Improvements coming to Columbia Ave overpass

Columbia Av­en­ue in Fishtown could soon see an over­haul that in­cludes new street trees, art­work and light­ing. Last week, or­gan­izers met to dis­cuss the plan. A fi­nal meet­ing is planned for March.

Area green­ing, street­light­ing and the ad­di­tion of pub­lic art on Columbia Av­en­ue were ex­plored dur­ing a Jan. 9 pub­lic meet­ing that ad­dressed what plan­ners are call­ing the Columbia Av­en­ue Con­nect­or pro­ject.

The pro­ject is be­ing un­der­taken in con­junc­tion with PennDOT’s I-95 Re­vive pro­gram, which will see changes come to the over­pass at Columbia Av­en­ue.

With a pro­jec­ted five-year de­vel­op­ment peri­od, the Columbia Av­en­ue Con­nect­or pro­ject is in­ten­ded to help bet­ter con­nect Fishtown res­id­ents with the Delaware River wa­ter­front and Penn Treaty Park.

The meet­ing, held at the Fishtown Re­cre­ation Cen­ter, was hos­ted by the pro­ject’s plan team, com­posed of mem­bers of the Delaware River Wa­ter­front Corp., New Kens­ing­ton Com­munity De­vel­op­ment Corp., PennDOT and Stu­dio Bry­an Hanes, an ar­chi­tec­tur­al firm that pre­vi­ously worked on the Penn Treaty Park Mas­ter Plan.

The present­a­tion fo­cused on the three-phase pro­ject that en­com­passes the Columbia Av­en­ue un­der­pass part of I-95 re­con­struc­tion — the street between the un­der­pass and Penn Treaty Park, and also the sec­tion of Columbia Av­en­ue from Gir­ard Av­en­ue to the un­der­pass.

And, ac­cord­ing to Sarah M. Thorp, plan­ning dir­ect­or at the Delaware River Wa­ter­front Corp., it’s an area in need of a facelift.

“I thought it was a great op­por­tun­ity to get something much bet­ter than what’s there now,” she said, re­fer­ring to how the pro­ject could bring im­prove­ments like new trees and art­work to the area.

The most con­tro­ver­sial is­sue of the even­ing seemed to be wheth­er to im­ple­ment street trees.

Be­cause of nar­row parts of the side­walk, the trees would have to be placed off the curb, caus­ing a loss of total street-park­ing spots throughout that area.

The pro­pos­al called for an ad­di­tion­al 22 trees between the I-95 over­pass and Gir­ard Av­en­ue, but that would mean the cur­rent 67 park­ing spaces avail­able on the street between the over­pass and Gir­ard Av­en­ue would de­crease by four.

“It’s a nov­el idea. It’s done in oth­er places in the coun­try,” Thorp said, point­ing to en­vir­on­ment­ally friendly cit­ies like Port­land, Ore.

Thorp ad­ded that the trees can­not be simply placed on the side­walks as an al­tern­at­ive be­cause of over­head wires, util­ity poles, and res­id­en­tial stoops that already ex­tend to the side­walk, which will need to be kept free for ped­es­tri­ans nav­ig­at­ing the street.

“Park­ing is at its premi­um,” said Scott Seiber, a Columbia Av­en­ue res­id­ent who was present at the meet­ing.

The pro­ject also provides res­id­ents with some amen­it­ies. For ex­ample, the I-95 over­pass is be­ing re­done by PennDOT as part of the on­go­ing I-95 Re­vive pro­ject.

Also dis­cussed dur­ing the Jan. 9 meet­ing was just how the im­ple­ment­a­tion of art and light­ing — both planned for the over­pass — might provide en­hanced safety and se­cur­ity to the pub­lic, es­pe­cially if they park un­der the over­pass.

These days, be­cause of lim­ited light­ing, car break-ins are a reg­u­lar oc­cur­rence.

“It will be a lot bright­er, a lot more ac­cess­ible,” Thorp said.

To dec­or­ate the over­pass, Hanes pro­posed a vari­ety of pat­terned con­crete designs that could be used to dec­or­ate the over­pass, such as a wam­pum belt design that would rep­res­ent the belt giv­en to Wil­li­am Penn by Chief Taman­end dur­ing the Treaty of Friend­ship signed at what is now the site of Penn Treaty Park.

An­oth­er pos­sible theme in­volves the his­tory of the shad that gave the neigh­bor­hood its name. “It’s be­come a real sym­bol of the neigh­bor­hood and the spir­it of the people that are here,” said Hanes.

Thorp also is in­ter­ested in “wall wash” — light­ing that evenly spreads il­lu­min­a­tion for ver­tic­al sur­faces such as walls or paint­ings.

But there’s an­oth­er is­sue that re­mains key to Columbia Av­en­ue res­id­ents — the traffic on the street.

“It’s tough try­ing to cross Columbia,” said Seiber. “Dur­ing the day­time, there’s only a few seconds in between each car.”

To com­bat this, some res­id­ents pro­posed “bump-outs” — curb ex­ten­sions that ex­pand the side­walk in­to the street and en­cour­age drivers to slow down.

Raised cross­walks also were dis­cussed, but Thorp sug­ges­ted that they could make it harder for the streets de­part­ment to plow snow dur­ing the winter.

She ad­ded that traffic-calm­ing is the de­part­ment’s re­spons­ib­il­ity, al­though the DRWC can pro­pose such ideas for fu­ture pro­jects.

The whole pro­ject will be dis­cussed in March when the DRWC, the Kens­ing­ton CDC and Bry­an Hanes meet with PennDOT to provide more de­tail on the artist­ic com­pon­ents of the pro­ject.

Over­all, plan­ners said that the Columbia Av­en­ue Con­nect­or pro­ject is ex­pec­ted to be fin­ished in the next five years.

There will be a fi­nal pub­lic meet­ing on the pro­ject in March. ••

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