Two Tools to Increase Walkability

It’s Summer again in Philadelphia and that means that construction crews are out in droves taking advantage of the warm weather to improve the streets and sidewalks of the city. This summer, Philadelphia will continue to increase pedestrian safety on the streets by updating handicap accessible curb-cuts at all intersections and by building stormwater bump-outs in the city.  These two integral components of the pedestrian landscape contribute to Philadelphia’s safety and sustainability. 

According the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) tool book, a handicap accessible curb cut is ‘a small, but necessary part of making sidewalks, street crossings, and other pedestrian routes that make up the public right-of-way accessible to people with disabilities’ (ada.gov).  These curb cuts, or ramps, give freedom-of-mobility to people using wheelchairs, scooters, or walkers.  Without the curb ramps it would be very difficult for these citizens to cross the street. The ADA requires curb cuts with specific width and slope standards to be placed at pedestrian crossings and many of the current curb ramps in the city do not conform to these standards.  Updating the curb ramps is part of a statewide plan brought about by a 2009 Western Pennsylvania District Court decision.  Every time the City resurfaces a street it is required to update the curb ramps. Currently, Philadelphia is doing its part to make sure that all the curbs in the city comply with the strict ADA guidelines; curb ramps that adhere to the criteria will be left alone, while ones that do not comply will be rebuilt. 

A curb bump-out is a portion of the sidewalk and curb that extends into the street, creating a new curb some distance from the existing curb.  These bump-outs increase pedestrian safety by reducing the distance needed to cross the street.  A stormwater bump-out is similar to a standard bump-out, except that a hole is dug deep into the space between the old and new curbs and filled with a unique layering of soil and vegetation.  An inlet from the sidewalk directs stormwater runoff into the bump-out where it is stored, infiltrated, and used by the plants in the bump-out.  These stormwater bump-outs are beneficial to the city as they help prevent combined sewer overflows caused by runoff.  The first stormwater bump-out in the city was piloted in East Falls.  There are 7 stormwater bump-outs in Philadelphia and there are plans to build 11 more in the city over the next 1.5 years.  Although these bump-outs are very beneficial to neighborhoods they’re located in and the city as a whole, they can’t be placed at all intersections.  All bump-outs are limited to intersections that have adequate space and turning radii for larger vehicles.  Additionally, stormwater bump-outs require sufficient space underneath the ground for storing the water run-off.  When bump-outs or stormwater bump-outs are suggested for a neighborhood, the Streets Department examines the location to make sure there will be no adverse affects.  

Curb cuts and bump-outs are significant factors that advance the walkability of Philadelphia neighborhoods.  It’s essential to maintain and update the sidewalks and streets, because these improvements will create a more livable city. So as you’re traveling about, please pardon our dust as Philadelphia improves everyone’s safety, accessibility, and the city’s sustainability.

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