Spring Garden proposal: Pockets of green gathering spots, art inspired by the street name

A plan to make walking or biking pn Spring Garden Street between Northern Liberties and the Central Delaware Waterfront a more pleasant experience – and by extension, to attract future development there – is beginning to take shape.

The first public meeting on the Spring Garden Connector Project was held Wednesday night at Festival Pier.

Artist Leni Schwendinger said she was inspired by the street’s name to brighten the piers and walls of the now-gloomy  I-95 underpass with tendril-inspired patterns, a palette ranging from grass green to yellow and white lighting.

“The big mystery was why is this called Spring Garden?” she said. “I couldn’t see any evidence of spring or garden.” Watch Schwendinger’s presentation in the video above.

Jackson Wandres, director of landscape architecture for RBA Group, spoke of more trees, lights, artwork, street furniture and even small park-like places to gather along Spring Garden, between 2nd Street and the Delaware River.

Some of these elements would be located in a five-foot “amenity strip,” the portion of the 15-foot-wide sidewalks closest to the parking lane.  But future sitting areas, mini-parks, and perhaps even kiosks selling newspapers or coffee could be carved from portions of the parking lane not actually used for parking.

Wandres explained that parking is not allowed in portions of the 8-foot parking lane near corners and driveway curb cuts. Claiming this area for people to use or enjoy is the key principle of RBA’s working plan, he said. Wandres said so far,  the city streets department is amenable to the idea. His presentation is included in the video below this article.

The Delaware River Waterfront Corporation, which is overseeing the project, held the public event to help shape the plans. Some people asked questions or raised comments. Northern Liberties Resident Terrie Lewine asked if something couldn’t be done under the overpass to dampen the noise from the trains.  Charles Timmons – who performs as Timi Tanzania with Timi and the Dub Warriors – lives in West Philly, but frequents the project area, and takes SEPTA to the station at the underpass. He praised the effort. “It is sorely needed,” he said. Timmons notes he especially loves art that has both “form and function.”

DRWC Planner/Project Manager Karen Thompson said the comments made or written on notecards at the meeting, and any DRWC receives in other ways, will be incorporated into the designs for both the underpass and the street scape. Have something to say? Email DRWC at planning@drwc.org. The more concrete designs will be presented at the next public meeting, likely to be held this fall, Thompson said.

Thompson said in an earlier interview that the cost of the Spring Garden Connector can’t be determined until the design and phasing work is further along. It could cost more than the $2 million in William Penn Foundation money DRWC now has on hand. The $300,000 design contract is also coming from that same pot.

She and Wandres said Wednesday night that the first priority will be the underpass portion of the project. The money left will go toward the street improvements, Wandres said. Thompson noted that one course of action might be focusing the improvements on key intersections now, and doing others as more development comes to Spring Garden.

Phasing on this project is also very important because PennDOT will be rebuilding the highway over Spring Garden Street. PennDOT’s work at Spring Garden isn’t set to begin until 2018, and DRWC doesn’t want to wait that long to make changes there. This adds another wrinkle to the planning. Construction will begin on some portions of the project next spring, Thompson said, while other aspects will wait until after PennDOT does its work. The early improvements will be designed so that most elements can be taken down and stored during PennDOT’s work, then re-installed when it is complete, she said.

Wednesday’s meeting began with a chance for attendees to look at images of current conditions between 2nd Street and Delaware Avenue and possible future scenarios in both the short- and long-term. They could talk to Thompson of DRWC, Wandres of The RBA Group -which also designed and is building the Penn Street portion of the Central Delaware Multipurpose Trail – and Schwendinger of Leni Schwendinger Light Projects Ltd

Neighborhood-riverfront connections are a key piece of the city’s long-range plan for the Central Delaware. Like the Race Street Connector and Columbia Avenue Connector projects, which are further along, the Spring Garden Connector is designed to make moving between a city neighborhood and the waterfront a more pleasant experience. All three projects include making an I-95 underpass a more welcoming, well-lit place.

The Spring Garden Connector project is both larger and more complex than the two connector projects that came before it. Spring Garden Street is not only much wider, but its underpass contains the entrance to a Market-Frankford El stop. And buses stop beneath the structure as well.

“There are so many agencies that have jurisdiction within this two-block area,” Thompson said.

For Spring Garden, SEPTA and the city’s water and transportation and utilities departments are also involved, Thompson said. And because the Spring Garden Connector must mesh with the Pennsylvania Environmental Council’s Spring Garden Greenway project, they are at the table as well, she said.

All the connector street projects involve coordination with PennDOT, because as PennDOT is rebuilding I-95 and the underpasses, it is willing to incorporate the projects in its design. PennDOT will build those improvements that can be covered by its project budgets, and will take steps not to prevent additional work DRWC and its consultants will do.

PennDOT work has begun around the Columbia Avenue project area, so some portions of the project won’t be completed until it is finished, Thompson said.

A video of Thompson’s introduction to the project can be seen here, and the audience Q&A here.

Images to come.

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