Monday, June 20, 2011


I went for a walk today. I'm a hardy pedestrian, I want to see the nice houses in East Falls up along Henry and Midvale, and since I've got a nasty sunburn across my shoulders my girlfriend doesn't want me to go swimming for a couple of days until it clears up, so I figure, why not?
This is the route I took. Extraneous arrows signify direction I was walking.
But I didn't have to go too far for things to start going wrong. Right off the bat, there is no sidewalk along Neill Dr. all the way down to the Falls Bridge. Now, this is an access road for West River MLK Jr. Drive, and it has no less than two major blind curves, and I was forced to cross at the corner of Falls Rd. and again between the Schuylkill Expressway and Norfolk Southern underpasses. The shoulder is in deteriorated condition, and shrubbery sometimes blocked the way, all the while as cars rocket past at 50 mph on a 25-signed road. To say this road is pedestrian-hostile is an understatement.
Typical conditions along Neill Dr.
East Falls is a mighty nice neighborhood, with classic Main Line building stock (where it departs from the Main Line: (1) It's accessed via former Reading lines, rather than Pennsy ones, and (2) it's in the city), but oddly it has some rougher-looking blocks near the foot of the hill, and the river side of the Ridge Avenue business district is grotesquely underbuilt. However, when I endeavored to get back across the river, this time via the City Line bridge, I found myself having to navigate a sidewalk ramp jammed in any old how between a wasp's nest of ramps connecting the auto traffic to even access the bridge--and then, once across the river, found myself having to bushwack thistles and poison sumac just to follow a sidewalk less than ten feet away from a major arterial and U.S. highway!

This. Is. Unacceptable.
Dangerous pedestrian conditions along City Line Ave. Believe it or not, there's a sidewalk under all that brush.
This lack of pedestrian interconnection between Wynnefield Heights and East Falls* effectively isolates the neighborhood from its cross-river neighbors, making it feel culturally more a part of uppermost West Philly (Wynnefield, Belmont Village) and the Lower Main Line (Cynwyd) than Northwest Philly, even though--with the proper densification strategy--it can sop up the demand for living close to Manayunk and East Falls destinations. While the large apartment structures in Wynnefield Heights are holding up well (I should know, I live in one), the smaller, traditionally owner-occupied, airlites in the neighborhood are starting to show signs of neglect. These Wynnefield Heights apartments are also incredibly convenient for St. Joe's students and moderately convenient for Temple students. They should also be incredibly convenient for Philly U. students, as the commute would be, quite literally, down the hill, over the bridge, back up the hill.

But they are not.

To get from City Line and Presidential, Wynnefield Heights' most transit-rich intersection, to Schoolhouse and Henry, Philly U.'s main entrance, requires a two-mile walk with a 200 ft. overall change in vertical elevation (down a hundred feet, and back up), or at least one transfer via bus (65-32, or 1-K and walk down Henry), despite the fact that Wynnefield Heights is equidistant between St. Joe's (54th and City) and Philly U. This, again, disconnects Wynnefield Heights from the northwest neighborhoods, and strengthens their connection with West Philadelphia, which is almost certainly part and parcel of the early signs of neighborhood deterioration visible in the airlites.

1. Mow the brush along the sidewalk along the City Line Bridge. Like, once every two weeks or so. The current conditions are deplorable overall and absolutely unacceptable for a key pedestrian linkage.
2. Extend a multi-use trail up the shoulders of Neill Dr. and Falls Road. Neill, in particular, sees high biking use despite its total lack of facilities, and would see more pedestrian use (the woods are pleasant) were there facilities. Borrowing one of its shoulders would be cheap and effective.
3. Extend the 38 from Wissahickon Transfer up Schoolhouse Ln. at least as far as Philly U., and preferably to either the Queen Lane or Chelten Avenue stops along the Chestnut Hill West line. Yes, the 38 is already a long route, but, well, the 23 is longer. This creates a more direct, one-stop public transit service from Wynnefield Heights to Philly U. and improves East Falls' own transit interconnections.

Longer-term solutions? Well, I think I want to spend a whole post on that, but suffice to say, current planning and service in the area is atrocious compared to what could be done. Why is there, for example, no easy pedestrian connection between Wynnefield Heights and Wissahickon Transfer? Or East Falls and same? For as important a transportation center as it is, Wissahickon Transfer feels kind of out in the middle of nowhere. Also: isn't there a better way of connecting the City Line Bridge to Ridge, Kelly, and Lincoln than that interchange-like knot? These are the questions better answered with a broader East Falls plan.
* And--just ask anyone who's walked it--Manayunk and East Falls.

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