Complete Streets for Philadelphia: “Making it Happen”

A Complete Street in Cologne

This street in Cologne, Germany has it all: travel lane, transit lane, buffer, bike lane, bike parking, trees, sidewalk.

As I mentioned last week, Philadelphia just recently released a Complete Streets Design Manual in draft form. This document is in response to a Complete Streets Executive Order from June 2009 that made it a priority to balance the needs of all users (drivers, pedestrians, bicyclists, transit users) in the design of streets with special consideration to the safety of children and the elderly and disabled.

This manual lists the commonly-used Complete Street Principles

  • Design to accommodate all users
  • Design for safety
  • Prioritize pedestrian movement
  • Complement surrounding land uses, environment and community
  • Incorporate green design
  • Create public spaces

Some basic techniques to help achieve these principles include good geometric design, timing of traffic signals, discouraging obstruction, promoting the bike network, and following ADA accessibility guidelines. Although, I like all of these techniques and principles, I am going to focus on the green design and stormwater management elements embedded in Philadelphia’s draft Complete Streets Design Manual.

The manual’s dedication to incorporating green infrastructure is summed up in this statement: “This handbook incorporates [the Philadelphia Water Department’s] recommendations and identifies opportunities to incorporate green infrastructure into street improvements that also serve pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit users.”  In fact, the document includes many, many references to a concurrent project from the Water Department, a Green Street Design Manual that will provide more information about green stormwater infrastructure that can be incorporated in to streets improvements such as stormwater tree trenches, pervious pavement, and stormwater bumpouts.

“Table 1: Street Segment Design Matrix” provides a summary of the different complete street elements and their priorities for inclusion in different street types. For example, street trees are a high priority for all street types but planters are a low priority (but should still be considered) in high-volume civic or commercial streets. On the other hand, stormwater planters should be considered in all street types.  Some type of stormwater management is required on all street types along with ADA ramps. Bike parking is required on all civic and ceremonial streets.

Green street opportunities in conjunction with complete street renovations are everywhere.  Here are a few:

  • Use pervious pavement in the walking zone, bike lanes, on-street parking areas, and driveways
  • Stormwater planters can be incorporated into streets to provide shade and buffer bicycle parking, provide pedestrian safety around curb ramps and overall traffic calming
  • Raised planters can incorporate benches while providing some stormwater management
  • Medians, chicanes, traffic diverters, and traffic circles are all areas in need of greening!
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