The part of Spring Garden Street below the Market-Frankford El station and I-95 is a long, unwelcoming gateway to Northern Liberties and does nothing to signal that there’s an increasingly accessible waterfront just a block away.
The long planned Spring Garden Connector Street project is intended to change that and at long last the work is edging toward completion. The “connector street” treatment is intended to forge a stronger link between the neighborhood to the river, create a more attractive transit entrance and a better pedestrian environment for crossing below I-95, and make this gloomy underpass glow.
The Delaware River Waterfront Corporation (DRWC) first sought proposals for the Spring Garden Connector Street back in 2012, hot on the heels of the partial-completion of the Race Street Connector. Proposals came in during 2013 and a final concept was revealed in early 2014.
“We are still moving forward with the same design we released” originally, said DRWC’s Karen Thompson. It’s just taken a bit longer than originally anticipated. RBA Group has led the project’s implementation, and the design team has included the Lighting Practice, Cloud Gehshan, Urban Sign, and Leni Schwendinger Light Projects.
The concept for this connector street includes about 40 large metal panels cut and perforated with a leafy botanical design that draws inspiration from the street’s name. The panels will be mounted and backlit with programmable LED lights, intended to brighten and enliven the grim space. The painstaking process of fabricating the panels, by Urban Sign, began last year and now installation is undereway.
The four outer corners of the underpass have already been wrapped with metal panels. Crews are currently suspending undulating versions of the metal panels from the underpass roof above the sidewalks, which will be lit from above to “cast an abstracted version of the pattern on the walls,” Thompson explained. The two SEPTA entrances will be framed with long sections of panel, anchoring the center of the underpass.
LED Lights will backlight all of the panels, shifting in color throughout the day, washing the dowdy and long underpass with light. The columns running down the center of Spring Garden will also be illuminated.
Last year streetscape improvements were completed on this short bit of Spring Garden, from North 2nd Street to Delaware Avenue, including new pavers and new trees. Coming soon are trash and recycling receptacles and bike racks. The total construction budget for the project ran about $2 million, funded by a William Penn Foundation grant, and multi-modal grants from PennDOT and Commonwealth Financing Authority.
Thompson said if all goes well work could be completed in July. We’ll notice: Expect the LED lights to change color throughout the day and for the light installation to be visible 24/7.
Connector streets were a key idea in the Master Plan for the Central Delaware, adopted by the city in 2013, to make clearer more attractive physical links between neighborhoods and the Delaware Waterfront.
The Spring Garden Connector Street is seen an especially important one to complete, both because it is a transit hub but also because it links to Festival Pier on the waterfront, which is on the verge of redevelopment. DRWC is continuing to work with Jefferson Apartment Group and Haverford Properties, to finalize developer agreements for that site, Thompson said.
Forthcoming connector streets include those upriver at Columbia, Marlborough, and Shackamaxon. These underpasses are done but work is tied to the schedule of the I-95 Girard Interchange construction project.