Ever since I-95 was built, many urbanists have considered it a primary reason why Philadelphia never quite had a waterfront presence like many other big cities like New York or Chicago have.
Residents and representatives from Langan, an engineering and environmental consulting firm based in Philadelphia, took to Gloria Dei (Old Swedes’) Church in Queen’s Village for an open house to discuss the Washington Avenue Connector Project, a plan to revamp Washington Avenue from Columbus Boulevard to 4th Street organized by the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation.
“The idea is that they redeveloped the Washington Avenue Pier a few years ago and now they want to create a better connection between the city and the waterfront. So before we really dive into design for the project, we want to get the public involved and find out what the community wants that space to be and what their priorities are,” said Eric Huefner, a project engineer at Langan.
Ever since I-95 was built, many urbanists have considered it a primary reason why Philadelphia never quite had a waterfront presence like many other big cities like New York or Chicago have. Huefner called the interstate highway a “barrier,” that the firm — and the city — is trying to overcome.
The firm is also looking to residents for input regarding how they can improve conditions for bicyclists, pedestrians and drivers along that stretch of the avenue.
“The DRWC really wants this to be a connecting street,” said Spencer Finch, a project manager and sustainability leader for Langan. “A street that pulls people to the waterfront and so people can see that there’s actually a river and some cool stuff to do here.”
Neighborhood residents who aren’t sure what to expect from the project can look to the Race Street Connector Project and the Spring Garden Street Connector Projects — both of which are previously completed projects by the firm and the DRWC.
In the case of the Spring Garden Connector, lights and other artwork were added under the I-95 bridge where Spring Garden Street runs underneath I-95. On Race Street, giant yellow arrows and letters that spell out “RIVER” point toward the river, to create a beachlike atmosphere in the tunnel. There are yellow letters that spell out “CITY” closer to the river, with arrows pointing in the opposite direction.
“The landscape right now, quite frankly, is not something to look at,” Finch said. “People don’t want to be on this stretch of Washington Avenue. So lights, it might be greening, it might be redoing the pedestrian spaces. Hopefully you have some extra space for a public plaza so people can do something instead of just standing there at the corner.”
Finch said that many people who drive along Washington Avenue between Third and Fourth streets weren’t even aware that Jefferson Square is located there.
“If you clean that up a little bit then people will come out and enjoy the square. But there’s other places that can be improved. And we’re asking questions. Why do you think those places could be improved?”
Representatives from Langan said that the project is currently in schematic design and that residents can expect construction to begin in 2019.