Society of Small Streets (PSSS)
is dedicated to
the preservation, repair, and restoration of Philadelphia's historic small
streets. Philadelphia has had a Historic Street District restoration program
since 1999 and several streets have been restored (200 block of Jessup
and Warnock Streets, the 1300 block of Panama and Cypress Streets, the
2500 block of Panama Street, and many others). However much remains to
be done and many residents who live on other historically designated streets have yet to benefit from this program. We have several issues that we work on with Councilman Mark Squilla,
the Streets Department, and the Historical Commission. Briefly, we would like
the city to do the following:
end to "Plumbers' Patches" on historic streets. Currently, contractors can fill their
trenches on historic streets with asphalt and concrete, which defeats the
purpose of the restoration program and leaves behind an unsightly mess
that lasts for years, if not decades. We want contractors to be
required to properly reset the street pavers that they excavate.
on first restoring historic streets that are lined with historic homes in the
historic districts, starting in Old City and Center City, then radiate
outward, rather than select back alleys, new construction, and remote
locations, which has occurred in the past. http://www.smallstreetsphilly.org/PSSSresponse.htm
developers to restore onsite historic streets as part of their approval
process by the city.
aggregate and screening" for street foundations and filler, not “concrete foundations and mortar”,
which presents a myriad of problems for homeowners and their contractors.
Historic pavers were originally designed to be picked up and placed
back down again. It made sense then and it makes sense now.
concrete foundation under Camac "The Wood" Street, so that the street can
drain properly, plus experiment with more water resistant tree species for the
current construction design of the "Green Streets" program, which uses toxic
materials and is of questionable design, including virtual cisterns and thin
plastic liners that are destined to leak and impact adjacent buildings
snow storms and small streets,
we have suggested for years that residents shovel the street, not the
(SEE MORE DETAILED INFO BELOW)
PSSS is a
collaborative effort to improve our small streets. Please feel free to join and
use our meetup group (http://www.meetup.com/The-Philadelphia-Society-of-Small-Streets-PSS)
as a forum to communicate with other members, report information, ask questions,
etc.. In order to be on the Philadelphia Historic Street Paving Thematic
District (PHSPTD), the street must not be paved over.
PSSS does not limit our activities to designated streets only. We will support
efforts to reclaim paved historic streets, as well. In fact, the Streets
Department has indicated that it will consider approving plans to restore
asphalted streets if the costs are covered privately. Below are lots of links
and information. Please take the time to review. We greatly appreciate your
participation, comments, and questions. (PSSS
postcard for window or distribution)
and Cliff Landes, founders
Philadelphia Society of Small Streets (PSSS)
Philadelphia, PA 19107
IMPORTANT PSSS NEWS!
13, 2015 -
PSSS Suggested Restoration Priority List
January 21, 2016: PSSS Letter To Mayor
Kenney re: snow removal on small streets
18, 2016: PSSS Letter to Mayor Kenney re:
Philadelphia's Historic Restoration Program
5, 2015: PSSS Letter to
Mayor Nutter re: Philip Street and the Historic Streets Restoration Program
Street Residents' letters to Mayor Nutter & other city officials
How much has Philip Street sunk? Allowing for a 4 inch curb, the street
and curb on the east side has sunk from 8-12 inches (along with 50% of
sidewalk), depending on the location. About 75% of the street appears to be
affected, starting at the manhole cover at north end.
4, 2015: Urgent: Need to push
restoration of Philip Street! (send letters to city and press
16, 2015: Letter
to residents of historic streets on PSSS Priority List
13, 2015 - PSSS Response -
PSSS Suggested Restoration Priority List
Top Ten Streets featuring
Google "Street Views"
5, 1505 -
The Historic Streets Assessment Report
JessupStreetReport.pdf - An October
2010 study by Milner + Carr Conservation, LLC, that Cliff and Lynn Landes
commissioned prior to Jessup Street's restoration by the Streets Department. It
contains a brief, but interesting history of street paving in Philadelphia.
What can you do now to make sure our historic streets are properly maintained?
