Local Business Owners Respond to Proposed Washington Avenue Redevelopment – Metro Philadelphia
Proposed by the City of Philadelphia’s Office of Transportation, Infrastructure and Sustainability, the Washington Avenue Repaving and Improvement Project – a mixed lane configuration for Washington Avenue between 4th Street and Grays Ferry Avenue – scheduled to start in August.
And while the Washington Avenue plans have been welcomed by most cyclists, some South Philadelphia business owners in the Italian market are worried.
Some fear the proposed plan will leave less room for cargo, especially for outdoor businesses, adding that construction will take time, restrict traffic and therefore make the Italian market as a whole much less accessible.
Wally Giordano has been with the 101-year-old Giordano’s Produce on the corner of Ninth Street and Washington Avenue since 1965. He says the current five-lane setup has worked for decades and sees no reason to change it now.
“That’s when my uncle, Gaetao “Tommy” Giordano, who was on city council from 1955 to 1965, proposed the extra lanes and widening of Washington Avenue because the traffic was too horrible then“, underlines the current owner of the hall. “My uncle knew we needed more lanes to do our business properly. Now there will only be one lane east, one lane west – plus the bike lanes – making everything smaller, with traffic assuredly jammed from Columbus Boulevard all the way to Grays Ferry at its busiest.
However, other business owners believe lane changes are necessary to create a safe environment for cyclists and pedestrians. “I’ve always been in favor of anything that makes crossing Washington Avenue safer,” says Joe Ankenbrand, co-owner of Molly’s Books & Records on Ninth Street. “I’ve watched and helped old people try to rush before the light changes. I don’t know if the timing of the lights will improve with these changes, as well as the “no red light” restrictions, which are also necessary. We just expect more traffic on Ninth Street (during construction) which, yes, is already a mess. But I don’t think it will change anything commercially.
According to the Philadelphia Office of Transportation, Infrastructure and Sustainability, restriping is expected to begin this month and the corridor should be fully repaved within the next two weeks. Additional enhancements will be implemented in the fall.
Discussions over the route of the road have been going on for years and are hotly debated by residents and business owners.
Washington Avenue is part of the city’s high-risk injury network, the 12% of Philadelphia’s roads on which 80% of crashes occur. From 2016 to 2020, there were 169 crashes, including three fatal crashes, according to city data.
Giordano says he made it clear to the city that any changes in traffic patterns and lane sizes would be bad for the Italian market. “Every time we have gone to a meeting and put our case forward, our concerns have been ignored. One lane one way and one lane the other is not enough.
Giordano sees no positives in the changes offered to the Italian market. “This market is barely holding up,” he says.
“Giordano’s has relied heavily on deliveries as a means of survival,” Giordano says of navigating business during the pandemic. “But something like that?” This might be one of the last nails in our coffin… We’re trying to find new ways to adapt, but if the city puts bike lanes on either side and makes it all smaller, that might be the end for all of us in the Italian market. The city was our friends. Now they’re going against us in a way that makes it look like they don’t want us here.