The East Falls Development Corporation is completing a $40,000 transit study in partnership with Thomas Jefferson University to better understand how the pandemic has changed traffic flows in East Falls.
The EFDC received the funding from the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development late last year to study the area between the start of the Schuylkill River Trail on Kelly Drive and the East Falls River Landing, which just finished construction earlier this year but has yet to open.
“I always joke that it’s like playing Frogger if you’re crossing Midvale Avenue to get to the Schuylkill River Trail or the River Landing,” said Michelle Feldman, the director of the East Falls Development Corporation.
Feldman has been at the helm of the project since she started her new role at the EFDC last year. The River Landing, located upstream from the Falls River bridge, is likely to attract boating and outdoors enthusiasts into the neighborhood.
“We knew that people will be crossing with, you know, equipment with canoes or kayaks and any other sort of equipment they might use to enjoy the site,” she said.
Two busy, major arteries—Kelly Drive and Ridge Avenue—also run through East Falls next to the Schuylkill River. Leaders in the neighborhood have been curious how a potential increase in people coming into the neighborhood to enjoy the river might impact traffic, as well as how traffic might impact the people.
“We wanted to make sure that people are receiving convenient crossings to the River Landing,” Feldman said.
Traffic has been a longtime concern for residents in the neighborhood.
Lindsay Gilbert, a senior at Thomas Jefferson University in East Falls, said that traffic on and around campus can become a burden for anyone commuting through the area.
“There’s always a million cars,” she said. “So it’s just wild, like I don’t know how people get to work.”
The traffic Gilbert mentioned is not only a hassle around campus. She said it stretches all the way down Ridge Avenue, regularly backing up into residential streets in the neighborhood.
“It depends on the time of day,” she said. “If you go anywhere between 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., it’s gonna be bad.”
Dr. Chae Lim is an associate professor of marketing at Thomas Jefferson University and is leading the research on the transit study.
The Ridge Avenue corridor is the busiest in East Falls, but is also home to most of the retail in the neighborhood. Traffic changes along this stretch of road can have bug impacts on businesses’ bottom line.
Lim’s students have collected survey data from neighborhood residents for the past three years, focusing on traffic, support for small businesses, and the ways to improve both in the area.
“Through the surveys, we are finding out there are several things like consumer trend changes,” Lim said. “But the pandemic has changed what these business owners saw over the past two years.”
Consumers’ changing habits have meant more cars outside East Falls and more popular restaurants and stores.
“Online ordering and contactless payments, even outdoor dining, have contributed to restaurants and small businesses maintaining their customers through the pandemic, but more needs to be done to increase foot traffic,” she said.
While the study still has a long way to go, Lim is hopeful that the ongoing research will bring a new perspective to the growth and development of downtown East Falls.
“It’s a benefit for everybody,” she said. “It gives us an insight into where we live, in addition to how we learn about the area and small businesses.”
The traffic study is expected to be completed by the end of 2022 or the beginning of 2023. Feldman said the EFDC is also working in conjunction with PennDOT, the City’s Office of Transportation, in addition to the Parks and Recreation department in preparation for the project’s findings.
“We want to make sure that the project is feasible and generates good ideas,” Feldman said. “Ultimately, our goal is to take a comprehensive view of Kelly Drive and existing crossings and see how they can be enhanced, made safer, and see if they can have an effect of calming traffic.”
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