Of Parking, Plans and Planners
There's no doubt that traffic and parking are big issues for Cira South, which includes a 2,400-car garage (above) sandwiched between a proposed 50-story tower on Walnut and a 25-story tower on Chestnut. As part of the project, which I wrote about Monday, Brandywine will overhaul the 30th Street post office, designed by Rankin and Kellogg - architects of the Inquirer Building, among other things - for 5,000 employees of the Internal Revenue Service now housed on Roosevelt Boulevard. You don't need to be a traffic engineer to know that means Cira South will draw an awful lot of drivers from the Northeast, who will arrive at their jobs after fighting their way off the I-676 ramps. So, members of the planning commission were absolutely right to zero in on the traffic issues.
The problem was the ways they flailed at the issue without really having any sense of how it might be solved. If the Street Administration had bothered to employ a transportation director, or if actually attempted to implement the parking plan it completed last year, the commission might have had policies in place that would have enabled it to give Brandywine guidance on the issue. Instead, all they went around in circles - like a motorist searching for a Center City parking space on Saturday night - on the subject of whether a 2,400-car garage was too big or too little.
Perhaps if they did have a clear parking policy, they would have instead talked about more progressive measures than simply building a bigger garage. What about instituting van pools from the Northeast, providing remote parking at Septa stations, and staggering work hours to ensure that all 5,000 IRS workers do not descend on the Cira South garage at the same moment? Solving the parking problems in Center City isn't about providing more parking; it's about finding ways to keep cars out of the center.
As I wrote on Monday, Brandywine is promising that its project will help fill the void between Center City and the universities, and create a new neighborhood on the west bank of the Schuylkill. It's an exciting concept. But I'm not sure they can deliver with this plan, designed by Pelli Clarke Pelli. For one thing, Brandywine is counting heavily on PennDot and other highway agencies to pay for the desperately needed sidewalk and street improvements. But the bigger issue is the moat in front of the garage, which overlooks Amtrak's Northeast Corridor tracks. Until that big gap is decked over, this project can never fulfill its claim to be a connector. But you didn't hear the auto-obsessed planning commission members discuss those kind of pedestrian issues. They're just not on their radar.
Which reminds me of another reason Philadelphia needs the Penn Praxis vision study. Plans help you define the issues worth caring about and provide a road map for finding solutions to complex urban problems.