Spotted: Just off the Schuylkill River Trail, a new entrance to Laurel Hill Cemetery

For years and years, well-to-do Philadelphians have been just dying to get into Laurel Hill Cemetery.

But thanks to a recently completed traffic calming and storm water management project, gaining access to the most exclusive gated community for the living-impaired just got a little bit easier, at least for those of us still shuffling on the mortal coil.

Laurel Hill Cemetery’s new entrance on the corner of Kelly Drive and West Hunting Park Avenue is now open, providing the runners, joggers, and cyclists who frequent the Schuylkill River Trail a much more convenient access point to the graceful cemetery grounds.

A new stairwell and landscaped apron replaces a traffic island and underused slipway onto Kelly Drive’s westbound lanes. The greenery doubles as a rain garden, soaking up stormwater. Curb bump-outs and a new signalized crosswalk will hopefully calm some of the fast-moving traffic on Kelly Drive: Despite a 35 mph speed limit, a Streets Department study found the average speed of the 25,000 drivers was 54.8 mph.

The project was developed by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society as part of its Civic Landscapes Initiative. The Friends of Laurel Hill Cemetery quickly signed on, and a wide coalition of partners chipped in money and expertise to take make the idea come to life: Philadelphia Parks and Recreation, the William Penn Foundation, PennPraxis, the Fairmount Park Conservancy, East Fairmount Park Coalition, PennDOT, Visit Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Streets Department, the Philadelphia Water Department, the Buck Family, and the Pew Center on Arts and Heritage.

Victorian cemeteries like Laurel Hill and the Woodlands in University City were designed to function as public gardens. Laurel Hill’s gently rolling hills and bucolic landscaping make it an ideal place to jog, walk or simply rest.

“We want to encourage people to cross Kelly Drive and access the Cemetery as the public space it can be,” PHS Parks Project Manager Tammy Leigh DeMent told PlanPhilly back in March. Before the new stairwell and signs, Laurel Hill visitors could only access the ornate necropolis by an entrance on Ridge Avenue.

While the project’s completion was delayed a few months, the new opening still comes in time for Laurel Hill’s full calendar of Halloween-related programming this month, enticing plenty of folks to cross the River Schuylkill to hang out among those who long ago crossed the River Styx.

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