Tuesday, October 24, 2006

More Parking in the Park

The Fairmount Park Commission congratulated itself last night for holding a public hearing on a plan to insert more parking in the recreation space behind the Philadelphia Museum of Art - and then proceeded to vote exactly as it had intended before anyone uttered a word. The commission unanimously approved Olin Partnership's conceptual design, which calls for inserting 27 new parking space on the grassy riverbank between Lloyd Hall and the Italian Fountain. Those spaces, which will utilize an environmentally friendly, porous paving stone, are a supplement to a 440-car garage (see glass elevator tower, right) that the commission approved in June - without benefit of a similar, special public hearing - for the hillside just south of the Azalea Garden. The good part is that much of the garage will be camouflaged with greenery and topped with a sculpture garden. All told, the available parking behind the art museum (not counting the parking on the museum apron) will increase from 225 spaces, to a maximum of 621.

Despite the pre-ordained feeling of last night's hearing, several speakers raised serious concerns about imposing all that extra parking on one of the city's most intensively used parklands. They fear that that the conflicts between pedestrians, bicyclists, children, rowers, roller bladers, skateboarders, and motorists will increase significantly after the parking garage opens in early 2009. The rowing community is especially worried that they will be forced to find parking on Lemon Hill - and then have to run the dangerous gauntlet across Kelly Drive to reach the boathouses.

No one doubts that the museum is strapped for parking, or that parking is an essential first step in its Frank Gehry-designed expansion. But I can't help wondering if focusing so much parking in such a heavily used recreational area is the best solution, especially when the parking needs of the Parkway's cultural institutions are growing rapidly. Because of the city's lack of planning vision over the last decade, the city is only just starting to consider the possibility of locating large garages under Eakins Oval and the parkway ballfields.

Still, the museum insists the new garage next to the Azalea garden is the best solution available at the moment. The museum argues that the garage will reduce the number of motorists driving between Lloyd Hall and the Waterworks in search of spaces. But if the surface spaces are free and the garage costs money, I suspect that the typical motorist will make a few sorties in search of a no-cost space.

To making the project more palatable to park users, the commission last night unveiled a concept plan to reclaim the silted peninsula (see the post below) next to Lloyd Hall for recreational use. The commission would dredge the water around the 80-year-old silt peninsula to turn it into an island, thereby eliminating the stagnant inlet next to Lloyd Hall. The island would then be connected to the grassy bank by a lightweight bridge and outfitted with boardwalk-style nature paths.

As additional compensation for giving up the grassy bank, the existing recreation path would be shifted closer to the river. The commission wants to add benches, a decorative railing, a small childrens park and spouting fountains. While the commission showed lots of pretty pictures of how this new park area could look, they were pretty coy about how they intend to finance the improvementst. Mayor Street has committed money for initial design, and promised to follow through with money for construction once the design is done. Unfortunately, those designs are expected in October 2007 - a month before the mayoral elections. Will Street really be able to come up with a couple of million for a pretty park just as he's walking out the door of City Hall?

The museum is footing the $30 million bill for the garage, the 27 spaces, the realignment of the recreation path and lighting. But for everything else, Philadelphia have to trust its luck to the perennially cash-short Fairmount Park Commission.

By the way, here's what a real public hearing on the parking issue would have looked like: It would have been held when the Olin Partnership's design was still in the talking stage. What's the point of offering a public hearing when you've already sealed, signed and approved the main element in a plan?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

"No one doubts the Museum is strapped for parking..." --actually, the question should be about transport--not just storing cars.

I've seen figures of one million a year for PMA attendance. If these 621 new spaces turn over three times a day, that will handle maybe 670,000 cars--how will everyone else get to the Museum?

And if those spaces turn over three times a day (or more) what will Kelly Drive life be like with an extra 1800 cars a day pushing in and out? Cars emit their worst pollution on startup--that garage will vent 2,000 plumes of exhaust somewhere around the azalea garden.

PMA, the Park Commission and the City have shown little vision--just turning to a '50s-style drive-by. Behind the Museum are a two aging bike racks-- enough for maybe two dozen visitors--even though the new bike path could bring thousands of visitors daily.

