Pulse: Chatter: Transportation: Zoom-alee Zoo?

How trains could reinvent the Girard corridor — if Amtrak would fork over the cash

It’s a sunny Saturday. The kids are restless. So you round ’em up, start the car, and head to the Zoo. Where you find … traffic. Lots of traffic. John Butterworth-shaking-his-head-in-disgust traffic.

The problem is simple math: Neither Girard Avenue nor the Zoo’s 1,478-space parking lot was made for days when 8,000 people want to visit. “If there are 2.6 people on average per car, we reach our parking capacity at 3,800 visitors,” laments Zoo CEO Vikram Dewan. (That doesn’t count would-be visitors who drive away to avoid the snarls.) And capacity on the Zoo-bound city buses and trolleys is quite limited, he adds.

Dewan’s solution? Open a Regional Rail station at the Zoo, using the existing adjacent tracks. In Oregon, a similar project grew attendance 40 percent in a year; Dewan also touts the idea as a way for the city to anchor Fairmount Park’s fledgling “Centennial District,” open up economically depressed Mantua and Parkside to renewal, and maybe even “green” the Zoo by eliminating parking altogether.

There’s just one glitch: money.

The plan could cost up to $27 million, and -the federal government’s public-works stimulus money so far has only gone to “shovel-ready” projects. Dewan’s hoping V.P. Joe Biden — a big Amtrak booster — can convince the railroad (which owns the tracks) that the project merits the cost. But spokesperson Carina Romero says Amtrak is already working with PennDOT to use those tracks for a high-speed line; a Zoo stop would slow down that line.
Which might mean that the best solution for now is simply to pray for rain.