Published on December 21 2016

Long-awaited lighting and streetscape improvements transform I-95 and Market-Frankford El underpass and enhance the connection from Northern Liberties to the Waterfront

The Delaware River Waterfront Corporation (DRWC), in conjunction with the Northern Liberties Neighbors Association (NLNA), unveiled the completion of the Spring Garden Connector Project, incorporating long-awaited lighting and streetscape development to transform the I-95 and Market-Frankford El underpass and to improve the connection from Northern Liberties to the Waterfront. The new streetscape improvements, along with dramatic lighting of the SEPTA station portals and center column lights greatly enhance the massive and formerly dimly lit viaduct to create a safe and welcoming transit area, transforming the experience for pedestrians and public transit riders exiting and entering the Spring Garden Station.

As part of the Master Plan for the Central Delaware adopted by the city in 2012 to guide development on the riverfront, DRWC identified necessary improvements to primary and secondary connector streets under I-95 reaching Columbus Boulevard. This initiative included streetscaping, new sidewalks, and public art installation to provide safe, attractive, and welcoming access to the Waterfront and also serves as a catalyst for private development. Spring Garden Street was identified as a key neighborhood connector to burgeoning Northern Liberties as well as a cross-city connection to Callowhill, Fairmount and the Schuylkill River Trail. 


"This project is a key gateway, connecting Northern Liberties, the Central Delaware River Waterfront, and a major mass transit hub," said Matt Ruben, President of the Northern Liberties Neighbors Association and Chair of the Central Delaware Advocacy Group. "We started working on this project many years ago, and we're grateful that DRWC stepped in and brought it to fruition. This will have a major long-term positive impact on Northern Liberties, and on the Waterfront."


The development of the Spring Garden Connector was built upon neighborhood planning conducted by Northern Liberties in 2007, as well as studies by Pennsylvania Environmental Council in developing plans for the Spring Garden Street Greenway.  Working with NLNA, DRWC hosted community engagement meetings to discuss how public art and streetscape improvements might create a visible link to Festival Pier and other potential development sites. The current plan for lighting and signage was drawn from civic input from those meetings, and developed in partnership with SEPTA and PennDOT, owners and stewards of the viaduct and roadway.  


In designing these improvements, DRWC worked closely with SEPTA to ensure their transit operations would not be impacted by either the streetscape improvements or the lighting installation. The project was also designed with PennDOT’s future improvements in mind. Once PennDOT is ready to begin construction on this segment of I-95, the lighting and metal screens will be easily removed and stored for the duration of construction and put back in place once construction is complete.


The project cost 2.4 million, with funding secured through grants from the William Penn Foundation, PennDOT multi-modal fund, the Commonwealth Financing Authority, and the City of Philadelphia capital budget. The lighting and streetscape improvements were designed by NV5 (formerly the RBA Group), Cloud Gehshan Associates, The Lighting Practice, and Urban Sign, Inc. and was built by AP Construction and Paramount Electric.


The finalized design features the following public amenities:

  • New sidewalks, decorative pavers, and street trees from 2nd Street to Columbus Boulevard
  • Pre-programmed LED lighting designed around the cycle of the sun as it rises and sets each day
  • Specially-themed lighting programs around holidays, such as Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, and Fourth of July
  • Custom designed and fabricated metal panels that comprise the station portal screens, corner pieces, and hanging fixtures
  • A new traffic signal at Front Street and Spring Garden Street
  • ADA ramp access
  • Curb bump outs for safer pedestrian access


“The William Penn Foundation has been helping to increase public access to the Delaware Riverfront for over ten years now and we are proud of all of the projects we have supported,” said Shawn McCaney, Interim Executive Director, William Penn Foundation. “But the Spring Garden Connector Street project is especially emblematic of our main interest, which is to support the continued development of high quality parks and public spaces that connect people to assets and connect people to each other.”

The Race Street Pier and the Race Street Connector were the first examples of how these rejuvenated public amenities stimulated private development by attracting new residents and businesses. DRWC completed improvements to Race Street, its first connector street, in 2012. This project included new sidewalks and streetscaping, pedestrian-scale lighting, and a large screen and lighting installation along the I-95 underpass. Since then, the area surrounding the Race Street Pier and Connector has seen significant private development with the addition of Morgan’s Pier, FringeArts and La Peg Brasserie, the completion of One Water Street with 250 apartments off Columbus Boulevard, and the construction of Bridge with 140 apartments and street-level retail shops at the corner of 2nd and Race Streets. In similar fashion the Spring Garden Connector will be a key asset in the redevelopment of Festival Pier, which is currently in a due-diligence period with the developers.


“This comprehensive set of streetscape and sidewalk improvements along with the dramatic lighting program are transforming the pedestrian experience and encouraging access at a critical entrance to the waterfront,” said Tom Corcoran, President of the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation.  “Targeted public improvements such as this will help activate and catalyze private investment around them, which is a key principal of the Master Plan. Our first connector program was on Race Street and it is incredibly successful.” 


After completing the Race Street Connector, DRWC and PennDOT created a unique and successful partnership for Columbia Avenue, Marlborough, and Shackamaxon Streets, a set of connector street projects in Fishtown.  DRWC funded the design of underpass formliners for each of the three streets as well as a streetscaping and public art installation for Columbia Avenue, a primary connector street that connects the neighborhood to Penn Treaty Park. The new formliners and enhanced lighting are complete at Marlborough and Shackamaxon and Columbia Avenue is currently underway as part of the current phase of I-95 reconstruction. DRWC will continue to identify opportunities and resources to continue the connector program as outlined in the Master Plan for the Central Delaware.