In a city where the mentality is often “cars over everything,” the freshly painted crosswalk stripes on South Street halfway between Ninth and 10th are an unusual but welcome sight.
The markings form a midblock crosswalk — a clunky phrase, but simple enough concept in urban design. They facilitate road-crossing in areas where corner crosswalks just don’t cut it. In this particular case, the thinking went, people have been jaywalking across this stretch near Delhi Street to get to Whole Foods for the nearly two decades of the grocery store’s existence, so why not alert oncoming drivers and guarantee safer passage for pedestrians?
The Streets Department added the midblock crosswalk as part of a recent repaving of the heavily trafficked corridor. Pedestrian safety advocates have already hailed it as a vital addition.
“This type of crosswalk offers a visual cue to motorists of what to expect from road users,” said pedestrian advocacy group Feet First Philly in an email to Billy Penn. “It is only natural for pedestrians to cross here, and this simply raises visibility and makes all road users safer.”
Call it a rare case of government agencies adapting to — rather than trying to transform — human behavior. However, there’s little evidence it’s going to become a trend.
Crystal Jacobs, a spokesperson for the Streets Dept., confirmed another midblock crossing in the works further down South Street, near Hancock.
But beyond that? No plans.
“We determine the need for midblock crossings during field observations,” Jacobs said, “using metrics that measure the number of pedestrians crossing midblock and the distance to the nearest crosswalk.”
The traffic-calming measure is in tune with the initiatives outlined in Mayor Kenney’s Vision Zero Policy, Jacobs noted. Released last year, Kenney’s three-year action plan called for installing two “raised intersections” — elevated crosswalks that sit flush with the curb, encouraging drivers to yield to foot traffic and pass more slowly — which were completed on Broad earlier this year. But the plan doesn’t commit to any midblock crossings. So for now, it’s a take-what-you-can-get sorta thing.
At this point, it’s not even clear how many midblock crossings there are in Philly. And there’s no info on the price tag to install one. On South Street, the cost was rolled into the Streets Department’s federally subsidized repaving program budget.
“We don’t have any data,” said Richard Montanez, deputy commissioner of transportation at Streets. “But we’ve been slowly installing them as we do the resurfacing.”
While the total number likely isn’t very high, university campuses are notable exceptions where midblock crossings abound. In May, a federal grant was awarded for another one on Drexel University’s campus in University City.
Pro tip: If you want a midblock crossing near your office, get your boss — or better yet, building owner — to talk directly to Streets.
That’s what Liberty Property Trust and Brandywine Realty Trust did to get one installed in 2016, effectively connecting the rear entrance of the Comcast Center (co-owned by Liberty) to the Wawa at 3 Logan Square (owned by Brandywine). The two real estate juggernauts offered to pay for whole project, and it was a done deal. (Philadelphians take their Wawa access seriously.)
Neighborhood advocates on the hunt for a midblock crossing? Per Montanez, Streets is all ears.
Said the deputy commissioner: “Put it in a request.”
Danya Henninger contributed reporting.