After record amounts of snow this year in Philadelphia, you could be excused for not wanting to see any more of it. But today's snow actually brought us some pretty cool ideas for public spaces and traffic safety improvements along E. Passyunk Avenue in South Philly.
If you haven't heard of a "sneckdown" yet, it's a clever combination of "snow" and "neckdown" - another name for a curb expansion - that uses snow formations on the street to reveal the space cars don't use. Advocates can then use these sneckdown photos to make the case to local transportation officials that traffic calming interventions like curb bumpouts and traffic islands can be installed without any loss to car drivers.
One of the areas of Philadelphia with the best opportunities for pedestrian plazas is E. Passyunk Avenue, which crosses the street grid at a diagonal, creating lots of triangular intersections. I thought the snow would provide some good examples to help you visualize what I'm talking about, so I headed over there this afternoon to take some sneckdown photos. And to my delight, the snow revealed some awesome traffic calming ideas I hadn't considered.
At the intersection of 6th and Passyunk and Christian, near the excellent Shot Tower Coffee, there is a triangular plot of land that I always thought would make a great public plaza, but there's a For Sale sign there now, indicating it will probably become housing.
The city's choice to allocate the public right of way around this triangle to curb parking for cars means the parcel is smaller than it could be, but even so, the snow formation shows it could be larger even without taking away parking. Still try to imagine how much more sidewalk there could be if not for the curb parking around the island though:
Even when this parcel gets some housing, there is still plenty of space on the road just to the north for a smaller parklet with a bench and a couple planters:
If maximizing curb parking spaces is the political goal, then there might be some objections to how wide this plaza is. That parking space on the north side of the island would probably go away, for example. But if the goal is to make this the nicest possible public space, then maybe we get rid of the 7 parking spaces around this thing and extend the sidewalk.
As you'll see, another issue that pops up repeatedly with these plazas is the trade-off between allowing U-turns from E. Passyunk vs. connecting pedestrian plazas to the corner sidewalk. You can an example of this issue in the photo below:
If parking isn't the paramount concern, then the new parklet can just connect to the sidewalk of the triangle parcel, but this eliminates the turnaround lane here that lets drivers make a U-turn onto 6th Street. It also means people trying to make a right on Queen St. have to drive another half block, loop around Catharine and back down 6th - about a 30-second detour that will nonetheless draw 2 or 3 NIMBYs to your public meeting.
Here's a plaza for Rita's, where again we see the trade-off between easy U-turns for cars and nice plazas with cafe tables and planters for families to sit and eat Italian ice in the summer: