A plan to tackle traffic congestion and improve SEPTA service on a busy Center City street is here to stay.
Adjustments to parking and loading regulations along Chestnut Street will be made permanent following successes seen during a six-month pilot, according to the city’s recently released evaluation of the project. But it’s not the only solution to Chestnut’s congestion woes.
“It did have a positive effect,” said Christopher M. Puchalsky, director of policy and strategic initiatives at the Office of Transportation, Infrastructure, and Sustainability. “It didn’t solve all the problems, but it definitely moved it in the right direction.”
The pilot, announced in September, created all-day loading zones with 20-minute limits, moved handicap parking, and extended two-hour meter parking from 6 a.m. until 2 a.m. between Sixth and 20th Streets. It ended before seeing impacts from the coronavirus pandemic.
The city focused on the area because of its chronic issues — walking along Chestnut is sometimes a faster option than taking SEPTA buses, while a lack of loading zones around the packed commercial corridor after 10 a.m. caused headaches. The pilot was done in collaboration with the city, Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, SEPTA, and the Parking Authority.
The changes led to a drop in lane blockages from illegal parking and loading, while bus travel times “improved significantly,” with results slightly complicated by the Chestnut Street bridge closure and demolition work on 11th Street. Parking meter revenue saw a 3.5% uptick, according to the report.
“All the added dollars are going to go back to the city and the School District,” PPA Executive Director Scott Petri said, “so it’s totally a positive.”
Petri is supportive of some of the next steps listed in the pilot report to improve transit service and reduce congestion, including dynamic pricing of parking spaces and automated enforcement of bus lanes. Both would require action from City Council.
“It’s an important topic,” he said, “because as the city tries to return to normalcy, one of the things it’s going to need is revenue.”
Mayor Jim Kenney’s initial budget for the upcoming fiscal year had designated $1.9 million for new traffic enforcement officers, but the coronavirus is expected to force “painful” cuts to that spending plan. A revised budget is to be introduced next week. A city spokesperson did not comment on potential effects to the traffic enforcement group.
While it’s too early to say what travel and transportation will look like once stay-at-home orders are lifted, questions remain with so much uncertainty surrounding public transit. SEPTA is running on a “lifeline” service, and financial challenges for the authority are expected to outlast the immediate effects of the pandemic.
One outcome, Puchalsky said, could be a short-term bump in congestion.