Reading Viaduct Park Would Make Getting Around Philly Easier

Before and after.

The Reading Viaduct today — and tomorrow? | Photo by Malcolm Burnley and rendering via Friends of the Rail Park

Last September, after visiting the new Whitney Museum in New York, I climbed up to the High Line for what I thought would be a breezy stroll with gorgeous views of the Meatpacking District. How wrong I was. Between the people jockeying for avant-garde lawn chairs and the gaggles of camera-toting tourists, the foot traffic crawled along at an infuriating pace.

The park was designed for 600,000 visitors per year; last year, there were 6 million. Though the High Line remains an international beacon of innovative green space (it has also invited lots of deep-pocketed developers into the once-sleepy Chelsea neighborhood), it’s not a functional piece of the urban grid. You can lick all the $8 popsicles you want there, but don’t fool yourself into thinking it’s a good way of getting around the Lower West Side.

All of which made me believe that the rallying cry in Philly to create a High Line-esque park out of the rusting Reading Viaduct and adjacent railroad tunnels — together, they form a continuous stretch of land going from Chinatown to Fairmount Park — was mostly about beautification, and not at all about improving mobility. That’s why I left it off Philly Mag’s recent list of “20 Smart Transportation Ideas Reshaping Philadelphia (and Your Life).” Was it one of the 20 coolest urbanism projects around? Surely. But was it going to change the way we moved around the city? Meh.

Someone begged to differ. “Think about being in West Poplar or NoLibs, riding a few blocks to Fairmount and 9th, taking an elevator up onto the Viaduct and then riding all the way to PMA or Boathouse Row, and [you] only have to stop for cars when crossing Kelly Drive,” Michael Garden wrote to me on Facebook. Alright, that got my attention. Read more »

Philadelphia Scientific’s Owner Has a Bright Idea: Electric Roads

Frank Hebbert | Flickr | Shared under a Creative Commons license.

Frank Hebbert | Flickr | Shared under a Creative Commons license.

With the exception of Tesla, electric cars haven’t gotten very far with the American car-buying public — or manufacturers for that matter. One reason? Keeping them on the road is hard. They either need big, cumbersome batteries, or more recharging stations than currently exist. And the conundrum gets more pressing when you consider the coming advent of driverless — yes, driverless — cars that advocates envision will be on the road perpetually, never parking.

Will Jones, the owner of Montgomeryville-based Philadelphia Scientific, has helped offer a possible answer: Electric roads.

No, the entire road wouldn’t be electrified: Instead, a metal charging strip would be embedded in highways — creating miniature trolleys of a sort — ensuring travelers don’t run out of juice far away from home or civilization. The proposal just won an innovation award from the Smart Transportation Alliance. Read more »

Insider: How to Incentivize Development In Philly’s Overlooked Neighborhoods

The Paseo Verde complex alongside SEPTA’s Temple University Station is an example of what great transit-oriented development can look like in Philadelphia. | Photo by Ariel Ben-Amos

The Paseo Verde complex alongside SEPTA’s Temple University Station is an example of what great transit-oriented development can look like in Philadelphia. | Photo by Ariel Ben-Amos

(This is an opinion column from a Citified insider.)

Last week, Councilman and Condo King Allan Domb went public with a proposal to double the city’s controversial tax abatement from 10 to 20 years for properties worth less than $250,000. Domb points out that developers have not invested in neighborhoods in North Philly, West Philly and Southwest Philly the way they have in Greater Center City, and he thinks his legislation will change that.

Whether or not you agree with his proposed solution, it’s undeniable that the problem he identified needs to be fixed. Many Philadelphians are worried — rightly — that they will miss out on the massive growth of Greater Center City. These are residents who are isolated from downtown amenities, as well as those who have been driven out of their former homes by rising housing costs.

But there’s a better way to spur development in outlying neighborhoods than to expand the city’s expensive tax abatement.

Here’s how: The state’s General Assembly should pass Senate Bill 385. It wouldn’t even threaten the school district’s budget the way Domb’s proposal could.

I’ll explain how the bill would work in a second. But first, a history lesson: In 2004, the state legislature sought to support transit-oriented development by passing legislation that allowed SEPTA and the city to forge a partnership that could float bonds in order to help pay for upgrades at transportation stations — and then letting the pair pay back the bonds with the additional real estate taxes that are generated by any improvements made.

These enhancements can include new lights, rehabbed sidewalks and even environmental remediation work. The idea is that by making a train station more accessible or cleaning up a dirty site, a developer will be more apt to build there.

Senate Bill 385 is an update to this law, and it does two things that would be particularly good for Philadelphia. Read more »

Indego to Embrace Fairmount Park This Year

Photo | Indego Facebook

Photo | Indego Facebook

The Indego bike share network turns one this April, and while the folks who run it are pleased with how well it’s done so far, it still has plenty of growing to do. Its expansion plans for the next year will both promote bike riding in Philadelphia’s biggest park and advance its mission of increasing bike ridership in the city’s disadvantaged communities.

