Mark Lamster | Essays

Look Both Ways: On the Streets of Philadelphia


Last week I found myself with a couple of hours to kill in Philadelphia and decided to spend them at the art museum. Being an advocate of public transportation (and cheap), I made for the subway, only to find that the Philadelphia subway does not go to the museum, which is literally off the city's grid. "Just take a cab," I was told; there's no other convenient way.

Fifteen bucks later (and counting) I'm heading up the Ben Franklin Parkway, Philly's answer to the Champs Elysees, toward the museum, which sits up on a rise over the city, like the Parthenon. I assumed I would be dropped off in front of the place so I could scale the ceremonial steps, like Rocky. No dice. Instead, I was driven up a circuitous access road to the back entry, which I guess is more convenient for those not into early Stalone pictures or climbing up lots of stairs, but is definitely not a stirring introduction to the museum. Thankfully, there's plenty of good stuff inside. After my visit, I decided to climb down the Rocky steps on my way back into town by foot. This was a pretty disheartening trip. At the base of the steps you come to the unforgiving Franklin Parkway, five lanes of traffic with no central crosswalk for pedestrians. This despite the fact that the steps sit directly across from a tree-lined, statue-enhanced midway that is the natural axis of approach for anyone walking to (or away from) the museum. As you can see in the photo above, pedestrians have simply worn a "desire path" through the grass leading to the point where the crosswalk belongs. From there, they risk life and limb dashing across to the museum. This is an especially popular route for joggers, who also like to do the Rocky thing.

The situation isn't any better on the opposite side of this midway, actually a long pedestrian island in the middle of the Parkway. There is no provision made for pedestrians looking to cross from this island to the tree-lined promenade on the west side of the Parkway. Walkers are forced to navigate three (count em'!) separate islands unconnected by crosswalks before getting to this path. It looks like this:


The result, as you can see below, is constant jaywalking across a very busy road. In just a minute or two of watching, I witnessed about a dozen individuals playing real-time Frogger to make the crossing.



It's dangerous, of course, and that's a serious issue that should be addressed. But the fact that the automobile is so privileged over both walking and mass transit is a message I find especially disappointing, particularly insofar as it further removes the museum from the city, and the PMA is pretty well separated from Philly to begin with. It would be nice for Philly to make it a bit more accessible.

Posted in: Arts + Culture, Social Good

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