Before Market Street Bridge is Rebuilt, It Gets a Makeover for Pedestrians

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Originally published at flyingkitemedia.com


Before Market Street Bridge is Rebuilt, It Gets a Makeover for Pedestrians

Thanks to a partnership between the Schuylkill River Development Corporation (SRDC), University City District (UCD), Center City District (CCD) andGroundswell Design, the Market Street Bridge over the Schuylkill River -- connecting Center City with the eastern edge of University City -- has gotten a quick but important revamp.

The makeover for the century-old bridge took just ten weeks. According to UCD Director of Planning and Design Nate Hommel, UCD got the go-ahead in mid-July thanks to funding from the William Penn Foundation and the Joanna McNeil Trust. Initially, the goal was completing improvements in time for next summer’s Democratic National Convention, but then the idea came up: "How about the Pope?"

Things began to move quickly.

SRDC helped to gain the cooperation of PennDOT, owner of the bridge. Groundswell, the team behind recent improvements to The Porch at 30th Street Station, worked speedily to design improvements including new greenery in 120 custom-made planters, bleacher seating for great Schuylkill views, and four large gateway pergolas at the bridge's eastern and western edges.

For the fabrication of the new temporary elements, Groundswell and UCD turned to a local Kensington shop called Frank’s Kitchen, which began making the planters on its assembly line in early August.

"It was pretty impressive to see the fabrication process," recalls Hommel. "It’s good to see the local maker economy in Philly able to handle something like this."

Once the planters and other elements were finished, they took about four days to install. The improved pedestrian experience on the bridge (which over 6,000 people cross each day on foot) was ready a week before Pope Francis arrived.

Groundswell faced some challenges due to the age and structure of the bridge. PennDOT stipulated that the "dead load" of the bridge’s pedestrian redesign could not exceed 100 pounds per square foot. (The weight bridges bear is split into live loads, meaning the traffic that moves across it, and dead loads, meaning objects or infrastructure that sit on it permanently.)

"Groundswell was really great in figuring out ways to do that," says Hommel. The planters were specially designed with soft wood to reduce their weight, as well as false bottoms. And while they’re about three feet high, they contain only about a foot of soil.

The idea of "reversible elements," in the parlance of civil infrastructure, is important. Agencies that own major assets like bridges -- particularly aging ones -- are much less leery of improvement projects whose pieces can be easily removed, without any permanent alteration or compromise of the structure. The Market Street Bridge itself is due for an overhaul within the next few years, so the redone walkways will be in place at least through the end of next summer. After that, UCD hopes that better awareness of pedestrian needs will be an integral part of the new span's overall planning.

CCD is performing maintenance such as cleaning and graffiti removal, while UCD manages the horticulture side through a staff from its West Philadelphia Skills Initiative.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Nate Hommel, University City District

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