Profs, experts suggest reforms to 38th, Spruce streets


City planning professors said intersection's historic design contributed to current safety problems


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The intersection at 38th and Spruce streets, which has seen seven accidents since the beginning of 2013, has been criticized for a lack of precautions that ensure the safety of pedestrians, bicyclists and motor vehicles at the intersection.

Photo by Christina Prudencio


The intersection at 38th and Spruce streets — the site of seven accidents this calendar year — has received harsh criticism from city planning experts on the safety of its design.

“Right now it is not pedestrian friendly enough,” Erick Guerra, a city planning professor from the School of Design, said. The intersection saw two accidents this semester and five last semester, which sent at least eight people to the hospital in 2013. Experts agreed that the street’s historic design and later updates such as bike lanes all played into its current state as one of campus’s most dangerous intersections.

“If you look at a 1955 plan of Philadelphia, a lot of the area was supposed to be surrounded by highways,” Guerra added. However, he noted that 38th Street is still treated as a highway — even though it now runs through an urban area. “There’s a question of whether that’s appropriate.”
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Megan Ryerson, another city planning professor at PennDesign, agreed.

Related: In seventh Spruce St. car accident, police search for driver

“38th Street is less a local street but [more of] an arterial, which is meant to carry higher speed and higher flow,” Ryerson said. She added that the divider separating the street’s two directions creates a sense of security that encourages the drivers to go faster.

Ryerson added that there were problems with Spruce Street as well, which she said contributes to the dangers of the intersection.

“Spruce is two-way street. You have the pedestrian, bike lane, bus lane, cars — all together,” she said. The mixed traffic of bicyclists, motor vehicles and pedestrians and the varied speeds due to traffic lights add to the intersection’s safety problems, she added.

“Bicycle lanes on Spruce are not the safest either — they are not a separated, dedicated space for bikes’ safety. And there’s always cars parking in them,” Guerra added.

Related: Car hits bicyclist at 3800 block of Spruce Street

After reviewing a 2009 traffic study commissioned by Facilities and Real Estate Services and the Division of Public Safety, Guerra recommended implementations that focused on pedestrian safety.

“Bumpouts are good — they increase visibility and shorten the walking distance,” he said.

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Ryerson thought bumpouts were a step in the right direction, but also called for bigger-picture reforms.

“If we put in bumpouts, then 38th will become more like a local street, but we do have the current demand that it needs to serve,” Ryerson said. “The question is where [the traffic] will go instead and whether we want [it] to go there.”

Related: Car crash at 38th and Spruce

Guerra disagreed with the report’s recommendation to increase traffic signal length.

“When you change the timing on the signal, the drivers will be more likely to run red lights and pedestrians will start crossing before the light turns,” he said. “That won’t be helpful.”

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Beyond changes in design, Ryerson said that traffic safety education could also be beneficial for pedestrians at the intersection, most of whom are Penn students.

“Right on 38th and Spruce you have the Quad. You have students brand new to Philly and even new to city living. It’s important to tell them that 38th and Spruce is hot spot for accidents and they should pay attention to turning cars,” she said.

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