The new and improved intersection at Frankford/Thompson/Shackamaxon in Fishtown.

The hottest new spot in Fishtown, if you haven’t heard, is a crosswalk. People come and go at all hours of the day — by car and foot, by bike and bus. It’s the place to be. Because you pretty much have to be. If you live, work or visit Fishtown, you’re bound to find yourself at this popular intersection.

Yes, Fishtown is going bananas over its new crosswalks and stop signs at Frankford Avenue, Thompson Street and Shackamaxon Street. It’s a huge deal, and nearly a year in the making.

That intersection prompted the launch of the Fishtown Neighbors Association Safety Committee in late 2015. A few of us tired of playing Frogger on our daily errands and commutes reached out to the FNA board about taking action. By January I had become the chairperson of a newly formed committee and we set our sights on improving this intersection, among other things.

Dec. 2, 2016 will go down in history as the day Fishtown got some much-needed crosswalks and stop signs, but our work is not done.

Why is this intersection such a big deal?

If you lived in Fishtown 15 years ago — hell, even five years ago — you know Frankford Avenue was not the bustling street you patronize today. A few staples anchored the stretch between Girard and York, but Girard Avenue was the main business corridor as Fishtown developed from its time as yes, a fishing community. Frankford Avenue was full of factories and trucks, not brunching families and bar crawlers.

Everyone using Frankford Avenue — families and bros alike — should be able to do so safely. Until last Friday, the half-mile stretch between Girard Avenue and Palmer Street on Frankford did not have a single traffic-calming device. Not a crosswalk, not a stop sign, not a light or a speed hump. There’s no bike lane or sharrow. The sidewalk is blocked more often than not by construction fences and utility dig sites.

An aerial view of the Frankford/Thompson/Shackamaxon intersection in Fishtown
An aerial view of the Frankford/Thompson/Shackamaxon intersection in Fishtown Credit: Google Maps

Cars sped in both directions on Frankford Avenue because there was nothing to slow them down. Meanwhile, traffic creeped in from Thompson and from Shackamaxon — all at an angle that makes seeing oncoming traffic nearly impossible. Delivery trucks often blocked half the intersection. Toss in bikers and pedestrians trying to race across the street to safety, and you were guaranteed a close encounter about every 10 minutes.

That’s all different now, thanks to the stop signs that create enough of a break in Frankford Avenue traffic to allow others in, and a mid-block crosswalk perfectly aligned with businesses like Fishtown Tavern, Cake Life, Bottle Bar East and Kensington Quarters.

The secret to getting safety improvements in your neighborhood

Anyone who knows me or follows me on Twitter knows that I 1) love this city and 2) I demand excellence from it. So when Councilman Darrell Clarke’s office confirmed in early 2016 that the Streets Department had begun a study of Frankford/Thompson/Shackamaxon, I knew I had my work cut out for me to see this through. I didn’t know it would take nearly a year to see results.

Luckily, I now know the secret to getting these things done.

LOLJK there is no secret.

I will spare you the wonky details and literally hundreds of emails exchanged with various city employees, including Mayor Jim Kenney himself. Anyone who’s needed so much as a pothole filled knows that nothing moves quickly and that basically every city office operates in a vacuum. This project involved the Streets Department, PennDOT and SEPTA, and my outreach through the FNA began with our district council office. Everyone was helpful, or at least tried to be. But asking the Streets Department what PennDOT is doing is basically like asking Germany what Spain’s plans are for next weekend. Meanwhile, the FNA fielded emails, tweets and near-daily Facebook comments from the neighborhood asking about the timeline for the stop signs and reporting their near-death (no exaggeration) experiences at the intersection.

There was no magic here. There wasn’t a single person or office that got this done, or a specific incident that prompted the change. It was dedicated neighborhood volunteers bugging the hell out of city government, and all those agencies working together to design an intersection that keeps everyone safe. It’s exhausting and rewarding, and it’s just the beginning.

What’s next for Fishtown

The FNA Safety Committee will reconvene in January for regular meetings, and we’ve got quite a list of things to tackle, including several other intersections along Frankford Avenue. Those stop signs and crosswalks at Frankford/Thompson/Shackamaxon are a huge win, but the work of volunteers is never done, especially in a rapidly growing neighborhood.

Shannon Wink was editor of Billy Penn from August 2017 to January 2018.