For any Kensington or Fishtown resident, Frankford Avenue is an oft-traveled, main corridor throughout the neighborhood. It’s where people from all over the River Wards make their home or run their business, and as a result, the street is littered with cars, trucks, pedestrians and bicyclists every day. For James Gitto, member of urbanist political action committee 5th Square, and Chloe Finigan, coordinator of a Clean Air Council-sponsored pedestrian advisory group called Feet First Philly, that’s precisely why the corridor – especially from Sergeant Street to York Street – is in need of various repairs and improvements to make the area safer for pedestrians.
For Finigan, it’s important to make sure the streets are safer for pedestrians because it’s a way of encouraging walking, which is a far more viable transportation solution from an environmental standpoint than driving a nasty, carbon-polluting car or truck. For Gitto, it’s simply to make things safer for pedestrians, which he feels should be prioritized over cars. Both Gitto and Finigan led a walk throughout that very area of the Frankford corridor to highlight four intersections that can be made safer for the community.
Frankford and Sergeant
“If we’re looking at this intersection, one of the first things that you’ll notice is the lack of paint,” Gitto said, kicking off the walk. “Another thing you’ll notice, though, is a whole lot of unused street space.”
This intersection, like pretty much every intersection we visit on the walk, has faded paint that’s barely visible to pedestrians and drivers. Gitto wants to see that fixed, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The chief concern here is the use of a “slip lane,” which Gitto thinks should be eliminated.
“A slip lane is a lane that stops you from having to make a 90-degree turn,” Gitto said. “So another example of a slip lane is if you look at the southwest corner of Love Park, there’s a slip lane that goes through and then a pedestrian island at JFK and 16th Street.”
In other words, it’s a small lane that allows cars to make a turn onto another street while avoiding the actual intersection. Theoretically, if slip lanes didn’t exist, drivers would still be able to go through the intersection to make the turn at the intersection, and for this reason, Gitto thinks they’re “redundant.” Not only that, but they’re safer.
“When people have to make full 90-degree turns, they have to go slower,” he explained. “Data shows that if you’re going 20 mph, you’re a lot less likely to kill somebody than if you’re going 25 mph.”
If the slip lane were eliminated, it wouldn’t be the first slip lane to be eliminated in Philly. At 23rd and South in Graduate Hospital, a slip lane was replaced with a pedestrian plaza and has become a social gathering place for those in the community.
Another problem Gitto has with the intersection is the timed lights at the nearby Frankford/Huntingdon and Frankford/Cumberland intersections, both of which are on either side of the Frankford/Sergeant intersection. Both Frankford/Huntingdon and Frankford/Cumberland have timed lights, and are close enough together that drivers can see the green light from one intersection from the other. As a result, cars traveling south on Frankford have a tendency to race through the Frankford/Sergeant intersection to get to the Frankford/Cumberland intersection to try to make the light (while cars traveling north on Frankford will race through Frankford/Sergeant to try to make the light at Frankford/Huntingdon). It would be best, Gitto thinks, if those lights weren’t timed to turn green at the same time, that way drivers aren’t encouraged to race from one light to the next.
Lastly, Gitto wrote to the city requesting a four-way stop sign be put at the intersection.
Frankford and Cumberland
Gitto had two main issues for the Frankford Avenue and Cumberland Street intersection: the first involves bike lanes and the second is the incorporation of a leading pedestrian interval (more on that in a second).
Right now, the way Cumberland Street is laid out, bicycles don’t have their own lane. Instead, they’re mixed with car traffic. Gitto thinks Cumberland would be a good candidate for a parking-protected bike lane in which there’s a travel lane for cars, a parking lane next to that and a bicycle lane between the parked car lane and the sidewalk.
Gitto would also like to see a leading pedestrian interval, or an LPI. You may have actually seen these before, but didn’t know what it was. An LPI is when pedestrians get a green light (or a walk sign) on either side of a street a few seconds before the cars get a green light. This allows pedestrians to get a head start crossing the street before cars make turns through the crosswalks, making it easier and safer for pedestrians to cross the street. Gitto said the city has implemented a few of these along South Broad Street and has “seen huge improvements in safety,” although the results of the study have yet to be fully released.
Frankford and Hagert
Currently, there’s no stop signs or anything at the Frankford and Hagert intersection. Not even a crosswalk. Gitto wants to see four-way stop signs put in and a raised crosswalk, which will allow pedestrians to not only cross the street more safely, but will encourage drivers to slow down. He also said that the intersection was a good candidate for “daylighting,” which is a process that aims to increase visibility at intersections by using infrastructure such as bulb-outs, bollards or even flower pots to prevent cars from parking on or near crosswalks. Bulb-outs are basically extensions of the curb into the street where the walkway is to shorten the distance pedestrians need to walk to cross the street. When cars aren’t parked near crosswalks, it becomes easier for drivers to see pedestrians and vice versa — especially when the pedestrians are children.
Gitto said the revamped version of Frankford and Hagert would also eliminate the “terrifying” issue of “inching,” which is when drivers inch out into the street when they can’t fully see behind a car parked too close to the corner of the intersection.
Frankford and York and Trenton
As you may have heard, there are already plans to put a traffic circle at this intersection, which sits right beside Horatio B. Hackett School. Gitto is lukewarm about it.
On one hand, “We love traffic circles as an organization,” Gitto said. “We think that they’re great.”
But on the other, “A lot of my concerns are that there doesn’t appear to be a lot of thought into the longevity of this project. So yeah, great, we’re going to put this traffic circle in, but what happens when some of these bump-outs start to fade or fall apart? What’s the long-term maintenance plan? And that’s something the city has been really bad at in general.” To boot, there’s virtually no way to incorporate bike lane infrastructure into the traffic circle, which Gitto himself admits is a lost cause.
“I think that bicyclists are out of the equation, unfortunately,” he said.
Also, he feels the traffic circle is more geared toward cars and trucks, not pedestrians. He feels that way because of the “mountable apron” in the middle of the circle, which is a raised area not necessarily meant to be driven on, but provides some breathing room for big trucks trying to fit around the circle. He also thinks that the bulb-outs should extend farther into the street – leaving just barely enough room for a car to get through, forcing them to drive slower through the intersection.
“Why are large trucks being prioritized in the neighborhood?” Gitto asked. “How many large trucks have we seen since we walked this strip? Most of the businesses along here are small businesses. At most, they’re getting box truck deliveries.”
Gitto and Finigan said there are plans for a second neighborhood meeting regarding the traffic circle, and he hopes those issues are brought up by residents.