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Getting the Big Picture: Volunteer Betsy Way

Elizabeth (Betsy) Way's first Collaborative experience was creating a conceptual plan to tackle a challenging intersection on the Frankford Avenue Commercial Corridor.

A transportation planner with a wealth of transit management expertise, Betsy most recently served as Assistant Director for MTA’s Metro-North. "After earning my MBA, I realized I was fascinated by how people got places,” she recalls. “I’ve done planning and budget, IT, procurement, inventory, and account logistics… I moved to Philly a year ago, and someone suggested the Collaborative as a place to do interesting work.”

The Frankford CDC volunteer team focused on the intersection of Frankford Avenue, Arrott Street, Oxford Avenue, Margaret Street, and Paul Street, the elevated Market-Frankford Line, and the Arrott Transportation Center where bus and trolley riders transfer to and from the El.

“The intersection is crazy, especially for pedestrians,” says Betsy. “We observed that people just crossed when they got to a place.” Very few buildings have entrances or windows facing the intersection. “There are no eyes on the street. There’s a need to activate the intersection to make it feel more like a civic space,” she says. To make matters worse, “The intersection has poor lighting. It feels especially unsafe at night.”

"There are no eyes on the street. There’s a need to activate the intersection to make it feel more like a civic space."

Aligning efforts
There are multiple efforts underway to improve the intersection. SEPTA is currently renovating the Arrott Transportation Center, adding an elevator to make it accessible.  1% of the publicly-funded project budget will go towards public art. The Streets Department is replacing street lights with LED fixtures, which will shed brighter light at night. Philadelphia Water has investigated options for installing green stormwater management infrastructure.

Destination Frankford, a Philadelphia City Planning Commission placemaking initiative funded by ArtPlace America, is bringing new signage to the intersection—as well as Frankford Pause, a public park to be built on a vacant lot. Finally, the Philadelphia Department of Commerce is funding storefront façade improvements and the renovation of the Daral Building as Frankford CDC’s new headquarters.

“We were careful to incorporate the city’s plans and resources into our work… Everyone’s attention must be respected,” says Betsy.

The timeline for all these improvements is still unfolding, so the team framed recommendations as near-term improvements and as “this is what it might look like in the long run.”  Betsy says, “Infrastructure is going to be replaced, so why not think about surface treatment, color, pedestrian lighting, and murals?”

A key step in the conceptual plan is to remake one block of Paul Street as a festival street, open for traffic on regular business days and occasionally closed for events. With Frankford CDC headquartered in the Daral Building, “They’ll have a presence and can plan and manage programming at the park and intersection.”

The volunteer team proposed decorative paving to activate the space and trees to shade the block. “We checked in with Philadelphia Water on a water flow study of the intersection and incorporated their resources into the design.” says Betsy. Based on their analysis, “We placed tree trenches along Paul Street and at the exit from the El on Margaret Street.”

Another key recommendation is to add colorful crosswalks and sidewalk bumpouts at the chaotic intersection. “We thought it was important to come up with clear visual cues for where the cross walks were,” says Betsy.  There is also the opportunity to resurface a drab public plaza, embed extra lighting, and tie it into the vibrantly pink Pause Park across the street. “As there is more indication that people care and more investment, we’re hoping that more families have a reason to stop here rather than speeding through.”

Placemaking under the El involves resurfacing a drab public plaza, embedding extra lighting, and tying it into the vibrantly pink Pause Park across the street.

Talking Trash
In the Frankford project, stakeholders were distressed by the amount of trash.  “Trash contributes to that feeling of grime and neglect, so addressing it helps,” says Betsy. “The community had tried to address it, but felt stymied.”

Frankford Avenue bears the double burden of both residential and commercial trash. “According to the city’s trash ordinance, businesses of a certain size aren’t required to follow commercial trash ordinances,” she explains. “Small businesses use the regular neighborhood trash pick-up. Trash is generated by residents living in apartments above the stores too… and there’s no space to store it in the units. [between scheduled street pick ups]”

Betsy focused on finding a creative solution to trash collection. Brainstorming led to the concept of the “trashlet.” A variation on the parklet, a trashlet would be a small trash collection station—a place to discard trash securely. “It would need to be a demonstration project with a sponsor and you would need to engage stakeholders, show before and after conditions, and document what worked and what didn’t.”

“Like any other idea, you won’t know if it works until you try it.”

Teamwork
Streetscape projects are complex and benefit from a range of perspectives, so Betsy really appreciated working as part of a team. “Rich Carroll, the team’s leader, brought generous resources to the team. He remembers Philadelphia’s history… and he organized meetings with Philadelphia Water, SEPTA, and the Philadelphia Streets Department to see the pieces that went into improving the intersection,” she says.

"Robin Miller found creative solutions to lighting constraints. Brad Springer monitored the meetings and design process, and incorporated what he heard in his assumptions for the cost estimate. Carrie Sauer focused on master planning… brainstorming about trash management, festival space, programming with me. Sofia Lundeholm, a design architect from Scandinavia, suggested the more tight knit design for the intersection. I was really impressed by the quality of the renderings and drawings that the team produced."

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