by Diane Fiske
Streetscape is a local column about architecture, city planning and design.
In early August, Richard Montanez, deputy commissioner of the Streets Department, sat down for a interview in his office at City Hall. The subject: What is being done about the traffic flow in the business area of Chestnut Hill?
The first step is to realize, in all fairness, Chestnut Hill must wait its turn among the more than 50 Philadelphia neighborhoods with traffic needs, many more dramatic than those on the Hill.
Also, it is important so understand the current streets department is in no way responsible for the strange layout of many Chestnut Hill Streets and the traffic lights trying valiantly to control traffic.
“Many of the traffic lights are arranged on paths that were laid out 200 years or more ago in the 1700s,” he said.” There is no way the streets department would be rearranging these streets that were built way before the advent if modern transportation.”
One example of this is the illogical traffic signal at East Evergreen and Germantown Avenue, which directs pedestrian and vehicle traffic west even though traffic signals may direct less careful people to cross against the light.
This may stem from the fact that East Evergreen is two way and West Evergreen, across Germantown Avenue, is one way going east. Thanks to the pre-automobile thinking behind the planning of Evergreen, there is a jag in the road, so West Evergreen begins about two car lengths north of East Evergreen across the street.
This could be a huge problem if a pedestrian who has the green light to cross West Evergreen thinks the red light forbidding traffic to move across Germantown Avenue can prevent cars from careening through Evergreen.
Better traffic signals, which are the basis of various requests for state grants could help.
Montanez said his department has been working with Philip Dawson, executive director of the Chestnut Hill Business District, which sponsored a study in 2015, about improvements necessary on Germantown Avenue.
“We used this study to go after traffic improvement grants,” Montanez said “We have not been successful so far.”
He said he is still hoping for the success of applications to upgrade the traffic signals and the ADA ramps.”
Every neighborhood is different, he said. . In Mt Airy, for instance, the Streets Department made the Germantown Avenue area easier to navigate by removing cobblestones. This may not be acceptable in an area like Chestnut Hill where historic ambience is valued.
“Right now, “Montanez said, “we constantly review our crash data, which would include adding pedestrian signals on Germantown Avenue and upgrades to the traffic signals.””
He said the progress of improvements to traffic signals is often hard to chart.
One suggested solution would have traffic on Evergreen Avenue reversed so that the flow would go to the east instead of the west.
“Unfortunately, the residents of an apartment complex on West Evergreen objected because this reversal would interfere with their trash collection and package delivery, so we had to abandon this,” he said.
There is still study about traffic signal improvement. In some areas an overhead arm holding a huge traffic signal is acceptable because is easier for pedestrians to see oncoming traffic with this type of signal.
Once again, he said, this might not work in traditional neighborhoods like Chestnut Hill. Traffic lights in this neighborhood would be better served with lights that clearly show a lighted sign showing an image of a walking man taking turns with another image of a hand stopping traffic.
Montanez said we are still t trying to get grants to get an upgrade. Our latest application was for $350,000 and we will probably receive $150.000 for the project.
One improvement that is scheduled he said “thanks to councilwoman Cindy Bass” is to install speed cushions to slow traffic down at Evergreen near Shawnee, next to the train station.
A good result, Montanez said, came out of cooperation with the Chestnut Hill Business Association in which Philip Dawson, executive director helped secure the installation of a number of new lights and lampposts on Germantown Avenue.”
“So,” Montanez said, “We must wait for the results of our applications and try to balance neighborhood needs to the entire city.”
“I welcome people letting me know how they feel,” he said. If people are having problems, they can just call 311 and they will be connected with the Streets Department. In reality, citizen input is a very good way things get done.”
Diane Fiske is a Hill resident. She writes about architecture and planning for the Philadelphia Inquirer.