As House Stark says from time to time, “winter is coming.” And while the thermometer might suggest otherwise this week, snow is probably on the horizon for Philadelphia. When we think of snow and think of urban planning at the same time (hey, it happens), sneckdowns often come to mind. For those unfamiliar, a sneckdown is a term for a snowy neckdown, or more clearly, an narrowing of a street that’s caused by snow. When streets become more narrow, drivers tend to drive more carefully, making the streets safer for pedestrians.
But snow doesn’t only narrow streets! It also shows, in very clear terms, that there are some parts of some streets where cars simply never go. The thinking goes, if cars never drive on a certain section of a street, maybe it makes sense to eliminate that section of the street and give it back to pedestrians. This doesn’t happen at intersections where streets cross at ninety degree angles, but it crops up quite often at unusual intersections, sometimes caused by diagonal streets breaking up the city grid. Looking right at you, Passyunk Avenue.
For anyone that’s ever walked, driven, or biked at the intersection of 12th Street, Morris Street, and Passyunk Avenue, we don’t have to tell you that, historically, it’s been confusing at best and at worst it’s been the Thunderdome. Finally, a This Old City blog post spurred PARC to ask the Streets Department to take action, encouraging them to bring this intersection beyond the thunderdome, if you will. It took a couple of years and some back and forth with the community, but over the summer, two new triangular islands appeared at this intersection, and several sections of sidewalk got extended.
The result of this change is an intersection where everyone has a much better idea of what they’re supposed to do, and when. Wider sidewalks and the islands give pedestrians more real estate at the intersection, and the smaller road surface, by definition, forces drives to act more cautiously. Plus, the islands have some really nice looking planters that make the whole experience all the more pleasing, aesthetically. Kudos to Passyunk Avenue Revitalization Corporation, the Streets Department, and the local community for getting together to make this intersection a safer place. Given that there are numerous other challenging intersections around town, this can serve as a great example of how to balance the needs of drivers and pedestrians in an intuitive fashion.