Community Contributor and Native Fishtowner Conrad Benner turns his gaze from photography and street art to pedestrian safety on Fishtown's stretch of Frankford Avenue. Benner argues that if this reborn corridor is to be truly successful the Avenue itself needs to catch up with improvements to the pedestrian environment.
What do Kensington Quarters, Frankford Hall, Bluecadet, Jinxed Philly, La Colombe, Bottle Bar East, Toile, The Yachtsman, LMNL Gallery, Fishtown Tavern, O3 World, Steap and Grind Coffee House, a post office, and an ASPCA all have in common?
They're all contributors to Fishtown's recognized renaissance, centered on the neighborhood's Frankford Avenue corridor. Still, there’s something tying them even closer: All of these pedestrian-oriented enterprises occupy a half-mile stretch of road that is completely un-crossable by pedestrians.
Imagine, if you will, that you'd like to walk from Rittenhouse Square to the Apple Store on Walnut Street to get your laptop repaired or to browse the latest iPhone. Easy, right? You leave the park, cross Walnut Street at either 18th or 17th (your choice!), and in less than two blocks you're at your destination.
Now, imagine you work at the media and design firm Bluecadet in Fishtown and want to walk to La Colombe for a midday coffee break. While these two trips are the same distance, the walk to get coffee in Fishtown is much more complicated. That's because, despite rounds of rapid reinvestment and redevelopment in businesses and residences along Fishtown’s stretch of Frankford Avenue, changes to street itself haven’t kept pace. It’s still treated (and used) as a mini-highway connecting Center City to the Riverward neighborhoods. For over a half-mile, 7 blocks in total, there are no crosswalks that make it possible to safely – or legally – traverse busy Frankford Avenue.
To help put that distance into perspective, that would be like having no place to cross Walnut Street from Broad to 20th. In a scenario like this, your simple trip from Rittenhouse Square to the Apple Store would now require you to walk all the way up to 20th, or all the way down to Broad, just to cross the street legally. Or, like most in Fishtown do on a daily basis, risk life and limb darting through traffic on a busy road.
From 2008-2013 Frankford Avenue has had a number of pedestrian crashes, with crashes at Girard, Oxford, Columbia, and mid-block locations.
As a life-long Fishtowner, I take real pride in my neighborhood, and I'm thrilled about all the excitement along Frankford Avenue, these past few years especially. From art galleries, to cafes, to tech companies, to vintage shops, and clothing stores, Frankford Avenue in Fishtown is attracting all sorts of much-needed local businesses.
What Frankford Avenue is currently still missing, however, is walkability, or more pointedly crossability. Sandwiched between two El stops and surrounded by densely populated neighborhoods, there’s no reason why pedestrians should not have full access to this half-mile of highly used commercial corridor.
So what can we do? In my opinion, we need stop signs or at the very least crosswalks with pedestrian activated signals. Thompson, Belgrade, Marlborough, and Oxford streets would be good places to study this opportunity for safety improvements.
Whatever the solution, Frankford Avenue is a state route so any changes will require coordination with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. These conversations should start now to support this burgeoning corridor. With business booming again along Frankford Avenue, it’s time for the city and state to support that growth by making the pedestrian environment is safer for everyone.