Bike and pedestrian advocates are calling on the city of Philadelphia to go ahead with its plan to narrow a busy road in South Philly — with or without the support of a City Council member.
Members of the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, Feet First Philly, and other groups gathered on Washington Avenue Thursday to call for action.
“Repaving Washington Avenue without implementing the three-lane option will only result in preserving road conditions that encourage speeding and result in the continued legacy of serious injuries and deaths along the corridor,” said Peter Kim, a volunteer with Feet First Philly.
Washington Avenue is currently five lanes wide. It’s considered one of the city’s most dangerous roads, and the plan to narrow it aims to make it safer. But some residents worry it will force truck traffic onto nearby residential streets or speed up gentrification.
Early this year, city transportation officials backtracked on their plan to narrow much of the road to three lanes, after admitting some of their public engagement failed to reach many older, Black residents. They announced a hybrid three-, four-, and five-lane design in March — which some residents on both sides of the debate were still unhappy with. Then last week, even this compromise design hit a snag.
Councilmember Mark Squilla introduced a bill authorizing the city to revise parking regulations on the portion of the road within his district, something city officials have said is necessary for the project. But City Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson, who represents the rest of the project area, declined to introduce the same parking legislation, citing conversations with business owners and residents.
“I support installing needed safety protections along Washington Avenue which includes things like speed cushions, curb cuts, better lighting and traffic signals, and more school crossing guards at key locations to make sure children get across the road safer, and keep the current bike lanes on both sides,” Johnson said in an emailed statement last week. “I think all of these safety improvements can be done and keep Washington Avenue a five-lane road only throughout the Second Council District.”
Residents who have consistently opposed the narrowest design cheered the council member’s move.
“I’m thankful that the councilman is hearing the people in the community … that Washington Avenue needs to stay as is,” Annette Randolph, who has lived near Washington Avenue for more than six decades, said last week.
Now the bike and pedestrian safety advocates are calling for one of three things to happen.
They want Johnson to amend Squilla’s legislation to include the 2nd District at a hearing Tuesday. They want the city to move forward with repaving and narrowing the road to the mixed-lane plan, without the parking legislation. Or, they want the city to delay repaving Washington Avenue in Johnson’s district until “a safe configuration can be agreed to.”
“It’s not possible to do traffic calming with five lanes of the roadway,” said Sarah Clark Stuart, director of the bike coalition. “That is magical thinking.”
In an open letter to Mayor Jim Kenney Wednesday, State Sen. Nikil Saval, who represents most of the project area, urged the Administration to move forward with the mixed-lane design, “regardless of what happens with the parking regulations on the western end of the Avenue.”
“My constituents have waited long enough,” he wrote.
City transportation officials are still calling on Johnson to amend Squilla’s pending parking bill to include the 2nd District, and have not addressed whether they would move forward with the lane reconfiguration if he refuses to do so.
“OTIS is considering its available options,” said Mike Carroll, deputy managing director for the Office of Transportation, Infrastructure and Sustainability (OTIS), in an emailed statement.
Vincent Thompson, a spokesperson for Councilmember Johnson, said in an email Thursday that Johnson’s stance had not changed since the week prior, and that he did not know what the council member would do at Tuesday’s City Council hearing.
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