The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia is proposing expansion near the South Street Bridge, and it is causing conflict with local residents.
In addition to a research center CHOP plans to build near the edge of the Schuylkill River, it plans to add a parking garage as well as a surface lot, both with approximately 250 parking spots each, to the property. The garage will be from the ground level up and will additionally serve as a podium for a future building CHOP will add in a later building plan.
“CHOP operates clinical research programs and administrative services in a leased building at 3535 Market Street and our plan is to try and consolidate our employees into one location and that location is Schuylkill Avenue,” Vice President for Government Affairs, Community Relations and Advocacy at CHOP, Peter Grollman, said.
But its proposal to add two driveways leading onto the South Street Bridge that would allow drivers to access the expressway directly has irked members of the nearby community because of safety concerns.
“This looks like a real estate play, not a health care play — creating something very car-friendly at the expense of everyone else,” said Michael McGettigan, the owner of Trophy Bikes and a resident of the southwest section of Center City. “In the mornings, people will come up from the expressway and make a right turn into the driveway, which is the most deadly maneuver to cyclists.”
Although McGettigan noted that CHOP has heard community members’ concerns about increased car traffic, Grollman has said that only 25 percent of their employees actually drive to work, resulting in less congestion.
Another community member, James Campbell, an architect at Campbell Thomas & Co., said that local residents want to be engaged with CHOP.
“The neighborhood and business associations want to activate a connection between their facilities and South Street and Schuylkill Avenue by incorporating active commercial buildings,” Campbell said. “The consensus is that everyone wants there to be a more urban connection, meaning not a pretty berm with a huge parking garage behind it.”
Grollman has assured that the new addition to Schuylkill Avenue will benefit community members and CHOP employees alike, despite the building being an office for employees.
“The first floor on the plaza level will have a cafe open to the public,” Grollman said. “What we’ve agreed to do is also pilot the use of our garage in the off peak hours for a fee, comparable to what we’d charge employees, and try to make it available to the public.”
The driveway is necessary in order to allow firetrucks, employees who take UCY shuttles and taxis dropping off and picking up people to access the new property efficiently.
“What we’ve tried to do is balance the need to mitigate traffic and the need to get these cars into the property by creating the flow of traffic from the Schuylkill Expressway into the garage through the south street bridge,” Grollman said. “This is the best way to do that without being more disruptive to the neighborhood.”
Grollman added that although some people think this will impede the flow of bikes east and west on the bridge, the development will improve the community as a whole.
“On something like this we felt it was important to come to the table early and often,” Grollman said. “Our goal is to be a good neighbor but ultimately our mission is to conduct this research, provide excellent patient care, and provide training for future pediatricians — that’s why this property is important to us.”
“In order to keep the bike lane safe, there are some changes that need to made in terms of where the bike lane is on the street,” Executive Director of the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, Alex Doty, said. “We are asking that the bike lane be moved to the left of a right-hand turning lane.”
Doty further explained that the proposal calls for extra protection for the lane, something done in other cities but never in Philadelphia.
However, McGettigan said he doesn’t agree with Doty’s proposal intending to accommodate CHOP’s expansion plans.
“When it comes to this kind of dispute, bike facilities tend to lose,” McGettigan said. “[Doty] wants to design around it and you can’t design around 500 cars.”
Campbell noted that, when the South Street Bridge was recently redesigned, the sidewalks were made broader and bike lanes were improved. However, he said that CHOP’s new proposal would go back on some of that progress.
“CHOP is proposing to direct a fair amount of traffic across the bike lanes and sidewalks that we fought really hard to make usable,” Campbell said.
Community engagement with CHOP has been going on since 2009, according to Grollman.
“We think the dialogue with the community has been a good and honest one and we look forward to being a good partner,” Grollman said. “Certainly there are concerns ... but I think most people will agree that we’ve done a good job of working together.”