Being a pedestrian in Philadelphia can sometimes feel like being a moving duck in one of those carnival shooting games. Now, the new fencing around Dilworth Plaza takes the urban competition among bicycles, cars, and walkers to a new level.
The city surrounded the plaza outside City Hall last Wednesday morning to prepare for a $50 million renovation there and to prevent Occupy Philadelphia protesters from returning.
The barriers go right up to the street, leaving no place for people to walk around half of City Hall. Many have chosen to amble in the road.
"It feels a little unsafe to have to walk in the street, but it doesn't put me out too much," Moira Mulroney said as she stepped off of John F. Kennedy Boulevard onto part of the plaza that is open.
Councilman Jim Kenney, who wrote a law limiting when sidewalks can be blocked for construction projects, said he worried about accidents, especially on the south side of City Hall.
"That's the point where drivers are barreling around that curve, and I'm afraid someone is going to get hurt," he said.
Kenney said he is waiting to hear back from the Nutter administration about whether the Dilworth project is exempt from a 2008 law the councilman sponsored requiring that sidewalks be closed for construction only if the city determines that a covered walkway would be impractical or unsafe.
Paul Levy, who runs the Center City District, which is overseeing the Dilworth project for the city, said his organization had determined that creating a sheltered walkway would not be safe.
"We actually entertained the notion of putting a walkway in the street, outside of the fence, but the problem with that is there will be large equipment on the other side of the fence," he said.
Instead, the city on Tuesday placed a police officer at 15th and JFK to direct pedestrians to cross the street.
At some point, Dilworth construction will extend into JFK, which would have made it difficult to maintain a walkway there, city officials said.
Mark McDonald, a spokesperson for Mayor Nutter, said the city is not required to maintain pedestrian access on Dilworth because it is a plaza, not a sidewalk.
"I understand that people having to walk around something is an imposition, but it's one I think folks will get used to and we will at the other end have a new Dilworth plaza that people will be able to walk around and through and that people will be able to enjoy," McDonald said.
Despite Kenney's law, many construction projects regularly get exemptions. Streets around the Convention Center were blocked off with no pedestrian access during the expansion there, for example.
At Sisters Cities Park, at 18th and Benjamin Franklin Parkway, construction fencing also prevents pedestrians from passing, prompting some to walk in the bike lane.
Of course, walkers can simply choose to cross the street there and at Dilworth.
Kenney, however, notes that many simply won't, making the covered walkways, a regular feature at construction sites in New York, important.
The problem, he said, is that many will simply make poor choices, if their route becomes unavailable.
"It's dangerous," Kenney said.