A walkable city? Go to New York

Philadelphia has miles to go before delivering on the promise of being a truly walkable city, a point driven home once again by the recent New York initiative to improve the design of pedestrian sheds at construction sites in that city.

New York officials have selected a Philadelphia-trained architect, Young-Hwan Choi, as the designer of a prototype for a fancier pedestrian shed.

The design — showcased in a recent article by Inquirer architecture writer Inga Saffron — looks like its title of “Urban Umbrella.” And the pleasing canopy style should deliver on the aim to beautify construction sites now shrouded in typical scaffolding.

Just imagine that, fancier sheds? In Philadelphia pedestrians are lucky to find a construction site downtown that even makes way for them.

The rule too often is that the sidewalk is blocked, as is the case alongside the Convention Center expansion (for years.) That’s because builders aren’t mandated — as in New York — to maintain pedestrian access at all sites.

Builders here say it’s not feasible on some of the city’s streets, but that’s a cop-out on safety. So Philadelphia should expand its requirement — as does New York — that sidewalk access be preserved during most construction or renovation projects. To do less than insist that all sites provide shielded pedestrian access simply is a slap in the face to anyone who walks in the city.

Other signs that Philadelphia has lived up to being a truly walkable town might also include: expanding the city’s downtown ban on making turns on red lights, and a police policy of regularly ticketing drivers who block the box at any intersection. Then, throw in some public service announcements in an effort (good luck) to retrain drivers who act as if they own the road and the crosswalks.

Having New York so close — with so many superior ideas already implemented to protect pedestrians — ought to make it easy for Philadelphia officials to get the message on this issue. But things still move at a Philly crawl.

In fairness, Mayor Nutter has hired a pedestrian-cycling czar. Philadelphians who love to walk, though, are still waiting for this administration — or any other — to push the envelope on strollers’ safety and convenience.