Tuesday, June 29, 2004


Despite the trackwork being done by SEPTA along the upper end of Woodland Av, Dan Geringer of the Daily News (a fully-paid subsidiary of the Democratic National Committee) took a trip down Woodland recently; the results are not for the faint of heart, as noted in Monday's editions:

Fear of losing his front end forced the Daily News Joltmeister to warily weave his '96 Joltmobile down Woodland Avenue, the city's most bowel-busting boulevard of bad-boy craters rimmed with stiletto-sharp SEPTA rails.

Three decades of neglect have turned Southwest Philadelphia's shop-lined main drag into a busted-up road to ruin that almost left the voice of the pothole-plagued public and his trusty test car ready for the wrecker.

Between 58th and 72nd streets, parked cars on both sides of Woodland force motorists to straddle the trolley tracks on a highway to hell of potholes and pothumps (pancake piles of pathetic patch jobs) that SEPTA and the city Streets Department have neglected since the bicentennial.

That's right, the bicentennial.

"It's been almost 30 years since Woodland was resurfaced," said Anthony P. Ingargiola, who manages the Woodland Avenue Revitalization Project at the Southwest Community Development Corp.

"You can still see the remains of the red, white and blue bicentennial inserts they put in some of the crosswalks, so you know the street hasn't been resurfaced since."

Of course, 30 years is actually short-term by City of Philadelphia standards...

For years, Joltmeister has rattled and rolled over shattered streets, reporting the city's most vicious craters, chasms and crevasses to the tow-truck-weary public.

But Woodland Avenue - the bustling Broad Street of Southwest Philadelphia - is the shame of the city, the worst example of a government bureaucracy so crazily out of whack with taxpayers' basic needs that it has done nothing but babble while Woodland crumbles, bleeds asphalt, eats cars and drivers' wallets, burps hubcaps.

As Joltmeister lurched down Woodland, past hundreds of small businesses and their hundreds of employees, he wondered, "Don't these people pay taxes? Where are the services they're supposed to get for their money - like drivable streets?"

"I am a police officer in the 12th District at 65th and Woodland," a worried cop told the Joltmeister. "Woodland is one of the main streets used in emergencies, not only for us but also the Fire Department and the medics around the corner from us. I am afraid that one day, while responding to a call, someone will hit one of these potholes and crash, possibly hitting an innocent pedestrian.

"I once pulled over a driver who was swerving on Woodland because I thought he had been drinking," the officer said. "It turned out he was swerving to avoid the potholes."

"This is literally an unsafe street," said Bruce Zeiger, owner since 1970 of Smiles drygoods store, Woodland near 61st.

A sign in Smiles' window reads: "LOOK what $9.99 Buys!" The Os in "LOOK" have eyeballs, an old-school throwback to the '70s - which is the last time the street was drivable, said Zeiger.

"When city or SEPTA workers come out to fill a pothole, they have no tamper, no rake, no nothing," he said. "They dump the stuff in with a shovel until they've replaced the hole with a hill of stuff. Then they drive off and expect the traffic to flatten it. To me, it's like watching them throw money down a hole."

Apparently, neither city nor SEPTA workers take much pride in their work, at least along Woodland...

Soon, the asphalt stuffing is gone, he said, and the hole is as bad as it was before.

"We are the forgotten section of the city," said Stan Nelson, who has worked at the Becker/Player's sporting goods store, Woodland near 63rd, for 40 years and owned it for 25. "We have so little political pull. That's why the streets are just yuck.

"There are 250 businesses on Woodland Avenue owned by old-timers and by new African and new Asian immigrants, but I'll be damned, the city still won't give us an inch."

Part of that lack of pull may be because that part of Woodland falls right into the district of City Council President Anna Verna (D-2), who isn't exactly on Emperor Street's buddy list...

Lou Frederick, who has owned the More for Less Outlet, an electronics closeout store on Woodland near 64th, for 25 years, is collecting customers' signatures on a "persistent, massive potholes" petition that notes the near-30 years of city neglect:

"This area is unfortunately rated by many as the most extensively deteriorated major thoroughfare in the city. We want to see the efforts to repair this street as a literal and symbolic sign that elected officials realize how important the condition of our commercial corridor is to the economic well-being of the many families who live, work and shop in Southwest Philadelphia, not to mention our physical safety."

"They never fix it," said Jim Drumm, an eight-year resident, while he signed the petition.

"They fill it and it comes right out," said James Davis, a 39-year resident, adding his name.

"Traffic sounds like bumper cars out there," Frederick said. "Bam! Bam! Bam! Hitting those holes all day long. We're ignored because we have no political pull. This would never happen in Chestnut Hill or Roxborough or East Falls. The squeaky wheel gets the lubrication. There are no squeaky wheels here."

Oh, did I also mention that the district of Councilwoman Janie Blackwell (D-3) also includes Woodland east of 57 St? Her top priority as it pertains to SEPTA is the Market St El reconstruction.

When Ingargiola squeaked loudly to SEPTA and the Streets Department, he said he got a full ration of "doublespeak and confusion" while they pointed fingers at each other.

"What can we do to get these knuckleheads to talk to one another and actually fix this dangerous situation?" Ingargiola asked the Joltmeister in April.

Driving down Woodland, the Joltmeister felt his pain - especially in the buttocks area.

He called the Streets Department, where an engineer blamed SEPTA and the Guaranteed Pavement Information System (GPIS) - a computerized database that tells agencies what other agencies are doing.

The engineer said Streets was ready to pave Woodland this spring when GPIS "spit out a conflict," revealing that SEPTA was retracking about a mile of it. "It didn't make sense to just pave part of Woodland," he said.

That kind of GPISsing-in-the-wind - a thin excuse for doing nothing - GPISsed the Joltmeister off.

How does he think the rest of the riding public feels?

He called SEPTA, where spokesman Richard Maloney said Woodland Avenue is part of a "revolving plan" that calls for replacing all the tracks between 40th and 58th streets by September, then spending the next two years doing Lindbergh Boulevard and Chester Avenue before returning to finish Woodland from 58th to 72nd streets in 2007.

The Joltmeister pointed out that all of Woodland's pothole-plagued commercial corridor - Southwest Philadelphia's very own Bermuda Triangle - is in that 58th to 72nd Street stretch that SEPTA won't do until 2007.

No problem, Maloney said, because the city Streets Department will resurface 58th to 72nd, making it drivable while it waits three years for SEPTA's retracking.

Maloney explained this two months ago.

And, as regular visitors to this site are painfully aware, SEPTA's Minister of Mis-Information isn't exactly known for his honesty...

But a few days ago, when the J-Meister cruised Woodland from 58th to 72nd, searching for the repairs that the Streets Department was supposed to have made, THERE WEREN'T ANY!

"That's because Southwest Philadelphia is in the Infertile Political Crescent," Ingargiola sneered. "We have no clout, so nothing gets done."

But Streets Department spokesperson Emily Buenaflor assured Joltmeister that as soon as SEPTA completes its track work around Labor Day, Streets will resurface "the whole stretch" of Woodland from 40th to 72nd.

"Are you sure they didn't promise to get it done by the tricentennial?" Ingargiola deadpanned.

The Joltmeister laughed. Ingargiola didn't.

Neither are we, nor the riders along Woodland who have to endure this every day...

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