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  #1  
Old Posted Dec 22, 2012, 3:53 AM
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Philadelphia has the (potential to be the) most seamless walkable area in the US.

Before people start putting their dukes up, hear me out.

I believe that Philadelphia has quite possibly the potential to redevelop an area that would be the largest seamless pedestrian friendly walkable area in the US. Of course this is in terms of street layout alone, there is no way that Philly will ever catch up to Manhattan's large array of amenities that brings pedestrians out, but I think Philly has an advantage that other cities would kill to have, in that the average street width ranges from narrow to narrow as hell! Look at these examples:

North Philly
http://goo.gl/maps/lAZd4

North Philly
http://goo.gl/maps/LbykX

Northwest Philly (around Germantown Ave)
http://goo.gl/maps/tZxp4

West Philly
http://goo.gl/maps/fa80z

South Philly (nearly all of it is like this)
http://goo.gl/maps/uv7Ll


These streets aren't anomalies, they're numerous in scope. I can't think of any other city that has large swaths of narrow streets like this far from the city. Also, they're not only walkable, they're absolutely hostile to automobile traffic, a distinction that puts it above its peers. I'm fully aware that Philly has other roadblocks in the way, such as vast areas of urban decay, swaths of unused industrial land, some wide thoroughfares, etc, but I think that there exists enough intact historical fabric to create one of the largest seamless walkable areas in the US.


What do you think?
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  #2  
Old Posted Dec 22, 2012, 4:13 AM
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It's not an unreasonable suggestion.

Based on size alone, really only New York and Chicago have bigger walkable areas.
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  #3  
Old Posted Dec 22, 2012, 5:42 AM
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This is one of Philadelphia's most underdeveloped attributes.

The vast majority of this city outside of the Far Northeast and parts of NW Philadelphia (Germantown/Chestnut Hill/Mt. Airy/Roxborough/Manayunk) is easily traversed by foot. It is simultaneously expansive and compact. Blocks, generally, are a manageable length and hilly areas are far flung and infrequent. Pick a street on the grid and start walking and you'd be surprised how far you'd get before you realized how much ground you've covered. You could walk along Market Street from the city line at 63rd Street to Penn's Landing at a brisk pace in ~two hours and still be good for going out that night. I've only personally experience the same situation in Manhattan (the only place I've really walked in the same way) and the same held true. A walk up Broadway from Battery Park to Times Square is not only painless but surprisingly brisk.

As well, the vehicle-unfriendly nature of many city streets adds to the potential. I've been to a lot of places and have never seen pedestrians treat automotive traffic with such complete disdain. Jaywalking, traipsing along the blacktop, playing 'Frogger' - these are time honored Philadelphia traditions that transcend all social divisions.

As Segun notes, the biggest obstacle to the full realization of what our streets can be is the collection of hostile landscapes many of them run through. In post-industrial neighborhoods there are fallow hazard zones. In many adjacent neighborhoods that same street scale works against itself. The tiny, narrow side streets of Kensington, Strawberry Mansion, Nicetown and Harrowgate that are tucked away from the larger grid and the view of regular traffic are effectively 'dens of iniquity'. Take it from a life-long Philadelphian - small streets in the hood are usually no good.

Thankfully, the current mayoral administration seems to really understand all of this and is all about supporting policy. The city's 'Complete Streets' bill just recently passed and now it's all about enforcement. They understand that the life of any healthy city is in its streets and it's time to get us back into good shape.
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  #4  
Old Posted Dec 22, 2012, 5:48 AM
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Yeah, I could see it.

NYC, while it has a much bigger walkable area, has steep hills in parts, and requires river crossings to leave Manhattan.
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  #5  
Old Posted Dec 22, 2012, 6:03 AM
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Philly seems to have a great case for walkability. Narrow streets are a big key.

Portland is another example. You can often go a long way without crossing a single major through-road or freeway, and jaywalk to your heart's content including greater Downtown itself.