Support the proposals below. E-mail your city officials and suggest the
following changes to city policy:
(Mayor of Philadelphia)
Mark.Squilla@phila.gov (Chair of
Streets Committee on City Council)
(Deputy Streets Commissioner, Streets Department
Director of Philadelphia Historical Commission)
your council member -
TOP 4 PSSS
1. RESTORATION PRIORITY:
13, 2015 - PSSS Suggested Restoration Priority List
Place priority on (the city) first restoring historic streets that are lined
with historic homes in the historic districts starting in Old City and Center
City, then radiate outward, rather than select back alleys, new construction,
and remote locations (which occurred as the result of a 2014 survey).
Developers should be required to restore onsite historic streets as part of
the approval process by the city
2. PREFERRED CONSTRUCTION DESIGN:
The Streets Department should adopt something similar to the
http://tiger-stone.com/) of 15 inches of pulverized concrete (although
we prefer "modified aggregate") and on top, 2-6 inches of sand of good
quality, not like the sand on a beach, (we prefer "screening"), rather
than the Streets Dept current standard of an 8-12 inch concrete base and
The spacing between the bricks and stones should be tightly set, and in some
cases, stone pavers should be ground smooth in order to make walking and
biking safe and easy.
AGAINST the Streets Department's current "concrete foundation &
mortar" requirement for historic streets, includes the following:
a concrete foundation makes it extremely difficult to access underground
utilities and can cause damage by vibration to nearby underground utilities,
adjacent buildings, and historic structures during removal by jackhammer,
after excavation, concrete chunks generally get thrown back into plumbers
ditches, thereby creating future subsidence problems
conceals any "subsidence" issues until they become catastrophic
it prevents road surface permeability for rainwater
creates wet conditions, particularly harmful for wood and brick pavers, as
well as stone
directs water toward buildings and basements
increases storm water run-off
mortar between pavers, rather than tightly-fitted pavers, can make walking or
biking over them very difficult
Camac Street, The Wood Street,
between Walnut and Locust is completely rotting away due to concrete
foundation under a sand layer, as well as the type of wood. Black locust,
Osage Orange, or another water-tolerant species of tree should be used or at
least experimented with.
See our special
Wood Streets webpage
case FOR a general transition for many city streets and sidewalks to
PAVERS & AGGREGATE foundation (Netherland's model) from PAVEMENT & CONCRETE
tightly-fitted pavers makes walking or biking a safer experience
pavers can serve as a vital
"early warning system"
for dangerous subsidence issues below that can contribute to wet basements and
collapsed streets and sidewalks
paver-streets and sidewalks can be easily repaired when foundation is
aggregate and not solid concrete or asphalt
asphalt is toxic and cannot be repaired without looking like a patch-work
asphalt and concrete cannot be repaired without looking like a patch-work
example of paver-street construction, at least on the surface:
"The Green Street "program
- see video
We found important details about the Percy Street project in this article,
which states, "their (new) block contains eight inches of porous asphalt, a
material that will allow rain to seep through the pavement to soak into a nearly
30-inch layer of stone... (and then) line the curb with an impermeable plastic
liner to prevent water from migrating back toward houses uses...".
asphalt is a toxic material and not "green" in any meaningful sense
asphalt also presents many of the same problems presented by concrete - see
Percy Street model creates a cistern under the streets, using
clean stones and lined on either side of the road with plastic, that they
claim will protect nearby basements from water damage. However, we are
concern that it is a fatally flawed design concept. Typically plastic liners,
even landfill liners, are only 1/10 of an inch thick and are vulnerable to
cracking and breaking due to heat and cold, wear and tear.
Our preliminary research shows that buried
"impermeable" plastic liners only last from 15-20 years. Not good news for
according to the video above, the Percy Street model seems to discourage use
of trees on small streets
Riley, Design Unit, Philadelphia Water Department may be a good person to
contact for addition information
3. PLUMBERS PATCHES:
These are an unnecessary waste of the city's time, money, and effort. Historic
pavers are designed to be picked up and placed back down again. Currently,
contractors can fill their ditches on historic streets with asphalt, leaving
behind an unsafe and unsightly mess for the city to clean up. Contractors who
dig into city streets should be required to put the street back as they found it
(historic or not). This is more easily done on historic streets if contractors
don't have to drill through a concrete foundation.
