Riverfront Corp. gets feedback on new Delaware Ave./Columbus Blvd. traffic study

The Delaware Avenue/Columbus Boulevard traffic study kicking off next month will determine current vehicle counts and problem areas, but should also create projections based on potential development.

Exactly how far into the future the study will gaze has yet to be determined, said Sarah Thorp, director of planning for the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation, which is conducting the study in partnership with the city streets department. Thorp said she and study consultant Jeff Riegner of Whitman, Requardt & Associates are leaning toward estimating the traffic situation after 10 more years of waterfront development. 

The prediction is an important component, Thorp said at a Monday night public session about the study, because current traffic counts and conditions could show plenty of capacity, or even excess capacity, in some spots that could have much more traffic soon. Such an area might be around Spring Garden Street and the Festival Pier, she said. There is a big chunk of publicly owned land in this spot that the Master Plan for the Central Delaware suggests should become a fairly dense, mixed use residential development.

Rieger said that the fixes the study will recommend when it is done – that will likely be in October – will consist of small, targeted solutions. “We are not looking at a major reconstruction of the boulevard,” he said.  But smaller moves, like re-timing lights and adjusting lane placements and sizes have made a huge difference in other cities, including Pittsburgh and Baltimore, he said. Another possible change: Making one-way streets two-way passages.

This is something under consideration for Callowhill Street, Thorp said. The DRWC board has talked about this as a way to allow people visiting the Central Delaware Waterfront by car to more easily return to city neighborhoods. Now, they must travel to Spring Garden Street.

At the meeting, Thorp and Riegner laid out the scope and schedule for the traffic study, paid for by the DRWC with $100,000 in William Penn Foundation grant money. They then asked those in attendance to point out particular problem areas. They got plenty of feedback, particularly from the southern end of the study area, which runs from Snyder to Berks.

“The flow of traffic on Christian Street is incredible,” said Jeff Rush of Queen Village. Rush said that despite the larger size of nearby Washington Avenue, Christian is used by many people as the entry and exit point to the neighborhoods. Sometimes, west-bound traffic is backed up the whole way onto I-95, he said.

Rush said any way to encourage more use of Washington Avenue as the entry and exit point of the neighborhoods would be welcome.

The group discussed the possibility of creating a right-turn only lane onto Washington Avenue as a way to encourage motorists to use that street instead.

Right now, even in the farthest-right lane, right-turners are sometimes stuck in traffic, waiting for someone who is going straight to get the light and proceed through the intersection.

Several Pennsport representatives brought up the similar back-ups at Delaware and Tasker avenues. Pennsport Civic President Jim Moylan said that not only does the traffic from that intersection back up in both directions, but it leads people who are familiar with the problem to use smaller neighborhood streets – such as Dickinson – in order to avoid  it.

Thorp said the study is limited in time and money, and to be effective, it must stay focused on the Delaware Avenue intersections. It will investigate problems at Tasker and Columbus, she said. Problems are likely to show up there, she said.

Ed Kirlin, also of Pennsport, said a study that did not look at interior streets was not a good study.

Thorp said if Delaware Avenue traffic gets better, more people will use it, and fewer will feel the need to chose an alternate route on smaller streets.

Thorp also said that DRWC was helping out on another, much longer study of the same arteries that is going to go into more depth than this one. She was going to meet Tuesday with the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, which is conducting that study at the request of, and on the dime of, city streets.

This two-year study will include modeling that shows what the roadway will be like at various points in the future for years to come, based on development expectations, she said.

One of the earliest actions that will come out of the study will be changing the timing of the Delaware Avenue/Columbus Boulevard traffic signals. Everyone at the meeting seemed to agree this was badly needed.

Riegner said his office would be working directly with city streets personnel to adjust the timing. In some places, an additional repair is needed because the means of communication between signals is not working.

Knowing that the timing is off can encourage people who get a green light to speed toward the next intersection to make it through that light as well.

Mark Squilla, Democratic candidate for city council’s first district – which includes much of the Central Delaware Waterfront – suggested that signs on re-timed lights be posted to inform motorists that they are timed by the speed limit.

That approach has worked on Pine Street and some others in the city. Riegner noted the timing of lights for smooth travel with very few stops is easier to achieve on one-way streets like Pine.

Riegner has collected earlier traffic counts along Delaware Avenue, and those that are a year or two old will be used in this study. Those numbers will be confirmed.

Soon, the wire-like traffic counting tubes will be placed across Delaware Avenue/Columbus Boulevard. The results will help pinpoint what intersections and what times staff should be posted to do more detailed observations of how well the intersections are working, Riegner said.

Along the center of the study area – between Washington and Columbia – the study will look at more than just vehicular traffic. It will also consider pedestrians, bicyclists and transit, Riegner said. Right now, the number of cyclists in the area doesn’t have much impact, Riegner said. But the hope is that situation will change in the future with the completion of the multi-purpose trail and other steps designed to make the Delaware/Columbus roadway a cycling corridor.

Reach the reporter at kgates@planphilly.com

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