You can see the tides turning. As two massive developments are set to go up along Washington Avenue in Graduate Hospital – an 82-unit complex at 2401 Washington and a 200-plus-unit complex at 2101 and 2201 Washington Ave. – the areas surrounding one of South Philly’s busiest roads is making the transition from industrial to residential. According to James Gitto, a member of urbanist political action committee 5th Square, the striping of Washington Avenue is still stuck in the past.
“The road is designed for industrial use and that’s quickly changing,” Gitto told SPR. “Especially on the west side of Broad Street.”
When Washington Avenue gets repaved (according to the streets department, it’s on the repaving schedule for 2021), Gitto thinks it can and should be more oriented toward pedestrian and cyclist use. How so? Gitto mentioned that many of the sidewalks along the avenue are decrepit and poorly lit – both of which should be fixed. But his two main points centered around revamping the street’s bike lanes and adding a bus lane.
“Currently it’s not safe to bike on Washington Avenue,” said Gitto. “The bike lanes are faded. They also run into the bump-outs [at the ends of crosswalks] so they kind of just end and you have to merge in with traffic at random points through the whole stretch.”
He thinks there’s no reason why Washington Avenue, which the streets department told SPR was last repaved and restriped in 2003, shouldn’t have a protected bike lane, and so does Tanya Seaman, the chairwoman of South of South Neighborhood Association’s Vision Zero Committee.
“You’d be amazed how many people are on their cell phones and veer into the bike lanes,” she told SPR. “It could be a great street to bike down. But there’s not enough space and it’s not consistent.”
In addition, Seaman said that she’s seen some “egregious things” that haven’t been enforced by the city. For instance, companies that sell gravel “would keep their tractors in the streets and gravel would be all over the bike lanes,” she said. She said enforcement of these issues has since improved, but a protected bike lane would be an even better scenario.
“It would be ideal if they were parking protected,” she said.
According to PennDOT, there were 224 crashes along South Philly portion of Washington Avenue (meaning it doesn’t count the sliver of Washington Avenue that goes through West Philly) from 2014 to 2018, which is the most recent data. Of those 224 crashes, 41 were pedestrian-related. Of the 41 pedestrian-related instances, there were two fatalities.
Both Gitto and Seaman said that there had been meetings about potentially restriping Washington Avenue several years ago, but ultimately nothing ended up happening.
“They started talking about it in 2012, I believe,” said Gitto. “Nothing ended up coming from it.”
According to Keisha McCarty-Skelton, a spokeswoman for the streets department, meetings were held with residents and local business owners, but “a consensus could not be reached on the design of the roadway,” she said. “Before resurfacing begins in 2021, the streets department will be contacting the community about the upcoming plans.”
In addition to the bike lanes, Gitto thinks a bus lane should be added to accommodate the 64 bus, which connects 50th and Parkside in West Philly to Pier 70 in Pennsport via Washington Avenue. He said he’d like to see it replace a regular driving lane in each direction.
“If you think about all of the neighborhoods that Washington Avenue hits, it’s a lot of neighborhoods,” said Gitto. “You’re hitting Point Breeze, Graduate Hospital, Passyunk Square, Bella Vista, Queen Village, Pennsport. Those are highly populated areas within the core of our city and there’s nothing [else] really that connects those neighborhoods with public transit.”
Seaman liked Gitto’s idea.
“People assume we should have all the lanes for cars,” she said. “We need to make it easier and safer for our other modes so that people want to use them. If buses are stuck, people won’t want to take them.”