UPDATE 1/15/16 (Unfortunately, the
following program still allows for plumbers patches).
MAY 2014: GOOD NEWS!
One of our main goals is to stop unsightly
"plumbers patches". A pilot program to allow homeowners to contract historic
street restorations through their plumbing contractors will run from July to
December 2014. Residents will save $450 on their permits. Previously, plumbers
felt that they had to pour an asphalt or concrete patch. Homeowners had to wait
years for the city to get around to restoring the patch, which rarely occurred.
Now, homeowners have the option to contract for the restoration work to be done
immediately. So, congratulations to everyone. We think that this is a good
first step toward putting an end to unsightly "plumbers patches", and it
wouldn't have happened without your support. Thank you! Now we need to put an
end to plumbers patches permanently. They are blighting our community and
wasting taxpayers dollars. What's the point of restoring a historic street if
the very next week a contractor can pour a plumbers patch, as happened with the
newly restored 200 block of Warnock Street in 2012!
4. SNOW REMOVAL AND CITY CODE:
2016 PSSS emails to Mayor Kenney -
For heavy snow storms and small streets -
SHOVEL THE STREET, NOT THE
We first shovel the street and a path to our door, then do the
sidewalk - if there's room to put the snow.
That's what we do on our street, but it's in
violation of city code.
Logistically, for small streets (6.5 feet) it’s the same amount
of area to be shoveled. Even for streets that are 12 feet wide, residents also have
to shovel out their cars, so it still comes to about the same area.
Also, don't forget to clear debris from your
sidewalks, curbs, and particularly storm drain grates before any major
snow or rain event. Otherwise you risk flooding your street.
(left) and wrong way (right), See all 16 PHOTOS (2014 winter) on our meetup page -
(We have expressed our concerns about this situation to the Streets Department for several years
now. See: 2010 Philadelphia Inquirer article:
This is a matter
of health and safety. We must have a timely way to allow for
vehicle and pedestrian traffic on our small streets after a snow event,
owners on small streets measuring approximately
6.5 feet wide, we ask that the
CITY CODE be amended to direct those property owners to shovel snow from their
half of the street (to the center line, approximately 3 1/4 feet) in front of
their house, plus a 3 foot wide path to their doors. Currently, all property
owners are required to shovel a 3 foot path on their sidewalk.
The advantages of the PSSS suggested method:
• requires minimal additional effort on the part of property owners
• frees up the sidewalk to hold the cleared snow, particularly critical to small
streets in heavy snow events
• gives property owners the responsibility to clear the snow in a time manner,
thereby allowing for foot & car traffic, and the disabled
• saves tax dollars by relieving the Streets Department of the responsibility of
clearing snow from hundreds of small streets (6.5' wide)
Disadvantages of current City Code for small streets:
• City Code is contradictory and unworkable for heavy snow conditions. Residents
are required not only to clear a 36-inch path of snow from their sidewalks, but
also not put any snow into the street. For small streets and big snow events,
this is an impossible requirement to comply with, offering no place to hold the
• Most residents put priority of removing the snow from their sidewalks, and
throw the snow into the streets, thereby blocking their streets with several
feet of snow and creating a safety and fire hazard.
Recently, we were told by the Streets Department that it is too difficult to
change the City Code, but that residents of small streets will not be ticketed
if our sidewalks are not cleared. Unfortunately, this policy leaves 'both our
sidewalks and streets clogged with snow' until City snow removal equipment
arrives, which it often doesn't. At least for the sake of the disabled and
pedestrian traffic, small street residents should be subject to the same snow
removal requirements as other city property owners. We are just asking for a
different location - instead of shoveling the sidewalk, shovel the street. The
area to be cleared is almost exactly the same.
