Fishtown residents have mixed feelings about crossing project at Norris, Cedar and Susquehanna…

Fishtown residents have mixed feelings about crossing project at Norris, Cedar and Susquehanna intersection

The main reason the FNA had the idea to create the project originally was because, FNA board member Jon Geeting said, many residents contacted the FNA saying that they felt the intersection was unsafe. Another reason was because of positive feedback the FNA received when it did a one-day pilot of the project back in 2016.

The space where the potential project would go between Susquehanna Avenue and Norris Street.

The Fishtown Neighbors Association held an informational meeting Thursday night for what it’s calling a “crossing project” at the intersection of Susquehanna, Norris and Cedar streets. The project entails blocking off some of the space in front of ReAnimator Coffee with planters and paint as a way to effectively extend the curb closer to both the middle of the intersection and the sidewalks on the opposite side of Norris Street and Susquehanna Avenue. The extension effectively shortens the walking path from ReAnimator to the opposite side of Norris Street toward Loco Pez.

“The purpose of it is to make it easier for people to cross the street because the sight lines are really bad,” said the FNA’s safety committee chair Shannon Wink. “And for drivers especially who are coming around [Norris] Street, [who should] be able to turn without something here illegally blocking their vision.”

When Wink says “something here illegally blocking their vision,” she’s referring to cars that illegally park in the space in front of ReAnimator as drivers quickly run into the store to purchase coffee on the go.

“Someone who may be older or might move more slowly or have limited mobility — a mother with a small child — can actually come out here and walk all the way out there so your distance to cross [Norris Street] is much, much, much shorter,” said Charlotte Castle, who works for the city as the Vision Zero and Neighborhood Programs Coordinator. Castle was invited by the FNA to come to the meeting.

Castle said engineers at the streets department determined the best, exact measurements for the project, based on the ability of large trucks to make a left turn onto Susquehanna Street from Norris Street.

“I think I will feel safer as someone who walks through here all the time,” said Jon Geeting, an FNA board member. “People jump curbs in the city probably all the time, but they’re not going to jump a planter.”

Other residents agreed.

“Honestly, this updated crosswalk will make me and many others feel MUCH safer crossing the street and it will help cars cross this intersection in a MUCH safer way,” posted Leanne Menninga on the Facebook event page for the meeting. “I am an immediate neighbor who walks and drives along this intersection every day. I love the idea of making this intersection better.”

However, many other residents did not feel the same way.

A resident named George, who did not want to provide his last name, said many drivers who are not from the neighborhood drive Southeast along Norris Street, and then cross the intersection only to realize that Norris Street, which is a one-way street, changes direction at the opposite side of the intersection. As a result, people frequently back out of the street realizing that they’re going the wrong way, then cut across the open area where the project would be placed to go down Susquehanna Avenue. He feels it’s important the space be left open so confused drivers don’t become even more stuck than they already frequently are, which would, he believes, make the intersection less safe, not more.

“We have maybe 15–20 cars a week — people not from the neighborhood — they’ll come straight across and go through the wrong way,” he told the Star.

Tom Rafter, a resident whose house is located at the intersection, was concerned it would take away parking — even if that parking was illegal.

“The practicality of it is that — not that it’s legal, but it’s real — you’re displacing two or three cars [who park in the space]. They’re going to end up somewhere. I’m not arguing that it’s legal. I know it’s not a legal spot, but when people come in to go to Cedar Point or Loco Pez or the coffee shop, you see the cars in the [space]. It’s not a perfect world, but it happens because there’s nowhere else for the cars to go.”

Another neighbor named Scott, who also did not want to provide his last name, was worried it would also make the area less safe because the area would attract people who go drinking at night. He worries that someone might drunkenly stumble into oncoming traffic.

“You got a gathering of people and they’re drinking, god forbid someone stumbles out and gets hit by a car. You’re putting more people in danger on the weekend when they’re standing here smoking because you know they’re going to smoke here. It’s going to be a gathering here.”

It’s important to note the FNA, Wink said, will not allow furniture in the space. As a result, it’s not meant to be a gathering space or a social area of any kind. This is despite the fact the city calls these areas “pedestrian plazas,” which, Wink said, makes it sound as if the areas are indeed meant to be social areas. But they’re not.

