Better days - and pedestrian access - ahead for Ben Franklin Parkway

Posted: July 17, 2008

Better pedestrian access and new landscaping are among the details expected today when Gov. Rendell unveils a $17 million plan to enhance the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

Officials were mum yesterday on the nitty-gritty of the plan, which will be paid for with public dollars and private foundation funds. But pedestrian improvements are definitely on the list, insiders said.

Rendell will speak this afternoon on the Parkway before Mayor Nutter and officials from the Fairmount Park Commission, Pew Charitable Trusts, Center City District, Pennsylvania Horticultural Society and Museum of Art.

Nutter called the announcement exciting. He said the effort would "try to enhance the pedestrian experience, obviously safety is an issue."

Paul Levy, president and chief executive officer of the Center City District, told in April that Parkway improvements would include eight new fountains in Logan Square and a park in front of the Free Library.

Levy, through a spokeswoman, declined to comment yesterday. Fairmount Park Executive Director Mark Focht also declined comment.

For more than a decade, the Center City District has lobbied the city to invest in the Parkway, designed by French urban planner Jacques Greber in 1917 to emulate a grand European boulevard.

A 2007 report from the Center City District and the Central Philadelphia Development Corp. notes that the Parkway is a busy route for commuters, but lacks pedestrians and activity during the day and on weekends. The report calls for better pedestrian access, more outdoor activities and extra parking tucked out of sight.

Harris Steinberg, executive director of the University of Pennsylvania's design clinic PennPraxis, said investment is key for the future of the Parkway.

"It is our premier boulevard in the city," said Steinberg. "Enhancing its pedestrian scale and charm is an important piece."

Residents of the area also seem optimistic about improvements.

"We've got to see the details and we've got to be part of the implementation plans," said Rob Stuart, president of the Logan Square Neighborhood Association. "But more money being spent to increase pedestrian and public experience of the Parkway, we welcome."

Officials today also will announce a $2.1 million park development at 12th and Catharine streets, on the site of the former Martin Luther King Jr. public-housing high rise. *

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