A new plan implemented by city officials aims to fill critical gaps in Philly’s transit system by—among other things—focusing on safety outreach, removing bus transfer fees, and finishing the construction of 40 miles of protected bike lanes.
A report detailing the plan, which has been dubbed “CONNECT,” was introduced by Philly’s office of Transportation and Infrastructure Systems (oTIS) Wednesday morning, and it lays out a massive strategy to increase safety, improve the condition of the city’s streets and sidewalks, and support pedestrians and bikers.
“CONNECT provides a framework for oTIS and our partners to save lives, connect residents to opportunity, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, build livable communities with great streets, strengthen the economy, and increase the efficiency of government,” said Michael Carroll, deputy managing director for transportation at oTIS.
The comprehensive plan comes as a response to reported citywide growth. Philly, now at a population of 1.6 million, is expected to exceed that by 2025, according to the report. And, as the city grows, it’s important to ensure that Philly stays accessible to everyone, especially the over half of Philadelphians who live in poverty and don’t own cars, according to a letter regarding the plan from Mayor Jim Kenney.
“By collaborating with SEPTA, we can transform our bus service, modernize our trolleys, and move people to jobs and other activities more efficiently.”
The plan is broken down into five very different categories, each with shorter goals that the city plans to meet by 2020, and longer goals that they plan to achieve by 2025.
The first step of the plan, called Vision Zero, should come as a surprise to no one—Kenney’s administration has been actively working on the Vision Zero program for the past year, aiming to make the city safer for pedestrians and drivers. With this step, oTIS officials plan to focus primarily on the city’s high injury network (HIN)—the 12 percent of Philly streets where half of the city’s fatal or severe crashes occur.
They plan to first focus on improving street safety by installing protected bike lanes in specific areas, convert street lights into LEDs for increased visibility, and finishing necessary roadwork projects. The Vision Zero step will also include enforcing relatively minor traffic offenses in HIN areas, and educating younger children on pedestrian safety.
Public transit and bike shares
For the second step, oTIS and SEPTA officials plan to work together to improve not just the buses and trolleys themselves, but the way they move around the city. Increased traffic congestion has negatively affected bus schedules, and ridership is dropping. Meanwhile, trolleys—while still very popular among Philly residents—have aging cars, and are inaccessible for disabled people. Improving the modes of transportation themselves would not only be a boon to riders who don’t have cars, but would provide better, environmentally friendly options for those who do.
Some concrete steps the city plans to take include installing bus shelters, maintaining (and enforcing) existing bus lanes, considering university transit pass programs, eliminating transfer fees, expanding Indego to eight more neighborhoods, and revamping trolley lines.
Street condition and walkability
So far, Philly is doing pretty well in terms of walkability and the popularity of commuting by bike, but there’s room for improvement, according to the Connect report.
“Many parts of Philadelphia lack a high-quality pedestrian environment,” the report said, adding that around 1,000 miles of city streets are in rough shape, with potholes and fading markings.
To improve street condition for bikers and pedestrians, the city plans to up their street repairs from paving 56 miles of streets a year, to 110 miles. Additionally, they’ll study the best practices for street repair, install more raised intersections, establish two “slow zones” in pilot neighborhoods, and finish 40 miles of protected bike lanes, especially on Spring Garden Street and Washington Avenue.
Making Philly competitive and desirable
A key—and larger-reaching—goal of this whole plan is making Philly’s transportation system one that rivals other popular cities, especially as Philly continues to grow and attract new businesses.
“Many in today’s workforce want the freedom to live without dependence on a car for daily life, and many prospective employers are making it clear they will only locate in cities with extensive transit networks because the mobility, competitiveness, and livability offered by transit,” the Connect report said.
There are several ways to make the city’s transit system more desirable, but oTIS focuses specifically on managing congestion by monitoring traffic “hot spots,” updating policies and fines for parking, increasing the availability of truck parking, and bringing more sustainable, green elements to the transit system.
Efficient government and communication
The city’s final goal in their transit plan is to efficiently and transparently deliver changes to the city, while seeking the community’s input. They plan to engage Philadelphians in the overall transit process by hiring a staffer to deal with community outreach, holding transportation summits, and establish digital outreach.
To increase efficiency, they’ll update sign and parking regulations, use technology to aid with sanitation and highway maintenance, and work toward implementing a “clean” fleet with more environmentally friendly city vehicles.
The whole Connect report comes on the heels of a Housing Action Plan, which was also released by the city Wednesday, and aims to improve housing in Philly with a focus on equitable growth. Though both plans came out around the same time, they were released by different departments—the housing report was put out by the Department of Planning and Development.
Anne Fadullon, the director of the latter department said the two plans are separate for now, as both offices work to outline their specific goals for transit and housing, respectively. Going forward, they may look at creating a connection between the two plans, she said.
The plan also follows several measures over the past year to improve safety in Philly and cut down on congestion. The first—and most publicized—was the Vision Zero plan, but there were others. A plan to repave Pine and Spruce following two serious crashes, one of which was fatal, was announced earlier this year, though it was recently postponed until next spring. Then, just last month, officials unveiled a plan to tackle congestion in center city by cracking down on traffic violations on Market and Chestnut, specifically. In that plan—just like with Connect—officials pointed to a growing city population as a reason to implement congestion strategies.
“Sometimes it feels like it’s midtown Manhattan,” Kenney said at the time.