Friday, June 22, 2007

Searching for the roots of Architecture...

Back July 9

Friday, June 08, 2007

Blocking Progress?

Traffic congestion in Philadelphia is finally getting some attention, even if the outrage seems a little premature. The headline on last Friday's Inquirer report certainly overstated the problem when it declared "Heart of Phila. Near Standstill." Yes, Center City's streets are more congested than they used to be. But I would argue that the problem is primarily confined to rush hour. Most times of day, it's still too easy for motorists to drive cross-town in Philadelphia. Maybe that's why I'm always running into people from Old City or Queen Village who drive to their Market Street jobs.
But when you're stuck in a car on Chestnut Street, creeping along below strolling speed, it's easy to become convinced that Philadelphia is being consumed alive by car traffic. Maybe Chaka Fattah had a few brushes with such jams before he offered his silly congestion tax proposal during the mayoral campaign (See my February posts here). Fattah wanted commuters to pay a driving fee similar to the one that exists in swinging London and is being proposed for high-density New York. Languid, low-rise Philadelphia has a long way to go before it takes that route.
That doesn't mean the city shouldn't start planning now to keep Center City traffic from getting out of hand. The 'duh' idea, of course, is for the city to stop concentrating big garages on certain streets, like Sansom and Callowhill. In fact, city officials should reexamine entirely ZBA chief David Auspitz's oft-repeated notion that Center City needs more parking. It could do with less.
The condo towers built atop 300-car garages clearly contribute to the congestion problem, too. While it might be hopeless to try telling developers not to include parking in their projects, it's clearly time that Philadelphia stopped mandating one parking space for every new housing unit.

Another good way to cut down on rush-hour congestion is even more of a no-brainer: Outlaw truck deliveries and double-parking during the morning and evening rush hours. New York does. I'm always amazed at the number of Fed Ex, UPS and food purveyor trucks parked in the right lane of important through streets, like 15th Street, at the height of rush hour. Philadelphia already has narrower streets than most American cities. When you consider all the lanes that are currently blocked by construction projects, there are streets where there is only a single open lane for cars, creating major bottlenecks. During a trip along 15th Street at 6 p.m. yesterday, I noticed that it took me almost 10 minutes to get from Market to Locust Street. And I was on a bike. The street looked a lot like the photo above. As worked my way south, I counted eight parked vehicles - including people sitting in their cars waiting to pick someone up - in the right-hand lane of those four Center City blocks. Just think, by clearing the right lanes of Philadelphia's through streets during rush hour, you double the traffic carrying capacity.

And imagine how easily the traffic would flow if Philadelphia could get its transit system right.