Washington Avenue gets one step closer to a facelift thanks to the DRWC

The conceptual design incorporates feedback Langan and the DRWC heard form residents at an open house event at Gloria Dei Old Swedes Episcopal Church way back in May.

Karen Thompson, director of planning for DRWC, presents the organization’s plans for Delaware Avenue.

At last Monday night’s meeting at the Mummers Museum, the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation and Langan Engineering unveiled conceptual plans for the Washington Avenue Connector Project, a joint effort between the city and the DRWC to revitalize Washington Avenue from 4th Street to the river in an attempt to beautify the waterfront. The conceptual design incorporates feedback Langan and the DRWC heard from residents at an open house at Gloria Dei Old Swedes Episcopal Church back in May.

“I think we’ve heard a lot of what people’s issues were,” said Karen Thompson, director of planning for DRWC. “I think every neighborhood always wants to see more public space, more green areas where they can be, and I think this concept finds a way to fit all of that in, which is what I think is really exciting.”

Unlike many other American cities, Philadelphia doesn’t have a true waterfront destination like Chicago’s Grant Park or New York City’s Battery Park. The DRWC is looking to change that, and part of the plan includes updating the city’s “connector streets,” streets that connect neighborhoods with the river. Similar projects have been completed on Race Street in Old City and Spring Garden Street in Northern Liberties.

The conceptual design features a dog park, more trees to create more shade, a rain garden and multiple plazas along the avenue to address residents’ desire for more public areas. It also changes the traffic layout to make it safer and easier to navigate. Engineers looked at various urban-area open spaces around the world as inspiration for the project, including Pike and Allen streets in New York City, Passeig de Sant Joan in Barcelona and Sonder Boulevard in Copenhagen.

Residents were generally pleased with the designs, and acknowledged a need for that stretch of Washington Avenue to be overhauled.

“I’ve almost been hit by cars a couple of times walking to my apartment on Columbus [Boulevard],” said Dickinson Narrows resident John Brumbaugh. “Traffic definitely needs to calmed, pedestrians need to be made more visible and the crossings need to be shorter.”

Queen Village resident Mike Clemmons said he’s glad people are paying attention to the issues. He called the project “a good idea.”

“I came to the previous meeting that they had [at Old Swedes’ Church] so I’ve seen some progress as to where they’ve been going with it. It was more idea-gathering than anything,” he said. “Now we can see the beginnings of a concept, which is good.”

The Washington Street Connector Project — along with the other connector projects on Race and Spring Garden streets — are all part of DRWC’s Master Plan for the Central Delaware, which was created in 2012. In addition to the connector streets, the three-fold plan aims to have a trail along the Delaware River and parks along the trail located a half mile apart.

Thompson said one of the biggest reasons why connector streets are necessary is because of I-95, which runs along the Delaware River and acts as a “psychological barrier” to the river.

“We didn’t want to tie the master plan to some huge multi-billion dollar plan to move I-95,” she said. “So … we found that there are upwards of 70 streets that actually take you from the neighborhoods to the river, but people didn’t know because once they got to I-95 they turned around. … So one part of this is to build those destinations like Washington Avenue Pier at the end of Washington Avenue, but also make that connection clearer and let people know that they can actually get from Pennsport or Queen Village or further west and actually safely walk or bike to get to the waterfront.”

Thompson said that DRWC is hoping to have construction documents ready next spring. Once the construction documents are ready, that’s when they’ll start fundraising for the project.

“All of our projects are grant-funded and everything that we’ve built so far has grant funding in it,” she said. “We know what the sources are, so it’s just a matter of pulling that together, getting the cost estimate and fundraising for it. So once we do that — I don’t have a specific timeline because grant schedules are what grant schedules are, but we want to do something as quickly as we can once it’s ready to go.”

According to the Chris Dougherty, project manager for the Washington Avenue Connector, the project exceeds the geographical extent of other connector street projects, which will likely make it more expensive.

“This is actually a project that we’re taking on jointly with the city, so we hope that potentially there will be some additional resources,” he said. “But we will have to pound the pavement and find some money.”