Greenworks Philadelphia Plan - Transportation Recommendations

Greenworks Philadelphia is a comprehensive six-year plan (“Plan”) that sets goals for “greening” the City of Philadelphia – increasing the city’s energy efficiency, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, improving the environmental quality of the city, and adapting to the dangers posed by climate change. This case study focuses only on the transportation-related recommendations included in the Plan – increasing the percentage of city assets in a “state of good repair” and using green infrastructure strategies to improve stormwater management and reduce flood impacts to transportation infrastructure. The timeline for implementation of the Plan ended in 2015, and the city released a final report documenting the progress made towards each target set in the plan.

The Plan uses climate change projections produced by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) to assess the vulnerability of the Philadelphia transportation system. UCS estimates that by the end of the century, Philadelphia will experience more than 80 days over 90 degrees and nearly 25 days over 100 degrees per year. Prolonged excessive heat can harm city infrastructure causing pavement buckling, and cause other damage to roads and bridges. The Plan notes that much of the City’s infrastructure is already in the 100-year floodplain. With projections showing increased precipitation and 1-meter of sea-level rise by 2100, much of the City’s infrastructure will be at greater risk of damage in the future.

Target 13 of the Plan recommends that the city increase the number of assets that are said to be in “good repair” (i.e., “when no backlog of needs exists and no component is beyond its useful life”). The program aims to increase the portion of the City’s infrastructure in a state of good repair from 73 percent baseline from 2008 to 80 percent by 2015 and to make the infrastructure more resilient to climate change. The City is in the process of updating its roadway inspection program to update data on the current condition of city roadways. The Plan notes that funding is a challenge to bringing the City’s roads and bridges into a state of good repair. The Plan estimates that it would cost $230 million to upgrade the City’s structurally deficient bridges and $35 million to clear the “repaving backlog.” The Plan also recommends that the City “begin to incorporate climate-change impact models into its long-rage investment planning.”

Target 8 of the Plan focuses on the use of green infrastructure strategies (i.e., strategies using natural landscapes) to manage stormwater and reduce flood impacts. Impervious surfaces limit the ability of the land to soak up rainwater and instead divert that rainwater into the sewer system. Philadelphia has a combined sewer system that combines rainwater, sewage, and industrial waste. Intense rain events can cause the system to overflow resulting in untreated wastewater entering City rivers. The Plan recommends that the city use green infrastructure techniques to limit overflows and detain stormwater in natural landscapes. Because 40 percent of the impervious surfaces are in City streets or rights-of-way, a key component of the City’s plan is creating “Green Streets,” which manage stormwater runoff from City streets through installation of corner bump-outs, tree trenches, bioswales, underground infiltration areas, or pervious pavement or concrete. The Plan also recommends that the City Zoning Ordinance be changed to encourage pervious pavement be used in parking lots and to require vegetated buffers and tree planting around parking lots. By capturing stormwater runoff, the City hopes to reduce combined sewer overflow events, street flooding, polluted runoff entering the sewer system, and reduce urban heat, as well as improve pedestrian and bicycle safety.

The City documented its progress throughout the six-year implementation period with annual progress reports, culminating with a final progress report in 2015. The 2015 Progress Report indicates that the City made progress on, but did not meet, its Target 13 goal of 80 achieving 80 percent state of good repair in resilient infrastructure. In 2011-2013, the City achieved 77 percent, but this number went down to 75 percent in 2014. In particular, out of all city assets, roads and other transportation assets managed by the Streets Department and SEPTA (the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority) require the most significant investments to achieve state of good repair. Still, the City is making progress towards this Target and identifying better ways to manage and prioritize assets in light of climate projections. The City is investing in cross-departmental asset management software to provide better information about the state of assets and also developed a citywide climate adaptation plan through a cross-agency planning process. The plan, known as “Growing Stronger: Toward a Climate-Ready Philadelphia,” was released in November 2015 and identifies flood risks and adaptation strategies for the Streets Department’s assets and roadways. Additionally, City agencies and SEPTA, continue to prioritize projects that will increase the percentage of infrastructure in a state of good repair and increase resilience. For example, SEPTA received $87 million in disaster relief funding from the Federal Transit Administration in September 2014, which will go toward projects that increase the resilience of the transit system to extreme weather events.

The 2015 Progress Report indicates that the City met its stormwater management goal (Target 8) of 450 new greened acres (land that uses green infrastructure to manage stormwater at a level that complies with regulatory requirements), and actually exceeded this target by adding 581 new greened acres between 2009 and April 2015; green streets account for almost 108 of these acres. The City completed a number of initiatives over the implementation period to help achieve this Target, including expanding partnerships between the Philadelphia Water Department (PWD) and other agencies such as PennDOT and SEPTA on green streets projects. PWD also developed its first edition of the Green Stormwater Infrastructure Maintenance Manual, released June 2014, incorporating lessons learned from design and maintenance of the first rounds of green stormwater infrastructure installations into the manual. PWD is also making progress towards increasing green surface parking lots, with 217 porous pavement projects (84 acres total) approved as of spring 2015.

PWD is also managing stormwater runoff through the Green City, Clean Waters Program. The Green City, Clean Waters program is a collaboration between the Philadelphia Water Department, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, and the federal Environmental Protection Agency. Like the Green Streets Program, the Green City, Clean Water’s Program is using Low Impact Development (LID) technique to manage capture stormwater runoff that could harm infrastructure. LID strategies reduce stormwater runoff at the individual property level, as opposed to green infrastructure’s larger City-scale approach.  A comprehensive green infrastructure strategy might designate particular land parcels for targeted LID. The partnership has designed stormwater bumpouts, stormwater planters, infiltration trenches, and over a hundred stormwater tree trenches.  Once implemented, the infrastructure will help to manage stormwater runoff and reduce urban heat by reducing the volume of stormwater that currently enters the City sewer system and reducing the risk of street flooding. The Green City, Clean Waters program has already completed several projects, including the installation of stormwater planters at Columbus Square and stormwater tree trenches at West Mill Creek. The program has designed 7 bumpouts, 14 infiltration trenches, and 138 additional stormwater tree trenches.

The Greenworks Philadelphia Plan was developed by the City’s Sustainability Work Group (comprised of 50 municipal employees) and built upon the City’s 2007 Local Action Plan for Climate Change, which primarily focused on mitigating the City’s greenhouse gas emissions.  This Plan takes a more holistic vision of the City’s sustainability through “five lenses” – Energy, Environment, Equity, Economy and Engagement.  The Plan in includes Table Summaries for each Target detailing the City’s goals, the lead agency charged with implementing the goal, and a target completion date.


This Adaptation Clearinghouse entry was prepared with support from the Federal Highway Administration. This entry was last updated on March 31, 2016.


Publication Date: 2009

Related Organizations:

  • City of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection
  • Philadelphia Water Department
  • Columbia University

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Resource Types:

  • Case study
  • Plans (other)

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