Grays Ferry: Community Reacts to Repaving Plan for Washington Avenue

Residents and activists are relieved and excited to have a concrete plan set for the Washington Avenue redesign.

The City of Philadelphia proposed a redesign for Washington Avenue on March 1, 2022. This new proposal is contentious, though, because it is different from the prior plan, which featured pedestrian improvements that many groups had spent years advocating for. 

5th Square, a Philadelphia-based “urbanist” political action committee with a specific focus on transit, has been a longtime supporter of the mission to reduce the number of  lanes on Washington Avenue.

“We’ve been involved in this project for a long time now, and we just want to see something actually get done,” 5th Square member Will Tung said. “What we are mainly concerned about are the high speeds and long crossing distances on Washington Avenue.” 

Washington Avenue is one of the most dangerous streets in Philadelphia in terms of car accidents and pedestrian injuries. The road has seen more than 150 motor-related accidents in the past five years, according to the Office of Transportation, Infrastructure, and Sustainability.

“I don’t know what needs to be done about that road but it needs something,” longtime South Philadelphia resident Kamarr Johnson said. “All the potholes are bad enough, but everybody is speeding, running lights, and switching lanes on that road, it’s really dangerous.” 

Locals and advocates have long sought improvements that could make Washington Avenue safer, and the community had been hopeful last year that it would finally be repaved. 

“We don’t let our kid cross that street without one of us,” local parent Jose Hernandez said. “It’s just crossing too many lanes of traffic for us to feel comfortable.” 

The original repavement plan featured three-lane sections along the length of the avenue; dedicated lanes for traffic going either direction, with one center turning lane. 

These three lane sections were designed to shorten crossing distances for pedestrians, reduce the speed of traffic, and create space for parking that can serve as a buffer to implement a bike lane.

“There are kids who go to school and need to cross that street and that area is fairly busy in general,” Tung said. “Right now the light needs to be very long for pedestrians to be able to cross and that can lead to problems with people still in the crosswalk during a green light or an impatient driver wanting to run through a red.”

In the new proposal, some of the three-lane sections remain, but there are new four-lane stretches that feature two lanes of traffic traveling towards Broad Street, one lane traveling away from Broad Street, and one center turning lane.

The plan also features a proposed five-lane section between 16th and 12th Streets. Four-lane sections would run from 4th to 5th Streets, from 10th to 12th Streets, from 16th to 20th Streets, and West of 25th Street.

The other aspects of the original design, such as bus loading platforms, corner buffers on turns, a hardened center line, parking lane, and bike lane are still in the new plan. These infrastructure changes are key aspects of the design because of their importance to local residents of the area. 

The project has continually been delayed, partly because different groups of residents have been advocating for different uses of Washington Avenue. Many residents want ample parking and car access instead of more pedestrian infrastructure.

Shirrel Green and her sister Yolanda visit their mother Shirley Burton. (Jefferson Schoemer/PN)

“My mom lives around here, so my sister and I like to come by and visit her as often as we can, but we don’t do it so much because there’s never any parking,” Shirrel Green said about her mother who lives around the intersection of 19th and Ellsworth Streets

The new plan seems to create a compromise between the community-focused advocacy groups that want to create a safer Washington Avenue and the business owners, residents, drivers who want to keep Washington Avenue more car-friendly. 

“People who want to go to the businesses or parks or what have you come and park in the neighborhood in front of someone’s house, making it so we have to park blocks away from the house,” Green said.

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