Councilman Squilla and Commissioner Carlton and ask that the City Code be amended
as we suggest above.
(Chair of Streets Committee on City Council)
(Streets Commissioner, Streets Department
Jan 2015: Snow,
salt, streets, and electrocuting dogs:
This is slightly off-topic. There was a problem last year with dogs getting
electrocuted, mainly at some cross walks. It appears that the snow/water/ice
and salt combined with underground electric current, causes dogs to get
electrocuted. People with rubber shoes don't feel it, usually. We and several
others called PECO and Streets. Supposedly, the problem was fixed. However, we
can still detect current with our EMF monitor, so we'll see. (Jan 2015)
Currently, the Historical Commission only has control over the flat surface of
these historic streets. Historic curbs should be protected as they are
integral to the structural design of historic streets.
The Streets Department should check first with the Historical Commission that
a street is not designated part of the historic cartway before crews pave it.
There should be an official protocol in place for residents to contract out to
reclaim their streets with either their own funds or through grants. At the
current rate of repair, it will be 70 years before all the streets are fixed.
April 2014:Good news! The Streets Department has
indicated that it will consider allowing private financing, although an
official policy is not yet in place. Residents should contact the Streets
Commissioner directly if their want to pursue this course of action.
April 2014: Good news! The PHC has put more
information online (see Gov't Doc Links at top), although we (PSSS) still have
links to more information that the PHC, such as a map of the historic streets.
This should be standard practice. Public meetings should take place in a
timely manner on which streets get restored, how, and in what order.
April 2014: Good news! Last year (2013) the Streets
Department did contract out a survey of all the historic streets. And in
April the Streets Department met with our organization. It was a very
satisfying experience. More work to do, of course...
The Streets Department should consider certifying residents to do their own
minor street repairs.
There should be a posted signs with a weight limit for heavy vehicles.
PHILLY GOV'T LINKS:
(Unfortunately, there is not one repository for information about Philadelphia's
historically certified streets, as the Historical Commission and the Streets
Department post some, but not all the resources available.)
HOW TO GET YOUR HISTORIC STREET REPAIRED:
Please write a
letter and gather signatures from your neighbors and send them to the list of
government officials above. Send a hard copy to the same people. Also, get
residents to write their own personal letters. You need to make a strong case.
The Streets Department likes to restore these streets in clusters. So, it is a
good idea to suggest other nearby streets for restoration at the same time.
Point out things like the streets' unsafe condition, how often people visit, how
many people live on these streets, and the streets location near other tourist
attractions. Also, provide photos and measurements of streets to be restored.
The petition could read something like the following: "The Philadelphia
residents below respectfully request that the Philadelphia Historical Commission
and Streets Department restore the following streets through the special annual
fund allocated for this purpose." Although, the City has a dedicated fund of
$100,000 + per year to repair streets, you can also look into additional
fundraising and the letting of private contracts, as well as applying for grants
through organizations, such as The Preservation Alliance of Greater
Philadelphia. You can also contact PSSS and we will assist you. Our contact
information is at bottom of this page.
In our experience
(the 2012 Jessup / Cypress / Panama / Warnock Streets restoration), where the
contractor needed to remove bricks and sidewalks in order to restore the street,
the contractor also put them back, at no expense to the homeowner. That is
clearly the situation on Philip Street. The collapse of the street has caused
the collapse of the sidewalk. However, if the sidewalks and curbs (including
driveway "curb-cuts") were already in bad shape, and not caused by the street,
then the homeowner 'could' (not necessarily 'would') get charged for any repairs
made by the contractor. In 2012, at first the Streets Department said that
residents needed to hire their own contractors. But then they relented, in that
the logistics and logic of the situation called for the on-site contractor to
make any additional repairs individual property owners would require. We can't
give any guarantees that this will be the policy going forward, but that was our
REPORT MAJOR SUBSIDENCE AND/OR POTHOLES TO 311:
If you have a
safety hazard, you should immediately notify the Streets Department -
call 3-1-1 (215-686-8686) Save the reference number if you need to follow-up.
