Keeping Construction Projects From Blocking Sidewalks

One Philadelphia councilman wants his city to follow the lead of more pedestrian-friendly New York and ensure that construction projects don't interfere with sidewalks.

"Pity Philadelphia's walking majority. Its precious sidewalks are increasingly being taken in brazen landgrabs by the city's powerful construction industry, which erects flimsy chain-link fences to mark turf, sometimes for the sole purpose of allowing contractors to park for free. The pedestrian's daily passage is further challenged by smelly dumpsters, concrete barriers erected in the name of homeland security, and awkwardly designed wheelchair ramps."

"James F. Kenney, an at-large city councilman, had always assumed this was the way it worked in all big cities. Then he took his family on a trip to New York and discovered that not once was his trajectory interrupted on Manhattan's crowded streets, even though it has at least five times as many high-rise construction projects as Philadelphia.

Instead of battered chain link, Kenney found an orderly arrangement of sidewalk sheds that guarantee New York's sidewalks are always open for business. The structures usually involve a sturdy wooden roof held up by an allée of metal poles. If it's impossible to build over the sidewalk, contractors must carve a safe passage in the street.

The sheds do more than keep the way clear for pedestrians. They enable merchants to continue serving their customers - and stay in business - during lengthy projects. They also provide safe storage and staging room for construction crews, and help shield everyone from falling debris. Contractors must illuminate the underside of the covered walkways with a string of bulbs so they're safe at night.

When Kenney saw those lights, he really saw the light.

Why, he wondered, doesn't Philadelphia require sidewalk sheds? Why doesn't it insist on safe-passage corridors? And why doesn't it charge developers for appropriating the sidewalk for their own use?

He got to ask those questions last week during a City Council hearing he requested on pedestrian obstructions. Kenney brought in a New York construction official to testify, along with witnesses from Philadelphia regulatory agencies, design groups, and the Pennsylvania Council of the Blind. They offered their thoughts while a video loop of some of the city's worst sidewalk hogs played in the background, courtesy of the Design Advocacy Group. Now, Council is trying to determine the best way to implement changes."

Thanks to ArchNewsNow

Full Story: Changing Skyline: The city has lost control of its sidewalks

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