Monday, August 4, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Ped-plazas, bike corrals and parklets embraced by Philly City Council

Shake Shack bike corrals.
Shake Shack bike corrals. PLANPHILLY

With all of the slush, snow and polar weather, the last thing on most people’s minds right now is spending more time outside, strolling through greened pedestrian plazas, lingering at one of the city’s parklets or finding a spot to lock their bicycles. But an important piece of legislation passed through City Council that will help give Philadelphians more opportunities to take part in those activities once we shed this winter weather.

In January, pedestrian plazas, parklets and bike corrals were added to The Philadelphia Code, under Streets jurisdiction. Until now, these “pedestrian amenities” have been installed on an ad hoc basis through Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities (MOTU) pilot programs. By adding pedestrian plazas, parklets and bike corrals to the city’s Streets code, the city is establishing these amenities as permanent streetscape elements and making the process for those seeking to build them more uniform.

“This bill is really about taking down barriers to community enhancements,” said MOTU Chief of Staff Andrew Stober in an email.

Now, with approval from the Streets Department, the Department of Licenses and Inspections will be able to issue pedestrian enhancement licenses, which allow for construction and maintenance of pedestrian plazas, bike corrals and parklets. That means any business or organization wishing to install one of these features will be able to apply for a pedestrian enhancement license at any time, and the process for obtaining that license will be standardized.

From pilots to permanent

Thanks to MOTU pilot programs, the city already has several successful examples of these pedestrian amenities.

Parklets, protected structures placed in former parking spaces and dedicated to pedestrian use, can be found at places like Honest Tom’s, the Free Library of Philadelphia Logan Branch and Little Baby’s Ice Cream. Bike corrals, bike racks installed in former curbside vehicle parking spaces, can be found at 10 locations, as varied as Reading Terminal Market, Mariposa Co-op, Johnny Brenda's and the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation. The city has two pedestrian plazas (Woodland Avenue Green and Baltimore Crossing) where excess space in the roadway was blocked for pedestrian use and spruced up with planters and pedestrian furniture.

“Piloting change allows the City and communities to see if an idea that makes sense on paper works on the street,” Stober said. “All these amenities have worked well. Now we are focused on not burdening communities with excessive process in order to improve them.”

In December, the Center City Shake Shack became the first business to install a bike corral on its own, outside of a MOTU pilot program. In theory, this change in code will allow more businesses and organizations to do the same.

“I expect that community groups and businesses will continue to embrace these opportunities,” Stober said.

When asked how this bill will make the ped-plazas, bike corrals and parklets more lasting and stable in the face of upcoming mayoral administration change, Stober said, “These projects were never controversial to begin with, but having processes in place will make it easier for future administrations to embrace these approaches to meet the evolving needs and desires of businesses and community groups.”

To apply for a license, an applicant will have to provide a detailed plan showing the location and design of the proposed enhancement. The applicant must show that the amenity meets safety standards, will not cause undue traffic congestion, has support from adjacent property owners and tenants of adjacent commercial properties as well as property owners and commercial tenants in the surrounding area. Each license will be valid for up to three years, and while no fee is defined in the legislation, a licensing fee may be established by regulation.

PlanPhilly.com  is dedicated to covering design, planning and development issues in Philadelphia. The news website is a project of PennPraxis, the clinical arm of the School of Design of the University of Pennsylvania. It is funded by the William Penn Foundation.

Christine Fisher PLANPHILLY
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