North American Street renovation plans finalized

City planners, consultant companies complete site plans for deteriorated roadway

By Lindsey Nolen

Easily distinguishable from its neighboring side streets, city planners recognized the vast development potential of North American Street, from Gerard Street to Lehigh Avenue, years ago. Today, they are one step closer to making this vision a reality as a finalized site plan was displayed to the public at two open houses held during the final weeks of July.

It was not until 2015 that the city decided to allocate $5 million of its awarded $10.265 million in U.S. Department of Transportation TIGER grants to improving this two-mile segment of the street. In determining what upgrades should be made, five consultant companies — G&A, JMT, KMJ, Promatech Inc. and M&S — along with the Streets, Commerce and Philadelphia Water Department’s have been working together to push for increased safety, accessibility and sustainability.

“North American Street is currently a huge, wide road that is not good for bikers or pedestrians, and not even good for traffic because people don’t see the stop signs,” Justin Ferri, IT specialist II with KMJ Consulting, Inc., said. “We wanted to use this project as an opportunity to help make the street a much safer experience.”

One planned improvement will include the creation of a grassy center median that will encompass a 28-foot-wide bioswale. The purpose of a bioswale is to soak up stormwater that collects on the pavement through inlets, deterring puddling on the roadway and allowing the runoff to be recycled back into the environment.

“Any sort of proper drainage will prolong the longevity [of the roadway],” Mark Mullen, senior associate at Johnson, Mirmiran & Thompson, said. “What you don’t want with asphalt is water sitting on it. Water, even though it’s an impervious surface, will trickle down into the asphalt and eventually freeze, expand and crack; that’s where you start to see potholes, and once you have a pothole, it’s ultimate deterioration from there.”

Along with assisting in maintenance of the roadway, the median will also be used as a tool to decrease the width of North American Street, as the two-lane road will be transitioned into one 12-foot travel lane in each direction. According to Darin Gatti, P.E., the chief engineer and president of the Board of Surveyors at the city Streets Department, various national studies have concluded that when roads do not possess a heavy enough traffic flow to require the multiple lanes which exist, the dangers presented by speeding and reckless driving increase.

“Right now [North American Street] is too wide for the traffic that it is carrying,” Gatti said. “If you have room for four controlled cars at a stop sign-controlled intersection, it actually becomes more dangerous for pedestrians. The traffic patterns on the street do not justify the two lanes in each direction.”

Additionally, alongside the planned median, a raised three- to four-inch bike lane will be implemented. This decision came after members of the public voiced their concerns that placing the lanes on either side of the street would present dangers, and that its implementation alongside the median would most likely be the safest option. The reduction of painted crossing distances, with bump-outs and refuge islands at intersections, and wider sidewalks — to accommodate strollers and sidewalks — are also among planned additives to the street’s landscape, with the goal of increased safety in mind.

Other concerns raised by the public included a need for parking at south — from Girard Avenue to Cecil B. Moore Avenue — and north — Lehigh Avenue to Indiana Avenue — sections of North American Street. In response, the design team plans to provide additional legal parking spaces — both parallel and back-in angled parking — on the street. Furthermore, concerns regarding needed lighting have led to plans for upgraded LED lighting fixtures.

Upon the project’s completion, Gatti anticipates the renovations to North American Street will entice both residential and commercial development, and therefore ideally make additional jobs available to local residents.

“We are designing this corridor for the long-run,” Gatti said. “We’re trying to establish quality commercial development by bringing in commercial businesses that will basically hire local people and provide stable jobs.”

With a projected $17.4 million cost, Gatti expects the project to take approximately two years to complete, with bids for construction beginning this August and construction in January. Although construction crews will be working throughout the year, certain elements, such as laying down asphalt, are limited by changes in weather, seeing as the ground cannot be below a certain temperature for it to be applied.

“One of the tougher points in selling this [project] is trying to get the community to visualize the final product as we visualize it,” Gatti said. “There’s an opportunity here, both economic and safety-wise, for a real win here, and that’s why we won the competitive grant money.”