SEPTA has dropped its special buses to the Museum and other Parkway attractions, and the Museum has made little effort to figure out any other way to get people there besides the private car. Most of the city's tourists don't rent cars--why don't we try to get them to the building in some sensible manner?

The designers behind this betray a bit of guilt, with all the promised trade-offs--the cherry on top to disguise the huge garage jammed into the Museum's exquisite siting.

Behind this frivolous, and stupid choice is a darker undertone--we're currently in an oil war--this garage is a vote for staying the course--it presupposes that the private car and cheap gas will be the way to go 5, 10, 20 years from now.

That seems less and less likely with every headline.


9:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

that's well put.
We can't afford to do it in a way that will work for the next 50 years, so we will do it in a half assed way that works a little right now.
That kind of leadership is what got philly in the mess it is in today.

11:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hear, hear! Well said, McGet. If the Museum would take the money their putting into the garage and instead put it into transit for the Parkway, we could finally come up with a solution that will work. The Phlash doesn't cut it. And the Schuylkill Trail extension to Locust Street has proven to be the best way to reach the PMA from Center City. Improving bicycle links will give the Museum it's biggest bang for the buck. Unfortunately, Fairmount Park's position in Monday's meeting was decidedly anti-bike and there was almost no discussion of transit among the panelists other than to say, "the city's working on it, but in the meantime we're going ahead with the garage". Doesn't sound like much collaboration is going on there...

12:56 PM  
Blogger rasphila said...

mcget puts it well. I'd only add that the long-term problem isn't just the end of cheap fuel. It is global warming as well. We can't go on relying on private cars for a lot of reasons. And institutions that don't develop alternatives to the car for people who want to visit them will be in trouble—maybe not this year or next, but certainly by mid-century, probably sooner. The Art Museum, the Park Commission, and the City could be pioneers on this problem, but as mcget says, they seem to be stuck in the 1950s.

2:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A better conversation is where are the plans for the stalled 52nd street connector, to use the rail line running under Pennsylvania Avenue, and creating a mass tranist stop right at 25th and Pennsylvania for the Art Museum? We need to expand rail service in the city, not building more parking!

11:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, build more parking. Never mind that it's a pain in the butt to get anywhere in Fairmount Park using public transit, and the roads are a nightmare for cyclists.

11:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


10:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"What's the point of offering a public hearing when you've already sealed, signed and approved the main element in a plan?"

The answer is quite simple. Authorities and agencies use public hearings to appear democratic (this started in the early 1970s). But at the end of the day, it's all just political window dressing. Unless there's a large, politically powerful group people against a project, public hearnings are pretty meaningless affairs.

9:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am very frustrated about the surface parking lot. It was a nice open space from frisbee and to enjoy the view of the little gazebo thing at the edge of the dam. Disappointing, and I am NOT assuaged by the pennisula rehabilitation, which something should have been done with anyway.

5:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

vince dean -- the philadelphia "trolley" company runs tour busses at $25 for an adult. That hardly qualifies as mass transit. The Phlash does get there at a reasonable price, but it's not SEPTA, and doesn't have a fare system integrated with that organization. Plus, it doesn't run in the winter, so anyone who wants to get to the musuem in December is completely out of luck.

Until SEPTA goes there on a regular basis, any criticism that says that public/mass transit doesn't go to the museum is valid.

11:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is a Septa bus that goes to the art museum ! I don't know what # it is, but I have seen it pull up to the back of the museum on many occassions. I'm sure you have never tried to use it, it's easier and more fun to complain and make false statements. Do your research ! Septa is a great system, Use it !!!

9:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I stand corrected, the 38 does go to the museum (funny that they don't even mention it as a time point on the schedule).

I love, though, the fact that anyone who dares criticize SEPTA is assumed to be a public-transit-hating suburbanite.

Some of us are daily SEPTA riders commuting from within the city to other places within the city. Some of us take SEPTA all over the place and simply recognize problems when we see them.

9:25 AM  

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