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Take Out the Parasol and Get Ready for An Evening Paseo

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It could be the only neighborhood improvement project that doesn't spur community dissent. Last night, West Philly residents gathered to look at plans for a pedestrian plaza at the intersection of 48th Street, Florence and Baltimore Ave. It's an incredibly irritating intersection where drivers never know who has the right of way and pedestrians stare, bewildered, at crosswalks that seem intended for someone else. Combine that with the unprotected trolley stops and the bike lanes that are often traveled in wrong directions, and you have a bit of a clusterflake (as complex as a snowflake, but less pretty).

Here's the intersection as it is now:

It's chaos, people!

The answer, at least temporarily? A people-pleasing plaza demarcated by a painted street, perhaps some planters, and people strolling happily through a farmer's market or neighborhood concert rather than cursing and jaywalking (though it's still Philly, so let's not get ahead of ourselves).

Part of the city's Pedestrian Plaza Program, the upcoming transformation of the intersection was submitted by University City District (UCD) and was one of just four proposals that got the nod. Here's the future:

As you can see, this cuts down on excess space, which will most likely cause drivers less confusion (after an initial period of more confusion). But Ariel Ben-Ramos of the Mayor's Office of Transportation says driver confusion isn't necessarily a bad thing. "Anything that makes drivers pay more attention to their surroundings is good for traffic calming. Often that means narrowing the road width."

In case you didn't get to the meeting, we have some deets to help you get a sense of it.

Attendees: A twentysomething guy with a shaggy beard and ponytail; an older woman with a gray blunt cut and funky shoes; a brisk young man arriving from work in a suit and tie; a local realtor; a local restaurant owner; a local concert promoter; a woman who'd lived on Florence for 30-plus years; a resident blogger; what seemed like an endless number of extremely chipper, helpful people from the Mayor's Office of Transportation and UCD.
Mix: More white people than minorities; all ages; all genders.
Vibe: Relaxed First Friday gallery show. Residents strolled by explanatory posterboards on easels, pointing to images of the intersection and sharing war stories. Some had additional ideas, like installing a stop sign, speed bump, sidewalk cutout or any number of options that were decidedly not on the table.
Overheard: "SEPTA is an unstoppable force."
Overheard: "It does seem, though, like the city might be spending $30,000 just to paint the street."
Quote: "I live on St. Bernard Street and I use that crosswalk every day. It's confusing and dangerous, and I'm pleased to see the city stepping in and coming up with a creative solution." —Jeff Knowles, planner.