It looks like Frankford Avenue is getting a makeover south of Girard

The Delaware River Waterfront Corporation introduced plans for the Frankford Avenue Connector Project. Here’s what that is.

The proposed signs underneath Frankford Avenue’s I-95 overpass looking South.

Representatives from the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation greeted Fishtown residents with plans for the Frankford Avenue Connector Project, which aims to connect the neighborhood with the waterfront, at Wednesday night’s Fishtown Neighbors Association general meeting. So, what is a connector project?

The theory is that ever since I-95 was built, many people have considered it a primary reason why Philadelphia never quite had a waterfront presence like many other big cities like New York or Chicago have. Chris Marcinkoski, partner at design consultancy firm PORT, called the interstate highway both a “physical and kind of perceptual boundary between the waterfront and the neighborhood.” As a result, fewer people take advantage of Philly’s waterfront, and in particular, the Delaware River Trail, which is a key part of DRWC’s Master Plan for the Central Delaware waterfront. DRWC wants to change that.

The proposed signs underneath Frankford Avenue’s I-95 overpass looking North.

It’s not the first time the DRWC has conducted such a project. It’s completed similar ones on Spring Garden Street and Race Street and is in the process of completing one for Washington Avenue in South Philly.

Plans for the project include giant signs to be placed under and around the I-95 street overpass that will be designed to be aesthetically pleasing and cool looking, reflecting the character of the neighbrohood. Tentative mockups show the word “FRANKFORD” lit up in yellow lights.

“Right now, it just says Frankford because this is the name of the street,” said Marcinkoski. “Some people say Frankford doesn’t make sense because this isn’t the Frankford neighborhood. This is Fishtown. Other people have said it shouldn’t say Fishtown because everything says Fishtown in Fishtown. There’s no consensus about that.”

So, DRWC is going to work on that part in the meantime.

But there’s more to the connector project than simply a bunch of nice signs. According to Marcinkoski, there’s only one tree on Frankford Avenue between Girard and Delaware Avenue. They’re planning on putting some more of those in. Additionally, Marcinkoski mentioned the possibility of adding parklets in the street. Ideally, Marcinkoski said, DRWC would like to add some plants and other decorations onto the sidewalk, however, he said, the sidewalk is simply too narrow for that — especially since they think more people will be walking down the sidewalks once the project is finished, since that’s the goal. Parklets are small areas that fit in about two parking spots along the parking area in the street, which is enough for a bench or two and some plants. Maybe a bike rack. There’s a few of these in University City, if you’re looking for examples. But those aren’t the only potential parks. Through the city’s Pedestrian Plaza program, the DRWC is looking into potentially closing off a very small portion of Laurel Street between Canal Street and the intersection of Frankford and Delaware avenues. Since statistics collected by the DRWC show that it’s an underused road area by cars as it is, the agency thinks it’ll be better served as a public space for people. After all, Marcinkoski said, the space right next to that stretch of Laurel Street — where the SEPTA 15 trolley’s turnaround area is — used to be a public area called Shackamaxon Square way back in the day.

“That was actually a public market…before it disappeared in the late 19th century,” said Marcinkoski. “We were inspired by, could you bring a plaza like that back? Could you bring a small public space back at the edge of Delaware [Avenue]?”

A rendering of the proposed plaza on Laurel Street.

Marcinkoski said closing off the street would add only about an extra minute or two of travel time for the few drivers who do drive on that street.

“We’re relatively sure that there’s not going to be any major detrimental impact,” he said.