PHILLY VOICE • Spruce Hill residents seek to add pedestrian plaza to slow traffic near Penn Alexander School

Friday, January 12, 2024

Originally published by Philly Voice

The proposal calls for adding planters and murals at 43rd and Spruce streets. Doing so would force motorists to reduce their speeds as they make turns, advocates say

Spruce Hill residents are seeking to add a pedestrian plaza that includes planters and street murals at 43rd and Spruce streets in University City. The intersection is near Penn Alexander School.


West Philly residents are seeking to add a pedestrian plaza at a busy Spruce Hill intersection in hopes of slowing traffic.

The proposed plaza at 43rd and Spruce streets – near the Penn Alexander School – would add street murals and planters that protect pedestrians by shortening the distance required to cross the intersection. The proposal was put together by the Spruce Hill Community Association and the University City District.

Pedestrian plazas convert underused parts of streets into spaces for pedestrians. In some cases, like with the Grey's Ferry triangle, it means widening sidewalks, adding seats and bike racks, and establishing a community space. In others, like outside of Reading Terminal Market, they're simply curbless spaces. 

The Spruce Hill Community Association and University City District met with residents Tuesday to discuss the proposed pedestrian plaza. They are close to submitting a formal application to the city's Office of Transportation, Infrastructure and Sustainability. If approved by the Streets Department, the plaza could be in place by spring. 

"We're looking to reduce speed, help cars see more when they are turning, as well as help force them to turn at 90-degree angles, rather than cutting corners and into where kids are crossing," said Becca Geller-Puchalsky, president of the Spruce Hill Community Association.

The section of Spruce Street approaching 43rd Street from 42nd Street is on Vision Zero's High Injury Network, a group of Philadelphia roads that account for 80% of the city's traffic fatalities and serious injuries. 

Geller-Puchalsky said she and other Spruce Hill residents initially had applied for a slow zone, which requires drivers to reduce their speeds, in hopes of calming traffic near the intersection. But after city officials came out for a safety walkthrough, they suggested a pedestrian plaza instead. Speed bumps also are supposed to be installed later this year near Penn Alexander School. 

Nate Hommel, director of planning and design for the University City District, said pedestrian plazas are cheaper and take less time to complete than other traffic-calming measures. If a pedestrian plaza doesn't prove successful, the city can decline to renew its permit. 

"This is just from the standpoint of: can we reduce the crossing distance on a street where a lot of vulnerable people are often crossing with a lot of aggressive cars?" Hommel said. "Is there anything that can be done to save that, which also doesn't cost $1 million and that will take 10 years?"


Pedestrian Plaza 43rd Spruce


The proposed pedestrian plaza at 43rd and Spruce streets in West Philly would add street murals and planters to reduce the distance required to cross the intersection.


The University City District has added three other pedestrian plazas since Philadelphia first introduced its pedestrian plaza program in 2012, Hommel said. They are at 48th Street and Baltimore Avenue, 42nd Street and Woodland Avenue, and on 49th Street between Catharine Street and Baltimore Avenue. But this is the first time that community members came to him seeking to apply for one, Hommel said. 

That community support speeds up the approval process significantly, Hommel said, adding that he hopes other city neighborhoods consider adding pedestrian plazas. Advocates view them as a way to help quell traffic deaths and injuries. As of November, there had been 115 traffic fatalities in Philadelphia last year. 

In addition to their safety benefits, Hommel said pedestrian plazas help create a space where pedestrians feel more welcome. 

"You can bring a lot of energy to an area that is maybe something you just forget about," Hommel said. "When you put some planters in there and they have some pops of color, those little things can give you a tiny shred of joy if you're going by." 


MIchaela Althouse

PhillyVoice Staff