The Futuristic New SEPTA Trolleys Will Look Like …

Munich's Siemens Avenio Streetcar Photo Credit: Siemens AG

Munich’s Siemens Avenio Streetcar. Photo by Siemens AG

Two weeks ago, Citified reported that SEPTA has begun the early procurement phase of what a massive, once-in-a-generation overhaul of the aging trolley fleet. Over the next few years, SEPTA plans to unload serious capital (at least $200 million) into new, 80-foot-long, low-floor vehicles that will replace the 1980s Kawasaki models that are predominantly in use. But what the new SEPTA trolleys — or perhaps we’ll finally start calling them streetcars — will actually look like, remains unknown. Byron Comati, SEPTA’s director of strategic planning and analysis, said that the agency is in the midst of getting an expression of interest from companies around the globe:

To see what the manufacturers, the car builders can do. What’s out there? Responding to our expression of interest means that whether you’re from a German company, a Dutch company, an American Company, a Chinese company, a Korean company — what’ve you got?

SEPTA has some options. Around the globe, manufacturers have been designing low-floor models that could fit the SEPTA’s trolley specs and be customized for Philly streets. Here’s a look at what’s out there. Read more »

Philadelphia Solar Power Growth Lagging Other Cities

Three days after Earth Day 2011, Mayor Nutter celebrated the installation of the first solar power system owned by the City of Philadelphia. The photovoltaic system at a Water Department control plant, with the capacity to produce 250 kilowatts — enough to power 28 homes — marked an symbolic early step toward the City’s goal of switching 20 percent of the total citywide electrical use to sources powered by sustainable alternatives like solar. But the city remains far from achieving that mark today, and has in fact plateaued over the past year when it comes to solar installations.

The annual “Shining Cities” report by Environment America is out and Philadelphia solar power capacity remained unchanged from the year before. At the end of 2014, the city had 9 megawatts of solar capacity — exactly the same amount in the prior year’s report — and we ranked 41st out of 65 cities in per-capita power, sliding back from 35th in 2013. That comparative regression can be witnessed by the leaps made in the nearby city of Newark — which installed 9 megawatts in 2014 alone, the equivalent of our entire grid’s capacity. Read more »

How Bike Lanes & Shared Streets Pay for Themselves, and Then Some

Shared streets, like this proposed project in Seattle, make room on the roadway not just for cars, but for bicyclists, pedestrians and transit riders as well. | Rendering by Mithun.

Shared streets, like this proposed project in Seattle, make room on the roadway not just for cars, but for bicyclists, pedestrians and transit riders as well. | Rendering by Mithun.

New research suggests that “Complete Streets” — those carefully designed, multi-modal travel corridors that often include, yes, bike lanes — can yield handsome returns on investment for cities. Like millions, sometimes realized in no more than a year, because shared streets reduce collisions, which in turn saves money on medical costs and property damage. And there’s more. These street alterations are also correlated with increased property values and even higher employment numbers. Read more »

Next Time the Eagles Want a New Stadium, They May Have to Pay for It Themselves

Taxpayers and local governments have been subsidizing pro-sports stadiums since the Reagan years, and as the decades pass, the subsidies have only gotten bigger. During the 1990s, construction of new sports stadiums cost the public an average of $142 million per facility. By 2010, that number had increased 70 percent to $241 million. The luxe new Yankee Stadium was built with $322 million in public subsidies. Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field and Citizens Bank Park were not exceptional ($256 and $229 million in public costs, respectively), both funded by a 50-50 public and private split.

Economists and social scientists are scornful of these enormous subsidies. Plentiful research has shown that stadiums rarely produce the anticipated return on investment for the surrounding area, in terms of jobs and ancillary profits (in restaurants, hospitality, etc.). As Pacific Standard wrote in 2013: Read more »

Like a Nice Cabernet, Every City Wants a Sip of Philly’s BYOB Culture

Philadelphia BYOB laws

Delicious, and affordable. |

There are more than 200 BYOBs in Center City alone, some of which count among the very best restaurants in Philadelphia. They’re an essential part of the city’s dining culture, and a legit engine of neighborhood economic development. Many people, including Craig LaBan, have credited BYOBs with shaping Philly’s dining scene in a unique, patron-friendly (no 3X markups!) way.

