be removed by the developer but this was not done. We will investigate and send notice to the property owner.”

The priority here is to make sure pedestrians and folks in wheelchairs can have safe passage along South Street’s sidewalks. Still, it’s unfortunate that Streets advocates removing a relatively mature street tree to address this design conflict, especially given Philadelphia’s green infrastructure priorities.

This isn’t the first time a development has not left enough space for pedestrians and it surely won’t be the last. Remember the sidewalk compromise struck by the city with the developers of 1352 Lofts, further east on South Street? In that case, the condo developers had left scarcely any space, and were asked to chip back the ramp/terrace leading into their new building. Even then, they left a 4-foot-wide sidewalk. Similarly, it’s on the developer to figure out a solution here.


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