Monday, February 22, 2010

A Note on the Gallery

There have been a number of articles in the Inquirer lately on after school commotion in the Gallery. I've twittered a few remarks about this and would like to weigh in more formally. For a number of years my commute has taken me through Market East train station (which connects to the Gallery) at least once a week, often more than that. Market East is one of the three primary center city Philadelphia train stations for regional rail and also connects to the Market Frankford SEPTA line at both ends (8th St station and 11th St station); the Jersey bound can also find a PATCO station at one end. Market East also connects to the Convention Center which means that popular events, such as the upcoming Flower Show, can dramatically increase the number of people taking the train. In between the train stations, the Gallery offers a number of stores and food options. Lately there has been an alarming number of empty storefronts. There used to be a CVS not far from the regional rail station, which was great for picking up hosiery if I'd gotten a run on the way in, or to pick up some last minute item for work or home, depending on which way I was going. It has closed but either a K-Mart or Wal-Mart has opened up on the street level concourse that serves a similar purpose. If the morning was too hectic for breakfast at home I'll pick up a bagel at Dunkin' Donuts or a box of munchkins for the office; days I go in late Taco Bell is a great quick lunch on my way in.

So I feel somewhat qualified to offer an opinion, being familiar with the lay of the land. None of the print or online I've read have offered a detailed physical description of the area in question. As mentioned there are train stations at either end, with a few staircases to street entrances. The area in between is a long hallway with stores on either side. It is divided into two lanes by a line of kiosks and cart shops. The lanes are each perhaps seven to ten feet wide; occasional columns along the side take up space in some spots. The area between the carts is sometimes so narrow that the chairs each merchant can sit on almost touch; in other places there is a much wider space between carts. These are rough estimates made without benefit of measuring devices. During the day shoppers can meander but at rush hour those lanes become speed zones with a steady stream of commuters carrying briefcases and messenger bags, etc., and slower moving traffic staying to the edges or being zipped around by the faster movers. Parents with small children keep them close. It can be hard to walk abreast with a friend during busy times, with conversation made in snatched words as you shift between walking side by side and going to single file to move around others. More than two people in a row is a traffic hazard of notable proportions. Even in a ten foot wide lane, there just isn't room for a lot of people to congregate. The teens who have been meeting up in the Gallery do not cluster in the more spacious train station waiting area but instead clog the traffic lanes. Their age isn't a factor in this; put an equal number of old ladies with walkers and canes in the same area and you would get the same result.

What makes the teens troublesome, besides their number, is the natural tendency of teens to fidget, and for groups of teens to be a little rowdy. They bump into each other and jostle elbows. In a narrow walking lane at rush hour that has a real potential for trouble. One teen nudging a neighbor means that neighbor is likely to back into one or more commuters rushing past, and can cause a domino reaction. Worse, some days there will be five or more teens in a line sideways across a lane which means it is almost impossible to get though. I've had to almost physically push my way through a crowd on more than one occasion. The loud and often profane remarks the kids make to each other can be a little intimidating. Imagine trying to squeeze past a knot of kids playfully shoving each other and calling out one-up-manship jibes. Or being caught between two groups of kids trying to impress or insult each other; the other two sides of the box you are in are a plate glass store window on one side and a wooden cart shop on the other. A family with a stroller or toddlers or both might find it more problematic. It just isn't a good situation.

As a middle aged woman I am familiar with the restroom options in most areas I frequent. There are public restrooms at either end of the Market East station; they are safe and clean. There are also restrooms in the Gallery, but they are down a long narrow hallway, off the main traffic aisle. The hallway is narrow enough and the restrooms removed far enough from assistance if needed that I don't use them unless it's necessary. Groups of kids have been congregating near the entrance to the restroom hallway and venturing into the hallway itself. Groups of people loitering outside a public bathroom but not actually using it can easily be viewed as threatening to the general populace.

The Gallery is a place to shop or a pathway for commuters to get from the train to the exit nearest their destination, or to go from one train station to another. There have always been small clusters of the homeless, who tend to sit quietly in the food court area or on the edge of planters at the Market East end, and in my years of passing through the Gallery I don't remember them causing any problem. But blocking the traffic lanes and pushing or shoving near those walking through or window shopping is dangerous.

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