“‘Pedestrian plaza’ is the official city terminology, but that sort of implies that it’s a destination or a gathering spot and it is not that,” Wink said. “It is a crosswalk and paint and planters. No furniture.”

Perhaps the biggest concern among neighbors was that, in addition to cars parked in the space illegally, many delivery trucks use the space to temporarily park when making deliveries to ReAnimator and the other businesses in the intersection, including Loco Pez and Cedar Point Bar & Kitchen. If the delivery trucks can no longer park there, residents are worried they might park in the middle of the street when making their deliveries, which would block traffic. Resident John Scott criticized the FNA for not thinking ahead about this issue.

“There’s some blocks where if you’re doing a delivery, you could park right there, run in, run out, and you’re fine,” said Scott. “But on this particular route, it’s a bus route, so you absolutely cannot stop for a second to do a delivery. And so they pull in [this space]. Where are they going to go [if it’s no longer there]?”

“The delivery trucks are a concern, and I get that they’re a concern,” said Wink. “A lot of the emails and calls we’ve gotten have specifically been about the delivery trucks being in the intersection and blocking visibility [for drivers making a left onto Susquehanna from Norris], so this is kind of in response to those concerns.”

Many neighbors also complained they weren’t made aware of the project. However, the FNA, according to Geeting, went “over and above what is required” to make the public aware. He explained how the process works: “first, you submit a drawing, the streets department checks it out, they take it back to you, and you get signatures from 50 percent of the neighbors within 75 feet of the project,” he said. According to Geeting, only 15 residences were within 75 feet of the project, which meant the FNA only needed eight signatures.

“We got nine from this zone, but we realized that’s not enough public support, so we fliered 100 households in the area, we got signatures from 30 people who live on a few blocks around here and that’s over and above what is required. We’re having this meeting here today to get feedback from people.”

Geeting said the feedback then goes back to the city, which will have to approve a design.

“It works that you have to have community support,” Castle said. “The way that the community support is designed right now in this program is that people living up against the project have to be in support of it within 75 feet of the project. And that at least one half of them have to be in support of it. But if there’s a half that’s opposed to it, it probably isn’t in the best interest of the program to adopt this project because we want the program on the whole to be successful.”

Another important note is that, according to Castle, a safety analysis has not been performed at the intersection. As a result, the city hasn’t yet made the determination the intersection is especially unsafe as it is. Many residents in favor of the project may anecdotally say the shorter crosswalks make them feel safer, but there’s no hard numbers or evidence that show it will significantly decrease car accidents or pedestrians hit by cars — or evidence to show those things are even problems in the first place.

The main reason the FNA had the idea to create the project was because, Geeting said, many residents contacted the FNA saying they felt the intersection was unsafe. Another reason was because of positive feedback the FNA received when it did a one-day pilot of the project back in 2016.

“About 100 people took a survey who came through here that day and about 80 percent said that it made it easier to cross the street and about the same percentage said that they wanted to see a permitted plaza here similar to that,” Geeting said.

So people may feel safer, but, again, is there significant evidence that shows cars and pedestrians were the subjects of collisions or accidents at the intersection in the first place?

“We haven’t seen the stats on it,” Geeting said.

However, Castle said safety isn’t necessarily the point.

“I think the safety thing has been a bit blown out of proportion,” she said. “From the engineers’ perspective, it doesn’t prohibit anyone from making a movement that’s being made already. They did a turning radii study to see how trucks of different sizes could make this turn and they decided that this was enough of an angle that wouldn’t keep a truck from [making this] turn.”

Castle said she was “surprised” about how many residents at the meeting were against the project. She pointed to the intersection of 48th Street, Baltimore Avenue and Florence Avenue in West Philly as an example of a similar scenario that went through. She said everything at that intersection has worked pretty well so far.
“It too is right in front of a cafe, and cafe seating never encroaches on it,” she said. “It makes a nice corridor for people walking. Cars still go through, trolleys still go by, buses still make turns. It all happens, so it can happen.”