Always state on the form if your street is historically designated, part of the
Philadelphia Historic Street Paving Thematic District, and therefore asphalt
should not be used. An inspector will be sent out. Often the Water Department
needs to get involved. Follow up with them at
using the General Inquiries number (215-685-6300) and speak with a
representative, who should also give you a tracking number. Other utilities
might also get involved. Just keep following up with the various entities until
the complaint is fixed. Tenacity is often required. You can also contact PSSS
and we will assist you. Our contact information is at bottom of this page.
A Brief History
of: Commercial Old City ... Small Streets
by Carol Moore
articles: They are doing a pretty good job of covering Philadelphia's small
(paver installation company). From a Tiger-Stone representative, "In the
Netherlands we use 15 inches of concrete debris ( pulverized concrete) and on
top 2 to 6 inches of sand ( of good quality, not like the sand on a beach…) In
a lot of countries the use stabilized sand, this is a mixture with cement. The
most important is that the base construction is solid so in the long term the
road quality can be guarantied. We use sand on the last few inches because the
‘’old’’ stones are not likely to al have the same dimensions. The sand does
have the compacted with a compacting plate before paving the stones."
Streets are excavated to full depth, about 13 to 18 inches below top of curb.
Drainage geotextile fabric is placed on the ground surface, and a layer of
2”-minus rock drainage blanket 6-10 inches deep is laid on top of the fabric
and compacted. ... The permeable pavers are then installed on the leveling
bed. The space between paving blocks is filled with the fine rock, and rock
and pavers are compacted. (We don't agree with using geotextile fabric as it
interferes with excavation for repairs, and also interferes with subsidence,
which acts as an early warning system for the formation of catastrophic
Iowa: "We generally use six inches of 95% proctor compacted ¾” down (with
fines) crushed stone material for the base, with about 1” of sand on top of
that. We vibrate the bricks into the sand, then sweep more sand over the top
and vibrate again to get the sand to fill the gaps between the bricks. On
hills we mix in 1 part mortar to 3 parts sand to prevent the sand mixture from
Illinois: "This work shall consist of removing existing bricks in streets at
various locations determined by the ENGINEER; removal of the existing
deteriorated stone base to a depth of 6 inches, placement of a new 6 inch CA 6
base (CA is crushed aggregate), a 1 inch sand layer and replacement of the
Pavement Repairs, 6 inch Stone Base: used for brick repairs , with
Pavement Repairs, 13 inch Stone Base: used for brick repairs , with a lot of
block of Jessup Street, Philadelphia: Historic Assessment and
October 2010, 200 block of South Jessup Street by
Milner + Carr Conservation. Jessup Street
was restored in 2012. The results of the work done was somewhat
predictable, as the Streets Department insisted on laying a concrete base
against the report's recommendation of modified aggregate for the foundation.
In general the restored streets by contractor Spaventa & Sons, look great (200
blocks of Jessup and Warnock, 1300 blocks of Cypress and Panama). However, the
mortar between the bricks is crumbling in some places, the streets are not
porous and are therefore holding water, and the Belgium blocks are placed too
far apart for safe and comfortable walking and riding (in cars or on bikes). On
Jessup Street there is a new crack straight across the road just next to our
house (217), breaking one of our old granite gutter stone in half. We believe
that the crack is the result of the concrete being laid in one continuous
stretch and encompassing all the street elements, not allowing for any breaks
and therefore no 'give'. That said, the restored historic streets look really
O & P Streets,
LaCombe, Director and Co-Founder
Marriott & Associates
Wisconsin Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20016
Links and information for maintenance and construction:
restoring sidewalks and streets as recommended by PSSS members:
Masonry 610-931-1375 firstname.lastname@example.org
215 888 8471
information and comments you may want to send)
http://www.nbcphiladelphia.com/send-feedback / (Channel 10)
Channel 6 – text 1-866-639-7749 and
Lynn and Cliff
The Philadelphia Society of Small Streets (PSSS)
217 S. Jessup Street
Philadelphia, PA 19107