Monday, August 18 2008 @ 04:13 PM UTC
Contributed by: B' Spokes
By Gayle Ronan Sims, Inquirer Staff Writer
Gihon Jordan, 58, a Philadelphia Streets Department traffic engineer who worked to make the city safer for pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and the disabled, died of colon cancer Thursday at his home in West Philadelphia.
Mr. Jordan battled bureaucracy, and combined vision and common sense in his quest to make Philadelphia a better place. He was responsible for just about everything involving traffic in Center City, North and South Philadelphia, and the river wards. This included street signs, malfunctioning traffic signals and the closing of streets.
But he also solved bigger problems. While scientifically designing and implementing convention-defying solutions, he earned a national reputation as an expert traffic calmer.
"I don't want to move vehicles around," Mr. Jordan said in a 1994 article in The Inquirer. "I want to move people around. Philadelphia was designed for the pedestrian, not for the car."
When he took over as traffic engineer for the city in 1993, Mr. Jordan worked to get more people to walk, bike and take mass transit.
Especially biking. Mr. Jordan, who never owned a car, was responsible for putting city policemen on bicycle patrols; he designed cross-state bike routes for the state Department of Transportation, and bike paths along the river drives and on city streets.
After earning a bachelor's in electrical engineering in 1973 from the University of Pennsylvania, Mr. Jordan pedaled solo across the United States three times and through 21 countries, including Uganda, Ethiopia and Senegal. Along the way, he spread the word about bicyclists' rights, safety, pollution, health, maps, crime, energy demands and road design.
Mr. Jordan was an early and active board member of the Bicycle Coalition of Philadelphia and numerous other biking organizations. In 1984, he wrote "Bicycling, Transportation and Energy: Handbook for Planners," one of dozens of such publications he wrote. He was on the pedestrian committee of the National Academy of Science's Transportation Research Board.
Mr. Jordan earned a master's in energy management and policy in 1982 from Penn's Wharton School. He also studied religious thought. His first name, Gihon, came from the Old Testament: "I'm on Page 2 of Genesis; Adam and Eve are on Page 3," he noted in 1994. He was a Quaker who called himself "an ethicist."
Raised in Edison, N.J., Mr. Jordan was the grandson of a civil engineer and Penn professor who led the construction of U.S. Route 2 in Montana.
In Philadelphia, Mr. Jordan pushed for more stop signs and fewer stop lights, which he wanted converted into energy-efficient LED lights; better pedestrian signage; and safe, paved shoulders.
"One of his most cherished accomplishments was helping start the Warrington Community Garden in West Philadelphia," said his wife of three years, Susan Edens. She is a cultural landscape architect at Independence National Historical Park and shares her husband's passion for improving the world.
"Gihon knew the dangers and joys of riding a bike in the city. He was a safe biker, always wore a helmet. He had a road bicycle which he kept in good repair," she said. "He rode in the rain and at night."
After five years with New Jersey Department of Transportation as a specialist in air quality, bicycles and transportation, Mr. Jordan came to Philadelphia to work for the Planning Commission, where he studied the demographics of North Philadelphia until 1989. He was named project and traffic engineer by the Streets Department, where he worked until 1993. For 12 years, he was the Streets Department's Center City district traffic engineer. He retired in 2005.
In addition to his wife, Mr. Jordan is survived by a brother, Paul; sisters Patricia Williams and Joan; and several nieces and nephews.
A memorial service is being planned for September. Donations may be made to the Gihon Jordan Scholarship Fund, Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals, Box 93, Cedarburg, Wis., 53012.