The One Big Problem With Bringing Amtrak to City Hall

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“Ladies and gentlemen, the next station stop for this train is City Hall station in Philadelphia. Please check your seat and make sure you have all personal belongings with you as you leave the train. Thank you for riding Amtrak.”

At least one Philadelphian would love to hear this announcement. In an essay in the Philadelphia Business Journal yesterday, Bob Previdi, former spokesperson for City Council member Anna Verna, noted that running Amtrak trains through the heart of the city, stopping at a renamed Suburban Station on the way to New York, would offer all sorts of benefits: increased convenience for Amtrak travelers, increased property values for homes and offices now closer to intercity rail service, and even luring New Yorkers to Philly to live, as their commutes and their tax bills would both shrink.

There’s a lot that’s appealing about this idea. 30th Street Station, grand though it is, is across the river from the heart of the city, and Previdi is far from the only person who would love to see restored the city center access that was lost when Broad Street Station was closed in 1952. And he is right to note that this city, like London, has already made a major investment in easy rail access in the form of the Commuter Tunnel.

But in saying that the only thing standing in the way of operating Amtrak service through the Commuter Tunnel is the political will to bring the passenger and freight railroads together to implement the through-tunnel service, he is ignoring one big fact on the ground.

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Postgreen Offers Peek At Its Next Project

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Trenton Avenue, which begins in the triangle where Fishtown, East Kensington and Port Richmond overlap, is a broad thoroughfare that once was a bustling industrial corridor. Now, save for one day a year, it’s mostly a quiet residential street.

Chad Luderman, CEO of Postgreen Homes, believes this transformation was a mistake. Not that he wants to bring back industry, but rather, it’s that a street this wide makes for a natural commercial corridor. (It certainly makes a great setting for an arts festival and kinetic sculpture race.)

It may be too late to add commerce to the rest of the street, but Luderman’s going to at least try to salvage a little stretch of it.

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Everyone in Journalism Has an Agenda

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You read here every day a wide variety of stories. Some offer advice. Some offer amusement. Some may make you jump for joy, while others may make your blood boil. All of them fall into that broad category we call journalism, and most of them are produced by people who, like me, call themselves professional journalists.

Why do we scribblers and talkers and picture-takers take up this craft? The answers are probably as varied as the people who practice it, but I think the best among us do it for one reason: we think this world can be a little better for our efforts.

That was certainly what motivated John Siegenthaler, who as editor of The Tennessean in Nashville put his paper solidly behind the Civil Rights Movement at a time when many Southern newspapers ignored it or worse. Siegenthaler, who died July 11th, also championed freedom of speech and the press and called journalism “the most important thing I could have done with my life.”

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What’s With Those Gap-Toothed Developments in Francisville?

Gap-toothed townhomes on North 16th Street in Francisville

Francisville residents have gotten used to hearing the sound of hammers and saws around them — the neighborhood has become something of a builder’s paradise, thanks in no small part to the neighborhood’s community development corporation. Francisville Neighborhood Development Corporation head Penelope Giles, in contrast to some of her peers in other low-income neighborhoods and with the support of many of her neighbors, has chosen to get out in front of gentrification rather than fight it. Letting the community guide the process, she argues, will benefit everyone.

It seems that some property owners in the neighborhood, however, don’t share her enthusiasm.

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SEPTA Overnight Trains a Hit: Ridership Up 40 to 59 Percent in First Full Weekend

Photo | Ben Schumin.

Photo | Ben Schumin, Wikimedia Commons.

Apparently, all those people who signed petitions asking SEPTA to run the Broad Street and Market-Frankford lines all night really did prefer taking the train rather than the bus home after a night on the town.

According to SEPTA spokesperson Manny Smith, figures for the first full weekend of overnight rapid transit service show ridership jumps of 40 to 59 percent compared to baseline ridership for the Night Owl buses.

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It’s Time to Bring Philadelphia County Back From the Dead

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Two weeks ago, a group of civic-minded Washington Square West residents touched off a firestorm when they tossed a proposal to create a Neighborhood Improvement District (NID) out for their neighbors to consider. The opposition to this idea was so vehement that the members of the Washington Square West Civic Association board who were the prime movers behind it withdrew it from consideration at the June board meeting.

A similar proposal in the Callowhill neighborhood went down to defeat in a mail ballot, as called for by the state law that authorizes such districts.

