A core component of Green City, Clean Waters includes creating benefits beyond meeting mandated clean water regulations.

A testament to this is the 53rd and Baltimore Green and “Complete” Streets project, which won the Sustainable Business Network’s 2023 Excellence in Public Project GSI Award this past spring.

Completed in 2021, the comprehensive Cobbs Creek project centered on three objectives: achieve Green City, Clean Waters sewer overflow reduction goals, improve pedestrian and vehicular safety at a busy intersection, and provide other community-based benefits to neighboring residents.

“Our partnership with the Streets Department at 53rd and Baltimore is an outstanding of example of the City’s ability to provide triple bottom-line benefits to citizens in all neighborhoods,” says Ariel Ben-Amos, Policy and Partnerships Group Supervisor of PWD’s Planning and Research Unit. “With a bike-share station, a safer intersection, and increased greening in a neighborhood with few trees, the intersection has been transformed in a meaningful way for all users.”

One of the new rain gardens at 53rd Street and Baltimore Avenue, located across the street from Avery D. Harrington Elementary School.

Rain gardens were selected as the primary green stormwater infrastructure (GSI). Each new rain garden sits on top of a stone storage trench that collectively stores 33,000 gallons of stormwater runoff per typical storm event – polluted water that would otherwise flow into Cobbs Creek from rain or snow.

These gardens simultaneously beautify the intersection with a palette of colorful flowers and native grasses, which attracts pollinator insects, birds, and other biodiversity.

Pedestrians who cross the thoroughfare can visit these rain gardens and read the public signage to learn how well-maintained rain garden plantings are protecting our waterways.

These intersection renovations also allowed the installation of an Indego bike-share station. which overlooks the southern rain garden.

“Together, the surrounding community, stakeholders, and PWD have showcased how we can work together to rethink existing urbanized spaces in Philadelphia to provide direct environmental benefits and aesthetically integrate green infrastructure and traffic safety measures,” says Ben Clements, Design Manager of PWD’s Green Stormwater Infrastructure Unit.

Prior to the renovations, the northwest and southwest corners of South 53rd Street and Baltimore Avenue had slip lanes, which allowed motorists to turn at high speeds without entering the intersection to avoid the traffic lights.

“This project has been a collaborative effort, and we are fortunate to have had such dedicated and hardworking partners in Philadelphia along the way,” Clements says. “PennDOT, the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, the Philadelphia School District, the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and the City’s Commerce Department all played a role in making the project a success.”

A study with Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and McCormick Taylor, Inc. demonstrated that the intersection was extremely unsafe for children crossing the street especially considering its proximity to Avery D. Harrington Elementary School.

With young students at serious risk simply walking to school, it was essential for PWD to look for ways to design the already needed stormwater infrastructure that could also transform this intersection into a safe traffic haven.

The new GSI project included revitalization to the traffic patterns at the intersection of 53rd & Baltimore.

Partnering with the Streets Department allowed PWD to design a project in accordance with a 2009 executive order by Mayor Nutter that all City streets would be designed, built, and maintained as “Complete Streets.” The goal of this order was to give full transportation safety and convenience to pedestrians, bicycles, and vehicles.

Traffic renovations recommended for this intersection qualified for U.S Department of Transportation/Federal Highway Administration Transportation Alternatives program funding, allowing for PWD-funded green infrastructure improvements.

PWD hired Hazen and Sawyer, along with its sub-consultant KS Engineers, to design traffic signaling, roadway geometry improvements, and green stormwater infrastructure to replace these slip lanes.

The teams worked closely with the Streets Department and the Water Department to ensure new roadway geometry could soak up as much stormwater runoff as possible from hard surfaces through strategic inlet placement.

Now, children crossing Thomas Avenue towards school have a safer experience thanks to a shorter distance bridged by new rain gardens and surrounded by traffic-calming speed humps.

“I am incredibly proud of this system, as it has all the hallmarks of evolved urban infrastructure: stormwater management, traffic calming, pedestrian safety, support of existing public transportation, and thriving native plants for our pollinator friends,” says Dan Schupsky, Public Engagement Team Manager and West Philly GSI Community Outreach Specialist. “The entire project team hopes the school and the neighbors look at this site with renewed optimism about what can happen when multiple agencies commit resources toward positive local transformation.”

Thank you, SBN!

The 53rd and Baltimore Complete and Green Streets project Team accept the SBN award in May 2023.

We’re grateful to the Sustainable Business Network (SBN) for honoring this fantastic GSI site, as well as PWD and our partners, during its annual GSI awards ceremony in May.

The Excellence in GSI Awards recognition “celebrates and elevates green stormwater infrastructure projects and innovations, the triple bottom line (TBL) benefits of a nature-based approach to stormwater management, and the partners who bring these projects to life in the Greater Philadelphia Area.”

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