Public wants well-lit underpasses and under-highway recreation and dog parks

I-95 underpasses should be flooded with light . Fancier lighting, defining the passageway that connects a neighborhood with the waterfront, would be even better.

Walls should be camouflaged with plants, where possible, and embankments should be transformed into mini parks or run-off capturing rain gardens.

And beneath those areas where the new highway will rise high above the ground, people should be able to play tennis, or walk a measured track, or ride skateboards. And dogs should find a place to scamper.

Project introduction
That was just some of the input PennDOT received at a public meeting in Fishtown regarding future phases of the I-95 Revive project. The session focused on the future rebuilding of the highway itself between Shackamaxon and Palmer streets, which will be going out to bid next year. Participants began the discussion for more complicated projects that are further out on the horizon – the re-do of Delaware Avenue and the use of space beneath the viaduct that runs from Palmer to Ann streets.

Participants were divided into smaller group sessions in order to comment on what PennDOT could do to help achieve the goals of the Central Delaware Master Plan – a long-term map for the redevelopment of the river between Allegheny and Oregon avenues that is almost complete – as well as meet the goals of the individual waterfront neighborhoods that this portion of I-95 winds through.

During the introduction, Planning Group Leader Marian Hull, who works for PennDOT consultant URS Corp. announced that the results of last year’s session for the Richmond Street portion of the project had been incorporated into bid documents that will go out later this month.

Richmond Street review
One of the highlights is the extensive use of LEDs for both street and pedestrian lighting. “It is a pilot project, a larger-scale test of this technology,” Hull said.

Richmond will also be flanked with bike lanes that are paved a different color from the roadway. And its median will be a water management swale. The swale will contain trees that are planted in special containers which both allow them to use the street water and keep their roots from harming the utilities that are beneath the street.

Hull said that PennDOT cannot afford to make all the neighborhoods’ dreams come true. But if a neighborhood wants to adorn an overpass with electrified signage that helps link the riverfront and neighborhood, for example, PennDOT can run the conduit now so that the artwork can be easily attached when the time comes. And there are some things that PennDOT can complete solo, including landscaping and hardscaping, the inclusion of public artwork (PennDOT saved a bunch of elements from the Cramp shipyard building to be used for this purpose) and parking.

Group discussion on overpasses
Mary Stumpf,  member of both Neighbors Allied for the Best Riverfront (NABR) and the Central Delaware Advocacy Group (CDAG), was supportive of using areas under the highway for active recreation. But she asked whether air quality monitors could be included in these spots. The group facilitator said that had not been discussed, but it would be now.

Win Akeley, who is active with the Friends of Penn Treaty Park, was paying close attention to the plans for what is now being called Triangle Park. This piece of land bordered by Columbia, Delaware Ave and the highway currently has the structure holding up a portion of the roadway in it, but in the future, it will not. PennDOT has seen this 1.25 acre spot as one that could be green and used for parking, to make up for 32 spaces that will be lost elsewhere.

Akeley said he would prefer the area be entirely green, and PennDOT should look elsewhere nearby to create parking. He was especially concerned that two large evergreen trees be saved.

Facilitator Doug Robbins circled those trees on the poster-like sheets of photographs that were used to spur feedback.

Summaries from the discussion groups
Project Manager Mark Rhoades said that he personally thought it was important to have parking in that space, but that it was big enough for both uses. And any parking spaces could be greened up, in the conservation sense, with the use of pervious pavement.
The session also included discussion on several connector streets identified in the waterfront master plan. Participants said that part of connecting was being able to safely cross Delaware Avenue, and asked that crosswalks be elevated to the sidewalk level. This would both make it easier for pedestrians to cross, and force cars to slow down, they said.  If this could not happen, they asked that the pavement in the crosswalks be a different color from the rest of the roadway, to call visual attention to the fact that people would be walking there.

PennDOT will now take the feedback it received, compare it to what can be done by the laws of finance and physics, and come back in two weeks with proposals.

Participants will review and give feedback on these proposals at 7 p.m. May 17, at the same location – the Skybox @ 2424 Studios, 2323 E. York Street, Fishtown.

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