Western end of Washington Ave. to get traffic calming measures

File photo: The intersection of 17th Street and Washington Avenue, a main thoroughfare, in South Philadelphia.

File photo: The intersection of 17th Street and Washington Avenue, a main thoroughfare, in South Philadelphia. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

The western end of Washington Avenue in South Philadelphia will get some traffic calming measures — even though it’s not being narrowed, like the eastern end.

City Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson announced this week he’s putting a few hundred thousands dollars in discretionary funds toward traffic calming measures on the portion of the road in his district.

“Whether traveling by car, bike, foot, or otherwise, people will be safer on Washington Avenue,” Johnson said in a statement.

The area of the road west of Broad Street will get speed bumps and barriers that mark the center line. These barriers will force drivers to make turns more slowly, said Mike Carroll, the city’s deputy managing director for transportation, infrastructure, and sustainability.

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“It gives everyone a lot more time to react to what’s in front of their vehicle,” he said. “Just makes it a lot safer all around.”

The portion of Washington Avenue west of Broad Street is being repaved but not reconfigured. The eastern portion of the five-lane thoroughfare has been narrowed to a mix of mostly three and four lanes under a city traffic safety plan that sparked intense debate and triggered tensions over gentrification.  

Councilmember Johnson refused to introduce legislation that would have facilitated the redesign on the western end of the road, which is in his district. He was responding to opposition from some neighborhood groups and businesses over fears of traffic congestion and large trucks being diverted to nearby residential streets.

The mixed-lane design itself was a compromise, which the city announced nearly two years after releasing a three-lane “final design decision.” The city admitted long-term residents of color were underrepresented in an online survey about the project, after holding a series of quasi-closed meetings with neighborhood groups, businesses, and advocacy organizations.

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Officials with the city’s Office of Transportation, Infrastructure, and Sustainability (OTIS) weren’t sure whether traffic calming measures could be included on the western end of the road after Johnson threw a wrench in the redesign there, Carroll said, because they’d been designed to go along with the road narrowing.

“We knew that if we were going to do any kind of traffic calming, we kind of had to go back to the drawing board and develop the calming measures that were appropriate to a full cross-section,” Carroll said.

It’s not what OTIS has originally planned, but “it’s better than it might otherwise be,” he said.

Carroll says the repaving and road narrowing on Washington Avenue is done — and the additional traffic calming elements on the western portion could be built before Thanksgiving.

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