The well-used, but poorly lit space beneath the Spring Garden Street overpass – site of both a busy Market-Frankford El stop and bus stop – would become bright, colorful and floral under a plan proposed by the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation.
DRWC and two design consultants from Cloud Gehshan Associates presented the $2 million art, street scape and lighting plan at the late-February Northern Liberties Neighbors Association meeting. It features water-jet cut aluminum sheets along the wall near the subway entrance, lit from behind and overhead. The design, made with different-sized holes, suggests wisteria and leaves, and is multi-dimensional – it becomes more intricate when viewed from a distance. The lighting intensity and colors will change with the time of day, or can be manually changed for special events.
Other key elements: Large, pendant lights, covered with the same screening, which bathe the walls in light; LED strip lights that outline the industrial-looking structure of the bridge; curb bumpouts at the bus stops; improved sidewalks; and trees and other landscaping.
Project artist Leni Schwendinger was inspired by the name Spring Garden Street to include garden-inspired concepts in the design. Learn more about that and other members of the team here.
In total, the project, called the Spring Garden Connector, will stretch from 2nd Street to Delaware Ave. It mirrors DRWC efforts on other streets identified as key routes between the neighborhoods and the Delaware River, including the Race Street Connector, which links Old City and the Race Street Pier, the Columbia Avenue Connector, which will better tie Fishtown to Penn Treaty Park; and the Tasker Street Connector, which will link Pennsport to the waterfront and the Central Delaware Trail. Better connecting city neighborhoods to the riverfront is among the central goals of the city's Central Delaware Master Plan.
DRWC is working closely with PennDOT and the city streets department on all of those projects, and in this case, with SEPTA.
“This is still a conceptual plan,” DRWC Planner and Project Manager Karen Thompson cautioned. “Everyone is eager to see some improvements. There hasn't been a sign-off yet with SEPTA and PennDOT . .. but this is the concept we decided to pursue and go with.”
The design was reached after staff and consultant research and community input from previous meetings.
People from around the region use the Spring Garden transit stop, but it's likely no group of people are as eager for the improvements as Northern Liberties residents.
NLNA President Matt Ruben said the stop is safe, but the darkness, and dirtiness, make it seem dangerous. When residents were asked about the underpass in a survey, one described it as “a place that looks like where you go to get stabbed,” he said.
Several people at the meeting said the current plan was “beautiful” and “a big improvement” over current conditions. But some also noted they've seen other plans to improve the area, which never amounted to any change. Ruben said that NLNA was behind one of those. The funding didn't happen.
That's not a problem in this case, Thompson said. The money is already in place, and construction will begin once sign off is given from PennDOT and SEPTA and the Philadelphia Art Commission, which will review the public art elements at its March 5 meeting.
The goal is to start construction in early summer and finish sometime this fall, Thompson said.
SEPTA's Assistant General Manager of Public & Government Affairs, Francis Kelly, attended the meeting. He said he has a special interest in this station, because he uses it regularly and grew up nearby. As a regular user, he knows first-hand about the darkness, trash and even the stench of urine. He pledged his agency's support for the project.
One of Kelly's jobs is lobbying lawmakers on SEPTA's behalf. Ruben didn't pass up an opportunity to do a sort of lobbying of his own. He asked if the voice lady who announces the Spring Garden stop on the El could note it's the stop for Northern Liberties. Kelly said he could ask about it. Ruben said this would probably be harder, but what about changing the name of the stop from Spring Garden to Northern Liberties? Kelly said it would help if a show of support for the idea was provided, and be even more likely if the neighborhood purchased the naming rights.
In the video below, DRWC Planner and Project Manager Karen Thompson and Stephen Bashore and Barbara Schwarzenbach of Cloud Geshan present the current plans for the Spring Garden Connector project to the Northern Liberties Neighbors Association, and take questions and comments.
Kellie Patrick Gates writes about planning, neighborhood development and the Central Delaware Waterfront. A journalist for more than two decades, she worked for daily newspapers in Central Pennsylvania, Upstate New York and South Florida before coming to Philadelphia in 2003 to write for the Inquirer. Her work has appeared on PlanPhilly since 2007, and she also writes Love, the Inquirer's weekly wedding column. A native of Elk County, Pa., Kellie lives with her husband, Gary, and their dog and two cats.
Follow her on Twitter @KelliePGates