Seattle has a lot of overly wide roads in/around Downtown by comparison, though here too you can walk a long way without dealing with freeways depending upon direction.
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  #6  
Old Posted Dec 22, 2012, 11:37 AM
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I read nakedphilly.com now and then an am really impressed by the small scale, but pretty voluminous, infill (literally) they have going on in Philly. Stuff like this - small, 1-10 unit rowhouse construction on vacant parcels. If they just kicked it up a notch an reestablished the rowhouse streetscape throughout the historic rowhouse core (particularly north Philly), and dealt with some of the crime and segregation issues that plague the city, there would be no stopping Philly.

anyhow, this is top-notch housing built environment from a walkability/bikability standpoint
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Old Posted Dec 22, 2012, 1:46 PM
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I'd say Philadelphia is right up there already. The much narrower street thing is key. Having lived in Manhattan in a few different places, I certainly found it to be vastly walkable. But one also finds very high speed traffic on the wide avenues -- it's not the best thing for walking ease and comfort.
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  #8  
Old Posted Dec 22, 2012, 4:59 PM
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There are a couple major roadblocks to Philly being a truly seamless walkable city.
1. Center City, by far the most walkable area of the city is cut off from the rest of the city on 3 sides. The rivefront is essentially cut off by I-95. West Philly is cut of by Skuylkill and I-76- the crossing bridges are not especially pedestrian friendly. North Philly (including walkable neighborhoods like Fairmount, NoLibs and Fishtown) is cut off by Vine Street expressway and the expansive no-man's land between Callowhill and Spring Garden. Even Ben Franklin Parkway is not especially pleasant pedestrian experience.
2. Public transportation still kinda sucks. Yeah, it's decent by American standards, but you can only walk so far, right? With only two subway lines, the pedestrian options become more limited. Buses and trolleys are decent, but there's nothing like rapid transit to make walking a viable option.

IMO, Philly is a decent pedestrian town, but getting around by pedal bike is where it's at.
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Old Posted Dec 22, 2012, 7:31 PM
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Coincidentally, I was actually just "exploring" the city the other day, and thinking that if Philly didn't have its problems with crime & decay (abandonment/demolition), its commercial streets were in better shape, and it was a little more....culturally vibrant, it would be a pretty much perfect city.

Regardless, its future is bright. As one of the handful of major American cities that can offer a truly urban (but affordable) lifestyle, its only going to become more popular. More good things will follow.
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Old Posted Dec 22, 2012, 8:03 PM
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^^ I have to bite...how do you figure that Philly's cultural vibrancy needs improvement?

This is the home of the Philadelphia Orchestra & the legacy of Leopold Stokowski, the Curtis institute, the barnes museum, etc. So much of US visual arts and musical culture arises from Philadelphia, nurtured by main line $$ over the years...

If you mean culture in the "multicultural' sense of having a globalized immigrant population, well..this is not everyone's yardstick for measuring a city's cultural standing.
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Old Posted Dec 22, 2012, 9:05 PM
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Philadelphia comes up a lot as an alternative to New York or the Bay Area. It's way cheaper, urbane, and not too cold. I think the next few decades will be very good for Philadelphia's urban centre.
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Old Posted Dec 22, 2012, 10:45 PM
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Always overshadowed by NYC and DC, but so much of a cooler (and massive) city than most cities in the US by far.
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Old Posted Dec 22, 2012, 11:14 PM
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Throwing in a few public squares help as well.
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  #14  
Old Posted Dec 23, 2012, 12:13 AM
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I don't know. Philly is pretty great but walkability can be hit and miss. More narrow streets are really nice but they don't automatically equate to increased walkability. For example, I don't feel that Center City is necessarily more walkable than most parts of San Fran, Chicago, Boston or NYC. They all seem to work well IMO.

It does have the potential, though.
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Old Posted Dec 23, 2012, 12:14 AM
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Philly is good for cycling for the same reasons it is good for walking. I think we'll see bicycling in Philadelphia really pick up in the coming years.
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Old Posted Dec 23, 2012, 1:05 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by alex1 View Post
I don't know. Philly is pretty great but walkability can be hit and miss. More narrow streets are really nice but they don't automatically equate to increased walkability. For example, I don't feel that Center City is necessarily more walkable than most parts of San Fran, Chicago, Boston or NYC. They all seem to work well IMO.

It does have the potential, though.
Well the point is that the walkable region extends far past the bounds of Center City. East Passyunk, for example, doesn't even start until a good mile south of the border of Center City proper; Fishtown's southwesternmost point is still a good mile northeast of Vine. And so on.

Center City is something of an average Northeastern downtown, in some respects. Philadelphia's advantage is that its core walkable area just keeps going on...and on...and on...in many places straight through the disinvested areas and out into the suburbs. Philadelphia's core walkable area extends a good ten miles or so in well-nigh every direction.

