The Push for Pedestrian Safety as Philadelphia’s Urban Population Swells

Consideration was given for the editing and publication of this post.

Pedestrians are in harm’s way simply because they are challenged with traversing busy streets in Philadelphia and beyond without any form of protection.  Though Philadelphia is a walkable city, it is incredibly busy.  The challenge is determining how to make city streets safer for pedestrians without impeding the flow of traffic and construction projects.


Recognize the Problem of Construction

If walking near and around automobiles traveling at 30 miles per hour or faster on cramped urban streets were not challenging enough, Philadelphia pedestrians are also tasked with maneuvering through construction zones.  Walking around construction projects is inherently hazardous simply because items can be dropped directly onto pedestrians, causing significant pain and injury.  Like many other busy metropolises, Philadelphia has more than its fair share of construction. 

Take a walk around the city and you will find plenty of sidewalks are closed.  Add in the fact that some walking routes have been diverted and it proves that much more difficult to traverse the city on foot.  Sadly, the end result of this challenging situation is people walking in close proximity to automobiles.  Making matters worse is the fact that those who rely on wheelchairs and other mobility aids find it nearly impossible to get around the city with the seemingly endless number of sidewalk closures and walking route diversions.

The Push to Qualify Developer Responsibilities

At the moment, developers in Philadelphia merely require a licensed engineer to report covered walking spaces are impractical in order to avoid providing such a sheltered walkway amidst construction.  There is an inherent conflict of interest in play as developers pay the engineers who perform such assessments.  In short, the rules pertaining to developers’ responsibilities to provide safe walking paths for pedestrians must be clarified. 

Merely placing cones along a protected walkway does not inherently make it that much safer.  A potential solution is to involve more Streets Department inspectors in the analysis of such construction projects and walkways to guarantee pedestrians have a truly safe path for walking.  Others insist it should prove more financially punitive for a developer or contractor to close a sidewalk. 

The Information Edge

In the winter of 2019, the Philadelphia Streets Department spearheaded a web-based interactive map providing pedestrians with updates pertaining to sidewalk and street closures.  The map pinpoints the precise locations of permits granted for the closure of sidewalks and streets.  Furthermore, advocacy groups are encouraging Philadelphia pedestrians to report the illegal closures of sidewalks, construction zones and bike lanes.  However, as is sometimes said, knowing is merely half the battle.  The avoidance of the seemingly countless hazards in the way of pedestrians is the other half.

Additional Solutions

Though spreading the word about sidewalk and street closures certainly helps ameliorate the pedestrian safety problem, it will also help to be proactive with actual action.  As an example, pedestrians must refrain from falling into the temptation of crossing in the middle of the street as opposed to using a crosswalk.  Furthermore, pedestrians should use pedestrian walkways approved for their use. 

When in doubt, use a crosswalk or an alternate path rather than attempting to maneuver through a closed sidewalk.  Above all, budget in an extra 5-10 minutes just in case you run into a closure while walking to your destination.  This way, if you have to take an alternate route, you will still arrive at your destination on time.

July 16, 2020 · Tim Kevan · Comments Closed
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