Aaron Ritz, complete streets implementation manager in the city’s Office of Transportation and Infrastructure Systems, said that in the year ahead, 24 bike share stations would be added, most of them in neighborhoods bordering East and West Fairmount Park, including Brewerytown, Strawberry Mansion, Parkside, Mantua and Belmont.
Read more »

SEPTA Picks a King of Prussia Rail Route

SEPTA locally preferred alternative map

SEPTA has chosen the PECO/Turnpike alignment as its “locally preferred alternative” for routing the King of Prussia rail spur. Map | SEPTA

SEPTA has reached a decision on which of the five possible routings for a Norristown High-Speed Line spur to King of Prussia it prefers.

A map showing the “Recommended Locally Preferred Alternative” route was released last week. The route chosen branches off the NHSL main line between Hughes Park and DeKalb Street stations, then follows a PECO transmission line right-of-way from the wye junction to the Pennsylvania Turnpike. It then hugs the south side of the Turnpike right-of-way until it reaches the King of Prussia malls. The line follows Mall Boulevard around the north side of the mall property, then crosses the Turnpike to follow First Avenue through the King of Prussia business park.
Read more »

Bridge Inspections to Cause Slowdowns on Philly Roads Starting Next Week

I-95 at Columbus Blvd

Bridge inspections will cause lane closures on I-95 in Center City and other area roads from Feb. 19 through Feb. 28. Photo | Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons

If you’re driving during the middle of the day in and around Philadelphia between February 16th and February 25th, be prepared to slow down at the following locations, as PennDOT will be closing lanes on several area roads for routine bridge inspections.

Here’s when and where there will be lane closures, day by day: Read more »

5 Takeaways From the Big Amtrak Derailment Story in the New York Times Magazine

Emergency personnel work the scene of a deadly train wreck, Tuesday, May 12, 2015, in Philadelphia. An Amtrak train headed to New York City derailed and crashed in Philadelphia.

Emergency personnel work the scene of a deadly train wreck, Tuesday, May 12, 2015, in Philadelphia. An Amtrak train headed to New York City derailed and crashed in Philadelphia.

The New York Times Magazine today has unveiled a long story examining last spring’s Amtrak derailment, the crash of train 188 at Philadelphia’s Frankford Junction that killed eight people and injured more than 200 others.

The story comes just days before the National Transportation Safety Board releases a preliminary report that contains much of the data gathered in the investigation of the accident; the agency’s formal ruling on the cause is likely to come later this spring. The basic cause is known — the train was traveling well in excess of the posted speed limit when it hit a sharp curve at Frankford Junction. But why did that happen?

The Times story, written by Matthew Shaer, doesn’t offer a definitive conclusion, though it offers several possibilities. Here are some takeaways from the story. Read more »

FRA Has Plans for a Rail Tunnel Under Center City to the Airport

northeast-corridor-940x540

The Federal Railroad Administration, having come up with three plans for the future of the Northeast Corridor (NEC) came back to Philadelphia yesterday to gather public comment on each of the plans.

Most of those who commented had this message: If you really want to transform the NEC, you’d better cut out a lot of the gold-plating on that top-drawer plan.

The FRA’s three plans, and their price tags, are: Read more »

The Five Biggest Philadelphia Transportation Stories of 2015

transit-year-in-review

If anything, 2015 was the Year of the Bike on the transportation front locally, with major new facilities opening up the promise of faster, easier bike commuting, adding steam to a steady climb in practical bike use. And one major event that promised to disrupt lives all over the city instead opened everyone’s eyes to the potential contained in car-free streets (done right this time; no one’s interested in bringing the Chestnut Street Transitway back from the dead). But the biggest transportation story of the year is the one that’s still not over yet. Herewith, my picks for Top Philadelphia Transportation Developments of 2015: Read more »

SEPTA’s Big Regional Rail Schedule Changes Start Sunday

SEPTA's Ron Hopkins explains new service patterns on the Warminster, West Trenton and Airport lines (left). A map of the regional rail system with a North Broad bottleneck highlighted. Photos | Sandy Smith

SEPTA’s Ron Hopkins explains new service patterns on the Warminster, West Trenton and Airport lines (left). A map of the regional rail system with a North Broad bottleneck highlighted. Photos | Sandy Smith

Back in 1985, when service began on SEPTA’s Airport Regional Rail line, the agency was still trying to get its railroad operations act together after a long and crippling strike in 1982. Management couldn’t guarantee that the trains would run on time, so in order to ensure that trains to the airport did, it was kept separate from the paired former Pennsylvania and Reading railroad lines that operated through the tunnel.

Now, 30 years later, the same problem has surfaced, but this time, it’s the result of the Regional Rail system choking on its own success. Steady ridership gains over the past several years have led to longer dwell times at stations, and the delays these cause ripple throughout the system. As a result, the Airport Line is once again being uncoupled from the rest of the network as part of a larger reorganization of Regional Rail schedules and timetables.

Ron Hopkins, SEPTA’s assistant general manager and chief operating officer, called the schedule changes that take effect Sunday “the most comprehensive schedule change in 20 years” at a news conference Wednesday afternoon (December 9th). Read more »

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