Philadelphia Sidewalk Accessibility

Philadelphia sidewalks are wheelchair accessible.

The sidewalks and streets in Philadelphia are largely wheelchair accessible, with curb ramps, walk signals and tactile pavements at the majority of intersections and road crossings. Sidewalks in the Center City downtown tourist areas are well kept, making the city an incredibly rollable one for wheelchair users.

Wheelchair Accessibility of Philadelphia Sidewalks

When rating the accessibility of Philly sidewalks, it is important to note that I am writing about accessibility for tourists, not would-be residents of the city. For this reason, my assessment considers routes likely to be taken by visitors to the city, and do not include largely residential areas, which may have accessibility challenges not represented in the areas most frequently used by pedestrians.

The Best in Sidewalk Accessibility

The following series of images represents some of the city’s most accessible sidewalks:

Crosswalk in front of the Philadelphia City Hall.
Crosswalk in front of the Philadelphia City Hall.
Accessible crosswalk in front of Philadelphia's Chinatown Friendship Gate.
Accessible crosswalk in front of Philadelphia’s Chinatown Friendship Gate.

As you can see, many of the major tourist routes, including along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, have wheelchair-friendly sidewalks and crosswalks.

Aging infrastructure presents accessibility challenges

As sidewalk and street pavements ager, issues develop – potholes, cracks and other degradation set in, each presenting challenges to rolling wheelchairs, walkers or strollers across a city. These challenges are not unique to Philadelphia, but the following images highlight a selection of issues presented by some of the city’s aging infrastructure.

Cracks in a curb ramp at John F. Kennedy Blvd.
Cracks in a curb ramp at John F. Kennedy Blvd.
A very rare barrier in Philadelphia: a sidewalk without a curb ramp in Old Town.
A very rare barrier in Philadelphia: a sidewalk without a curb ramp in Old Town.

Most barriers that do exist are located in the city’s Old Town, where the two-lane streets have aged and are beginning to break down. That said, most of the barriers pictured above shouldn’t disrupt your enjoyment of the city’s most historic areas too much. Access to businesses within the oldest buildings in Old Town is often another challenge that is not so easily overcome, however.

Signposts Guide Tourists in Philadelphia

Because Philadelphia has so many districts which cater to visitors, signposts are placed in highly visible locations to help tourists locate the numerous attractions.

Tourist guide markers come in different shapes and sizes, but are fairly consistent in design within each individual district. The signs help visitors maintain directional awareness, making it easy to walk or roll from one tourist attraction to the next.

Helping to Make Philadelphia More Accessible

When we encounter barriers to wheelchair accessibility, it’s okay to be frustrated, but frustration alone won’t solve the problem. Philadelphia’s City Government encourages the participation of its citizens in bringing about the public good, and its Philly311 service allows residents (and tourists!) to report a host of issues online. Whether it’s a neighbor holding loud parties, a street light that is out or a sidewalk that lacks a curb ramp – you can bring this to the government’s attention at www.phila.gov/311/.

During my time in Philadelphia, I was once forced to enter the roadway due to a high curb without an access ramp on the corner of Arch Street and North 3rd Street. I used Philly311 to report the issue, and hope the city will soon install a curb cut for wheelchair access. I’ll report back when I receive a response, but you can track it online yourself in the meantime – my report is a public record!