Why a Complete Streets Makeover Went Awry in Philadelphia

The city pulled the plug on a proposed street redesign after community groups criticized the public engagement process for not listening to all local voices.

2 minute read

February 28, 2022, 8:00 AM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

A plan to redesign a dangerous five-lane Philadelphia street by reducing it to three traffic lanes and adding parking-protected bike lanes has stalled after local opponents voiced concerns that the public engagement process didn't reach enough residents and stakeholders. As Jared Brey reports, the city's Office of Transportation, Infrastructure, and Sustainability (OTIS) developed the plan for Washington Avenue with a focus on Complete Streets principles, but ultimately decided to change the design.

"With U.S. pedestrian deaths spiking and the federal government calling for a national roadway safety initiative, Philly's surprise U-turn on Washington Avenue shows how efforts to redesign streets for multiple user groups can get complicated, particularly in gentrifying areas," Brey writes. "Road diets can be very visible signs of neighborhood change, and they’re driven by city government, so communities often associate them with a range of issues that go beyond traffic safety. Bike lanes in particular are often seen as symbols of gentrification."

Although more than 70 percent of respondents in a city survey supported the three-lane plan, some residents say they were never given information about the project or the opportunity to respond to the survey. According to Mike Carroll, deputy managing director for OTIS, the fact that the concerns came from Black, low-income communities made the office take pause and "recalled painful historical instances of destructive transportation planning done by technocrats without input from communities of color."

OTIS is going back to the drawing board and "moving forward with plans to redesign the street, using elements of the three-lane and four-lane mixed approach. The office says it will announce the construction plans at a public meeting on March 1."

The source article provides more details on the three alternatives for the Washington Avenue redesign, all of which include protected bike lanes.

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