FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
New report examines problems, causes of growing congestion, outlines next steps crucial to address mounting problem
PHILADELPHIA (February 28, 2018) – It’s a growing cause of frustration for anyone taking public transit walking, bicycling or driving in Center City: congestion. Blocked intersections, gridlocked streets, trucks parked in travel and bike lanes -- and the resulting stress and anger -- have become more daily occurrences for anyone trying to navigate the downtown grid.
Is this chaotic ballet the result of bad habits of local residents, or the fate of all cities that have come back to life? If this is a manageable problem, whose job is it to set things right? And how do we do that?
A new research report from Central Philadelphia Transportation Management Association/Center City District, Keep Philadelphia Moving, is an effort to start the conversation about traffic congestion, focusing on why it occurs, how it is (or isn’t) currently being managed, and what Philadelphia can do differently to improve conditions that are frustrating, occasionally dangerous and an emerging challenge to the city’s long-term vitality and attractiveness.
“This is a problem of abundance, rather than a problem of scarcity: Increases in employment, residents, visitors and shoppers have all generated more intensive use of Center City’s streets and sidewalks,” Center City District President and CEO Paul R. Levy said. “While traffic congestion in many other cities is worse, few gauge their frustration with traffic based on how much worse it may be elsewhere. We measure against how it used to be here. So, enhanced, well-funded and proactive management is essential to prevent this problem from escalating further.”
Philadelphia’s challenges are compounded by DNA we inherit from William Penn’s 1682 plan: namely, a very walkable downtown with narrow roadways compared to most North American cities. The revival in Center City in the last 30 years has created an unprecedented density of development: taller office towers; more hotels; expanding health care and educational institutions; conversion of parking lots and older industrial and office buildings to residential use; and new retail, restaurant, entertainment, cultural and tourist destinations. Yet, parking and traffic regulations in the central business district remain essentially unchanged from the era when Center City was a 9-to-5 downtown with little more than two daily rush-hour peaks to navigate.
Compounding the congestion from private automobiles and taxis stopping in travel lanes for pickups and dropoffs are the increasing numbers of both delivery trucks and ride-sharing vehicles. Despite the common refrain from drivers that they are only stopping “for a minute,” these minutes compound to create a ripple effect of congestion that lasts far longer than the infraction itself. Meanwhile, in the absence of a dedicated platoon of traffic police, there is effectively no enforcement of block the box regulations, violations of which can quickly back up traffic for blocks in all directions.
This congestion also makes travel increasingly more challenging for bicyclists and pedestrians, who are navigating the streets of Center City in greater numbers than ever before. Since the CCD began automated counting of pedestrians in 2011, the number of people walking on Walnut and Chestnut, west of Broad has risen by 15%. Compared to a 2013 post-recession nadir of pedestrian traffic, 2017 counts are up by a full 31%. Moreover, the volume of pedestrians in crosswalks can conflict with turning vehicles that impede through-traffic, given how intersections are currently configured.
Beyond the logistics challenge of moving people most effectively on the downtown grid, the report also examines Philadelphia’s underfunded and fragmented system of agencies involved in managing the city’s streets and sidewalks. Who determines the allocation of space on the roadway between private vehicles, buses, bicycles and delivery vehicles? Who then establishes, posts and enforces the corresponding regulations? Are they adequately staffed and funded to carry out the task? The answers to those questions are difficult to answer in Philadelphia, which has long lacked the type of integrated and well funded Department of Transportation that exists in many of the cities with authority over all departments and agencies required to minimize congestion on streets.
The report recommends that Philadelphia better coordinate the multiple modes that make a city a success – walking, cycling, automobiles, buses and delivery vehicles. It suggests that more funding be devoted to the basics of roadway repair, to education and enforcement and to the technologies and infrastructure used by the most competitive 21st century cities.
To see the 16-page report, accompanied by a wealth of statistics, charts and graphics, visit www.centercityphila.org/research-reports/2018congestion .
The Center City District, a private-sector organization dedicated to making Center City Philadelphia clean, safe and attractive, is committed to maintaining Center City’s competitive edge as a regional employment center, a quality place to live, and a premier regional destination for dining, shopping and cultural attractions. Find us at www.centercityphila.org and on Facebook and Twitter.