And on top of that, its inner suburban areas, especially in Delaware County and the Near Northeast, are as dense as many cities' core urban areas--Seattle's, for example. Philadelphia's core urban area is primarily 19th century rowhomes on small streets, creating a region at one highly dense and highly homey. (See the rowhome thread). I would argue this is Philadelphia's crucial advantage on the walkability and bikability front.
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Old Posted Dec 23, 2012, 1:34 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by CentralGrad258 View Post
There are a couple major roadblocks to Philly being a truly seamless walkable city.
1. Center City, by far the most walkable area of the city is cut off from the rest of the city on 3 sides. The rivefront is essentially cut off by I-95. West Philly is cut of by Skuylkill and I-76- the crossing bridges are not especially pedestrian friendly. North Philly (including walkable neighborhoods like Fairmount, NoLibs and Fishtown) is cut off by Vine Street expressway and the expansive no-man's land between Callowhill and Spring Garden. Even Ben Franklin Parkway is not especially pleasant pedestrian experience.
2. Public transportation still kinda sucks. Yeah, it's decent by American standards, but you can only walk so far, right? With only two subway lines, the pedestrian options become more limited. Buses and trolleys are decent, but there's nothing like rapid transit to make walking a viable option.

IMO, Philly is a decent pedestrian town, but getting around by pedal bike is where it's at.
I find it funny that Philadelphian's are ALWAYS Philadelphia's strongest critic.

-How is the west cut off by I-76 when I-76 runs UNDER the street grid? The only gap in in development is the Schuylkill River... and with all of the parks and new highrises cropping up, the connection between Center City and UCity is becoming ever stronger.

-The Vine Street Expressway is an easy solution... cap it with parks. Done.

-I-95 is the BIGGEST obstacle. However, I-95 can be capped with parks from Race Street to South Street... as for the rest of 95, it runs above grade and there is currently plans to build "connectors" in each underpass connecting the city to the Delaware Waterfront much like the Race Street Connector.


http://phillyshark.blogspot.com/2011...-now-open.html

As for public transit... really? I understand the U.S. is pretty lacking in public transit but the ONLY cities in the US with better public transit than Philadelphia is NYC and Chicago... maybe arguably Boston. Philadelphia has a pretty great public transit system for an American City....
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Old Posted Dec 23, 2012, 1:56 AM
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This is a slightly different perspective, but I actually think that Philadelphia is very walkable partly because of the relatively small size of the city's core (Center City and adjacent areas). Once you're in there, any destination you can think of is more likely than not within a comfortable walk of where you are.
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Old Posted Dec 23, 2012, 4:34 AM
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Atlanta does not have a similar layout to Philadelphia. Both cities cover about the same about of land but remember the eras in which both cities grew to within their current boundaries.

Public transit is the key to truly making this or any city a walker's paradise and there is the constant plaint of the small subway system. It works well for what it is but it's too centrally focused. The El and Broad Street Subway carry riders from their endpoint to Center City. They aren't good for getting around the city by themselves but in concert with buses and trolleys do get you where you need to go. The current layout would be quite unworkable if Philadelphia covered more land than it does and was geographically laid out differently. The sad fact is that 'exploration', if you will, is poorly facilitated by the current set-up.

Quote:
Originally Posted by hammersklavier
Philadelphia's core urban area is primarily 19th century rowhomes on small streets, creating a region at one highly dense and highly homey. (See the rowhome thread). I would argue this is Philadelphia's crucial advantage on the walkability and bikability front.
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Old Posted Dec 23, 2012, 6:59 PM
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Well the point is that the walkable region extends far past the bounds of Center City. East Passyunk, for example, doesn't even start until a good mile south of the border of Center City proper; Fishtown's southwesternmost point is still a good mile northeast of Vine. And so on.

Center City is something of an average Northeastern downtown, in some respects. Philadelphia's advantage is that its core walkable area just keeps going on...and on...and on...in many places straight through the disinvested areas and out into the suburbs. Philadelphia's core walkable area extends a good ten miles or so in well-nigh every direction.

And on top of that, its inner suburban areas, especially in Delaware County and the Near Northeast, are as dense as many cities' core urban areas--Seattle's, for example. Philadelphia's core urban area is primarily 19th century rowhomes on small streets, creating a region at one highly dense and highly homey. (See the rowhome thread). I would argue this is Philadelphia's crucial advantage on the walkability and bikability front.
I got the point. And a big part of the premise was narrow streets. Don't get me wrong, the narrow streets are something that sets Philly apart but I don't think Philly has any more potential than many other older cities, including Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, San Fran, and New York (including Brooklyn and Queens).

But like I said, the potential is definitely there. I would just have titled this thread something along the lines of "Philadelphia has the (potential to be ONE OF THE) most seamless walkable areas in the US".
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