And none of it would be possible without the state’s permissive laws on restaurant patrons bringing in alcohol. The state’s BYOB law has given restauranteurs who can’t hope to afford one of the limited number of liquor licenses a chance to open new dining establishments nonetheless.

Diners aren’t so lucky everywhere in the country. Over a dozen states, including Ohio and Wisconsin, ban BYOB policies. Last year, the city of Atlanta cracked down on them, enforcing a little-understood policy that requires any establishment with patrons providing their own liquor to buy a special license from the city. Read more »

Sleek, Modern Trolleys Coming to Philly

"United Streetcar 10T3 prototype for Portland" by Steve Morgan - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

Modern, articulating trolleys, like this one in Portland, Oregon, are coming to Philadelphia. | Photo by Steve Morgan. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Philadelphia has the largest trolley system in the nationa title it’s held since the 1970s. But the old-school tanks climbing up and down city streets look like relics from our parents’ (or grandparents’) generation. Trolleys along Baltimore Avenue in the Southwest are early-80s Kawasaki models; on Girard Avenue, the trolleys are actually reconditioned from the ‘40s.

In a few years, though, that’s going to change in a big way.

In an interview with Citified, SEPTA’s director of strategic planning and analysis, Byron Comati, said that a massive trolley fleet renovation is on the horizon. “Once the Key system is done, the next biggie that has complications will be trolley modernization,” Comati said. “It’s a transformational project. You do this once in a generation.” Read more »

Should Cities Embrace Nighttime Truck Delivery?


Not helping the commute.

An immensely success pilot program in New York City is forcing cities to rethink how trucks maneuver their streets. Or more specific, when they’re allowed to. NYC’s Off-Hour Delivery (OHD) initiative has successfully shifted many truck deliveries away from peak hours (6 a.m. to 7 p.m.), the time when 95 percent of deliveries had been made in Manhattan. It’s expected to produce economic savings of $100-200 million a year by reducing traffic congestion, lowering fuel consumption and streamlining supply chains for participating retailers like Whole Foods, CVS and Foot Locker. Read more »

Can Disneyland Help Clean Up “Filthadelphia”?

Ever since Disneyland opened 60 years ago, cleanliness has been a virtue. Walt Disney designed the park so that visitors have trash cans at every turn — you’re never more than 30 steps away from a bin — and the impeccable maintenance of the sanitized grounds are part of why Disneyland attendance continues to climb upwards, even after a multi-year recession and a measles outbreak last winter.

Last week, when Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown introduced legislation aimed at reducing litter in the city, she invoked the so-called “Disneyland Theory” as inspiration. The theory says that it takes the average park-goer about 30 steps before they toss trash on the ground (hence the park’s trash cans every 30 or fewer paces). Brown’s bill would require any purveyor of food to have trash cans and recycling bins within 10 feet of their business.

But is the Disneyland Theory legit? Can it really help clean up “Filthadelphia?”

Read more »

The Country’s Lead Foot Rebounded in 2014

For the first time since 2008, Americans logged more than 3 trillion miles of driving last year. That’s according to new data released by the Federal Highway Administration, which shows driving mileage increased 1.7 percent nationwide in 2014 — faster growth than we’ve seen in a decade. Our collective lead foot hastened even as more Americans also rode public transportation last year.

But in Philly, there’s reason to think that our driving habits remain an exception to this broader surge.

Read more »

Philadelphia Venture Capital Status? Perfectly Mediocre

Last November, Mayor Nutter announced a batch of grants for local entrepreneurs, funded through StartUp PHL—the joint venture between the Commerce Department, Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation and Josh Kopelman’s First Round Capital. StartUp PHL—the city’s main pipeline of support to the city’s entrepreneurial community—has contributed more than $1 million in seed funding or angel investments to local startups since its inception two and a half years ago. “For Philadelphia to continue to grow we must be a city that welcomes exciting, innovative companies and the type of talented workforce that wants to work for those companies,” Nutter said, in announcing the latest grants.

But to breed an urban-tech community of startups, you need lots of private investment—a lot more cash than StartUp PHL can provide. And there’s new research out showing that Philly remains something of a laggard in attracting private capital for its startups. A senior fellow at Brookings compiled data on “first fundings”—the initial round of venture capital for new companies—in metro areas of more than 100,000 people nationwide. In the report, there’s good news and bad news for Philadelphia. Read more »

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