NIDs are nothing new in Philadelphia. To date, however, all of those in existence are business improvement districts (BIDs) that cover only commercial areas. The reason businesses accept them is the same reason some residents want them: They provide extra services City Hall cannot — things like sidewalk cleaning, pedestrian-scaled street lighting, and extra security patrols. The reasons residents reject them: The districts pay for these services by levying assessments on property owners — and those who don’t pay can have liens placed on their property by the districts. Yet the districts are governed by boards that may or may not be directly accountable to those who pay those assessments. In other words, taxation without representation.

Like suburban homeowners’ associations, these BIDs and NIDs function as quasi-governments. While they may not impose the sorts of regulations the homeowners’ groups do, they do provide services like those a municipality would, yet they are only tenuously accountable to the businesses and residents they serve.

So why not turn them into actual municipalities?

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Luxury Apartments Reclaim Manayunk Brownfield

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The Station at Manayunk takes advantage of the neighborhood’s proximity to the canal, train tracks and the bridge. Photo by Liz Spikol.

In case you missed this, “transit-oriented development” (TOD) has become the hottest thing since the Commuter Tunnel on SEPTA’s Regional Rail network. Vacant land next to stations has sprouted apartments, and abandoned factories have been turned into offices, in a number of suburbs throughout the region.

So it was only a matter of time before the trend crossed the city line into Philly itself. We took you on a tour of one such project, Paseo Verde at Temple University station, a few weeks back. Now a second, more luxurious development has opened in Manayunk, right next to Ivy Ridge station on the Manayunk/Norristown line.

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Dana Spain and Partner Launch New Development in Port Richmond

port-richmond-openerNow that South Kensington bids fair to become an annex of Northern Liberties and Fishtown has been hipstered beyond recognition, where’s a young gentrifier with more taste than money going to go now?

How about the next neighborhood upriver from Fishtown?

One of the first new construction projects in years in Port Richmond stalled when the housing market bubble burst in 2008, and it’s now being revived in a new and improved form, bringing well-laid-out, extra-wide townhomes to an attractive but modest block close to Allegheny Square Park and the Richmond branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia.

The six-unit development at 2989-99 Livingston St., which will complete the planned 12-unit project, is the first for McSpain Properties, a development firm formed by two veterans, Dana Spain and Sean McGovern. McGovern has been active in developing housing around the Temple University campus, while Spain has rehabbed commercial properties and designed private residences for individual clients. “McSpain Properties allows Sean and I to meld his skills of budgeting and onsite construction management with my design and finishing talents,” Spain said.

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SEPTA 50: A Prehistory of our Much Beloved/Maligned Transit Agency



This year marks SEPTA’s golden anniversary, and this month, the agency will formally celebrate a half-century of keeping Philly moving. It’s done a pretty good job of it, too — but it’s done so in a characteristically Philadelphia fashion, which is to say, with barely enough to get by.

I’ve said in this space that we have an amazing mass transit system here. What may be even more amazing, however, is that we have one at all.

Last year, the American Public Transportation Association honored SEPTA as the Outstanding Large Transit System of 2012. When I tell people SEPTA deserved that award, I usually get puzzled looks at best and “There, there” pats on the head at worst. Some of these people, however, understand when I explain that the agency won the award for keeping this sprawling network running using only duct tape and baling wire.

The good news is that with a steady, guaranteed funding stream in hand, SEPTA can finally put away the duct tape and baling wire and break out the hammers, saws and shovels in order to restore the system to good physical health. But SEPTA was actually following ancient Philly practice with the patchwork jobs.

SEPTA, you see, was created to keep metropolitan Philadelphia’s transit systems from completely falling to pieces. Established to bring the subways, commuter railroads, and bus systems back up to snuff, it spent much of the first half of its life scrambling to make sure they ran at all.

Even before its creation, SEPTA’s predecessors were doing the same thing: scrambling to make sure the buses and trains ran while not quite keeping up with the physical plant needs. It’s a Philly tradition that stretches all the way back to…

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How Green Is My Parking Garage?

The Lift at Juniper Street

A few weeks back, we were poking around the parking garage of a building whose architect pointed with pride to how few of the spaces in it were occupied.

The Philadelphia zoning code adopted in 2012 dramatically reduced the parking-space-to-dwelling-unit requirements for multi-unit developments.

Millennials are driving less, and they own fewer cars relative to the generations that preceded them.

So we’re not sure whether it’s the bandwagon effect or fear that led to the announcement than landed in our inbox earlier this week.

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