PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – The sidewalk is closed at 12th and Market Street in Center City Philadelphia. Also 12th at Sansom. Also mid-way down that block of Sansom. And in the same block on Walnut. Also 15th and Chestnut. And 16th and Market.
In fact, a walk down 16th forces pedestrians to cross the street multiple times or risk their safety in traffic.
“It’s not very pedestrian friendly, I would say,” said one Center City office worker, among the many who said they find the situation frustrating.
While Philadelphia has a national reputation as a walkable city– often ranked by various measures in the top five in the U.S.– those who commute regularly on foot know it’s not always that easy to get around because so many sidewalks are blocked for construction projects.
This was a pet peeve of Jim Kenney’s when he was a councilman. Now that he’s mayor, well, it’s still a pet peeve.
“Contractors in the city of Philadelphia do not have the right to take public space because it’s convenient to them,” says Kenney. “They don’t have the right to make people walk in the street because they want to park their construction vehicles or take the sidewalk with a cyclone fence.”
The Kenney administration has cracked down on unpermitted sidewalk closures. The Streets Department Right of Way unit hired three additional employees in July and has issued 1,021 violations so far this year, compared to 591 for all of 2015.
But the Streets Department has also increased the number of permits it issues allowing sidewalk closure: 563 this year so far, on track to beat last year’s total of 866.
Kenney says sometimes it can’t be avoided.
“When you are demolishing a building, the sidewalk needs to be closed by law,” he says. “But I want to know how long it needs to be closed and when it’s still closed the day after you said it was going to be open, you’re going to start paying heavy for the permit to keep that sidewalk closed and you’re going to have to have good reasons for it.”
He says he’d prefer that contractors use scaffold covers that protect pedestrians while leaving sidewalks navigable, as many other cities require.
“And it’s going to be that way in Philadelphia or I don’t want you doing business here. If you have a need to disrespect a neighborhood with your construction vehicles, that’s going to stop.”
There are, however, no apparent plans in the works to make covering the sidewalk a requirement, though some projects do use that method.
Some projects take over a traffic lane and put up a barricade so pedestrians are protected without crossing the street.
But dozens of sidewalks in Center City alone are simply blocked off, creating not just an inconvenience but sometimes a safety risk.
Terrence Davis walked into a traffic lane on 15th Street, the other day, so he wouldn’t miss his bus. He worried, he admits, but like most Philadelphians, he’s adapted.
“If you stay close to the (barricade), the odds of getting hit… well, it’s on who’s driving,” says Davis.
He also looks at the bright side. All those closed sidewalks are for construction projects, a sign of Center City’s economic health. Or they’re for infrastructure repairs, which are good for everyone.
“They’re doing what they have to do,” he says. “And we as the pedestrians have to adjust so, it’s all good.”