Part of living next to an international port means living next to the massive amounts of truck traffic coming in and out of the neighborhood. This is perhaps not surprising at all: if you live close to such a massive node of transportation infrastructure, you have to deal with the everyday presence of that infrastructure. Light blue cranes line the eastern horizon of Port Richmond, peppering our riverfront views with a reminder of the behemoth of goods transportation it represents. Indeed, this place is called Port Richmond, a bluntly descriptive title for a historically working class port neighborhood. Neighborhood titles and riverfront views are strong reminders of the massive industry sidling this dense Philadelphia neighborhood.
We know what it means to be a port neighborhood or what it means to live next to a heavily trafficked freeway, but it is far more difficult to understand the everyday consequences of living next to such places: sights, sounds, smells, and safety all change in and around Philadelphia’s swarming transportation infrastructure. People who live in this neighborhood regularly cite truck traffic as one of the most persistent, noticeable, and frustrating spill-overs of port operations. Trucks burn dirty exhaust fumes and regularly travel through the neighborhood streets instead of using the main roads more amenable to use by industrial vehicles. This makes a host of safety and health problems for residents in the area, particularly those attempting to walk along city sidewalks.
Trucks leave heavy traces in the Port Richmond streetscape: deep potholes and broken down curb corners are a regular sight in Port Richmond, and it isn’t uncommon to see a large diesel truck stuck on a sidewalk, poorly navigating a right turn. The 2007 google streetview image above captures the problem nicely: a large FedEx truck is navigating the wrong direction up one of the busiest intersections in the area (located directly next to I-95 and Monkiewicz park), while the perpetually solid red hand walking signal blocks any attempt to cross the street safely. The walk signal is telling of the neighborhoods traffic safety: don’t bother to cross here as the unceasing stream of traffic will never let you through.
Select streets in Port Richmond bear a “NO TRACTOR TRAILORS” sign (such as the one pictured above), but there is incredible lax enforcement or knowledge of what these signs are supposed to enforce. Speaking with a long-term resident who lives along an incredibly buys and fast-moving thoroughfare in the neighborhood, I found that residents petitioned well over twenty years ago to have those signs put up. Enforcement was much heavier shortly after the signs were installed, but simmered to nothing over the past couple decades. Trucks still run through prohibited main streets at the same time that they clog the small one-way roads in the heart of nearby neighborhoods. It isn’t hard to look out from any porch in Port Richmond and watch a diesel truck squeeze its way between cross-walks, parked cars, and pedestrians.
According to an article put out in the Philadelphia Inquirer a couple years ago, there is no real truck route designation put out by the Streets Department and the City of Philadelphia. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation is responsible for identifying truck routes, but the limited information they put out on the subject is largely related to the highway system and has little to do with the small streets lining our urban neighborhoods. Roads prohibited to truck traffic, such as the northern end of Richmond Ave (pictured above), only come about through neighborhood petition. There seems to be no comprehensive or enforced plan for directing truck traffic in or out of Philadelphia, let alone its international port neighborhoods.
So, what to do about this? Port infrastructure is spilling over into our neighborhoods and is clogging roads, making the life of pedestrians needlessly dangerous, destroying the streets and sidewalks, and releasing diesel emissions in a densely populated area. Recently, I posted this request on Councilperson Bobby Henon’s City Hall App to enforce some of the existing signage in the neighborhood. Has there been a noticeable decease in trucks along this road since? I don’t know, But moving towards more enforcement and working with neighborhood groups, the City of Philadelphia, and the Port Authority to design a better truck route transportation plan is a much needed step in reducing the everyday effects of living directly next to Philadelphia’s ports.