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Seeking an Automotive Balance in Philly

The city continues to grapple with the practical implications of local planning legend Edmund Bacon's prescriptions for carless streets.
October 15, 2013, 6am PDT | Lynn Vande Stouwe
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A failed 70's era experiment in carless streets still resonates in Philly, according to Jonathan Geeting.  By banning cars in a ten block stretch of Center City to create the Chesnut Street Transway in 1976, planners hoped to increase foot traffic.  However, the strategy actually drained the area of street life and proved catastrophic to local businesses, which fled in droves. 

Philly has since "overlearned the lesson of the Transway," says Geeting, planning to the other extreme in prioritizing cars over people.  But planners are beginning to recognize that a more moderate approach to the delicate car-pedestrian balance can help reinvigorate the city's streets. He writes:

"Just like with the Chestnut Street Transway, misallocating street space or designing streets to accommodate only cars or only transit can destroy wealth and render commercial properties unattractive to businesses and their customers. Bacon’s 'No Private Cars' mantra was too radical for his day, when the nation’s car culture was ascendant, and it is too radical now. But there is growing agreement that fewer private cars is key to successful neighborhood retail clusters."

Geeting argues that flexible, small-scale improvements to the built environment are the key: such changes are inexpensive and can have major impacts but are easily reversible if they prove as ill-advised as the Bacon-inspired Chesnut Street Transway. 

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Published on Friday, October 11, 2013 in Next City
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