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"Push Button to Walk" Is a Lie—and Other Startling Revelations

On Monday evening, concerned citizens gathered to hear the results of a traffic study on the identity-conflicted Delaware Avenue/Columbus Boulevard. Jeff Riegner of Whitman, Requardt and Associates presented the findings, which consisted of updated traffic counts that reflect a post-Sugarhouse reality and recommendations for improving flow along the Avelard™.

The recommendations fall into two categories: those aimed at lowering travel times and relieving congestion for cars; and improvements that provide a more amenable environment for pedestrians, cyclists and transit riders. The overall desired effect is to encourage a more robust modal split that accounts for future development while easing existing traffic problems from the Land of Big Boxia up to Penn Treaty Park.

According to Sarah Thorp, Director of Planning for the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation, which commissioned the study, while the occasional user may not perceive a difference for the one or two blocks they frequent, through-drivers should notice an immediate improvement in travel times along the entire length of the study area once the recommendations are implemented.

A couple of easy wins for car traffic include adjusting and synchronizing the timing for traffic signals and adding second left-turn lanes for the I-95 on-ramp and Washington Ave. While these improvements require little more than paint and some tinkering with the tickers, they are still considered capital improvements that must pass the Streets Department’s budget and gain PennDOT approval, since the Boulenue™ is a state highway. Realistically, it could be a couple of months to a couple of years before these improvements take effect.

And what of pedestrians, cyclists and transit riders? The news there is even better. In fact the Streets Department has already implemented several of the recommendations, including restriping the bike lanes. The study also recommends improvements and new locations for several SEPTA bus stops to encourage higher ridership. Further, the signalization changes will allow more time for pedestrians crossing the odd 60 or 70 lanes of traffic. The federal standard for crosswalk signalization allows pedestrians to cross at an average of 3.5 feet per second, which comes out to about a 25-minute mile or a little over 2 mph. This equates to a 120-second crossing time for some of the wider portions of the street.

Though it's still about two years off, the Streets Department is most excited about the expansion of actively managed signals along Delumbus™, currently in limited use. Adding CCTV cameras to signals will allow Streets to adapt the signals to current traffic flow and adjust the timing for each intersection as necessary. While this is great news, it did confirm a suspicion we’ve held for a long time: Pedestrian push buttons at crosswalks are essentially useless.

For a city like Philly that relies primarily on timed signalization, pushing that button—no matter how hard, how often or how insistently—does not bring a walk signal any faster. Only in areas where signals are already actively managed does it make a difference. So, maybe a punching bag makes more sense than a push button?

Finally, some of the longer-term, big-picture implications of the study include informing DVRPC’s analysis of the potential for light rail along the river and traffic modeling for development patterns that account for current proposals and expected trends according to the Master Plan for the Central Delaware. Many of the condo proposals from last decade are dead and buried, but with amenities like the Delaware River Trail and new parks along the river, it’s easy to imagine more residential development filling in.

The big question looming is whether Philadelphia’s second casino license is still in play along the Delaware. Anecdotal evidence suggests that Sugarhouse patrons are using the 15 trolley more than initially anticipated, which could affect plans for more transit and/or driving patterns on Delavecolboul™. While the trafficopalypse that most people feared would descend in the wake of Sugarhouse has arguably been avoided (and reasonable neighbors are entitled to disagree), it’s clear that a second casino could test the limits of road capacity, drivers’ patience and the structural integrity of the fill under the roadbed even more than 1,000 weekend warriors/hour descending on IKEA, Lowes and Home Depot.