In the last three years there have been more than 900 crashes on Washington Avenue, and in that time, the lines and pavement markings that are supposed to safely guide cars, pedestrians and bicycles through the urban arterial have faded. Today those lines are, in some places, nearly nonexistent.
The city needs to re-stripe Washington Ave., but because the street is more complex than most, the city is taking extra time to determine where the lines should go. New lines could reduce Washington Ave. to one lane of traffic in each direction, create 11th Street-inspired diagonal parking, add buffered bicycle lanes or any mix of the three.
For the majority of Washington Ave., Kittelson & Associates, Inc. has proposed three options.
For the portion of Washington Ave. that runs through the Italian Market, 11th Street to 7th Street, the firm has proposed the following options.
For the stretch from Columbus Ave. to 4th Street, the firm has proposed two potential treatments.
A third option, one that was not officially shared at the meeting, could be to leave the median where it is. This might leave room for either angle parking or a buffered bicycle lane.
Wednesday, the Philadelphia City Planning Commission (PCPC) and the two firms working with the commission to analyze Washington Avenue held a public meeting at the Mummers Museum. The goal of the meeting - to solicit public input on how to stripe Washington Ave. - was lost a bit in the presentation by the two firms, Kittelson & Associates, Inc. and Boles, Smyth Associates, Inc. Representatives from both shared what they have learned to date, but for the most part what they shared is what Washington Avenue residents already know.
"From an observational stand point, generally what we're finding is a lot of things happening on the west side are also happening on the east side," said Jack Smyth of Boles, Smyth Associates, Inc.
The firms have been studying Washington Ave. since June. Together they found that traffic volume on Washington Ave. is not as high as it is on neighboring arterials. Washington Ave. sees an average 9,000 daily vehicles whereas South Broad Street has an average 22,000 daily vehicles. Oregon Ave. carries 15,000 daily vehicles, and Passyunk Ave. comes in at 12,000 daily vehicles. The average delay at traffic lights on Washington Ave. is less than 20 seconds, which Boles said is low.
Based on these numbers, "traffic isn't too bad out there," he said.
Still the road averages six crashes per week. There is demand for additional parking, and according to cyclist and local resident Sylvia Wilkins, when you bike down Washington Ave. during the day "you take your life in your hands."
For these reasons, the city wants to know if it can reduce crashes, increase parking and improve cyclist safety by painting the lines in a different way.
The big question is if residents want Washington Ave. to be four lanes with two travel lanes in each direction or three lanes with one travel lane in each direction and a shared center turn lane. Both scenarios have their tradeoffs. Another important question is if residents want to introduce metered parking or parking time limits to discourage drivers from claiming spaces for hours on end.
PCPC and the two firms asked for feedback at Wednesday night's meeting and will host a second public meeting sometime in January.
"I'm concerned that the extra traffic from Washington will just go over to Christian Street," said Queen Village resident Eileen Taintor. She suggested making Christian Street one way and adding bike lanes to get bicycles off of Washington Ave and slow car traffic on Christian.
The current study, though, only looks at Washington Ave., not the larger street network, and the project is limited to what can be done with a few cans of paint. The city will not physically move any curbs or change any traffic signals as part of this work.
"We're only talking about what we can put back right now," said Jeannette Brugger, a PCPC city planner. "That doesn't mean we're not thinking about the future though."
A few options for the street redesign have already been ruled out. Because the traffic signals do not have protected left turn signals, the city will not install a cycle track in the middle of Washington Ave., and because there is a lot of foot and loading zone traffic between parked vehicles and the sidewalk, the city will not place bike lanes between parking spaces and the curb. Instead, the bike lanes will be between the vehicle travel lanes and the parking spaces.
Striping Washington Ave. is part of the Philadelphia Streets Department's regular maintenance program. The road was painted about three years ago, and was due for new paint. When the Streets Department started getting ready to stripe, the number of questions and concerns raised made it clear that the city needed to take a closer look at the street. Once PCPC and the two firms finalize the best re-striping plan, the Streets Department will move forward.
"It will be at the top of the list, and I would assume as soon as we have resolution on this issue it'll be put on the list," said Charles Carmalt, bicycle and pedestrian coordinator at the Mayor's Office of Transportation and Utilities.
Because the re-striping will depend on coming to a resolution, Carmalt said he cannot predict whether the painting will get done next year, next summer or in 2015.
"It's a real issue to get something done quickly," he said.
Christine covers transportation and writes about everything from pedestrian concerns to bicycle infrastructure, bridges, trail networks, public transit and more. Her favorite assignments send her bushwhacking through Philadelphia’s yet-to-be-cleared bike trails, catching a glimpse of SEPTA’s inner workings or pounding the pavement to find out what pedestrians really think. Christine also covers community news for Eyes on the Street, where her coverage ranges from food sovereignty to public art and urban greening. She first joined PlanPhilly in fall 2011 as an intern through a partnership with Temple University’s Philadelphia Neighborhoods website. During the internship her reporting on the Housing Authority’s surplus property auctions earned an award from the Society of Professional Journalists.