With Dilworth Plaza converted into a green Dilworth Park and the Schuylkill Banks Boardwalk gliding atop the river, it's hard to look at the Philadelphia Horticultural Society's plans for the approach to the Ben Franklin Bridge and think, "bold."
The renderings are undoubtedly beautiful, and ever since Franklin Square was renovated, the base of the bridge has been an eyesore flanking Old City and Independence Mall.
Like Dilworth Plaza, Monument Plaza at 6th and Race is a slab of uninspired concrete with some questionable artwork. Isamu Noguchi's A Bolt of Lightning...A Memorial to Benjamin Franklin is pretty cool looking, until you see the kite and key and realize just how literal the work of art is.
But unlike Dilworth Plaza, which was usable even before its renovation, Memorial Plaza is almost entirely inaccessible. Unless you want to dart across five lanes of Jersey bound traffic, you're not getting there.
And that is what truly makes the PHS's plan bold. It dares not only to remove a lane from 6th Street and two bridge entrance ramps, it dares to take away asphalt from those heading to New Jersey.
There's no love lost between Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Before eastbound commuters make it through Chinatown they're pissed off and ready to get home, and most are high as Ben Franklin's kite on road rage.
The new configuration would be great for Philadelphia. It will discourage commuters from leaving the city via Race, diverting them to Vine and 676, alleviating rush hour traffic through Chinatown by forcing it to the wider streets and expressway created specifically for commuters. But that is exactly what will ruffle feathers with many heading to New Jersey.
Unfortunately, trading streets for parks has never set well with those in charge of the approval process. It's nearly impossible to convince urban decision makers to look ahead.
This plan has all the makings of the ultimate suburban turf warfare. Commuters will fear traffic jams, Negadelphians will look at a nonexistent park with a perceived nonexistent future, and NIMBYs will bitch about it all because that's what they do.
But for the city, Memorial Plaza is the last piece of Independence Mall's seventy year journey. It links Franklin Square to the Constitution Center with beautiful views of the Ben Franklin Bridge, and continuous green space that extends to Society Hill and ultimately the Delaware River. In short, it makes sense. But logic often takes a backseat to ire when it's fueled by road rage.
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